Situated in the Mediterranean sea to the southeast of the Greek mainland, the island of Crete is a popular destination among European holidaymakers. It is served by three commercial airports, with other facilities existing for general aviation and military purposes. Let’s take a closer look at which airports handle which flights.
Heraklion Nikos Kazantzakis International Airport (HER) is situated on the island’s north coast, close to the resort of Malia. Not only is it Crete’s busiest air hub, but it also ranks second (behind Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International) among Greek airports in terms of passenger traffic. In 2019, the last full calendar year of pre-coronavirus ‘normality,’ it handled nearly eight million passengers.
The airport is a joint commercial/military facility, and its longest runway (09/27) stretches for 2,714 meters. This allows it to handle larger aircraft, such as the Boeing 777 that Austrian Airlines deployed there amid huge demand last summer. However, for the most part, its traffic consists of seasonal and charter leisure traffic operated by European narrowbodies to cater to summer holiday demand.
All the usual European suspects fly to Heraklion seasonally, ranging from low-cost carriers like easyJet, Ryanair and Wizz Air to full-service flag carriers such as Air France, British Airways, and Finnair. Away from Europe, Etihad flies in from Abu Dhabi on a seasonal basis. Certain flights do operate all year, with most being domestic. However, Aegean also serves three German cities year-round.
LOT and TUI are among Heraklion’s many seasonal operators. Photo: Getty Images
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It is worth noting that there are plans to replace Heraklion Airport by the middle of the current decade. These will see operations transferred to an upgraded Kasteli Airport, which currently serves as a military base. This will reportedly result, among other aspects, in an extension that will bring Kastelis’s runway to 3,800 meters long. Heraklion Airport will then be part of an urban regeneration project.
Crete’s second-busiest commercial airport is Chania Daskalogiannis International (CHQ), in the northwest of the island. Before the coronavirus pandemic, this facility was handling around three million passengers per year. Much like Heraklion, this airport is also shared, in terms of usage, with the Hellenic Air Force.
Chania Airport operates similarly to its larger Cretan counterpart, with seasonal and charter leisure flights forming the bulk of its traffic. Year-round services primarily serve domestic destinations, namely Athens (Aegean Airlines, SkyExpress) and Thessaloniki (Ryanair). The only exception to this rule is the Cypriot destination of Paphos, to which Ryanair also flies all year round.
Military aircraft are a common sight at Chania. Photo: Getty Images
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Located in the island’s northeast, Sitia Vitsentzos Kornaros Public Airport (JSH) operates on a much smaller scale. Indeed, even in 2018, its busiest pre-pandemic year, the facility still only handled around 62,000 passengers, with this figure having dropped to just over 11,000 in 2020. Its runway is 2,074 meters long.
Owing to the regional nature of Sitia’s operations, the flights that serve the airport do so all year round. Olympic Air provides a direct link to Athens, while SkyExpress serves Alexandroupoli, Preveza/Lefkada, and Zakynthos.
What do you make of Crete’s airports? How many have you visited? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!