Cheap flights to Greece have become more commonplace in recent years as budget airlines have opened up routes not only to Athens but to some of the major islands such as Corfu, Crete, Kos, Santorini and Rhodes.
A few years ago Greece flights were confined to Athens, after which travellers headed for the port at Piraeus and a long ferry trip or took an early morning domestic flight to the islands.
Only a few Greek islands have airports big enough to take charter flights and it is generally these islands that have attracted the package holiday firms. Islands with airports big enough to take charters have suffered for it. Concrete mixers came out to play; burger joints, cocktail bars and discos shot up as quickly as the prices. Resorts in the vicinity of the airport tend to be the tackiest.
On larger islands like Corfu, Lesbos, Crete and Kos, it is a general rule of thumb that the further you are from the airport the more traditional it gets. On smaller islands, such as Skiathos, an international airport can swamp any chance of an authentic Greek experience.
Most of the smaller islands have an airport runway, but only long enough to take domestic flights, usually from Athens but sometimes from larger islands such as Crete and Rhodes. Most domestic Greek island flights are aimed at commuters, not tourists, and so many take off early morning and return early evening.
Expect long delays at Greek airports, especially at the height of the summer season. Incoming charter flights from all over Europe are often scheduled for the same day; check-in desks open at the same time and baggage handlers will often wait until there is more than one plane to load/unload.
Facilities at Greek airports are usually a bit thin on the ground. Seating is not usually adequate for the numbers and, though there is usually a snack bar and gift shop, they are usually very small and provide only the basics. It's a good idea to take your own refreshments and hats or brollies to provide shade. You may end up standing in the blazing sun for a couple of hours before queues start to move. Myself, I head for the nearest taverna and turn up when the crowds have gone.
There are five major international airports: Athens, Corfu, Heraklion, Kos and Thessaloniki. Standards here tend to be relatively higher than most island airports with good links to ports and decent public transport. The new airport at Athens is the best example. Kos is the odd one out here, having no public transport so your only way out in by holiday company bus, hire car or taxi.
Passing through a Greek island charter airport can be a dismal experience. Most have nothing but basic facilities. Flights in are not so bad, although you may have to wait for your luggage as airport workers think nothing of waiting for the next flight to arrive to save themselves an extra journey to the terminal building. Charter flights out are nearly always arranged to leave at roughly the same time so airport check-ins are packed, seating sparse and tempers frayed. Flight delays of more than an hour are common.
Several islands take charter flights over the summer season and these include:
Tourists for Thassos fly to Kavala and those for Lefkas land at Preveza on the mainland.
As well as domestic flights to all the main islands other Greek islands may take domestic flights, usually from Athens. These include:
Olympic Airlines (now part of Aegean) operates almost all domestic flights in Greece. You must reserve seats in advance especially in August or on public holidays when demand can be high. Delays in domestic flights are common out of season and smaller planes cannot take off or land when it is windy.
These have been in the pipeline for several years, held up by bureaucratic inertia and political meddling. Several private consortia have well-advanced plans for launching seaplane services between many Greek Islands but Greek government wrangling over public/private ownership, long delays in issuing waterways licences and other issues threaten to keep seaplanes grounded for a long time yet.