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Snow Seeking in Svalbard – Journey to the World's Most Northerly Commercial Airport

Snow Seeking in Svalbard – Journey to the World's Most Northerly Commercial Airport

Old Jun 26, 19, 3:34 pm
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Snow Seeking in Svalbard – Journey to the World's Most Northerly Commercial Airport

Opening my laptop on this hot summer day in Romania I thought it would be an excellent idea to cool down a bit while writing one of the many trip reports I planned to write for ages. In particular, a winter trip report of a journey I embarked on in March to the Norwegian island of Svalbard, which is perhaps better known under the name of Spitsbergen.

The island of Svalbard, located waaaaay above the arctic circle, has always intrigued me for several reasons. To start, as an aviation fan it is famous as being the northernmost airport with commercial scheduled flights (if I believe correctly, Alert Airport in Nunavut, Canada, is located even more northerly – but only sees a military charter twice or so a year). Given that I have a weird liking of remote places and that the island has an interesting history and geography (there is still an active Russian mining community still active since a concession was sold by the Dutch to the Soviets in 1932) and you know my second reason. The third reason? Well, the snowy winter landscape is supposed to be gorgeous.

You might think it would be slightly mad to visit the island in early March. On first sight that might well be true as temperatures easily dip below -20 degrees Celsius and the main tourist season is indeed summer. Sure it is cold, but as last year I had an awesome winter trip to Siberia I thought I would survive Svalbard as well.

Of course, you would not want to visit in the middle of winter in January or February as you would not even have any daylight at such an high latitude. Yet from early March to mid-April the sun slowly starts to come above the horizon in the season called the “pastel winter” by the locals. It is usually clear weather and there is enough light during the day for winter activities such as dog sledding or embarking on a snowmobile ride. The name pastel winter refers to the unique and beautiful light conditions where the snow-covered mountains of Svalbard shine in beautiful pastel colours due to the bright blue sky and the first sunlight of the year.

Booking the trip was rather easy. You can only fly to Svalbard's Longyearbyen Airport (LYR) from two cities in Norway: Oslo and Tromsø (EDIT: While typing this I found that this summer TUIfly starts an intriguing flight from CDG directly to LYR!). The only two airlines having scheduled flights to Longyearbyen are Norwegian and SAS – so it is easy to keep a watch on price fluctuations. One-way flights can easily hit 350 EUR or more, so when I saw return flights going for 200 EUR on both Norwegian and SAS from Oslo I instantly booked a trip up north (naturally on SAS, given I have *A gold and could earn some miles too). The connecting flights were fairly easy as well. On the outbound I would fly from Bucharest to Oslo Torp on Wizzair for the grand price of 12.5 EUR (and an additional 18 EUR for seat reservation and priority boarding which allows me to bring two pieces of hand luggage), with a day in Oslo to have a safe cushion. The way back would be a bit more risky, having only thee hours in Oslo after my SAS flight to make it to a separate booking on Turkish Airlines to Istanbul and on to Bucharest (155 EUR).

On a map, the flights look like this:



To get an idea on how high of a latitude Svalbard is located one just has to take a look at a globe (or Google Maps). Just compare the location of the island with Greenland or the left. Or consider that the distance from Oslo to Longyearbyen is about as far as from Oslo south to Barcelona..



Things to look forward to in this trip report are:

- Flying to the northernmost commercial airport in the world
- Freezing, freezing cold temperatures in Svalbard
- An amazing adventure on snowmobile
- A visit to the Russian mining town of Barentsburg









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Last edited by Romanianflyer; Jun 26, 19 at 3:43 pm
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Old Jun 27, 19, 9:05 am
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this is what i call a teaser!!!

i expect the follow up more than the next Casa de Papel # 3 , which is hard to beat :-)
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Old Jun 27, 19, 5:56 pm
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Looking forward to the trip report!

From the teaser, I gather that "running away from a hungry polar bear" was not part of your activities on the island
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Old Jun 29, 19, 5:27 am
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Romanianflyer is usually much faster at posting reports - did he meet a polar bear after all???

I do hope not.
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Old Jun 29, 19, 3:47 pm
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Originally Posted by bebert View Post
this is what i call a teaser!!!

i expect the follow up more than the next Casa de Papel # 3 , which is hard to beat :-)
Thanks bebert! I had no clue what Casa de Papel was (had to Google it) but it sounds good! Might download it as something to watch for wherever my next flights might take me!

I hope the trip report will not disappoint - will start posting from tomorrow on (hopefully one installment per day).

