Air Baltic, Business Class – Bombardier CSeries 300: Riga to Zürich

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Date: 15 January 2017
Departure: 12:20
Arrival: 13:30
Flight time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Seat: 3F, window seat on the starboard side

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Introduction

Riga is a lovely city. It is very generously laid out and there are a lot of parks along the river, which snakes its way through the old town before vanishing under the railway station. Of course the snow lying thick and heavy on the ground lends the whole place a very romantic, sleepy feel, which only adds to the atmosphere.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Bus lines 22 and 222
Journey time:
20 minutes
Departs from:
13 January square, near the railway station
Arrives:
Riga airport, departures level
Fee: EUR1.15 or EUR2 if you pay on the bus

In Riga I am staying at the RadissonBlu Elisabeth, which is ideally located on the fringe of the old town and in close proximity to the railway station. I leave the hotel just after 9 in the morning and walk through the park along the river to the bus stop. It is a 10 minutes leisurely walk.

Check-in

Terminal: Departures are on the upper level of the terminal
Counters: Dedicated Air Baltic counters
Number of counters: There is a very long row of Air Baltic check-in counters, although this morning only one Business Class counter and one Economy Class counter are open.
Web check-in:
Check-in is available on the Air Baltic website and works very well. There is no app but if you have Passbook on your mobile, you can have the boarding pass sent to you by mail and can then download it onto your phone.
Self-service check-in at the airport:
Multi-purpose check-in machines are available right next to the entrance to the terminal.

Lounge

Location: At the beginning of the B dock.
Type of lounge: Contractor lounge.
Name of the lounge: Prime Class lounge.
Access: There appears to be just the one lounge at Riga airport, which serves as the common purpose lounge for all airlines serving the facility. Access is either with a Business Class ticket or status in one of the airlines’ frequent flyer programmes.
Catering: The lounge has a good selection of hot and cold dishes and drinks.
Internet: Complimentary Wifi is available, the password is indicated throughout the lounge. In addition, there are Samsung workstations with internet access.
Facilities: The lounge is a good size and there are plenty of seating options. The upper level of the lounge is the quiet zone. Toilets are available in the lounge.

Boarding

Priority boarding: No.
Boarding for the flight starts pretty much on time. There is no separate call for Business Class passengers.

Today I shall be flying on the second CSeries aircraft Air Baltic received, which was delivered on 31 December 2016 and has only been in revenue service for less than two weeks.

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The Cabin


Configuration:
2 + 3.
Pitch: 30 inches throughout the cabin. Only the overwing exit row has a larger pitch.
Width: 18 inches for the aisle and window seats, 19 inches for the middle seat on the row of three.
AC Power:
Not available.
Audio and Video: Air Baltic has the same miniature size screens installed as SWISS. Those screens really are useless, they are smaller in size than the iPhone 6 Plus and because they are angled, if you are sitting by the window on the row of three, you can barely see anything on the screen.
Connectivity: Not available.

Air Baltic’s CSeries 300 have a seating capacity of 145. In Business Class the middle seat on the row of three and the aisle seat on the row of two are kept empty, which means there are three seats per row in the Business Class cabin. With the first four rows in the cabin dedicated to Business Class, this means the forward cabin has a maximum capacity of eleven seats (there is no A or C seat on row 1).

Obviously lot of thought has gone into the design and functionality of the cabin, which has a roomy, airy feel. The seats are in a very light shade of grey, so the cabin seems very bright.

The recline of the seat is good. Interestingly enough, when you recline the back of the seat, the whole seat also moves slightly forward.

The only negative point, as far as I can tell, is that there is no cabin divider.

The Crew

The crew on this flight is friendly and welcoming like the one on the flight over the day before. There is a baby seated in the row in front of me crying his eyes out and the crew go out of their way to make the baby and his parents comfortable. In the good old days one might simply have assumed the child were possessed and would have had him exorcised. But alas, with all the political correctness going on these days people are somewhat reluctant to take such drastic measures…

Before the doors close, the crew pass through the cabin distributing the menu, newspaper and welcome drinks. There is a choice of water or orange juice.

We taxi out for departure, but there is a tick layer of snow on the wings and so we will have to deice first.

The Meal

Towel before the meal: A fresh, scented hot towel is served ahead of the meal service.
Drink before the meal:
Apple juice.
Choice:
There is only one choice for the meal.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Lunch.
First course:
Orange salad with pine nuts and parmiggiano shavings.
Main course:
Grilled salmon teriyaki with jasmine rice and shitake mushrooms.
Dessert:
Chocolate mousse.
Beverages:
Diet Coke.
Bread:
A selection of bread from the breadbasket, served with butter.

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The meal is really very good. The cheese goes surprisingly well with the orange in the first course and the main dish is quite tasty. The dessert is good too, but awfully sweet and sticky.

Arrival

By the time the tray is removed, we have just under one hour to go to Zürich, so I ask for a pillow, lean back and go off to sleep…

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When we land in Zürich at 13h30 we are making history, as this is the first time ever that a Bombardier CSeries 300 has ever visited the airport. And it is quite apparent. On the final approach the field on the other side of the road from the perimeter fence is lined with spotters and once we touch down, many of the ramp workers are also stopping what they are doing to take a picture of our aircraft taxiing in – including the police!

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All in all, I rather enjoyed this flight. Perhaps it is just my imagination, but it seems to me that there were far less vibrations on this aircraft than on the previous CSeries flight I took with SWISS last year. But I shall have to ask our aerodynamicist at work about that.

