TRIP REPORT: airBaltic, Riga - Belgrade

TRIP REPORT

BEG-RIX BT488

At the end of May, I had to attend an event in Stockholm. After looking at the available connections, I found an attractive fare with Air Baltic via Riga on their newly introduced flights. I last visited Riga approximately 10 years ago and liked the vibe of the city back then, so I decided to add a two-day stopover on the way to Stockholm in order to explore the city. A visit I certainly didn’t regret.
I have flown on Air Baltic metal numerous times, as they are operating eight A220 on behalf of Swiss. However, this would be my first time experiencing the soft product of Air Baltic. Air Baltic has an all A220 fleet with 42 examples in the active fleet, 8 orders and are looking to obtain another 30 examples.
I arrived at the airport roughly 2.5 hours before departure, keeping in mind that I don’t have any priority lane access like I enjoy with JU and Miles & More. Unfortunately, Vinci doesn’t sell any priority lane access like many other airports do. I would pay a few Euros for the perk. Check-in went smooth, although it seemed as if the check-in agents were still trying to get the hang of the system, they often had to refer to notes. As this was only the 4th flight operated between the two cities, this is understandable.
The concourse finally seems to be approaching the final phase of construction. I hope all will be ready for summer

The queue before passport control was, as expected, huge, even though outside a JU bank. All the available space on the plateau used, resulting in passengers coming up the escalators essentially being shoved directly into the queue. There were just four passport control booths in operation, with one of them refusing passengers and only serving crew and diplomatic passport holders. In light of the available passport control booths, this is really an unnecessary situation.

Many passengers were dissatisfied with the situation, there was shouting, shoving, line skipping with people fearing to miss their flights. And then, I couldn’t believe my eyes, in all that mess there was a man with a sign asking passengers for money. Truly a sad picture. Despite the mess, I must praise the security workers, who actively tried to manage the queue and proactively sent people who had skipped the queue back to the end. After almost an hour, I finally cleared passport control, security was done in two minutes, thanks to the new CT scanners.

Soon it was time to board my ride, the flight was operated by a young A220-300, only just delivered 1.5 years ago. Air Baltic operates an all A220 fleet, however due to the aforementioned wet-leases with Swiss and the troubles with the Pratt & Whitney engines they have to wet-lease themselves.

When booking this journey, I reserved an exit row seat. Air Baltic charges EUR 19.90 for the pleasure but keeping in mind the flight time of two hours, I felt it was worth it. During boarding, there were numerous announcements welcoming the passengers on “one of the greenest jets in the sky”. Also, the mood lightning was adjusted to the distinctive Air Baltic green. The load was approximately 40% with an interesting passenger mix of Serbs, Russians, and a group of Latvian teenagers. As far as I saw, business class remained empty. The cabin is new, functional and in an excellent condition.

After a 25-minute delay due to airspace restrictions, it was finally time to take off. During the flight, Air Baltic offers an extensive buy-on-board offering. Interestingly, orders are placed over the passenger’s mobile phone, after connecting to a Wi-Fi connection. Even though Air Baltic has announced to equip all their A220 with SpaceX’s Starlink, this doesn’t seem to be installed yet, therefore no internet connection was available.
For this flight, I have pre-purchased one of the numerous meals that can be purchased through Air Baltic’s website. I went for the Asian style chicken with sweet and sour sauce and rice noodles, which included a slice of rye bread with butter, a brownie for dessert and a white wine for a total of EUR 14.99. Not bad for a hot meal in the sky. Soon after reaching cruising altitude, the crew sprung into action and delivered the meal to my seat.

Overall, the meal was tasty, though it didn’t include anything to drink apart from the white wine. I therefore ordered a bottle of water through the website, which was proactively delivered to me while the crew passed through the aircraft with the buy-on-board assortment. Later orders were also possible. The same system is also used for duty-free purchases.
Throughout the flight, the cabin senior kept everyone informed in Latvian and English about the game between Latvia and Canada at the ice hockey world cup, which was being played in Latvia and Tampere (FI). Each Latvian goal was celebrated by the Latvian passengers, however Latvia ultimately lost. Interestingly, the working language on board of Air Baltic isn’t Latvian, but English, which probably makes sense when operating out of all three Baltic states. They seem to be recruiting internationally. On previous flights they operated for Swiss, I had Italian FAs on two occasions. Air Baltic has their training facilities with simulators in Riga for cabin crew, pilot, and maintenance training. Throughout the flight, the crew was extremely polite and worked proactively, for example, they collected waste three times.

