PlaneHunter From Germany, joined Mar 2006, 7100 posts, RR: 75 Posted (7 years 8 months 2 weeks 6 days 12 hours ago) and read 17757 times:
Winglets on a Classic: MUC-RIX-HEL on Air Baltic's 737-300 & 737-500
Several weeks after the successful trip to Spain with four new airlines and one new type it was time for another short venture. Booking two or three weeks in advance means fares can be high - so it took a while to find a good combo at a (somehow) acceptable price. In the end I booked MUC-RIX-HEL on Air Baltic (733 & 735) and HEL-MXP on Blue1 (MD-90). Most online travel agencies didn't offer these flights as a combination - but fortunately flug.de did. So I got the flights combined on a SAS ticket which would reduce the risk of stranding if something goes wrong. All I needed was a connecting flight back to MUC and a hotel at Helsinki. It was quick decision to choose Air Dolomiti (BAe 146-300) and the Holiday Inn Vantaa Airport (lowest available rate). So the trip would include three new airlines and the rare and most-wanted MD-90 as well as plenty of time for spotting at MXP.
Part 1 of the trip report series covers Air Baltic's 737-300 and 737-500 - the other flights will be discussed in separate reports.
Friday, 15 August 2008
Munich (MUC) - Riga (RIX)
Air Baltic, BT222
Flying time: 01:44 (hrs)
YL-BBI (s/n 2703), first delivered to Ansett Australia in 04/1995 as VH-CZT
Online check-in wasn't available yet for flights departing from MUC so I went to the airport early. Air Baltic's counters were already opened more than two hours in advance - but only for the Vilnius flight, departing some 30 minutes before the Riga flight. However, a friendly agent waved towards me and said she would already handle the Riga service. I asked for the second last row on both flights which she immediately confirmed. Surprisingly, she also gave me the boarding pass for the next day's Blue1 flight, but this time I asked to change to a seat slightly behind the emergency exit (trying to avoid the blind windows). Again, she kindly accepted my request. Check-in was only a matter of a few minutes.
Only a few minutes later I heard an announcement about an Air Baltic flight being late - and I was relieved to hear "Vilnius". However, when I passed the departures screen I noticed a new departure time next to MY flight: estimated departure delayed from 14:25 to 15:10! So both Air Baltic flights were late today.
The original transfer time of 1 hour and 50 minutes was now down to about an hour. Still enough for a small airport - but you never know with estimations. I decided to call my girlfriend and asked her to check whether the plane had departed Riga yet - some minutes later she confirmed. But the flight tracker website showed a flying time of 2:26 hours - quite long for that service. So I started calculating - what happens if the return flight to Riga would also take that long? In such a case, I concluded we shouldn't depart MUC later than 15:30 - arrival would be around 18:55 (due to the time difference), some 30 minutes left for the connection.
I knew there would be another Air Baltic flight to Helsinki in the late evening - but it could be full. And staying at Riga for the night and going to Helsinki in the morning would eliminate any chance to get the MD-90 - which would depart HEL at 08:35 already. So I was really hoping my Air Baltic flight would depart without any more trouble.
Boarding - or not?
The plane from Riga arrived exactly at the time estimated, so I was quite confident we would be in the air about 45 minutes later. Most of Air Baltic's 737-300s have been equipped with performance (and aesthetics) enhancing winglets - and YL-BBI is one of them:
Flight preparations took longer than expected and it was clear after a while we wouldn't be able to depart at 15:10 as originally estimated. I noticed that even the gate agent seemed to be wondering about the boarding delay - he started walking around and looked out of the window several times. Just when I started calculating again, boarding was finally commenced at around 15:00. However, after several passengers had passed, the process was stopped. Apparently a passenger didn't have a valid boarding pass yet - probably he was transferring from another flight. The gate agent wasn't amused and after talking to a colleague he went behind the desk and started feeding the computer with data...the minutes passed and I was starting to get annoyed. Finally, after several minutes the guy got his boarding pass and I was really hoping it wouldn't happen again with another passenger...
Friendly female FAs welcomed me on board, two in the front section and another one in the back. The cabin was equipped with worn grey fabric seats - and some seats like mine featured a leather seat cushion.
In former times YL-BBI was used by Ansett Australia and Rio-Sul. However, according to a picture, Ansett Australia used different seats on the plane. So the question is whether these are former Rio-Sul seats - or seats simply bought elsewhere?
Seat pitch was quite average - but not as bad as some passenger in the adjacent row suggested.
Cabin view - picture taken later in the flight:
Load factor was about 60 percent (90 passengers booked on the flight according to the check-in agent). Fortunately, I had all three seats to myself. The FAs were quite serious about cabin safety - one of them even took my light jacket away from the middle seat and placed it in the overhead bin.
