Earlier this year, we created a behind-the-scenes article featuring Dubai International Airport, one of the world’s busiest airports for passengers and cargo. In August, AirlineGeeks visited Athens to tour Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport, Greece’s largest and busiest airport.
History of Athens International Airport
Located east of the center of Greece’s capital, Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport began operations on March 28, 2001. Prior to the new airport’s opening, Ellinikon International Airport served as the city’s main airport for 63 years. The airport had the capacity of 11 million passengers, however, in 2000 it handled 13.5 million passengers.
With the demand for air travel increasing, and the Ellinikon Airport reaching a point with no space to physically expand, the city began planning for a new airport. Over 19 different locations were considered, and in the end, an open space next to the suburb of Spata was chosen to host the new airport.
Building a Modern Airport
When first stepping foot into the airport, passengers are greeted by massive retro-themed flight display boards visible in both the east and west check-in areas. The airport has 137 check-in counters, all of which can be used interchangeably by any airline serving the airport.
If lines are long at an airline’s counters, they can open nearby counters to expand their space and help reduce wait times in the queues. This allows more time for passengers to be able to explore the airport’s shops and restaurants.
Security can be stressful for everyone and the airport has been working hard to change that. Just recently, the airport opened two new centralized security screening points. One dedicated for all flights departing to domestic and Schengen Area destinations, and one for all other flights. The new screening point for domestic and Schengen-bound flights features 17 lanes in a large modern looking space.
Prior to the two centralized checkpoints, passengers would be screened closer to the boarding gates, however, this forced people to shop and eat prior to passing through security. The new process solved this problem and has increased the number of checkpoints by 20 percent. The airport also claims that passengers can reach their gates 10 minutes faster than before with the new security and transfer process.
Putting New Features to the Test
To test out the efficiency of the domestic and Schengen-bound flights security checkpoint, I went through the checkpoint during the 7 a.m. rush hour for flights departing to the islands and other European cities. When I first arrived at the checkpoint, it seemed well-staffed with 15 of the 17 lanes operating.
Scanning my boarding pass and entering the security line to buying a bottle of water on the other side of security, took me just three minutes and 46 seconds. Considering the huge crowd of passengers departing during this time period, I found the new security to be quite impressive and efficient.
In addition to the new security checkpoint, the airport has recently been working on some other renovations to improve the passenger experience. 35 million euros have been invested in the improvements, 15 million of which was paid by Athens International Airport S.A., the private company which owns 40 percent of the airport and runs it.
The shopping and restaurant space at the airport have also been completely transformed, creating a new store layout that has given an open-market feel to the departure area. Other improvements the airport has made include investments in technology, such as new automated passport control machines which help speed up clearing immigration. The airport also became the first carbon-neutral airport in Greece earlier this year.
The Satellite Terminal
An underground walkway prior to security, currently being outfitted with unique art and history exhibitions, leads passengers to the airport’s Satellite Terminal, which features 10 jetways. This terminal has been used off and on over the years, based on demand. In 2016, EasyJet was the first airline to permanently move its operations to this terminal. Now, it is used every day, mainly by EasyJet and other low-cost carriers.
This terminal will also be receiving minor upgrades to allow for a better passenger experience, such as a new underground security checkpoint, which will allow for more shops and restaurants on the departure level where the current screening point is located.
Taking Off Again After Economic Crisis
After the Greek Economic Crisis, the airport’s annual passenger traffic declined. However, passenger numbers picked up again in 2014. Since then, the airport has seen some of its busiest years, including 2016, when annual passenger numbers surpassed 20,000,000 for the first time in the airport’s history. This year, the airport is on track for its busiest year yet.
The airport, however, experiences various amounts of traffic during different seasons of the year. Summers are very busy, usually consisting of 750 daily movements, while the winter season sees the airport handle about 450 movements per day. Busy summer days have also resulted in the airport having to become creative in finding space for general aviation aircraft, some of which wish to spend the night in Athens.
The day I visited, the airport was completely maxed out of space to park private aircraft. Speaking of parking spaces, the airport also has room for 12 wide-body aircraft to be at the terminal simultaneously.
From Athens to the World
During the past few years as more and more tourists arrive in Greece during the summer season, the number of wide-body planes that visit the airport every day also increase. On any given day during the summer, the airport receives at least five flights from North America.
With the launch of Emirates’ fifth freedom route between Athens and Newark, the airport has also once again become connected year-round to the US, following Olympic Airways stopping the flight in 2009.
An increase in passengers has also led the nation’s largest airline, Aegean Airlines, to expand its network from Athens. The airline currently flies 61 planes, including those acquired from Olympic Air’s fleet after their merger, and serves over 70 different cities from its Athens hub.
In 2018, Aegean plans to add 11 new destinations from its Athens base, connecting the Greek capital with 81 international destinations. Other airlines such as Ryanair and Sky Express have also expanded their footprint in Athens, creating, even more, demand for space.
Currently, the Athens Airport Company agreement extension is developing. This is a multi-phase process which requires further licensing by European legislative bodies and the Greek parliament.
With a 26 million annual passenger capacity, the airport has no major plans for expansion right now, however it has been working hard over the past few years to accommodate the growing number of passengers it serves. AIA believes that the airport is the first and last impression of Greece tourists will have when visiting, so it has been working to create an image for itself that passengers will remember uniquely.
From free wifi to a vast number of shops, an Acropolis Museum, and the great pride employees have in their airport, Athens International Airport is truly becoming one of the best airports in Europe.
Special thanks to Ioakim Tsimbidis and Themistoklis Sideris from AIA for providing a passionate tour of the airport and ramp to AirlineGeeks.
*All photos by AirlineGeeks editor Mateen Kontoravdis
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