Air Baltic, Business Class – Boeing B 737-300: Riga to Zürich

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INTRODUCTION
It’s Friday morning and time for me to return to Switzerland. I enjoyed my trip to Riga. Above all, the Latvians were really excellent hosts and took good care of me.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
My flight will be departing from Riga at 07h50. Which means I have ordered a taxi to leave the Ibis Centre at 06h00. I’m being lazy and taking a taxi this time, simply because I didn’t bother to check at what time the busses start running and the bus journey takes longer anyway.

Just a word of caution about the taxis, though: apparently, they’ve got quite a racket going on in Riga and everyone I spoke to warned me that the drivers are not to be trusted. Indeed, I was told the journey should not cost more then EUR15. When I checked at the hotel though, I was told it was a fixed fare of EUR18. By the time I reached the airport, the driver was asking for EUR20…

CHECK-IN
Another word of warning. Or two, rather. Mornings can get very busy in Riga and the airport is becoming too small to handle all the passengers. As a result, the queues for check-in and security can stretch very far back. So if you can, make sure you check-in online or use one of the self-service machines. If you’re travelling with Air Baltic, fast track security is included in the Business Class ticket. Otherwise, fast track access can be purchased at the time of booking for EUR10. And I would seriously advise getting the fast track access.

THE LOUNGE
Since my last visit the passage connecting the original pier B to the newly constructed pier C has opened. And with that, the new and larger Business Class lounge has also moved. It is now located in the passage between the two piers and one floor up from the general airside area.

Air Baltic doesn’t have it’s own lounge and instead uses the Premier Lounge, which, as far as I can tell, is the only contractor lounge at the airport and is used by all other carriers as well.

The new lounge certainly offers more space. Fortunately, like the old lounge, it also has excellent views of the ramp and the runway.

BOARDING
Boarding starts on time. And it looks like it’s going to be a full flight. Despite the fact that our aircraft is parked on a contact stand, much to my delight we shall be boarding via steps, the traditional way. So I can basically knock myself out taking photos…

THE CABIN
The cabin of this aircraft is slightly different from the one on the inbound flight, in that there is no bulkhead on the port side of the cabin. Apparently, this is why they try not to assign this row to passengers unless the flight is completely sold out.

I’m on 2A today, which is the window seat on the second row. Originally, there’s this enormous, very muscly Russian on the aisle seat 2C. But once the doors close, he asks if he can move to 1A and I have the whole row to myself again.

THE CREW
The crew working the Business Class cabin consists of two well-groomed and very polite young men. They’re not as cordial and warm as the two female cabin crew on the outbound flight. But still, their manners are impeccable.

SERVICE
The service runs very much along the same lines as the flight from Zürich to Riga: welcome drink, newspapers, menu, hot towels.

THE MEAL
Again, a hot meal is served. It consists of:

  1. Greek yoghurt with granola, berries and mango coulis,
  2. Pancakes, served with strawberry jam,
  3. Cream cheese,
  4. a selection from the breadbasket,
  5. orange juice,
  6. coffee

The meal is quite good. The granola could have done with a bit more yoghurt, but other than that it’s fine. I especially like the pancakes, which are thick and chunky and taste lovely with the strawberry jam.

Not that many passengers are actually eating, preferring to sleep instead. Apparently, most of them are connecting from Tbilisi, Moscow and Almaty, which are night flights

So once the meal is removed, I figure when in Rome… I only wake up shortly before landing, when the cabin crew ask me to put my seat back in the upright position again for touch down.

ARRIVAL
Zürich airport is still calm when we arrive, so there’s no hold up for landing. After all, it’s only just gone 09h10 here in Switzerland so the airport is in between traffic peaks. As my luck would have it, we park on the very first stand at the start of pier A, which means it’s only a very short walk to arrivals and then the railway station. By 10h15 I’m already in my office again in Winterthur.

Just one more trip, and then I’m done…

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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CABIN & SEAT
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.

SERVICE & 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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LOUNGE
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%.

CABIN & SEAT
Configuration:
3 + 3.
Pitch: -.
Width: -.
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.

 SERVICE & 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.

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

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INTRODUCTION
So here we are. This is it: my last flight of 2015 will be from Riga back to Zürich. From what little I manage to see this morning, I rather like Riga. It is very modern and looks like a perfect symbiosis of Vilnius and Tallinn.

