Airline review: Croatia Airlines economy

Frosty service at the check-in counter gets this flight off to a bad start.

THE ROUTE

Paris (CDG) to Dubrovnik.

THE PLANE

Airbus A319-100. Croatia Airlines' fleet includes four of the A319s, a shortened-fuselage version of Airbus' cornerstone A320s. The aircraft can be ordered with the standard 124-seat configuration, or up to 156 seats. 

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Croatia Airlines has been a Star Alliance member for 10 years, although it does not seem to highly value the association (more on that later). Star Alliance partner airlines include United, Thai Airways and Lufthansa.

CLASS

Economy.

DURATION

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One hour, 50 minutes.

FREQUENCY

Daily.

THE SEAT

Economy seat 9A. The seat has a  pitch of 30 inches and width of 17 inches. Croatia Airlines offered a standard level of comfort. I was able to work comfortably on my laptop until the seat in front of me reclined.

BAGGAGE

Economy passengers may check one bag up to 23 kilograms free. They may also take one carry-on bag, up to 8 kilograms, onboard. Penalties for excess baggage are harsh and strictly enforced. My suitcase of 26 kilograms incurred an excess charge of 75 euros, payable immediately in cash.

As my Star Alliance Silver membership grants me the privilege of taking an extra 10 kilograms for free on many airlines (including, for example, Thai) this seemed particularly draconian and offensive.

I was thoroughly unimpressed with the reaction to my request for a courtesy waiver of the excess charge. "Star Alliance Silver membership means nothing here," the frosty check-in clerk said. I'll be sure to remember that next time I'm booking a flight.

Onboard literature promotes the airline's membership in another scheme, Miles & More, "the greatest frequent flyer programme in Europe". Miles are credited for flights of all Star Alliance members and other airline partners, as well as for applicable car rental and hotel stays.

COMFORT

The aircraft cabin design is no-flair and functional, with navy leather seats and grey curtain dividers. Six seats to a row,  configured as three seats either side of a single aisle. This Airbus A319-100 had a total of 144 seats.

ENTERTAINMENT

No seat-back TVs and no inflight radio programming. Several overhead TVs throughout the cabin screened tourist promotion videos about Croatian destinations.

The inflight magazine, Croatia, (in English and Croatian) featured a mix of self-congratulatory stories about the airline's recent 25th anniversary and a collection of destination marketing advertorials.

THE SERVICE

Meh. After the downright rude treatment at check-in, it would have taken a charm offensive to turn my frown upside down. This was not forthcoming. The service was fine, if completely unmemorable.

Flight attendants (all female) wore pale blue apron smocks over their red-white-and-blue uniforms. A little more chic, a little less straight-from-the-kitchen might help to create a more cosmopolitan presence on the global aviation stage.

FOOD

Our 11.30am departure had created in me an expectation that a hot lunch would be served. No such luck. Instead, we were each handed a sad little package of four green olives and cheese doused in oil, accompanied by bite-sized brown crackers in the shape of a "Q". The crackers bore an unfortunate visual resemblance to dog poo. A drink service came through the cabin once, offering soft drinks and hot tea or coffee.

For those gluttonous types not satisfied with four olives for lunch, a menu of food and drinks was offered for purchase. Coffee and a muffin for €4, Pringles and a Coke for €5, or tinned tuna salad and wine for €10. Trusty reconstituted soup in a cup rounded out the gourmet offerings at €3. Perhaps best to proceed directly to the mini Absolut Vodka and Beefeater Gin, a bargain (and a paean) at €4.

ONE MORE THING

While Croatia Airlines claims to be a full-service international airline (with prices to match), it is not nearly in the same league as its Star Alliance European stablemates such as Swiss, Lufthansa and SAS.  Essentially a minor government-owned national carrier, its fleet of six Airbus aircraft and six Dash-8s flies to 27 destinations around Europe.

Attempts to capitalise on Croatia's current international popularity have so far been financially underwhelming, with the airline running at a loss for several years.

THE VERDICT

 Service and amenities could certainly be improved. Would I visit Croatia again? Certainly. Would I fly with this airline again? Not if I can avoid it.

Tested by Kristie Kellahan, who flew at her own expense.

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