It’s an unfortunate fact of geography that Georgia and America are quite far away from one another. This necessitates the frequent use of airplanes in order to see my family and then get back to work. Due to some negative experiences and very good reasons, I’m not the biggest fan of planes in the first place, but I view them as a necessary evil that I have to deal with in order to make things work. As such, I’ve figured out a few strategies to make my life a little less miserable. Between Tbilisi and home, I usually need three separate flights and roughly 36 hours–this trip is not for the faint of heart. Before I get into specifics, allow me to share with you some of my advice (which has been hard-won) on flying in general:
- Bring snacks. Seriously, did you not notice the bit where I said this takes about 36 hours? I know they technically provide food on the plane, but who knows if it’ll be something you like. Also, they serve the food at weird times and you’re likely to have some very long layovers, where food is not provided. My favorite thing to bring when I’m departing Georgia is churchkhela, while my favorite leaving the US is hummus. I recommend something with a little bit of nutritional value, and maybe even some protein.
- Moisturize! Bring lotions, chap stick, conditioner, all that sort of stuff. It’s dry on a plane, and I always feel less zombified when I land when I haven’t accidentally dessicated myself on the way there.
- Hydrate. Drink water–see above.
- Bring clean clothes–it can really perk you up to clean off and change clothes during a layover.
Now, for the Georgia-specifics. If you’re planning on making the trip between Georgia and the US on one ticket, you have three major options–Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, or LOT Polish Airlines. All three of these carriers are members of the Star Alliance (though getting mileage credit from LOT hasn’t been easy), and all three of their flights to and from Georgia arrive and depart at ungodly hours, though Turkish occasionally has an afternoon option. (If you want to buy separate tickets to Europe and then to Georgia, you may also have the option to fly to Batumi or Kutaisi, and can fly regional carriers like Wizz, Pegasus, or AeroSvit. This can save money, but it can add hassle depending on your final destination.) Many Asian and Middle Eastern airlines also fly to Tbilisi, but they’re often impractical for flights from the West,(I’ve never flown them) and I’m trying to keep this post at a somewhat reasonable length.
Turkish Airlines–layover in Istanbul Ataturk Airport
In my opinion, Turkish is the way to go. It’s more comfortable, the flight attendants and other staff are pleasant, and their free baggage allowance is the most generous. They offer the best selection of in-flight food and entertainment. Ataturk Airport has lots of duty-free browsing opportunities and a decent food court. The Greenport Cafe in the terminal has wireless. If your layover is long enough, it’s easy to access the major tourist sites by public transportation. If your long layover falls in lucky hours, Turkish Airlines offers free city tours. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to take advantage of this service. NB: There’s a very good chance you need a visa to enter Turkey, and word on the street is that the procedure is changing, so make sure you look that up before you fly!
Lufthansa–layover in Munich Airport
Service on Lufthansa is normal–nothing special, but nothing missing. They have more flights that are code-shared with American companies, so if that’s a consideration in your ticketing, you’re likely to wind up flying them. Munich airport isn’t too bad–it’s fairly spacious, and you can pay for a shower or nap pod. Last I was there, there was supposedly free WiFi, but I couldn’t figure it out. For a really comfortable layover, go through immigration and into the Kempinski hotel next door. You can buy an hourly pass to the spa (last I was there 15 Euro/hour–same as for a nap pod or in-terminal shower). They have comfy chaise longues to catch some sleep, showers with fancy products, and free fruit, tea. and water In the airport but outside the terminal there’s a little grocery store, which is more budget-friendly than any of the restaurants or kiosks inside the terminal, though still not cheap. Apparently it’s relatively easy to get into the city center, as well, though I haven’t tried.
LOT Polish Airlines–layover in Warsaw
Tickets on Polish are usually cheapest, so I’ve flown them with the highest frequency. Unfortunately, they’re my least favorite. The service has a strong surly streak, and despite the fact that they fly Dreamliners, the in-flight entertainment is pathetic. The ladies in their Tbilisi office are fantastic though, and hold my personal award for Best Customer Service in Georgia. I should also point out that they are actively trying to become “the best airline in Europe”, and every flight I’ve taken with them has been less unpleasant than it’s predecessor. So, that’s something. Though Warsaw Airport effectively killed any desire I once had to visit Poland, it does have some amenities. The terminal is pretty small, so shopping and eating options are limited. The “relaxation room” is relatively comfortable, and hasn’t been too crowded while I’ve been there. There is also a free shower, but you have to supply all your own stuff. Free WiFi is available for 30 minutes (tied to your boarding pass), so choose carefully. There are public buses to the city center, though I haven’t used them.