Originally Posted by cockpitvisit View Post
Looking forward to the trip report!

From the teaser, I gather that "running away from a hungry polar bear" was not part of your activities on the island
Originally Posted by lhrpete View Post
Romanianflyer is usually much faster at posting reports - did he meet a polar bear after all???

I do hope not.
Thanks cockpitvisit and lhrpete!

Don't worry about my health - the trip was in March and I safely made it back home as otherwise I wouldn't be writing this

As for polar bears... I won't give any teasers, but we did have to carry this when embarking on a snowmobile ride in case we'd meet aggressive polar bears! (it's actually required by law for anyone heading out of the town of Longyearbyen) - and no, it's not a violin suitcase

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Old Jun 29, 19, 9:30 pm
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Old Jun 30, 19, 4:59 am
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Part 1: Bucharest (OTP) to Oslo Torp (TRF) on Wizzair
Flight W6 3215 – Airbus A320 - Seat 28F – 30.5 EUR incl. seat reservation/priority boarding
STD 6.55am - STA 9.05am (flight time 3h10m)


Flying off-season to Norway is often cheap from Bucharest – and this flight was no exception even though I only booked it three weeks in advance. I tried to book the entire journey on SAS ticket stock, but with SAS only operating the occasional flight from OTP to CPH it meant that I would be forced to stay two extra nights in Copenhagen while ticket costs would skyrocket. So another positioning flight on my favourite low-cost airline it was! With a ticket price of just 12.5 EUR and an additional 18 EUR for 'normal' seat reservation and priority boarding which allows me to bring two pieces of hand luggage I couldn't really complain. The whole trip also brought back fond memories of my Siberian adventure a year ago which started with exactly the same positioning flight.

There is not much to tell about the flight itself. Even though I prefer a window seat in general it is a must for me to have on such early flights so I can doze off a bit more, resting my head against the aircraft body. The flight was two thirds full and left on time, and arrived on time. I slept for the most of it. These are LCC flights at their best and what it is all about: paying a dirt cheap price to get you somewhere else without any fuss. I generally tend to find Wizzair excellent when it comes to keeping an on-time schedule and having friendly crews and seat comfort on the A320 is not necessarily worse than most European full-service airlines (Wizzair's A321s on the other hand are dreadful despite often being brand new). For those wishing to read a bit more about Wizzair, do check the previous link or some other of my trip reports such as my Malta trip or last year's trip to Georgia.





Even though Torp airport (TRF) is called Oslo Torp by low cost carriers it is actually located close to the city of Sandefjord and is still some 70 miles out of Oslo. There are direct buses to Oslo, but the train is the same price, takes the same time and is much more comfortable. The train station is a mile or so away from the airport – and a free shuttle bus runs to the station some five to ten minutes or so before each train departure. It works like a charm.





In Oslo I had a room booked for the night at Smarthotel Oslo (55 EUR/night). The room was basic and small but clean, and the hotel modern and centrally located. Given the at times extremely high costs in Norway it was the perfect option for me as I basically only needed a bed to crash in and a shower to freshen me up the next day. I theoretically could have departed a day later on a direct flight to Oslo Gardermoen on Blue Air, but I did not want to risk it as there would be only 2-3 hours in between my arrival and next flight to Svalbard, with both being on separate tickets. As I had the time I thought the safer option was to go a day earlier to Oslo and stay for the day.



As I had already visited before on previous occasions, including last year in winter (see again the link above to the Siberian trip report) I didn't end up doing much in the city. I had a short walk to the royal palace to get some fresh air before retreating to my room to get some work done, only to get out again at dinner time for a quick burger and to buy a few beers in a supermarket as nightcap before sleeping in.









Next up: SAS business class lounge at OSL and my SAS flight to Svalbard
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Old Jun 30, 19, 9:15 am
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This is awesome, Svalbard has been on my bucket list for a while now. Did you go to Pyramiden?
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Old Jul 1, 19, 6:55 am
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Fantastic!
how much was the train journey from “Oslo” Torp airport to Oslo city, as you mentioned a 70-mile journey.
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Old Jul 2, 19, 1:24 pm
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Originally Posted by RabbitIYH View Post
This is awesome, Svalbard has been on my bucket list for a while now. Did you go to Pyramiden?
Unfortunately not as at the time I was visiting there were no boat trips due to ice conditions (what I heard boat travel only gets possible from around March-April or so, although even late in spring often boats cannot dock at Pyramiden due to conditions). Due to limited time I also had no time to go there by snowmobile as it would probably be a too grueling journey for a snowmobile newbie to do in a day (although it is possible as a day trip what I read). Quite a pity as visiting the second most northerly Lenin statue in Barentsburg doesn't have the same ring as the most northerly in Pyramiden

That said, Barentsburg was a great alternative and it actually being a living town instead of being a ghost town like Pyramiden made it special on its own.

