I’m with my family flying economy to Greece from London Stansted Airport – but at check-in we feel like VIPs. And there’s almost a party atmosphere.
We’re on a week-long package trip with Jet2holidays – and fast discovering why it was rated by Which? as 2023’s joint-best beach and resort package holiday provider. And the Which? Travel Brand of the Year 2022.
Next door, the Ryanair check-in area is mundane and functional, while here at the Jet2 bag drop there’s a cheery fun-fair vibe, with a comedy pilot and cabin crew ‘face in hole’ photo board, fake palm trees, deck chairs and an archway formed of red-and-white balloons marking the start of the queue system.
And Jet2holidays staff in bright-red T-shirts are positioned every 20 yards, ready to help with travel queries, distribute stickers to children and offer assistance with the bag-drop machines.
Our 2.50pm July 22 Boeing 737 flight to the Ionian gem of Kefalonia is delayed by around 90 minutes due to air traffic control restrictions and congestion. And someone tripping the fire alarm at the gate.
Ted Thornhill puts Jet2holidays to the test with a trip to the Greek island of Kefalonia. He stays with his family at the Electra Kefalonia Hotel & Spa (above), one of several hotel options that Jet2 offers on Kefalonia
Ted describes the Electra Kefalonia Hotel & Spa as ‘fairly nondescript, but modern, comfortable and relaxing’. It’s located just a few minutes’ drive from the airport
LEFT: Ted pictured at coastal Kefalonia International Airport after his London Stansted flight touches down. RIGHT: The Jet2 check-in area at Stansted
The carnival atmosphere dissipates.
But we perk up once we’re airborne, despite our row – number 11 – having one of the dreaded ‘windowless’ window seats.
It’s a fun flight. The crew are chirpy, the pilots sound chipper over the PA and the food we pre-ordered is a cut above the fare offered by rival budget airlines flying out of the UK.
We parents have Four Cheese Tortellini & Mediterranean Vegetables (£10) and a Moroccan Vegetable Tagine (£10), while our six-year-old daughter has Macaroni Cheese (£7.50).
The adult meals come with delicious pots of chocolate mousse, plus crackers and cheese, while the little one gets extra treats including Cadbury Buttons, Bear Yoyo fruit snacks and a smoothie – plus a little activity pack with crayons.
At coastal Kefalonia International Airport a text pops through from ‘Angie’, our Jet2holidays customer helper, with a number to call in case we need help – and reps are on hand to direct us to our hotel-transfer coach waiting outside the terminal. It’s not a long ride – around 10 minutes.
We’re staying at the 34-room Electra Kefalonia Hotel & Spa – which is fairly nondescript, but modern, comfortable and relaxing with friendly and attentive staff, a lovely terrace-side swimming pool and views of the glistening Ionian Sea.
The Electra Kefalonia Hotel & Spa has 34 rooms and offers views of the glistening Ionian Sea
Pictured above is the poolside restaurant at the Electra hotel, where ‘consistently tasty food is served’
Ted and his family check in to an executive room (above), which boasts sea views and its own private pool
We love our spacious sea-view executive room with its huge private plunge pool, the consistently tasty food served in the restaurant and the thumbs-up-worthy local white wine on offer (Kefalonia has a deserved reputation for quality wine).
Jet2holidays says on its website that ‘it’s sure to impress’ and gives it a ‘four-star plus’ rating, which feels about right, though some may feel the ‘plus’ is being generous given the ‘Marmite’ location.
The property is only half a kilometre from the end of the international airport runway and airliners whoosh overhead once an hour, so close that their wake disturbs the palm trees on the front lawn.
I find all this quite thrilling. There’s something enticingly exotic about the pool/palm-tree/plane combo, but my partner isn’t quite so enamoured and rolls her eyes as I stare at the airliners touching down after they’ve buzzed the Electra sunbeds.
Planes aside, we both agree that the Electra is a good base for exploring the island.
We make our forays around its twisty, spaghetti-like thoroughfares in a Thrifty hire car booked through Jet2 that we pick up at the airport, the keys handed over at the desk by a wonderfully cheerful lady.
And it’s a scam-free process.
Car-hire firms are notorious for pushing their insurance policies. I have my own insurance though, and brace for a hard sell on buying Thrifty’s – but it never comes. My disclosure about already being covered is met with an exclamation of ‘oh, perfect!’
Ted visits picture-perfect Assos on the north-west coast (above), which has a bijou, swimmable harbour with a small beach
Kefalonia is a gem of an island located in the Ionian Sea
Electra receptionist Georgios, meanwhile, kindly steers us towards some of Kefalonia’s most enticing beaches and villages, marking them out on a freebie tourist map he hands us.
