Brrrr. There are probably better times of the year to visit Oslo Gardermoen airport and the SAS Museum, but I chose to go in early January. It was only -10 Celsius. And there was just a few feet of snow on the ground.
So, what brought me here at an inhospitable time of year? A chance to take advantage of one of civil aviation’s little anomalies, a fifth freedom flight. A fifth freedom flight, in brief, is a flight operated by an airline between two countries which are not the airline’s home country. The airline can carry fare paying passengers so long as the flight originates (or terminates) in its own country.
In this instance, I was going to fly on Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787-9 service from Oslo Gardermoen to Stockholm Arlanda airport, a short 40-minute hop. The flight then continues to Addis Ababa, but I’ll have to save a trip to the Ethiopian capital for another day.
First though, I needed to plan to get to Oslo and back from Stockholm to my home town of London. Thanks to a stack of Avios, British Airways’ frequent flyer currency, and a 2-4-1 companion voucher from a British Airways American Express card, I was able to easily make an “open jaw” booking Heathrow-Oslo and Stockholm-Heathrow on BA for my friend and I.
So, it was that early one Sunday morning I met my friend at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 at 5:30am. Thanks to my British Airways Executive Club Gold level membership, we were able to use the First Wing. This check-in area is set aside for first class customers and Gold members of the Executive Club. It has its own security clearance and leads directly to BA’s first class lounge.
After a traditional English breakfast, washed down with coffee, it was time to head for the gate. Our flight was not full and I had reserved seats in the exit row of BA’s Airbus A319. This gives a little extra legroom, always welcome in the economy section of the plane. I avoided the buy-on-board service and chatted with my friend for the two-hour flight.
As we approached Oslo, it was clear the weather forecast had been right. It was very cold and there was a lot of snow. A LOT of snow. And VERY cold. Still, when has extreme weather ever put me off looking at and photographing aircraft?
Into the terminal and through the usual formalities, we went to the departures area to check where we’d need to be later for our flight to Stockholm. That done, we looked into how to get to the Scandinavia Airlines museum – or “SAS Museet” on the West side of the airport. It’s a three-mile (five km) walk from the terminal if you’re fit, but as there was a lot of snow on the ground (did I mention the snow?) we decided to take the bus.
The 420 bus towards Maura stops directly outside the museum and costs GBP3-4. To avoid exchanging small amounts of Norwegian Krone just for the bus fare, you can download the Ruter Billet app for your smartphone and buy tickets on there with your debit/credit card. If you choose to drive to the museum, there is a large free car park.
Entrance to the museum is free but it is only open on Sundays and Tuesdays. Staff are volunteers from all across SAS – they are pilots, engineers, office staff and cabin crew. All are very friendly, knowledgeable and speak fluent English.
There is a very wide collection of Scandinavian Airlines memorabilia, models, exhibitions and uniforms. For the enthusiast though the biggest treat is the museum’s own little roof terrace with views across runway 01L/19R, the GA terminal, cargo area and, at a distance, the main terminal.
I’m sure the terrace is lovely on a warm, sunny day. In temperatures of minus 10 C with added windchill and falling snow it’s a little less hospitable. But still, hopefully a couple of pics will give you an idea of the terrace’s potential for good photographs on a better day.
After a very pleasant visit it was time to return to the terminal for our flight to Stockholm. Ethiopian Airlines check in opens three hours before the flight. Check-in was quick and efficient and with “cabin approved baggage” tags applied to our rucksacks we were on our way to through security.
Norway is an expensive country for visitors and, like the rest of the world, buying anything at the airport involves a significant mark-up, especially when you’re trapped airside. Burger, chips and a drink? That’ll be GBP20 please. We were hungry. We were trapped. We paid.
Eventually, boarding was called for ET715 to Stockholm and Addis Ababa. And there she was – ET-AUP, a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner named “London” which had been delivered just two months previously. Ethiopian’s billboard titles dominate the front of the fuselage. The tail in the green, gold and red arrow tail matching the colours of the Ethiopian flag. A gold rampant lion adorns the nose, a hangover from earlier liveries. At the rear, some Ethiopian script, a Dreamliner logo and the aircraft’s name.
Boarding was swift as the flight was only about a third full. Seats in economy are a mix of green and gold coloured, with red reserved for the business cabin. Antimacassars feature the airline’s logo. On our seat was a pillow, a blanket and a pair of headphones. Ethiopian distributes headphones in red, yellow and green, its corporate colours. The seat back contained the safety card and a copy of Selamta, the company’s in-flight magazine.
After take-off, in-flight service in economy consisted of a cup of water. I know it’s just a 40-minute hop but for a full-service intercontinental airline I expected a little more. However, passengers used to short-haul economy service on US carriers will probably be grateful for the free water…
Our landing at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport was smooth and after parking at the gate we were soon through arrival formalities and on the courtesy bus to collect our rental car. Are you an Avis Preferred member? I can’t see why anyone wouldn’t be. It’s free to sign up and you get priority queuing. Our “Vauxhall/Opel Astra or similar” booked vehicle had morphed into a Volkswagen Golf estate and we headed off to find our hotel.
In the next part, a visit to Stockholm’s Bromma airport, finding a viewing point at Arlanda airport and a return trip to Heathrow in BA’s Club Europe business class. Comments welcome as always. Have you been to Gardermoen airport or to the SAS Museum? What did you think? Flown Ethiopian Airlines or taken advantage of a fifth freedom route? Tell us in the comments below.