Although the Latvian state owns 97% of the shares, Air Baltic operates flights from and to all three Baltic countries, although the hub seeing the most traffic definitely is Riga. They have also stationed a plane in Tampere, Finland’s second-largest city with roughly 250’000 inhabitants, thus saving Tampere residents a roughly two hour car ride to Helsinki Airport. Despite the impressive network of destinations, they seem to have few frequencies on a majority of flights.

We entered Lithuanian airspace through the border it shares with Poland. The tight airspace was notably busy, with airlines avoiding both Belorussian and Russian airspace. Soon we began our approach into Riga, landing bang on time two hours after departure. When taxing, we passed Air Baltic’s maintenance hangar, where seven or eight A220s were stored with either one or both engines removed. As a consequence, with many of their own aircraft out on wet-leases, Air Baltic is now relying heavily on the likes of Avion Express, Hifly, Smartwings, Fly2Sky and Carpatair.

After arrival, I headed to passport control. Riga is a relatively small, but modern and clean airport. I quickly passed passport control and waited for my luggage, which arrived after just 5 minutes. Judging by the number of bags delivered and the queue at passport control, most of the passengers on board must have connected to another destination. Tallinn, for example, is a gateway to the land border to St. Petersburg.

There is currently a lot of construction around the airport, as the planned Rail Baltica connecting Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland will include a stop at Riga Airport, thus connecting it directly to the centre and the other Baltic states.

Overall, it was a comfortable experience. I particularly enjoyed the new aircraft, the crew and the overall experience. A visit to Riga is highly recommended!

ARN-RIX BT 102 / RIX-BEG BT487
After having made the flight from Riga to Stockholm on Norwegian (really nothing to write home about), after a week it was time to return to Belgrade. Unfortunately, at the time, the airport express train (Arland Express) was out of service for several days due to a derailment. With an 8AM departure, this meant getting up early anyway, but under these circumstances I would be restricted to either an expensive taxi ride from the city centre or a lengthy bus ride. I therefore opted to stay at an airport hotel, which was just slightly pricier than the taxi.
Air Baltic is one of the few airlines using the small international Terminal 2 at Arlanda, with most other airlines usually using the larger Terminal 5. With just one other flight departing at the same time, both check-in and security were quick. Inside, the terminal features a kiosk and a Starbucks. Good enough to start the day.
On board, we had several Air Baltic crews returning to Riga, I presume this is due to Air Baltic also wet-leasing four aircraft to SAS. The forty-five-minute flight was uneventful and more or less just over the Baltic Sea.

The transfer in Riga was smooth and swift. The airport is fairly small, having been extended numerous times. It is obvious, that they lack space at the airport, a number of shops and food outlets are crammed into every available space. The 90-minute connection was comfortable, allowing me enough time to explore the airport and some shops, before heading to the non-Schengen area.
The return flight to Belgrade was uneventful, and the service matched the previous flights. The load factor was at roughly 50%, with business class again remaining empty. I tried to go for an upgrade on this leg, but unfortunately, Air Baltic doesn’t seem to offer any option for upgrading online or at the counter for cash. This time around I ordered the Teriyaki Salmon, which was a great dish, even though they serve it with an orange juice, which was an odd combination for me.

We landed back in Belgrade exactly on time and after a bit of queuing, I made it through passport control just in time for my bag to arrive. There is extensive work going on in the baggage reclaim area, with several areas hidden away from the public’s eyes.

The arrivals area was quite full at the time and so was the new parking area, which is now mandatory for drop-offs and pick-ups (hopefully just temporarily). I encountered a mess with people queuing 10 minutes to pay their parking tickets and cars blocking the exit. Unfortunately, I have to end this report on a negative note: The taxi mafia is back in and around the terminal, despite the presence of the police and the communal police.


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Article source: http://www.exyuaviation.com/2023/06/trip-report-airbaltic-riga-belgrade.html

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