There’s a Jet2 information folder at reception crammed with ideas and tours to book, but Georgios’s advice suffices for us.
Our car is a Toyota Aygo, which has a piddly sewing-machine engine and offers no pull at all in second gear up any sort of incline (and on eye-catchingly mountainous Kefalonia there are inclines left, right and centre).
At first, I curse it, and come close to taking it back to Mrs Cheerful at Thrifty for an upgrade, but after a few days of discovering that the Aygo is a doddle to park in congested beach car parks and to squeeze past oncoming traffic on hair-raisingly narrow village roads, I have a change of heart. The bigger the better? When it comes to cars on a Greek island, definitely not.
The itinerary highlight village-wise is picture-perfect Assos on the north-west coast, which has a bijou, swimmable harbour with a small beach – and multiple taverna options. We have lunch at Estiatorio Platanos, set slightly back from the water, where the service is friendly and the kid goat with lemon, yoghurt and rice an absolute winner.
Pebbly Antisamos beach (above two images) is highly rated, but on Ted’s visit dance music is being played by one of the bars there at ‘obscenely high volumes’ and the atmosphere is further tainted by ‘gangs of marauding wasps’
Ted recommends visiting sandy Ai Helis beach (above), which lies a few minutes’ drive from the Electra hotel in a small bay flanked by cliffs. Part way up one of the cliffs (to the left of the image), is a top restaurant – Sea Salt
The roads in Kefalonia are often narrow and extremely twisty
Ted’s hire car displays the toasty temperature during his visit to Ai Helis beach
We also visit a few beach-only spots.
Georgios had become very animated about pebbly Antisamos beach on the east coast, around an hour’s drive from the hotel. ‘This is my favourite, this is my favourite,’ he’d exclaimed.
So we give it a whirl – and are spellbound by its location in a stunning forested bay at the end of a seductively scenic road. However, there are several bars there and one is playing dance music at an obscenely high volume when we visit, which ruins the atmosphere. Gangs of marauding wasps add further irritation.
We have a much better time at Ai Helis beach, which lies a few minutes’ drive from the Electra in a small bay flanked by cliffs. Parking spaces nearby are limited, but we sneak the Aygo in and snare a couple of sun loungers.
Al Helis is well organised, with a lifeguard, a small bar and an at-lounger food and drink service. It’s also blessed with golden sand, though it’s 39C on our visit and too hot to walk on barefoot.
After a couple of hours we retreat to the shady Sea Salt restaurant, which overlooks the beach from halfway up one of the cliffs. There we devour top-end Greek salads as beachgoers beneath us dart back and forth across the hot grains between their loungers and the exquisite azure waters.
Jet2holidays was rated by Which? as 2023’s joint-best beach and resort package holiday provider. And it was the Which? Travel Brand of the Year 2022
Jet2’s customer service has reached almost legendary levels
The in-flight Jet2.com macaroni cheese children’s meal box Ted bought for his daughter
Getting back to the airport at the end of our break for our 9.05pm flight is a breeze – a Jet2 transfer coach picks us all up at the end of the hotel’s driveway, with the firm having texted beforehand with instructions about where to wait and how to contact them by WhatsApp or via the customer helpline in the event the transfer doesn’t arrive.
The coach is on schedule and waiting for us at the terminal are Jet2holidays’ sincerely chirpy staff, giving out more stickers, engaging in gentle banter and doing their best to curtail the onset of back-to-work blues.
As we touch down in Stansted I reflect on our trip and conclude that Jet2holidays needs to keep the Brasso on standby for the Which? 2024 awards…
Ted and his family are hosted by Jet2holidays on a bed-and-breakfast basis at the Electra Kefalonia Hotel & Spa. The full cost of his peak-season seven-night package for three people was £4,584, including car hire at £366.28.
Jet2holidays offers multiple hotel options for Kefalonia.
Ted’s return flight lands at around 11pm. He stays with his family at the Hampton by Hilton London Stansted Airport hotel before returning home to London the following day.
THE VERDICT – WITH STAR RATINGS OUT OF 5.
PROS: The almost legendary Jet2.com customer service lives up to the hype, the hotel impresses just as Jet2 promised it would and the flights there and back are good as they get for a budget airline.
CONS: The hotel location near the airport, while extremely convenient, might bother some due to planes whooshing overhead.
Jet2 customer service: *****
Value for money: *****