A question I often see from people organising their Greek island-hopping adventures is, which airlines to use. Particularly, which are the best Greek airlines. Although there are other services, which I’ll touch on here, this post will introduce you to the country’s best airlines.
More Information About Travel in Greece
I have loads of posts to help you get around the country.
For those of you coming into Greece on a cruise ship then you can familiarise yourself with Piraeus, Athens Cruise Port here.
Finally, for a trip on the mainland here’s the best way to get from Athens to Nafplion.
A Note on Flying to the Islands
For the most authentic Greek travel experience I do recommend taking the ferry. Plus it’s better for the environment. But, I understand that sometimes that’s not the most viable option so here are some things to be aware of when considering flying.
Navigating Athens International Airport
When you land in Athens from international flights it’s ideal to leave around 3 hours between your arrival time and your departure to the island.
When you come back from the islands at the end of your Greek vacation be aware that you need to leave and then re-enter the airport to check-in for international destinations. (The exception may be for Delta customers also flying with SKY Express, see below.)
For domestic flights, you can leave less time between flights. Eg. if you’re flying back to Athens from Santorini to catch a flight to Crete. Internal flights at Athens airport come into a different section where the gates are quite close to each other.
Flying and the Islands
Firstly, be aware that many islands don’t even have domestic airports so the only way to get to them is by ferry.
Some islands are really close together and you do need to look at the ferries between them. It doesn’t make sense to go back via Athens on a plane. A popular option is flying or taking a ferry to your first island. Then hop the next islands by ferry before flying back to Athens to catch your flight home.
This is especially true with island groups like the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea. Islands are very close together and the ferry journeys can be very short. (Like, from 20 minutes.)
Most flights to the islands come from Athens as the hub. There are few services that run as direct flights between the islands. I have seen some in the high season that run eg direct between Santorini and Corfu but I don’t see any scheduled for this summer season.
So for the most part, you’ll need to fly in and out of Athens on two flights to get from one place to the other.
Some islands have daily flights running between their domestic airport and Athens. However, some services only run three times per week, for example.
These little planes still run on the windy days when the ferries are docked. Journeys can be bumpy but you’ll be flying with some of the safest airlines so you don’t really need to worry.
Combining Greece with Other European Destinations
Although a lot of the smaller Greek airports are only for domestic routes others are international airports. If you’re flying from the UK or you’re visiting Turkey or some other European cities as part of your trip then check which European destinations connect with the islands you’re visiting.
Santorini, Mykonos, Corfu, Crete, Lesvos, Rhodes and Kos, amongst others, connect with various major cities in other European countries.
Booking Airline Tickets
I always use Skyscanner to find flights because it’s the easiest way to see all the options (scheduled and charter flights) in one place. You can search by destination and then choose the “anywhere” option to see where you can fly there from.
That’s quite helpful if you’re travelling in Europe and want to see the best connections. You’ll have a smoother travel experience if you can fly directly to your first island without going via Athens on a separate flight.
With Skyscanner, you can look at particular dates or you can show the monthly view. It’ll show you the days there are direct (and non-direct) flights and the ticket price on each day.
That’s helpful if you’re particularly looking for cheap flights. Although note, that fares from Athens to the islands can be as expensive, or much more expensive than the international flight that brought you to the country.
You can also choose to view flights by a particular carrier.
The Best Greek Airlines for the Islands
So, let’s get on and look at the different airlines you might book with. Aegean/Olympic and SKY Express are my personal favourite go-to air carriers for air travel around the islands.
I like travelling with them not least because the fares often include a piece of luggage up to 32kg as well as a cabin bag. Other low-cost carriers that serve the islands often just include a carry-on bag or an even smaller “personal item”. Keep baggage fees in mind when you’re comparing costs.
Anyway, here’s a bit more information about the various airlines.
Aegean Airlines and Olympic Air
Aegean is Greece’s largest airline and the country’s flag carrier. It’s also won Best Regional Airline awards several times, with the 12th time being in 2022.
With its subsidiary Olympic Air, Aegean has regular connections to many different destinations in Greece. You can see their route map here. But as an example in 2023, they fly to the following popular Greek islands:
- Corfu, Kefalonia and Zakynthos in the Ionian Islands
- Santorini, Mykonos, Paros, Naxos, and Milos in the Cyclades
- Rhodes, Kos and Leros in the Dodecanese Islands
- Lesvos, Chios, Samos and Ikaria Aegean islands
- Chania, Sitia and Heraklion International Airport in Crete
This list isn’t exhaustive and between them, Aegean and Olympic cover a lot of other Greek destinations both on the islands and the mainland.
My experiences with Aegean and Olympic have been great. I’ve enjoyed great service on every Aegean Airlines flight I’ve taken including ones to and from Istanbul.
Aegean Airlines is classed as a four-star airline in terms of its offering and it has an excellent safety rating. It’s a full-service airline but the food and drinks service is still altered since COVID.
So in economy on domestic flights, you’ll get a pre-packed snack and a bottle of water. On international flights, you’ll get a light snack with hot and cold drinks. For Business class, you’re offered a 3-course meal “curated by a team of distinguished chefs”, served along with hot and cold as well as alcoholic, drinks.
SKY Express is a regional airline and another of the well-known Greek airlines. I’ve used them several times when living on the popular islands of Naxos and Paros.
One thing that might set them apart for you is that they’ve partnered with Delta Air Lines. If you fly in from the US on a Delta flight you can get one Delta ticket and check your luggage all the way through to your final destination.
You can see the Sky Express route map here for domestic and international flights. They fly to 34 destinations in Greece including islands like:
- Crete (3 airports)
- Rhodes and
The Cycladic Project
The Cycladic Project by ifly runs scheduled flights to nine Greek islands on their fleet of three Cessna Grand Caravan planes. The flights can take up to 12 passengers with two pilots (no cabin crew).
They fly to and from the following islands:
- Crete (Heraklion)
Example routes are Milos to Heraklion in Crete in 40 minutes, Paros to Milos in 20 minutes and Naxos to Astypalia in 40 minutes.
The flights are quick and easy and designed for comfort. The planes have big windows so you can really take in the low-level flight.
In terms of sustainability, the company says that because their fleet is new, they’re using the best technology for fuel efficience.
Other Airlines for Greek Island Hopping
If you’re browsing Skyscanner for flights the other options will most likely be through a budget airline like:
- Hahn Air or
Book Your Flights
When you know your holiday dates go ahead and get your flights booked. Prices do vary as seats fill and flight frequency varies through the seasons.
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