Originally Posted by gaobest View Post
Fantastic!
how much was the train journey from “Oslo” Torp airport to Oslo city, as you mentioned a 70-mile journey.
249 NOK if you get a booked-in-advance minipris, 289 NOK full price. Can easily book it online (I did so through the Norwegian railways app while waiting in the queue for passport control at Torp!).
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Old Jul 2, 19, 2:32 pm
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Originally Posted by Romanianflyer View Post
You might think it would be slightly mad to visit the island in early March.
Slightly?

Joking aside it can obviously be a good time to go. For someone who's visited Siberia in winter Svalbard shouldn't be a problem...
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Old Jul 2, 19, 3:07 pm
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Part 2: Oslo Gardermoen (OSL) to Svalbard (LYR) on SAS in economy
Flight SK4496 – Boeing 737-700 – Seat 5A – 200 EUR for OSL-LYR r/t
STD 9.35pm - STA 00.30am +1 (flight time 2h55m)


As my flight to Svalbard would only be in the evening it meant I still had the entire day in Oslo to kill. I decided to sleep in for a bit and get some work done in the morning before checking out exactly at noon. I would then head straight to the airport to spend the remaining hours in the lounge to finish my working day. It would be a long sit in the lounge, but I figured it would be more comfortable (and cheaper!) than working from an Oslo cafe.

It was a short walk from my hotel to the underground Nationaltheatret station, from where I could take a direct train to Gardermoen Airport, which is Oslo's main airport. There are two trains you can take, the more expensive Airport Express Train called the Flytoget and the slightly slower and less expensive regional train. I opted for the latter. I was happy to have boarded the train at Nationaltheatret and not at its next stop of Oslo S. – the city's main station – as hundreds of commuters, travellers and those heading out on a skiing trip entered the train there filling it to the brim with many not being able to grab a seat.



Oslo Gardermoen is a nice, spacious airport with a real Scandinavian feel to it with lots of wood used. As I did not have bags to check I went straight to the priority lane to pass through security.



Once airside you can turn left to the domestic terminal and right towards all other destinations – with non-Schengen flights departing from the most faraway side of the airport. My flight would depart from exactly that part of the airport. You might think that a domestic flight would depart from the domestic terminal – but that is not the case with Svalbard. While part of Norway, Svalbard is not part of the Schengen area. This means that you need to pass through passport control before flying off to Svalbard, and it also means that on the return you need to clear passport control while arriving in Oslo. There are no passport checks on the island itself.





The SAS lounge was a bit tricky to find as on first instance I walked straight by it without realising it. After I asked a friendly airport employee I got the right directions, walking a bit back before going up some stairs towards the lounge entrance which is directly located above the main terminal corridor.



The SAS lounge actually consists out of two lounges. Once past the lounge dragons you are in the area for business class passengers. A second automatic gate where you need to scan your ticket again allows you access to the larger *A gold area of the lounge.


The business class area of the lounge – the automatic gate to the *G section can be seen on the left

Lounge décor and food and beverages seemed to be quite similar in both lounges, although for sure for *G section was much larger, had more diverse seating options, a slightly larger buffet and was less crowded for most of the day. Seats were comfortable, with many overlooking the airport premises (the check-in areas).





There are quite a few good working places to set up your laptop – both on good, sturdy tables right in the lounge as well as in special working rooms with doors which you can close. It made for a very productive afternoon working.



There is one buffet area where you can get food and drinks. There were lots of options for bread and salads, although hot options were extremely limited. Only at one point in the afternoon did one of the lounge dragons bring out some hamburgers and some soup. That said, even though I found the quantity a bit limited as I'm quite the opposite of a grass-munching cow, the quality was very good and all looked fresh. If you are a vegetarian you will like the quality and options for sure. I just opted for some hamburgers, bread and hummus. The selection of alcohol was acceptable. There were 2 or 3 options for both white and red wine, a cheap sparkling wine, Carlsberg draught beer, big canisters of juice and of course sodas. The hard alcohol selection was rather small (1 type of, 1 whiskey, 1 gin, 1 cognac, Baileys, Campari – and that was basically it) but acceptable enough.













