Air Baltic 737 Business Class Review

As you will read in this flight review, my trip on Air Baltic was two things: a massive success and a massive failure.

Air Baltic had initially invited me to fly out on their 737-300 and fly back into London, the very next day, on their flagship Bombardier CS300, both in business class. However, due to an unforeseen operational mishap, my CS300 was swapped at the last minute for another 737Classic, thus leaving me without a trip on the new Bomabrdier jet. However, as you will later find out, my return flight inherently became the best flights of my life, knocking the incredible A350-1000 flight with Raj off the top spot.

My outbound flight was the evening departure from London Gatwick to Riga (one of 2 daily services). This flight is supposed to be operated by the CS300 so it was horrible luck that I ended up on the 737Classic twice (this first flight was a known equipment swap). However, I was yet to fly on the -300 variant of the 737 so I was not fussed. Air Baltic has a total of 6 737-300 and 5 737-500 ageing classics in their fleet and currently operate the largest CS300 fleet in the world with a total of 20 aircraft ordered and eight currently flying. They have recently placed an order for 30 more CS300s and acquired options for a further 30 aircraft. The total value of this order is being placed at about $2.9 billion, based on list prices.

“I am excited to grow our fleet up to 80 CS300 aircraft while phasing out our other aircraft types in the next three years.” Air Baltic’s Chief executive, Martin Gauss.

Photo Credit: Air-Baltic

Flight Number 1 | Air Baltic B737-300 Business Class

Business class passengers departing from London Gatwick can enjoy the No.1 lounge at South Terminal, with access via passes handed out during the check in process. This lounge is perfect for a quick drink and a snack and has hot food on order. The fact it is also a ‘pay to enter’ lounge means it is unsurprisingly busy most of the time. However, it does offer an amazing view over the apron of which you can gaze at for hours watching the busy airport life pass by.

Priority boarding at the gate was strictly enforced and the handling agent made sure business class passengers boarded first. Once on-board the crew distributed pre-departure drinks, with a choice of orange or still water. Menu cards were handed out while still on the ground.

Once boarding was complete we had to incur a small delay while waiting for a take-off slot.

Taxiing out towards 08R

The Business class configuration on-board Air Baltic is very similar to the product of most other European carriers whereby the middle seat is blocked off. The Recaro seats show their age but the seat itself was pleasant enough for the near 3 hour flight, the tray tables were adequately large and do slide towards the user.

After the long taxi out to Runway 08R, we took to the skies bound for Latvia and after reaching a safe altitude, the cabin crew were released and more beverages were served. One thing I noticed throughout the entire flight was how diligent the crew were, as I was constantly asked if I would like a refill or another drink.

After a short while orders were taken for the hot meals. I opted for the sweet and sour chicken with rice. As I was flying on standby, however, this wasn’t the normal meal of a business class passenger but you can see the business class meal in my second flight below. As the flight progressed the sun continued to set over Europe, a sight best seen from 39,000ft.

Sunset from 39,000ft

The flight itself had been for the most part, smooth and this was no exception for the stunning approach into Riga, where we touched down safely on Runway 36 with only 15minutes of delay. Riga airport is home to only a small handful of jet bridges, so it is no surprise that we were parked on a remote stand with buses back to the terminal. After a small flight deck visit and photo opportunity with the crew I boarded the bus back to the terminal where border control took an easy five minutes. I  was soon off to my hotel where I enjoyed a pleasant night in Riga city center.

Touching down on Runway 36

View from St Peters Church

Flight Number 2 | Air Baltic 737-300 – With a Twist

My flight back home was scheduled to be operated by the Bombardier CS300, hence the trip out to Riga to review their flagship product. However it seems the aviation gods were messing around today and flight radar had my flight down as being operated by a 73C (The same aircraft type I had previously flown only a few hours ago). I was evidently frustrated at the time, in essence rendering my trip a failure.

