I took a flight with Bulgaria’s holiday airline BH Air, who operate flights on behalf of Balkan Holidays to Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast from all around Europe. BH Air are an airline I’ve seen flying into regional airports across the UK for many years, and until now have never had the chance to fly them.
I took a flight with BH Air from East Midlands Airport to Bourgas, Bulgaria, on a bank holiday weekend in August 2019.
I arrived at East Midlands Airport for an early morning flight on a Sunday in late August.
First stop this morning was to check in. BH Air don’t offer any online checkin, and I got to the airport several hours early fearing the usual queues that East Midlands faces at this time of year.
BH Air offer free bags on all of their flight, in contrast to many British airlines who charge for bags unless you have taken out a package holiday.
Check in completed, I headed to security where I”d bought a fast track pass for £5. I’ve seen queues the length of the check in hall before at East Midlands, so didn’t want to be caught out.
Fortunately the line wasn’t too bad, and aside from a couple of chancers trying to chop under the barrier to fast track, who were swiftly removed by security, it went pretty smoothly indeed.
East Midlands Airport has seen a lot of renovations in the last few years, and is now totally unrecognisable from the days when I used to come here plane spotting. The original viewing deck is now located upstairs as a smoking area which you can only get to from airside.
East Midlands is a big holiday airport. With a catchment area spanning from Yorkshire down to the Midlands, it is a base for Ryanair and Jet2.
Fairly soon my aircraft arrived in from Burgas in this beautiful, colourful, rather albino looking livery.
This aircraft was originally delivered to Bulgarian holiday outfit Air Via in 2007. It was sold to BH Air in 2015, and has flown for Nas Air Saudi Arabia, Vietnamese carrier VietJet and Smartlynx Estonia in its 12 years.
I headed down to the gate area, which I’ve only ever used before on flights up to Scotland with Bmibaby and more recently Flybe.
It was nice to be able to walk to the aircraft rather than getting on a bus, and we headed out into the morning sunshine to get onboard our ride.
BH Air is the airline division of Balkan Holidays, who have been operating since 2002. They operate primarily from Burgas and Varna, and serve regional airports right across Europe through the summer months. In the UK alone they serve 15 airports – from Aberdeen in the north to Bristol in the southwest, and almost everywhere in between.
The BH Airlines cabin is very colourful, and has smart leather seats with multi coloured headrests.
The seats are really cramped though, and I really struggled to fit in them being over 6 feet tall. I also found that my recline button was broken, as were many onboard, so the seat wouldn’t stay upright.
Fairly soon, everybody was on board and we pushed back for our flight to Burgas.
Aside from the holiday flights, East Midlands is a busy cargo hub for DHL who operate a huge facility at the west end of the airport. On a Sunday morning however, it was pretty quiet.
We lined up on runway 09 for our departure to the east.
As we flew overhead Suffolk, the inflight service started. BH Air offer a full buy on board service, with alcohol, soft drinks, teas coffees and snacks. I found the prices pretty steep for a Bulgarian carrier. Consider you can buy 500ml of lager in Bulgaria for 90 pence even in the tourist resorts, £3 for just 330ml seems particularly expensive.
I opted just to grab a coffee and a bottle of water, that set me back 7 Lev, or £3.25.
When you order a coffee on the move in Eastern Europe, usually you’re just given a cup of hot water and a sachet of instant coffee. This does frustrate me slightly, as I could have bought my own sachet of instant coffee and not been charged over £2 for the privilege. If you’re going to charge £2 for a coffee, at least make it properly.
The flight was, as expected, really noisy. There were a lot of families with young kids onboard heading off for their holidays. Holidaymakers made up around 95% of the passengers on this flight – although there were also a few Bulgarians heading home to see their family.
The onboard shopping selection on BH Air included a lot of branded promotional toys. They did have a nice BH Airlines A320 model which I didn’t buy, mainly because I didn’t want to be carrying it around on my trip.
The service was pretty good onboard. The crew were constantly coming up and down the aisle taking orders for more food and drink, in contrast to some airlines where you don’t see the crew after the initial service.
I spent the time onboard watching some Netflix, and before I knew it we were commencing our descent over Bulgaria.
We commenced our final approach, for a bruiser of a landing at Burgas airport.
I paid £120.75 for my flight, by booking directly on the Balkan Holidays website. Other sites such as Opodo or Expedia wanted to charge another £30, and Balkan Holidays themselves did not show up on Skyscanner or Momondo – so make sure you check their website directly.
This works out at a price of £0.08p per mile, which I found pretty acceptable.
Overall I was fairly impressed with BH Air. They were certainly no worse than any British charter airline, and despite the high buy on board prices and terrible coffee, offered a reasonable level of service. The lack of online check in was a little frustrating, but the lack of baggage fees compared to the British airlines means they’re more than forgiven on that front.