What more to say? There were clean toilets inside the lounge, although there were no showers. Internet was fast, and the friendly and helpful lounge dragons kept the lounge sparkling clean. Overall it is a very solid lounge and a good place for a pre-flight drink, bite or to get some work done.





Weirdly enough, the SAS domestic lounge does have showers (and what I read even a staffed bar with proper barista coffee) – so if that is what you seek I think you can always try to access that lounge as the domestic part of the airport seemed freely accessible.

Half an hour or so before boarding would begin I opted to leave the lounge and stretch my legs (and more importantly, I still had to clear passport control as the lounge is in the Schengen-area of the terminal). Luckily there were no queues and I still had plenty of time to snap some more pictures and to buy some booze. As we all know, booze is ridiculously expensive in Norway. Even for a small glass of beer you easily pay 10+ EUR in any restaurant or pub, which makes it an excellent idea to do some duty free shopping at the airport. Last time I had to sell of a kidney and get a second mortgage on my home just to buy a couple of pints in an Oslo pub – so this time I opted to buy a bottle of wine and a couple of craft beers from the airport shop so I would have something to warm up err.. to drink in my Svalbard hotel.





When I saw this aeroplane bound for Svalbard parked next to mine I was so glad that I chose SAS above Norwegian for this flight. I guess most on these boards will instantly recognise the type. Just earlier in the day flight ET302 had crashed in Ethiopia, so I'm not sure how the people on board of this Norwegian 737MAX would have felt this evening... We can all complain about inedible meals, grumpy flight crews or have a Korean Airlines-style fight over some nuts, but in the end what matters most is safely getting to our destination. A day like this eerily reminded me of that and those poor souls on board of the Ethiopian plane.



My SAS flight was operated by a Boeing 737-700 in all economy seating. SAS does offer a kind of premium economy product on intra-European flights called SAS Plus. Is it worth it? I didn't try it – but hearing that you don't even get the middle seat free if the plane is fully booked but you just get a free snack and drinks it did not seem worth it at all if you ask me! That said – mileage earnings can be great on intra-European flights in those classes on SAS if the price is right, depending on your frequent flyer programme of course.

I didn't find economy class bad at all on SAS. The seats were comfortable, the middle seat next to me remained empty, there was free coffee and tea, and even a good-working wifi connection (free).



The flight went by quickly and we safely touched down at Svalbard Airport on time. Disembarkation at this airport is always by stairs – which is well... a fun welcome to the island! As it was such a sunny day in Oslo I did not yet unpack my gloves from my rucksack and boy, was it cold! I thought I was used to freezing weather in Siberia in winter, but this reminded me that being near the open sea is much worse than being in the middle of a landmass. Even though temperatures were around -20 degrees and not dissimilar from those in Siberia the cold felt so much sharper. It reminded me of Siberians complaining that St. Petersburg felt actually colder to them than Siberia for the exact same reasons. Can't disagree with them on that!



I managed to take a quick snap of my SAS plane before running quickly towards the warm terminal thinking what on earth I was thinking for going this far north in winter.
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Old Jul 3, 19, 2:56 pm
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Looking forward to reading the rest of the report! As someone living in a fairly remote, northern location I'm always happy to see people take the journey north and explore the various communities in the Arctic Circle!
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Old Jul 4, 19, 4:38 am
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Oslo looks so much prettier with a sprinkling of snow.

Looking forward to the adventure above the Arctic Circle.
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Old Jul 4, 19, 2:27 pm
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Originally Posted by Romanianflyer View Post
Half an hour or so before boarding would begin I opted to leave the lounge and stretch my legs (and more importantly, I still had to clear passport control as the lounge is in the Schengen-area of the terminal). Luckily there were no queues and I still had plenty of time to snap some more pictures and to buy some booze. As we all know, booze is ridiculously expensive in Norway. Even for a small glass of beer you easily pay 10+ EUR in any restaurant or pub, which makes it an excellent idea to do some duty free shopping at the airport. Last time I had to sell of a kidney and get a second mortgage on my home just to buy a couple of pints in an Oslo pub – so this time I opted to buy a bottle of wine and a couple of craft beers from the airport shop so I would have something to warm up err.. to drink in my Svalbard hotel.
FYI, due to the special status of Svalbard within Kingdom of Norway, goods are sold duty free there and therefor things like alcohol is cheaper there than in the Norwegian mainland. However, since pretty much all perishable items have to be transported via air, that negates the effect of the lack of VAT on such items.
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