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A warning if travelling through SOF

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  • Londonsteve

    I hadn’t been to SOF for a couple of years but after a long weekend returning yesterday the airport held some surprises. First of all, there is only one lounge open at T2 (Aspire) and it doesn’t accept a BA boarding pass, even though it serves Qatar flights. The other two lounges are closed, supposedly for refurbishment but let’s see when they reopen, if ever. Second, don’t go with the plan on buying anything at all while there, particularly not alcohol or cigarettes. The concession to operate the airport has been awarded to a consortium involving Munich airport and they’ve embarked on a journey of modernising the airport (which, frankly, was sorely needed). The entire retail area is closing at the end of the month for refurbishment (well-timed for the summer rush…) which should eventually result in shops and cafes up to the standard expected of an international airport in Europe. The existing shop owners were clearly paying backhanders for the right to operate at the airport and it was really poor in every way. They are now running down stock and clearly only buying the bare minimum to put something on the shelf, I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority don’t reopen in their current format. More than half the shops are already closed. There is hardly any choice of tobacco or alcohol in duty free (aside from a very good Casa del Habana which is good if you want premium cigars but they don’t stock cigarettes), generally only expensive premium bottles of booze are available. The empty shelves in the duty free shop make it look like Moscow circa 1970. Last but not least, the choice of places to eat at present is parlous and the prices outrageous, make sure you’ve eaten before getting to the airport as you’ll really resent handing over 10 Euros for a baguette or 15 for a lukewarm microwave meal when you should otherwise have lounge access by flying J or with your status. The lounges advertised by BA don’t exist anymore/are closed.

    On the positive side my experience with BA on both legs was excellent. The return was an hour late through no fault of the airline, although for some bizarre reason one of the cabin dividers was missing and there was therefore no curtain to separate CE from ET.

    yorkshireRich

    I flew Sofia Thursday to Saturday in CE, but fully agree with everything you said. We also didn’t have a curtain on the way back but I didn”t care and everyone seemed to know what to do, I.e no one else used the front toilet apart from when we were on the ground waiting for the airbridge at lhr for 30 to 45 mins. Cabin crew were superb on both legs.

    We have just completed the questionnaire to BA mentioning about the lounge. We did say at the aspire lounge “oh we have priority pass” to which they replied “oh we don’t accept them either”.

    I can Certainly recommend Sofia though.

    Jacob

    That lounge was a joke anyway!

    Londonsteve

    True enough. I always used to head to the Preslav lounge on the ground floor as it incorporated what was probably the last smoking area indoors at a European airport. I don’t know if the Aspire lounge has retained this feature, but in a country like Bulgaria it might be a wise decision if it did. I believe that any of the three lounges would once upon a time accept a BA boarding card (it used to require a lounge invitation from the check in desk) but all three were fundamentally rubbish.

    Still, the only duty free shop was always well stocked and had a good selection with low prices, to see it so devoid of anything to buy was shocking and panic inducing considering I arrived with a shopping list.

    John

    Thanks. I don’t smoke, but my friend is going this weekend and wants to buy cigarettes for his colleague – should he just get them in the city then?

    I didn’t know there were three lounges but the one I went to a few years ago must have been OK, because after stuffing my face at the IC lounge breakfast, I ate even more in that lounge such that I didn’t want the meal on my BA afternoon flight in CE (which I only redeemed for because there were no Y avios seats and the economy price was more than the CE avios price). I also recall they had beer from a keg.

    Amy C

    I am glad you’ve written this as I was planning SOF as a tier point run (mainly) and to bring bag some B&H for a colleague. I don’t have much interest in Bulgaria so to go there and not be able to bring a few smokes back for him or use a lounge would have been very disappointing. I don’t suppose you can buy 200 in the city? Is there much to see there? My other colleague with a Bulgarian GF says it’s grim and gets out of there soon as poss.

    • This reply was modified 52 years, 7 months ago by .
    Luca M

    I was there last October for a long week end. Stayed at IC and luckily we had researched the place to eat at and explore. I think Sofia is an interesting place and would go back at some point but not one that I would have an extended stay at.