After sitting down at around 15:25 I asked one FA whether it would be realistic to get the connection to Helsinki. She lowered her head, shut her eyes for a moment and slightly grimaced - quite a pessimistic expression. She said we probably wouldn't leave for another 30 minutes - which was definitely demoralizing. Then she looked at her watch and after a while she said: "Yes, you will make it." I wasn't convinced...
Btw - the crew apologized for the delay, but didn't mention a reason.
Red, orange, green and lots of gray:
We were pushed back at 15:35 - at least we were finally moving, but the problem is you can sometimes spend a lot of time on the taxiway at MUC...
Fortunately, traffic was low in the afternoon and we quickly lined up for departure on runway 26L. The Air Baltic 737-500 to Vilnius took off ahead of us, followed by a Lufthansa A320. Then it was our turn...
...and YL-BBI started accelerating at 15:46:
Once in the air I was confident again to get the connecting flight.
The Snack Check
Air Baltic doesn't serve anything for free like many carriers in these days. So it was time to explore the "airCafe" offerings...
Most prices were reasonable (sandwich for 3,75 Euro), but some items were overpriced (e.g. instant coffee or tea for 2,25 Euro). There was even a choice of hot meals, e.g. salmon steak or tortellini, both main courses served with a "real Italian dessert" and a small bottle of wine for 7,50 Euro.
In the end I chose a "burger" combo, consisting of a ham and cheese sandwich, a fruit salad and a can of orange juice. All the stuff was served in a snack box:
The sandwich tasted good - but other than suggested on the menu, the size of the fruit salad was minimal. And serving a 150 ml can of orange juice is simply ridiculous...
About one hour after departure we hit an area of turbulence and I had to wonder about an old lady (between 70 and 80 years old) in the adjacent row. Judging from earlier observations it was probably her first flight - and in contrast to other passengers she kept totally calm in these shaky skies...
After some 90 minutes in the air we already started the (quick) descent - so I would have plenty of time left for my connection.
The weather in Latvia wasn't any better than in Bavaria:
Crossing a river - which one is it?
We touched down at 18:30 and arrived at the gate three minutes later, exactly 59 minutes behind schedule.
Riga International Airport
is a small, but modern airport - very convenient for connections. In 2007 it handled 3,16 million passengers.
was started some 25 prior to departure at a bus gate. The aircraft was YL-BBD this time, once used by Air France:
The typical 737 nose:
When I stepped on board, friendly FAs welcomed me again - actually known faces, it was the same crew again. The 735's interior was totally different - the cabin was in better shape and equipped with comfortable dark blue leather seats.
The question is which carrier used the seats before...
...considering that these instructions were in English and German:
Seat pitch was slightly better than on the 733:
Cabin shot - picture taken later in the flight. Load factor was about 50 percent.
We left the gate 14 minutes late, but we could immediately roll onto the runway. YL-BDB, one of Air Baltic's two 757s, had just arrived:
YL-BBD lifted off after a short takeoff roll. Large socialist style housing areas remind of the country's past:
Crossing the Coastlines
Shortly after departure we reached the coastline and crossed the Gulf of Riga.
Different layers of clouds and the evening sun created a nice scenery in the Estonian skies:
FAs offered drinks and food for sale again, but I didn't order anything on that short hop. Some 20 minutes after passing the Latvian coastline we had reached Estonia's northern coastline.
It took only a few more minutes to cross the Gulf of Finland. Tiny islands and a lighthouse:
Beautiful evening scenery:
We touched down at Helsinki only 38 minutes after departure and arrived at the gate one minute ahead of schedule. On the way to the terminal we passed Finnair's Silver Bird (A319) and the Blue1 MD-90 in Star Alliance colors - my plane on the next morning? Honestly, no...
Holiday Inn Vantaa Airport - Inexpensive & Basic
The shuttle bus arrived on time and stopped at the hotel door five minutes later. Except for the reasonable rates (64 Euro) and friendly staff there wasn't anything special about that hotel. The rooms are quite small and offer a rather basic equipment. Anyway, it was absolutely sufficient for spending the night.
Flying Air Baltic was an average experience. Crews were friendly and transferring at Riga was very convenient - but you never know which interior you get on BT's planes. I have no idea about the number of different cabin variants, but Air Baltic should focus on a consistent cabin equipment. At least seating wasn't cramped on both flights. I don't mind about the lack of IFE on these European routes, but catering could be improved. At least portions shouldn't look much larger on the menu than they really are. The delay was annoying - but that can happen with any carrier. I wouldn't hesitate to fly Air Baltic again, the carrier is definitely an alternative to the usual players in the Scandinavian market.
SandroZRH From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 5, posted (7 years 8 months 2 weeks 6 days 9 hours ago) and read 17500 times:
Cool report. I flew BT ZRH-RIX-ZRH and RIX-TLL-RIX last fall and was pretty happy with them considering the fares i paid. You should have tried that Croissant Sandwich they offer, it's delicious and pretty reasonably priced. I ate four of them during the whole trip
Too bad that you didnt check out Riga, it's a great city. I suppose you didn't get to go into Helsinki ether, too bad. Both cities are worth a visit, and if it's just for "girls-spotting"
Looking forward to the MD90 report, i flew KF's MD90s about 14 times in 2006 and 2007!
