I flew Wizz Air all the way from London to Abu Dhabi — here’s why I wouldn’t do it again
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Wizz Air is a fascinating airline.
Entering one of the most competitive aviation markets in the world — the European low-cost arena — it has exploded in growth. Originally connecting Western Europe with its traditional bases in Eastern Europe, the airline has now expanded to fly point-to-point in Western Europe, such as from the U.K. nonstop to France, Spain and Portugal.
Twelve months ago, they expanded even further with flights to Dubai (DXB) and Abu Dhabi (AUH). On paper this makes sense — while Emirates and Etihad already have comprehensive nonstop flights from Europe to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Wizz can offer fares for a fraction of the cost and bring travelers from all over Europe to these popular Middle Eastern destinations.
While the aircraft Wizz operate don’t have the range to fly fully loaded from the U.K. to the UAE, they do offer flights from various bases in Europe that are easy to get to.
Having flown numerous short-haul Wizz Air flights without any issues (I’ve found their staff far more pleasant than those at Ryanair), I’ve wanted to try out their Abu Dhabi service ever since it launched.
The experience wasn’t quite what I was expecting, and even at the low price I paid, I wouldn’t do it again.
Here’s my experience flying an ultra-low-cost carrier all the way from London to Abu Dhabi.
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Wizz Air does not sell connecting tickets and this became a key problem with my journey.
Wizz Air operates flights from the likes of Athens (ATH), Belgrade (BEG), Bucharest (OTP) and Budapest (BUD), Sofia (SOF) and Tirana (TIR) to Abu Dhabi, though these services are not daily. I looked for connection options that did not require extremely long layovers and also did not impose too many entry requirements — I really didn’t want to pay for and organize another PCR test if I didn’t need it.
There were only a handful of flight combinations that met these requirements so I chose a flight from London Luton (LTN) to Belgrade, and then a separate, same-day flight from Belgrade to Abu Dhabi. This had a six-hour connection in Serbia which wasn’t ideal as it meant a very early start in London and arriving in the UAE after midnight. But at least I would not have to overnight anywhere and Serbia had easy entry requirements.
Booking both flights separately was a royal pain, walking through so many optional upsells from seat assignments, to travel insurance, to Wi-Fi. While the base fares with no extras were cheap for both flights, the prices crept up when extras were added. I was traveling hand luggage only but this included a full-size cabin bag as I was in the UAE for a number of days. Wizz bundles a full-size cabin bag with priority boarding which I was happy to pay as I needed to photograph the cabin without too many other passengers in it.
I decided to mix up the flights — for the first flight I chose no seat assignment, for the second flight I preselected one of the best seats on the plane. Booked approximately three weeks in advance, the flight costs were as follows:
London to Belgrade
- Fare: $47.81 (£36.49)
- Administration fee: $9.83 (£7.50)
- Cabin bag + priority boarding: $34.06 (£26)
- Total: $91.70 (£69.99)
Belgrade to Abu Dhabi
- Fare: $45.20 (£34.50)
- Administration fee: $9.17 (£7)
- Cabin bag + priority boarding: $24.24 (£18.50)
- Seat selection: $20.96 (£16)
- Total: $98.26 (£75)
Considering this was around half the price of a nonstop flight on a full-service airline, how bad could it be?
London to Belgrade
Luton airport was the normal miserable experience as I arrived before the crack of dawn. In the six years I’ve been using the airport I don’t believe I’ve ever seen it without construction and this was no exception.
The latest “enhancement” is a new drop-off area, which is much further away from the terminal.
Though attempts have been made to cover the walkway to the terminal, I still got very wet. Luton remains my least favorite London airport by a mile.
Wizz Air has an impressively large set-up here but with school holidays wrapping up there was an enormous line to check-in, even if you had priority bag drop. This is an ultra-low-cost carrier, so don’t expect dozens of desks manned to reduce your wait time. I would recommend arriving at least two hours before departure if you are checking baggage during a busy period like this — I was very glad I was not.
If you have a Priority Pass membership, the Escape Lounge is worth a stop if you fancy a hot breakfast — the staff was very cheery even at the crack of dawn.