I had obtained special permission to film onboard this flight as I was supposed to be making a small video about the CS300 and thankfully I still had the permission to film as it was granted for flight BT653 from RIX-LGW, no matter which aircraft.

Once onboard, I greeted the crew and showed them the letter of approval. The flight crew were very accommodating and let me mount my GoPro in the flight-deck to get some footage for the video. As you will see from the pictures below, I was also invited into the flight-deck for landing after securing special permission from Air Baltic HQ. This really did make it one of the most incredible experiences! Being able to sit on a jump-seat is the pinnacle of any av-geeks dream and is the closest you can get to flying the real thing!

View from the jump seat

I will not go into any significant detail of this flight, as it was operated by the same aircraft type, and I was sitting in the same class cabin. My experience in Business class was still faultless and the crew were still great. This time round I was able to try out their proper Business class meal, on this particular flight it was Salmon with Sweet Potato. The meal was served piping hot and was excellent. Due to huge electrical storms over England the flight back to London was unsurprisingly bumpy and we had to route around the weather, but the crew still managed to land safely and on-time.

Salmon with Sweet Potato

My Conclusion

Both my Air Baltic flights had consisted of exceptional service and professionalism. The crew on both flights were attentive in their service, constantly making sure you were well fed and hydrated. The aircraft them-self, although old in their age, were well maintained but lacked what I would call ‘modern day necessities’ like universal power sockets or USB charging ports. I would never hesitate to fly Air Baltic again and i would love to properly test out their CS300 product.

The only negative that stood out was the Business Class ticket price and indeed the economy ticket price. You are paying a hefty premium to fly Air Baltic over the likes of the low-cost carriers operating in this region, such as WizzAir or Ryanair, and for some this premium may not simply be worth it for the 2hr30minute flight. For example on the 13th June a one way ticket from London to Riga would cost £65 with WizzAir from Luton, whereas Air Baltic from Gatwick would set you back a hefty £282 (Economy class Ticket). Worth the price? That’s up to you.

diclaimer: This trip was fully provided by Air Baltic. I was under no pressure to express any specific point of view and all opinions are my own.

More Boeing 737 Reviews on LondonSpotter:

Flybe Dash-8 Flight Review

Introduction: A new feel for Flybe

Having tried Stobart Air’s regional product, I was keen to sample Flybe’s UK domestic service, under their new philosophy of “Close To You”.  The strapline has several interesting facets. Principally, it revolves around connecting people across Britain, reflecting the extent of Flybe’s strong presence in airports across the regions – meaning they are quite literally ‘close to you’ wherever you are in the UK. However, the new brand is also designed to reflect Flybe’s personable and friendly service and reinforcing previous campaigns such as “One Stop to the World” – connecting seamlessly through metropolitan air hubs such as London or Manchester, from your local airport. So, are Flybe’s plethora of domestic air-links the most convenient, friendly and seamless way to traverse the British Isles?


The Journey: Manchester-Southampton

Transiting from ‘The Station’ at Manchester couldn’t be easier – it was my first time using the train to get to the airport – and it really couldn’t be beaten. With train services from Crewe, Wilmslow, Manchester, Newcastle, Blackpool, Edinburgh, Leeds, York and more – it is also quite convenient. From the main station complex, it takes about 8 minutes to walk through the Skyline to Terminal 3 – even quicker to the other two terminals Although Terminal 3 is often claustrophobic, at less peak times, it’s compact nature makes it pleasant. Unfortunately, for an airport the size of Manchester, the facilities in what was once the domestic terminal, aren’t up to scratch but its encouraging to see that – even in the midst of the redevelopment programme at Terminal 2 – MAG is still making changes for the better at the opposite end from the airport.  My flight was to be operated by G-JECZ; a 10 year-old Bombardier Dash-8 Q400, which had been painted in the revised purple livery just days before.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

All UK domestic flights board from a ground-floor area, and was done in an organised manner. It is astounding how quickly boarding and disembarkation can be carried out with smaller turboprop aircraft, compared to a Boeing 737, for example.