Air Baltic, Economy Class- Boeing B 737-500: Zürich to Riga

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Date: 14 January 2017
Departure: 14:20
Arrival: 17:30
Flight time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Seat: 10C, aisle on the emergency exit row

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Introduction

For a very long time it looked as though the Bombardier CSeries might never fly. The development of the aircraft was marred by a series of technical problems with the power plant which eventually lead to a financial crisis that had the manufacturer Bombardier taking a serious nose dive. But all’s well that ends well as they say, and this rather elegant looking aircraft is finally being rolled out with airlines across Europe. Swiss International Air Lines was the launch customer for the type in the standard dash 100 version, while Air Baltic was the launch customer for the larger dash 300 version. On Sunday 15 January 2015 the aircraft is scheduled to operate the service from Riga to Zürich. Having just submitted my term paper and with nothing much else to do, I decide to fly to Riga on Saturday to be able to make the journey back to Zürich on the new shiny bird the next day.

The flight to Riga is operated by a Boeing B 737-500 which first flew in 1999 and spent the first years of its life flying for Air France.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Train
Journey time:
1 hour 14 minutes, changing trains at Zürich main station
Departs from:
Basel Swiss station (Basel SBB)
Arrives:
Zürich Flughafen

It is snowing heavily in Basel as I make my way from my flat, across the square to the station. My train is just pulling in as I come down the escalators onto the platform. Considering how few people are travelling, it is quite surprising just how long the train is.

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The view outside is lovely. There is snow everywhere and everything is looking bright, despite the lack of sunshine.

Check-in

Terminal: Check-in 2
Row: 3
Counters: Swissport common purpose counters
Number of counters:
There is one Business Class counter, one baggage drop-off counter and two Economy Class counters.
Web check-in:
Check-in is available on the Air Baltic website and works very well. There is no app but if you have Passbook on your mobile, you can have the boarding pass sent to you by mail and can then download it onto your phone.
Self-service check-in at the airport:
Not available.
Apparently it is possible to collect miles in Etihad’s frequent flyer programme when travelling on Air Baltic. However, you will have to contact a check-in counter to have the number of your card added to the booking. If you check-in on the Air Baltic website you can only insert a number with their own frequent flyer programme.

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Airside

This is one of those rare occasions when I am travelling without access to a lounge. But never mind. Inspired by a recommendation made to me by my friend and gourmet at large, the wiry R., I park myself at the Sprüngli café right after the duty free shop on the upper level and treat myself to a cup of hot chocolate and a truffe du jour. The hot chocolate is excellent and is served with shavings of dark chocolate on top. Lovely!

Boarding

It is just gone 13h30 when I see my aircraft turning the corner of the A dock. The flight will be boarding from gate A65, which is the first gate on the A dock and gives me some great photo opportunities.

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Boarding starts with a slight delay at 13h50, which is hardly a problem given that the load on today’s flight is very low and probably not even quite 50%.

The Cabin

Configuration: 3 + 3
AC Power:
Not available.
Audio and Video: Not available.
Connectivity: Not available.
The first impression of the cabin is good. Everything looks clean and tidy and the aircraft seems well maintained. There are still a few traces here and there of the aircraft’s previous owner, for example the ‘secours’ sign above the emergency exit.

The pitch on the emergency exit is good. On this particular aircraft (YL-BBD) the emergency exit is on row 10 and seating is row is only available at a charge unless the aircraft is full. The A and F seats on row 10, which are the window seats, have very good legroom because there is no window seat on 9A and F, so if you are seated on one of these seats, you can really spread out. I am on 10C, the aisle seat, and the legroom here is also very good.

The seat is the typical slimline Recaro seat that has become so typical for many of the European carriers. Storage space in the seat back is fairly limited, because the seat is lacking a net on the lower half of the seat back.

The Crew

There are three cabin crew on the flight. All three of them are friendly young ladies and I suspect the way they look may have been an important factor during the recruiting process…

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The Meal

Towel before the meal: A cold and pre-packed scented towel is provided on the tray.
Choice:
There is a huge selection of dishes to choose from and combine on the Air Baltic website.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Lunch.
First course:
Spicy salad with peppers, carrot, cucumber and dill.
Main course:
Chicken breast with roast potatoes and vegetables.
Dessert:
Chocolate truffe cake.
Beverages:
Still water.
Bread:
A slice of some dark bread with a tasty and strong flavour of spices, served with butter.
Air Baltic gives you the opportunity to pre order your meal before the flight. The selection of available dishes is really quite impressive and you can combine main courses with desserts and starters as you please. The standard hot meal will cost you EUR15 for the tray, including bread, a starter, dessert and a drink. If you do not order the meal at the time of booking, you can still do so when checking in online.

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As far as I am concerned, I think the meal offers good value for money. The food is tasty, the portions are good and the price is quite reasonable and certainly cheaper than dining at one of the expensive airport eateries.

Arrival

The flight is very smooth and the atmosphere in the cabin feels very cosy and laid back. Of course it helps that the flight is nearly empty. Eventually we start our descent into Riga. As we come out of the clouds I can see thick layers of snow on the ground. It is also a bit misty.

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After landing we taxi to the non-Schengen dock and then from there we are bussed to the Schengen part of the facility. The terminal in Riga is really quite small and does not really seem sufficiently large for the amount of traffic it handles.

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Getting into Town

Transport: Bus
Journey time:
20 minutes
Departs from:
Arrivals level, just follow the signs
Arrives:
Riga main railway station
Cost:
EUR1.15 if you buy at the ticket vending machine or EUR2 if you pay the driver.
Ticket purchase:
If you are willing to pay the higher price, you can pay the driver. Keep in mind though that not all bus stops actually have a ticket machine. However, if there is a kiosk nearby you can usually purchase your tickets there.