Given how busy Luton has become, it’s a shame the more upmarket Clubrooms remains closed — I really enjoyed their version at Gatwick Airport before the pandemic.
My first flight of the day was a pretty standard Wizz experience and with a flight time of just under three hours, it was perfectly fine. Lining up out in the cold wind is never pleasant but the knowledge I was heading somewhere sunny warmed me up, mentally at least.
My decision to skip paid seat selection meant I was auto-allocated an aisle seat towards the back of the plane. The royal blue seats with their candy pink piping are quite garish, and the slimline seats don’t have much padding (or any recline), but they get you from point A to point B.
I was pleasantly surprised by the legroom in this standard seat. I’m 6-feet tall and my knees didn’t touch the back of the seat in front of me which is not something I can say for all airlines.
There was an inflight magazine (but no charging ports, Wi-Fi or other inflight entertainment), as well as menus which I perused with excitement given I would be spending the equivalent of an entire working day onboard Wizz flights that day.
After takeoff, I chose a “premium” New York deli sandwich. It was only really premium in price. I would have been disappointed if it was a $5 Tesco supermarket meal deal but it did the job for an underwhelming and overpriced low-cost airline onboard meal.
If you are hoping to work onboard your Wizz Air flight the tray tables are comically small. I had to rest my laptop on my lap and it didn’t physically fit on the tray table with the screen visible.
All in all the first flight was perfectly fine for the price paid and if I was looking for a nonstop flight to Belgrade I would take this one again.
Transfer experience in Belgrade
I found transferring to Belgrade to be both awesome (for the lounge experience) and awful (for the check-in experience). While I was able to check in online successfully for my first Wizz Air flight, I was not able to do the same for the second flight, as Wizz advised they would need to check my PCR test for entry to Abu Dhabi.
This meant I would need to enter Serbia to collect my onward boarding pass and, with a six-hour layover, I might not be able to check in until two hours before my second flight’s departure.
I tried my luck heading to the nearest Priority Pass lounge without an onward boarding pass (per the rules), and to my surprise, the lounge agent was happy to let me in with a shrug and a “why not”? The “Business Club Lounge” was nothing to write home about but better than sitting in the check-in area for hours.
Three hours before my second flight departed I left the lounge, passed immigration and had my passport stamped for a very quick visit to Serbia. I found the Wizz Air check-in and explained I had attempted to check in online but needed to show my PCR test.
The check-in agent flatly refused, telling me to return two hours before check in.
It’s been a while since I’ve sat in a check-in hall waiting for a flight to open but I found a seat and waited. Just prior to the two-hour mark, I returned to check in as dozens of other passengers crowded around waiting for the flight to open. Eventually, the same agent who had refused to help an hour earlier motioned for me to come forward. I showed him my negative PCR test on my phone to which he responded that I needed a printed version for him to keep. In two years of traveling on and off during the pandemic, this is the first time anyone has ever asked me for this. He pointed me to a nearby testing clinic in the terminal and luckily they were happy to print my test result at no charge.
When I returned to the check-in area a few minutes later it was pandemonium. Evidently, some passengers were unaware they needed a PCR test for Abu Dhabi (the requirement has since been removed). Some passengers were screaming at the check-in staff, while others were wailing loudly, begging to be let on the flight. I waved my printed test result like a white flag among the chaos and the same staff member eventually let me come forward to complete the check-in process.
Given the complex process of checking in for flights to Abu Dhabi, I wish Wizz Air would open check-in three hours before departure rather than two. I can only imagine the scene and anxiety 40 minutes before departure when check-in closes.
I passed through immigration again, receiving another passport stamp to celebrate my roughly 75 minutes in Serbia, and happened to walk past the Air Serbia lounge. There was a sign saying they welcomed Priority Pass members which surprised me a little as I knew Air Serbia was a rather premium airline, so in I went.
Here was the best part of my entire (long) day. The Air Serbia lounge in Belgrade is possibly the best Priority Pass lounge I have ever been in.
It was much better than the British Airways Club lounges at Heathrow — one of my most visited lounges. I was warmly welcomed by multiple staff and personally escorted to a seat where I was provided with an a la carte menu — at a Priority Pass lounge!
