The Latvian airline airBaltic
uses what’s known as a “hybrid” business model, combing the principles of both traditional and budget airlines. Like a traditional airline, it uses hubs in its flight networks (with all transfers taking place at one location) and has two service classes (business and economy). Like low-cost airlines, it has very rigid rules on reserving seats and a complete absence of free services.
The hub for airBaltic flights is Riga International Airport
, through which you have the opportunity to conveniently fly, with a change of planes, from north to south and from west to east across Europe. Since Latvia itself is small, trips from Russia and other CIS countries to Western Europe (and vice versa) make up an important portion of their business.
I got the chance to make use of airBaltic’s services in December 2011. Through Riga, I was travelling from Moscow to Munich (flight BT-657 from Moscow to Riga and BT-221 from Riga to Munich).
1. Departure from Moscow – Terminal E of Sheremetyevo International Airport
airBaltic flights to Moscow are serviced in Terminal E of Sheremetyevo International Airport
. To get to Europe, you have to leave Moscow early in the morning. Flights for cities in Europe leave Riga in the afternoon.
Check-in stands for the flight to Riga in Sheremetyevo Airport:
I didn’t have to check in at the airport. airBaltic offers online registration. You can check in on their website up to 24 hours before departure time. This way, you also get to choose your seat for free (to choose a seat when checking in at the stand, you have to pay 3 euro).
You will also have to pay for any baggage you bring. The only thing you’re allowed to bring with your for free is the carry-on, which can weigh no more than 17.5 lbs (8 kg). Everything else must be paid for.
The waiting area in Terminal E of Sheremetyevo Airport:
The plane from Riga arrived an hour before departure time. All the windows of Terminal E face towards the runway, so you could watch the plane land and taxi over to the ramp to start preparing for our flight.
2. Moscow-Riga on a Boeing 737-300
On the Moscow-Riga leg of the trip, the flight is conducted on a Boeing 737-300. The plane has sections for two classes of passengers: business and economy.
The upholstery is leather. The economy class seats aren't exactly comfortable; there’s very little leg room and the seats barely recline.
It’s obvious from the appearance of the interior that the plane is not exactly new. There are cracks, worn spots, yellowing, etc.
3. The Flight and In-Flight Service
During takeoff it was interesting to get a panoramic view of the new Terminal D of Sheremetyevo Airport…
… and then to soar above the morning clouds.
Entertainment during the flight comprised a flight magazine in English, a brochure about airBaltic, a guide to Riga and Jurmala with a map, and a menu.
None of the food or refreshments are complementary. The drinks almost all cost the same, 2.5 euro. Refrigerated food includes chocolate bars, various bread rolls and sandwiches, ranging in price from 3-5 euro. The selection is pretty large, so even a picky eater should be able to find something. Several pages from the menu are shown on the following photos. Everything can be paid for with cash or credit card.
It’s worth noting that on the Moscow-Riga flight all the attendants spoke good Russian. Likewise, information about the flight given over the PA was repeated in Russian (as well as Latvian and English).
4. Riga International Airport
The terminal building of Riga Airport is a low, relatively small, T-shaped structure. Most likely it was once an old Soviet air terminal, expanded and built on in the past 20 years.
On the inside, the airport looks somewhat old-fashioned, but decidedly European. The waiting area is pretty large, and you can walk the entire length of the T-shaped terminal instead of waiting for your flight in a waiting area, as was common under the Soviet Union.
All the windows look out onto the airfield, where you can watch the airBaltic planes. There were very few planes from other airlines visible amongst the bright green tailfins.
5. Riga-Munich on a Boeing 737-500
After a 2-hour wait the journey continued on a Boeing 737-500. The cabin was slightly different (such as the baggage shelves and some other minor things), but all in all looks a lot like the Boeing 737-300 we flew in on.
Try and find 5 differences from the similar photos above:
Returning to Moscow from Munich I flew directly with airberlin. Tune in later for a review of this flight.