Flybe’s fleet mainly comprises of Dash-8 aircraft, with 56 forming the backbone of their operations. They are configured with one-class, in a 2-2 setup, with the capacity to seat 78 passengers. The cockpit is positioned on a raised-level, with all the modern digital systems you’d expect.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

One immediate difference I noticed between the ATR flights I’d flown on in 2017, and the Bombardier Dash-8, was the width of the cabin. The ATR has a cabin-width of 2.57m, with a minimum seat width of an extremely comfortable 18.6″. On the contrary, the Dash-8 was 0.8m narrower and had a seat width of only 17.3″. Thankfully, Flybe opted for a generous configuration with only 78 seats, meaning what the seats lacked in width, was made up for in legroom. We departed from Manchester’s 23R at around 12:15 and set course for Southampton.



Emma – one of the cabin crew members – was extremely friendly. She personifies Flybe’s campaign to “establish a warm, friendly presence in the faceless hustle and bustle of the aviation industry”. The crew can make a massive difference to how you perceive a flight – especially one as short as this one. She couldn’t have been more accommodating to any of the passengers and I was really lucky to have had such engaging and warm crew on my flight.

The onboard service centres around Flybe’s Café Air onboard bistro service. For a domestic flight, there was a range of snacks and beverages available and its clear to see that Flybe have been more adventurous rather than the stereotypical low-cost airline offering – and that’s something I can really appreciate. At just before 1pm, we touched down in Southampton, 5 minutes ahead of schedule. In January 2017, Flybe topped an OAG punctuality league table – being named the most punctual airline in the UK and coming 6th on a worldwide basis. At least anecdotally, I can clearly see why – both of my flights arrived ahead of schedule and my return journey even departed before our slot!

At the heart of Flybe’s new strapline is people’s desire to fly from their local airport – which offers ease and relaxation. Having travelled through London Southend last year, Southampton Airport drew many similarities. It is clear that they are designed with the passenger in mind from the outset. Landside, the airport felt airy and modern, yet compact – offering a small seating area, check-in desks and a Costa Coffee, centred around the entrance to security. When I passed through the security checks, I was the only passenger doing so and I found myself moving from landside to airside in around 2 minutes – an experience major airports could only dream of offering their customers. Despite its size, all the facilities are readily available to passengers; duty free shopping, WHSmith, an ‘Olive Tree’ Restaurant and yet another Costa Coffee, around which six gates are positioned in a right-angle.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The experience was infinitely more relaxing, quiet and seamless than many other airports – giving you the sense that flying can be done without the hustle and bustle of our major hubs, which are bursting at the seams in an in-escapable capacity crisis. Its very easy to see why more and more passengers are choosing to make use of their local airport, contributing to the local economy and making flights like Flybe’s (that connect every corner of the UK) more viable every day. Therefore, I applaud Flybe for recognising this in their new campaign.

The Conclusion: Flybe is the way forward

In conclusion, Flybe lives up to all its straplines. It is faster, better value and more relaxing than road or rail and it is ‘closer to you’ in almost every aspect. For most people, Flybe may simply be a means of getting around the nation but many of the benefits of flying go unnoticed. From the warm crew, to the fast journey times and local airports – Flybe is definitely the way forward.


Train VS Plane: Manchester-Southampton

Manchester Piccadilly-Southampton Central by Train – 4hr14mins

Manchester Piccadilly-Southampton Central by Plane – 1hr52mins (approx. 2hrs)

Piccadilly-Manchester Airport-Southampton Airport-Southampton

15mins               45mins               45mins                           7mins

Airbus & Bombardier Turn up the Heat on Boeing

Politics and aviation often cross wires. With a protectionist President in the Oval Office, and an increasingly competitive world, this situation will likely become all the more frequent in the future. Read on to inform yourself of exactly what’s happening with Bombardier & Boeing.

background: who is bombardier? why is Boeing imposing tariffs?

