It excites me to experience new airlines and types of aircraft. My life in the airline industry kept me pretty geeky that way. Learn more at The Airplane Geek in Me. On my recent trip from Berlin to Riga, Latvia I had the opportunity to experience a new airplane and airline at the same time. I’ll review my experience flying airBaltic as well and the fresh new Airbus A220.
Some information about airBaltic
Operations for airBaltic first started in 1995 and the airline is state owned by the Latvian government. Their primary hub is Riga, Latvia with focus cities in the other Baltic capitals of Tallinn, Estonia and Vilnius, Lithuania. The airline has grown to serve over 70 destinations from Almaty, Kazakstan to the east and Reykjavik to the west. Service to Abu Dhabi operates seasonally.
The airline is known for their innovation and punctuality and was the launch customer of the Airbus A220, previously called the the Bombardier CS300. First revenue flight on airBaltic with the A220 flew in December, 2016 with 19 of them in the fleet today.
Also in the fleet, 8 Boeing 737-500/300 and 12 Bombardier Q400s.
Part I: Getting clicked in
The low cost carrier (LCC) with a little more. The fares are very reasonable and the website efficient enough to display the options in a clear way. Select a base fare and get sold up to everything else like baggage, seat assignments, food, fast track and the hard, hard sell to buy travel insurance.
Since I was traveling with my sister, I opted to purchase seat assignments together for around 3€ each, checked luggage and later on we pre-ordered a meal to try out the quality of this option. All in with the fees, our Berlin-Riga-Vilnius itinerary was about $150 each way per person.
Also important to note that the base fares were lower on some other flights, starting around 59€ but we needed to travel on a specific day that required a little higher price.
Regular emails kept me up to date on the flights and the option to buy trip insurance and food for the flight. I appreciate good merchandising, so no problem here for me.
I did, however, miss the email inviting me to check in online.
Part II: Berlin Airport check-in
The experience on the day of departure was a little wonky. Berlin has three terminals and it wasn’t clear on the itinerary where we should go. I googled airBaltic terminals at TXL and the information indicated terminal C.
The cab dropped us off at C but our flight actually flew from A. Not an impossible feat, we just walked about 1000 feet up and down chutes and ladders to get to the right spot. A little frustrating, but not the end of the world.
At check in the agent told us that she could push the “check in” button on her computer to get us going, but it would be a 35€ charge. I don’t know how I missed this one, but good information for the future. No problem to pull up on my phone and since the passport information was already entered into the system it was as easy as one click. I couldn’t find an airBaltic app.
We checked our bags through to Vilnius and went directly through security, which in Berlin is right at the gate. Easy, low drama.
Part III: Air to there, in-flight experience
Everything seemed normal with boarding process and soon we were climbing on to the A220, which started out as the C-Series aircraft produced by Bombardier. In 2017, Airbus purchased a 50.01% stake in the manufacturer, presumably to one-up Boeing with a product line offering going down to around the 100 passenger sized-plane.
Business Class seems to be the same seating configuration with the middle seat blocked out. The rest of the cabin is 3-2 seating.
Meanwhile, back in the main cabin
The overhead bins were full sized and space bin type feel. Seemed to accommodate everyone’s stuff, but also the gate agents are militant about making sure it fits into the sizer or else there’s a fee to check the bag.
My seat area had the feeling of space more aligned with an Airbus 320 or Boeing 737 verses a regional jet. But the best feature on the A220 is the window. Higher and larger. No more hunching over to try to look out the window.
Legroom was ample for me, which I appreciated. Even when the man in the row ahead of me leaned back I still had a little clearance.
The overhead screens were about the size of a large iPhone and ran through the safety demonstration pre-flight and then transitioned to the trip map. When it got closer to arriving into Riga, the screen also displayed connecting flights.
Strong takeoff and all good. One flight attendant worked Business Class and two others in main cabin – crew of 3 total. Everything is for purchase, including water, so we bought beverages in anticipation of our pre-ordered meal.
The guy in front of me put back his seat immediately upon takeoff, but I appreciate that the tray tables are affixed to a different part of the seat that isn’t impacted by recline. Great tray table design to avoid having everything shift.
The meal came and was well packaged. It was 9€ each and included a cheese omelette, yogurt, two breads, orange marmalade and orange juice. The food was good enough quality to match the price.
I tried to see the rest room in the front of the plane, which I hear has a window, but the flight attendant shoed me back to coach. The lavatory in the back is very spacious. Also appreciate the wider aisles. Overall, people seemed comfortable on this flight.
Part IV: Changing planes in Riga, Latvia
We changed planes in Riga, which is a nice modern airport with all that you’d need for a quick connection.
Our next gate was literally across the concourse, so my sister bought a few souvenirs and soon we were boarding a Q400 for Vilnius. I’ve flown on a ton of Horizon Q400 flights, and this was an uneventful 40 minutes or so.
Part V: The second flight to Vilnius, Lithuania
Hard stand arrival in Vilnius, which means you wait for a bus to arrive on the tarmac, and it isn’t my favorite. Since the Q400 only has 76 passengers it didn’t take too much time to be dropped at the terminal. Luggage was delivered very quickly by the time we made it to the carousel.
Part VI: In summary
Overall airBaltic is a straight forward experience on modern equipment. The fare was reasonable and all-in price okay for two hours of flying. The staff are friendly in an efficient way. Flights were on-time and baggage delivery flawless.
Although they compete with the ultra low cost carriers (ULCCs) like Ryanair, the experience is vastly better, with more room in the cabin and a variety of product offerings, such as pre-order food, that are much closer to the legacy European carriers operating today.
The A220 is a great regional plane! In the configuration of airBaltic I’d fly one any day.