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Bus.
Fare: EUR2.- if you pay on the bus or EUR1.15 if you purchase the ticket in advance at a kiosk.
Journey time: There are two busses that serve the airport, the minibus line 222 and the normal bus line 22. The difference between the two being that the minibus does not serve all stops on the route and once it is full, it will just keep going. Thus, the journey time is between 20 and 30 minutes depending on which bus you take.
Frequency: Both bus lines run more or less every 20 minutes.
Departs from: You can pick up both busses from the stop near the main railway station. The bus stop goes by the name of 13 January.
Arrives at: Riga airport departures.

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CHECK-IN
Location:
Departures concourse on the first floor, counters 8 – 17.
Facilities: Web Check-in with passbook, self-service check-in machines and counter check-in.
Fast track: Dedicated Business Class counters and fast track for security.

Thank god for the fast track! As I enter the terminal building, there is a very long queue for security which reaches all the way back to the check-in counters. But fortunately, Business Class passengers can bypass the queue using the fast track, which is off to the right of the general security screening. The process here is much swifter. There are two young families travelling with very young kids in strollers, and getting everybody through security takes a moment. But other than that, it is a smooth process.

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LOUNGE
Location:
Just follow the signs for the B gates. Eventually, you will reach the transfer desk for Air Baltic. The entrance to the lounge is to the right of the transfer desk.
Type of lounge: TAV Premium Class contractor lounge. From what I can tell, this is the only lounge at the airport.
Facilities: Toilets are available in the lounge, but there are no showers. There are Samsung laptops available as well.
Internet:
Complimentary wifi is available. Password required.
Catering: There is a small buffet with a good selection of salads and bread. There is also a pot of something that looks like rice pudding and some very tasty looking pancakes.

The lounge is nice and fairly quiet when I arrive, presumably it would be slightly different on weekdays. I rather like that the lounge is on two levels. The upper area is the quiet zone and indeed, I am the only person there. The views from the lounge are also very good, now if only there were also some traffic to watch…

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BOARDING
Boarding is from B10, which is a bus gate. I would say there are about 70 passengers in total on the flight today. Seated on row 1 gives me a good excuse to keep back in the queue and take some pictures of the chariot carrying me away to Zürich.

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CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2, in Business Class the middle seat on the row of three is kept empty.
Seat: 1C, aisle. There is a tray table on the middle seat to provide some additional storage space. There are three rows of Business Class for a total of twelve seats. Of those, eight are occupied.

Just one word of caution though, especially if you are sitting on row one on the port side of the aircraft: there is no bulkhead. In other words, there is no wall to protect passengers sitting on 1A and 1C from the wind and icy temperatures this time of the year. So I would recommend you keep your coat on until boarding is completed, unless you enjoy freezing. On the up side, the nonexistent bulkhead means you have unlimited leg space.

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SERVICE
There are three cabin crew, two women and one man. All of them seem very young but they go about their job in a very professional and courteous way.

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THE MEAL
Drink before the meal:
Yes, I have a Coke Zero.
Type of meal: Lunch.
Service: Individual tray service.
Meal:

  1. Roast beef with hummus and pickled cucumber.
  2. Chicken in a Garam Masala crust, with vegetables and potatoes.
  3. Mango cheesecake.
  4. A selection from the breadbasket.
  5. Tea or coffee with milk or cream.

As on the previous flight the day before, passengers are handed a menu while the aircraft is still on the ground. The meal is tasty enough, although the dessert on this flight is nowhere near as good as that on the flight from Stockholm.

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ARRIVAL
Miraculously, I even manage to doze off for about an hour after the flight. When I awake, we are still forty minutes out of Zürich. Even so, the male flight attendant approaches me and asks me if I would like a cup of coffee before we land, explaining that I was already sleeping when he came round offering tea or coffee the first time.

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And then we land. Zürich airport is fairly quiet, the last departures of the midday bank can be seen queuing for departure from runway 16 as we glide past them to touch down on runway 14.

Twenty two minutes after the landing gear makes contact with runway 14, I am already sitting on the train back to Basel. Since the timetable change early in December, the airport train to Basel now also runs via Zürich Main Station, which only further increases the journey time and make the train even more inconvenient.

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And so another year of travel draws to an end.