Trip Report Series:
Review: Air France Lounge, New York JFK Terminal 1
Three Days in Vilnius, Lithuania
Review: IDW Esperanza Resort Lounge, Vilnius Airport
Three Days in Riga, Latvia
Review: Primeclass Business Lounge, Riga International Airport (RIX)
Review: Air Baltic Economy Class, Riga to Tallinn
Three Days in Tallinn, Estonia: A Foodie’s Paradise!
Review: Tallink Megastar, Tallinn to Helsinki
Review: Aspire Lounge, Helsinki Vantaa Airport
Review: KLM Business Class, Helsinki to London Heathrow (via Amsterdam)
Review: Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, London Heathrow
Review: Delta One Business Class, London Heathrow to Atlanta
I mentioned a few weeks back that I was going to fly airBaltic within the Baltic states, from Vilnius, Lithuania to Riga, Latvia and then from Riga to Tallinn, Estonia. One of the reasons why I was excited to fly airBaltic is because they are a hybrid carrier, meaning that most of their fees are unbundled. Since I was be traveling for an extended period of time, I had to pay extra for certain things like carry-on luggage and other ancillaries.
For my Vilnius to Riga flight, we were part of a Group booking, so all of the ticketing was handled via a 3rd party. From Riga to Tallinn, however, it was all done via direct sell on their website. I do know that airBaltic, as a hybrid LCC, does have extensive interline and codeshare agreements with foreign carriers, which I find fascinating.
Codeshare and Interline Agreements
AirBaltic has 22 codeshare agreements with foreign airlines, which essentially allows the airline to place its code on another airline and have that flight number “marketed” by the operating airline. It works in the reverse direction as well.
Additionally, airBaltic has over 25 interline partners, which allows one carrier to issue travel documentation and check luggage for both operating carriers in a single PNR (passenger name record) for the entire journey. For countries like Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, point-to-point routes like Vilnius to Amsterdam, Paris and Munich on airBaltic can feed into larger airlines flown into those airports like KLM, Air France, Delta and United. I knew, for example, some people who flew United into Amsterdam and then connected onto airBaltic to Vilnius. You can book on airBaltic’s website or through another distribution system.
If you are a codeshare and interline geek, like I am, I would recommend checking out this page on airBaltic’s website.
Route Network and Fleet
The route network is primarily centered around Riga, which as I mentioned in my blog post on Riga, is the most important business city in the Baltic states. There are a few point to point routes offered from Vilnius and Tallinn to other major cities in Europe such as Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin and Munich. The carrier also offers a few medium-haul routes to Reykjavik, Tbilisi, Baku, Lanarca, Madrid, Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi. The latter in particular is a noteworthy route because it will feature the Bombardier CSeries once it goes into operation on October 29, 2017. In fact, airBaltic is the launch customer for the CS300, with 15 on order. You can read more about BT’s timetable here.
It currently has 6 737-300s and 5 737-500s in service, with a planned phase-out by 2020. It also operates 12 Bombardier Q400s, which were what I flew on from VNO to RIX and from RIX to TLL. All of airBaltic’s fleet types feature a standard economy class seat.
AirBaltic has one of the best direct-sell websites I’ve ever encountered. It is very sleek, modern and easy to navigate. The business model is oriented around an, “a-la-carte” pricing market featuring Basic, Premium and Business fare families. Essentially, a basic fare bundle is without seat selection, meal or checked luggage, as described below.
There were a few very interesting things that I noticed in their pricing and shopping model. One is that you can add on an ancillary fare of EUR 14.99 to allow flexibility to change your flight. Another was that when you hover over the fare you’re going to purchase, you can see the number of seats left for the price, the booking class and the fare basis code. In some instances, a bundled fare would show two booking classes combined together.
If you are a Revenue Management, Pricing and Marketing-based person in the industry, this is a very interesting method of selling.
Because I knew that I would have at least a carry-on that would fit in the overhead bin, I pre-purchased my luggage (no more than 20KGs) and ordered a meal for S’n G’s. The meal was not included in my ticket price, but I did purchase it as an add-on. You can read more about my excitement for the AirBaltic merchandising experience, pre-flight, here.
Day of Departure
We arrived at Riga airport by shuttle, and headed to the check-in area. One thing that was interesting was that my friend, who was traveling on an different PNR than I was, was told he had to pay 50 EUR for overweight luggage. But then when they noticed we were traveling together, he could see that I was traveling with less weight than 20 KGs in my piece of luggage, and so therefore waived the fee for my friend. I suppose it was a weight-and-balance issue? Either way, we didn’t complain.
We headed to the lounge, and then eventually to the gate to board our short Q400 flight to Tallinn. Most of the airBaltic flights that are operated on Q400s board via stairs instead of jetways, at least in my experiences flying on them between the Baltic states.
I was seated on the right side of the aircraft, and as much as I like Bombardier, I really can’t say I’m a fan of the Q400. It is noisy, slightly uncomfortable, and the views outside can suck, as you can see with the picture above.
Boarding was completed on-time, if not somewhat chaotic and a bit disorganized, and we were soon locked and loaded on our way to Tallinn. The cabin crew were nothing really special. Language skills were average and friendliness was pretty lukewarm, but hey, this wasn’t Singapore Airlines, after all. The flight was not very full and the flight to Tallinn would only be roughly 50 mins wheels up to wheels down. Despite the short flight time, my meal order was confirmed and I was informed that it would be brought to me.
The flight itself was fairly uneventful. All purchases were an additional charge for drinks, so when I wanted to order a coffee, I had to pay extra (I think it was about 3 EURO for it).
At any rate, I was really excited for my meal. It came in this lovely, avocado green box.
I believe this entire meal (sans coffee) had cost me around EUR 8.99. Not a bad deal overall. The sandwich contained salami, cheese, lettuce and mayo (woof) and then the side contents was a slightly runny blueberry yogurt, two twix bars and some OJ to wash it all down.
While it wasn’t the best sandwich I’ve ever had, it certainly hit the spot. I was hungry after a small snack at the Riga lounge, and the sandwich was the perfect thing to tide me over for a few hours until dinner later that evening. Overall, I would rate it as a 7 out of 10.
The coffee was pretty meh, definitely tasted of instant coffee. But it was hot and definitely American-sized, so I gladly coughed up the extra amount and called it a day.
Soon, we were descending into Tallinn airport and had a nice, bumpy-landing. Man, I will not miss the Q400s when they are retired!
AirBaltic: Final Verdict
I love this airline! Sure, their aircraft leaves a bit to be desired, and their in-flight services are nothing out of the ordinary, but I think more than anything, I really like their business model. I can appreciate all of the thought that has gone into cultivating an airline that has a large market share in a relatively unknown part of the world, and the technical elements that have gone in to enhance the product, brand and distribution (which is something that even some of the world’s best airlines fail at). That said, it is a hybrid carrier, so while you won’t get hot meals and generous luggage allowance, you at least get reliable, efficient and safe transport between points in the Baltic states.
Without a doubt, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly airBaltic again soon.