    With regards to the lounge, the one we went too, which was near the BA gate, was a bit disappointing, with no real food (mostly snacks and some sort of packed sandwiches), but had no problem getting in and noticed the PriorityPass sign on the entry desk as well. Hopefully after refurbishment they open some newer and better options.

    yorkshireRich

    Amy we only went for 2 nights, and stayed at the IC where we caught the train from the airport for 74 pence.

    We were pleasantly surprised, but maybe that’s because our expectations were probably so low. We definitely wish we had stayed an extra day, and at some point will probably do a tp run and explore further next time.

    Londonsteve

    I’ve been travelling to Sofia regularly for the last 13 years. I can see why some people say it’s grim but you need to scratch a bit below the surface and you’ll find a charming city that is even quite ‘exotic’ for those travelling from altogether more sterile places in the west. The bars and restaurants can be superb and excellent value (all the more reason to eat before you arrive at SOF for your return flight), the nightlife is energetic and it’s quite a young city as it’s so full of students. It’s a small, compact and eminently walkable capital with a relaxed vibe that’s a lovely tonic when travelling from somewhere as pumped-up as London. Half the core is a handsome, elegant place of broad boulevards built with Austrian architects in the style of Vienna, the other half more intimate with narrow streets, a lot of graffiti and some really excellent independent boutiques, bars, cafes and restaurants. The smart residential area of Oborishte immediately east of the city centre is worth a stroll, again for its small shops, cafes and restaurants, the lovely Doctor’s Garden and a slightly smarter vibe due to the prevalence of embassies, ambassadorial residences and smarter apartment blocks inhabited by the metropolitan upper middle classes. There’s no getting around the fact that after three days you might be struggling for things to see and do that interest you, but even after a few days in the city, the magnificent Vitosha mountain awaits. You can get most of the way to the top for pence on a bus, or take the cable car from the edge of Sofia and then a chairlift even higher. The views, air and nature are lovely and you could go on a week’s hike just on Vitosha alone. There is also good skiing in winter with night illumination.

    Cigarettes are extremely easy to buy in the city from any kiosk, off-licence, petrol station, supermarket or corner shop. The best selection will be in an “Alcohol & Tabakoff” who are a specialist off licence. B&H is a brand not really known in Bulgaria and ordinarily I would have said to wait until getting to the airports. Tobacco stockists in places frequented by British tourists, like at the Black Sea coast, or the ski resorts may stock it, but I reckon the chances of finding it in Sofia is near nil, therefore ask for a second choice that is internationally known to avoid disappointment. Be aware that the limit when returning to the UK is now 200, doesn’t matter if it’s ‘tax paid’ or ‘duty free’.

    PeteM

    Update on the SOF lounge situation:

    As Londonsteve says, the Aspire Lounge is the only one open now.

    It does not appear to accept BA J tickets, but it should, theoretically, accept oneworld status holders (judging by the Qatar sign outside): https://ibb.co/PQCB100

    It did accept Priority Pass this morning, though.

    There was no breakfast at all, seemingly, but some food did appear later: https://ibb.co/tP4BJTx

    It does look a lot better than the old lounges AND retains that coveted smoking lounge (on the right at the end of the video): https://filebin.net/rvkyfkihwzgid7hw

    Can’t wait for SOF to become a decent airport!

    Oliver

    Seems like it’s going up in the world, Pete! I was there last Sunday (19th) and they were not accepting Priority Pass.

    They had moved to the downstairs location 3 days earlier, and that ‘new’ Aspire lounge did not have an agreement with PP at the time. The (then closed) upstairs Aspire Lounge was still showing in the PP app!

    Londonsteve

    Interesting that PP has suddenly come online. Considering Aspire just moved location, it makes no sense why they would have suspended accepting PP. It’s possible that the staff member was just misinformed to begin with.

    Yes I’m looking forward to visiting the transformed SOF. T2 never had issues with long queues at either check in or security for which I was always grateful, but the airside experience was dreary and overpriced. T1 however was an entirely different story. I don’t know what it’s like post-pandemic but I flew many times from there and it had the slowest moving security queue in the world. Remonstrating passengers were met with a “you should have arrived earlier” response from the staff. Airside was tatty with terrible lavatories and a lack of seating.

    A remarkable number of HfP forum readers appear to be travelling to and from SOF – tier point runs?

    PeteM

    A remarkable number of HfP forum readers appear to be travelling to and from SOF – tier point runs?

    “Business” said with a heavy Russian accent 🙂

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