Donegal Airport (Aerphort Dhún Na nGall) was voted the most scenic airport in the world for three consecutive years. With fantastic sea, beach, and mountain views, this is the gateway to northwest Ireland and the Wild Atlantic Way. Currently, two airlines fly here, Loganair from Glasgow and Amapola Flyg from Dublin. The latter is a Swedish airline, using the Fokker 50, an aircraft popular with aviation enthusiasts. Charter flights and A-list celebrities also use the airport facilities.
Need to know
Visa: UK residents can travel freely as part of the Common Travel Area (CTA).
Travel: See the FCDO website.
Currency: Euro (£1 = €1.11 approximately).
Travel Adapter: Type G (same as the UK).
Language: Irish Gaelic is the national language. English as a second language.
Best time to visit: May to September.
Quick facts about Donegal County
- Known as Ireland’s forgotten county.
- The Dongeal coastline forms nearly 20% of Ireland’s coastline.
- Ballyshannon is the oldest town in Ireland.
- The cliffs of Slieve League are the highest in Europe.
1. Checking in at Dublin (DUB) airport
Amapola Flyg operates a manual check-in and issues paper boarding passes. Hence, there is no mobile or online check-in. The check-in area at Dublin airport is 14, found below the main departures hall. The flight leaves from the 200 gate range taking 45 minutes to Donegal and one hour on the return leg.
On this flight, 11 passengers boarded from a maximum capacity of 39. Seating is non-allocated, so it is ‘first come, first served’. In effect, this is to balance the aircraft weight with the help of heavy stone bags in the hold.
2. Flying on a Fokker 50 aircraft
For aviation geeks, the Fokker 50 aircraft is a novelty aircraft. Retro in design and constructed in the late 1980s, it functions adequately, and the flight itself is an enjoyable experience. Flyers are accustomed to modern aircraft, however this experience takes the passnger back to pre-ergonomic days. Nevertheless, modern safety checks are carried out.
The interior is somewhat outdated, the arms rests have ashtrays, and outlets provide a connection for oxygen masks. On the negative side, windows are lower than eye level, meaning the seated passenger adopts a semi-brace position in order to get a decent view.
The seats are an odd shade of grey, comfortable and roomy but with limited reclining ability. Space is tight for storing luggage underneath the seats. The aircraft operates a 2×2 formation with 13 rows. Specifically, seats 12D, 12E, 13D and 13E on the left-hand side of the aircraft offer the best views.
Incidentally, the flight deck is slightly higher than the cabin level, so the pilot steps up to the flight deck. There is a single pilot and one member of the cabin crew on board for flights. With this is mind, no refreshments are available onboard.
3. Approach and landing
Viewing the Wild Atlantic Way and the ragged rocks from above is impressive. Flying over the rugged coastline, it is hard not to imagine the sound of crashing waves against the shore, like people washing clothes on rocks. Many tiny settlements dotted around the coast are privileged to enjoy this view.
In the distance, Errigal, one of Ireland’s most popular climbing destinations and the tallest peak in County Donegal at 751m (2464 feet), is visible. It forms part of the Seven Sisters, a mountain chain in northwest County Donegal.
The landing and taxi to the Donegal Airport terminal building is short. Subsequently, as a domestic flight, passing through Customs and exiting the airport only takes a few minutes. Indeed, the single Customs official was kind enought to call as local firm for my 20-minute, traffic-free taxi ride into Dungloe.
4. Donegal airport terminal building
This has a combined arrivals and departures hall, a single conveyor belt for arriving luggage, and a caféteria with a small gift shop that sees a surge of customers when flights arrive or depart. Located in the corner of the main hall is the hire car desk.
Although there are two check-in desks, it is unlikely they are both in use simultaneously as never more than one flight leaves at a time. A few commercial flights operate from this airport, as well as some charter ones. There is a strong community feel here, and the staff are accommodating.
The verdict of the most scenic airport in the world
To be voted the most scenic airport in the world for three consecutive years is an achievement as there are many other worthy contenders. Donegal Airport is a perfect entry point to Donegal county, famed for coastal walks, hiking trails, woodland and lake walks. It is also one of the best places to view the Wild Atlantic Way and to visit Arranmore Island off the Donegal coast, near Dungloe.
For several months of the year, passengers miss out on those picture-perfect views, however when the sun is shining, landing at Donegal is a pleasure and an unforgettable experience.
Cabin Bags Only rating: 7.0/10
Donegal Airport official website.
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