Bombardier is a Canadian-British aerospace company, specialising in regional turboprop aircraft – such as the Dash 8 series. Recently, they branched out to the regional jet sector and the 100-150 Seater market with the introduction of the popular C-Series range. In 2016, Delta placed a firm order for 75 Bombardier CS-100 regional aircraft, representing one of the largest single airline orders for the aircraft type. However, in September 2017, the drama began. Boeing accused Canada and Britain of supplying Bombardier with ‘unfair state subsidies’ which helped them achieve the major order with US client, Delta. They proposed a 300% tariff on imports of the C-Series jets to the US, in an effort to dissuade Delta from taking delivery of the aircraft.

criticism for Boeing

Boeing and the US International Trade commission have widely been criticised by rival companies and the governments of the UK and Canada. Prime Minister Theresa May has said the UK’s long-term partnership with Boeing was being undermined by its behaviour towards Bombardier, adding she was ‘bitterly disappointed’ and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said that if the tariffs went ahead, it could ‘jeopardise’ UK Defence contracts with Boeing. Justin Trudeau – Prime Minister of Canada – said in a meeting with Donald Trump that he ‘disagreed vehemently’ with the decision and threatened cancellation of Canada’s Defence contracts also.

Bombardier said the proposed import tariffs were ‘absurd’ and insisted they had manufactured a ‘superior aircraft’ and that the US/Boeing was just trying to ‘stifle competition’.

Conversely, Boeing, retorted in a statement saying that ‘it was about maintaining a level playing field’.

implications if the tariffs go ahead

Many fear that the import tariffs may drive the Canadian company to relocate its manufacturing centre in Northern Ireland, where it employs 4,100 workers and contributes to 18% of Northern Ireland’s Economy. About 1,000 of these jobs are linked to the C-Series, the wings of which are made at a purpose-built £520m factory at Queen’s Island in Belfast.

In addition, it could spark a trade war between the US and Britain, especially significant as the two nations share a ‘special relationship’ and want to sign a free trade deal as the UK leaves the European Union.

the deal with airbus

Ask anyone interested in aviation to name the biggest rivalry they can think of and they will most likely tell you “Boeing V Airbus”. And thus, its no surprise Airbus are helping Bombardier out here. Under the deal, which both companies aim to be finalised in 2018, Airbus would buy 50.01% of the C-Series programme, leaving 31% to Bombardier and 19% to Investissement Québec. This is a game-changing move and changes the dynamic of the spat with Boeing.

Airbus summarises the deal in their press release, with these main points:

Airbus to acquire majority stake in the C Series Aircraft Limited Partnership

  • Partnership brings together two complementary product lines, with 100-150 seat market segment expected to represent more than 6,000 new aircraft over the next 20 years
  • Combination of Airbus’ global reach and scale with Bombardier’s newest aircraft family to create significant value for customers, suppliers, employees and shareholders
  • Significant C Series production costs savings anticipated by leveraging Airbus’ supply chain expertise
  • Commitment to Québec: C Series Aircraft Limited Partnership headquarters and primary assembly to remain in Québec, with the support of both companies’ global supply chains
  • Airbus’ global industrial footprint expands with the C Series Final Assembly Line in Canada, resulting in a positive impact on operations in Québec and across the country
  • Growing market for C Series results in second Final Assembly Line in Mobile, Alabama, serving U.S. customers

The last point, perhaps being the most crucial. Airbus will allow C-Series aircraft delivered to the US to undergo final assembly in their factory in Alabama. This is in the view that it will allow the company to dodge the current import tariffs. Ceding the majority of a flagship project to another manufacturer is a risk for Bombardier, but they clearly believe its the best way forward. It will also give Europe a huge advantage in the regional jet market and, as Airbus doesn’t have a mainstream competitor in that market, it refrains from compromising their own aircraft sales.

What will Boeing’s retaliation be? Comment or contact me with your thoughts.

 

Featured Photo: Brian Griffin carlowspotter