I ordered a burger and chips which were both cooked to order. I would have been very happy with a meal of this quality at a local pub or cafe in London.
There was a selection of local and international beers and wines — the bartender came over to my table and happily talked me through the wine options and found me a delicious glass of local white to enjoy after my meal.
Staff members came past regularly to check on me and ask if they could get me anything else.
Put it this way — if a lounge of this quality was at Luton airport I would never complain about Luton again.
If you happen to be flying out of Belgrade airport and have a Priority Pass membership I would strongly recommend arriving early to enjoy the excellent Air Serbia lounge.
Belgrade to Abu Dhabi
The second flight wasn’t nearly as tolerable as the first. We boarded and departed very late though this was clearly communicated to me throughout the day.
At around five hours, it is a long time to spend on an ultra-low-cost carrier. My prepaid seat was fine in row one, with a decent amount of legroom.
The problem was the (lack of) catering. I looked around for a menu in the seat pocket and couldn’t find one, despite it being there during my first flight.
The crew passed through the cabin with the trolley and I asked them about a menu. They told me there were no menus, so I asked if they had any hot food. They didn’t.
I then asked about a few items I could remember from the earlier flights menu. They didn’t have any of them.
I asked them what they did have, to which they replied “cheese sandwiches” — “that’s it.” They didn’t look appetizing, so I passed and was very glad the food in the lounge was such good quality.
There was also no Wi-Fi, charging ports or inflight entertainment (not even an inflight magazine) on this flight so the five hours was spent napping, reading and twiddling my thumbs.
Wizz Air seems to be missing a big opportunity with their very captive audience on these flights. Five hours is a long time to go without eating anything, so they could sell a much wider range of hot and cold food from a menu on one of their longest routes. They sold out of all their grim-looking cheese sandwiches to their bored audience quickly — I bet they would have sold a lot more if they had a better choice of food to sell.
We arrived in Abu Dhabi well past midnight and disembarked for an efficient on-arrival PCR test and I was on my way.
Why I wouldn’t do this again
The first reason I would not do this again is that Wizz Air does not sell connecting tickets on a single itinerary. Some low-cost carriers like EasyJet and Norwegian do offer connecting flights on a single ticket, recognizing that while they fly a huge amount of point-to-point services, some passengers will need to take two or more flights to get where they want to go.
I realize there are probably few people like myself looking to fly Wizz from London all the way to the United Arab Emirates but finding, booking, preparing for and taking two unconnected flights on Wizz Air was a pain. Everything had to be done twice, separately, from declining all the add-ons to checking in online, to checking the entry requirements of each destination. The time spent connecting in Belgrade was much longer than I would have liked — about the same time as a direct flight from the U.K. to the UAE. The process of entering Serbia and waiting for check-in to open was frustrating, too. A set-up where they could check documents and issue both boarding passes in London with a neat 90–120 minute connection in Belgrade to provide just enough time to pop into the fabulous Air Serbia lounge would have been a much more pleasant experience.
The second reason is that Wizz Air hasn’t really thought out its Abu Dhabi services. These flights are some of the longest in their network and are very different to a quick one-hour hop to France. 200 passengers in a (fairly uncomfortable) plane for five hours get bored quickly. Wizz could easily make the experience more enjoyable, and most importantly profitable, on these long flights with a few simple adjustments. Charging ports would be very welcome as would Wi-Fi which they could easily charge $16.36 (£12) for five hours’ worth.
I’m willing to bet a good selection of hot food would have been very popular on this service. No one appeared to actually enjoy those cheese sandwiches – there was virtually nothing else to purchase.
I wasn’t expecting this experience to rival Emirates or Etihad — both are excellent airlines with solid economy products — nonstop flights with great frequency and no issues with hot food or connectivity.
The first flight was fine and reminded me that Wizz is a solid ultra-low-cost carrier. You get what you pay for and it’s a perfectly tolerable experience. The wheels fell off in both the transfer experience and the second flight. If Wizz is going to operate flights this long, they could make more money by giving their customers something to do during some of the longest flights in their network.
Even with the money-saving, I won’t be flying Wizz Air to the UAE again anytime soon.
Featured image by Ben Smithson / The Points Guy.
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