PlaneHunter From Germany, joined Mar 2006, 7100 posts, RR: 75
Reply 6, posted (7 years 8 months 2 weeks 6 days 5 hours ago) and read 17322 times:
Thanks for all your feedback!
Quoting BA319-131 (Reply 3): - Pretty good, I'd be happy with that! Do we know if there are any non airside postting locations there?- I'm pretty weak on Air Baltic since they started to expand.
Unfortunately I don't know about good spots outside, Mark. RIX is definitely a good place to log BT regs - however, a part of the fleet is based at Vilnius.
Quoting Djb77 (Reply 4): Those dark-blue seats on the 735 look very similar to the seats on the dba or Deutsche BA aircraft.
Yes, I had thought about that, too. Air Baltic operates three ex-dba/Deutsche BA 737-300s - it's unlikely that the seats were transferred to one or more 737-500s, but probably BT bought some more seats in addition.
Quoting SandroZRH (Reply 5): You should have tried that Croissant Sandwich they offer, it's delicious and pretty reasonably priced. I ate four of them during the whole trip
Too bad I didn't know that.
Quoting SandroZRH (Reply 5): Too bad that you didnt check out Riga, it's a great city. I suppose you didn't get to go into Helsinki ether, too bad. Both cities are worth a visit, and if it's just for "girls-spotting"
I have been to Helsinki, but never visited the city of Riga, unfortunately.
Quoting SandroZRH (Reply 5): Looking forward to the MD90 report, i flew KF's MD90s about 14 times in 2006 and 2007!
14 times is quite a lot - let's see whether you share my impressions.
FLIEGER67 From Germany, joined Sep 2003, 5243 posts, RR: 53
Reply 7, posted (7 years 8 months 2 weeks 6 days 3 hours ago) and read 17214 times:
thanx for this real interesting evening read.
Very good impressions between MUC, RIX and HEL.
I was also at RIX some years ago and positive surprised there about that scandinavian architecture, not bad.
Whisperjet From Germany, joined Nov 2007, 575 posts, RR: 7
Reply 8, posted (7 years 8 months 2 weeks 6 days 2 hours ago) and read 17123 times:
AIRLINERS.NET CREW PHOTO SCREENER
thank you for posting this report. I have flown on BT's F50 a few times and I can share your experiences. The service is indeed rather basic although on domestic flights they offer free drinks and also the Fokkers I have flown on had different seats.
I have spent a night in the Holiday-Inn in Helsinki and your room seems to be totally different than the room I had.
@ BA319-131. There are some spots around the airport but all of them are quite far away from the terminal.
DALCE From UK - Scotland, joined Feb 2007, 2018 posts, RR: 5
Reply 11, posted (7 years 8 months 2 weeks 5 days 11 hours ago) and read 16785 times:
As usual you delivered a very detailed and nice report.
BT seems to be on par with LCC's as U2 and FR. Not too good considering they are not a true LCC.....
Nevertheless you have the possibiliy of flying in surprising birds who all have some experience, which makes flying a lot of fun aswell.
Thanks for sharing!
Looking forward to the MXP part as I was there last April.
Contact Air From Germany, joined Apr 2001, 1154 posts, RR: 9
Reply 12, posted (7 years 8 months 2 weeks 2 days 4 hours ago) and read 16451 times:
thanks for this really interesting and detailed report about Air Baltic and the great pictures. Luckily you made your connection at RIX, so nothing should prevent your MD-90 trip on the next day.
Quoting PlaneHunter (Thread starter): Most prices were reasonable (sandwich for 3,75 Euro), but some items were overpriced (e.g. instant coffee or tea for 2,25 Euro).
According to my experience, coffee (and tea) are usually overpriced on LCC's. Nevertheless, many people (like me!) still buy it. For me, a coffee is essential, at least on a morning flight, and I guess I would even pay 5 Euro for it...
Quoting FLIEGER67 (Reply 7): So, further to the next one, hopefully not that long time to wait.
It will take some more days, I have been very busy recently.
Quoting Whisperjet (Reply 8): The service is indeed rather basic although on domestic flights they offer free drinks
Interesting - when did you take that flight?
Quoting Ronerone (Reply 10): Thanks for sharing this report. My first Air Baltic one! The interior seems very clean, or it just your fantastic pics?
Thanks a lot, Roni. The cabins were partly worn, but they were indeed very clean.
Quoting DALCE (Reply 11): Nevertheless you have the possibiliy of flying in surprising birds who all have some experience, which makes flying a lot of fun aswell.
So true - always nice to track the history of a plane.
Quoting DALCE (Reply 11): Looking forward to the MXP part as I was there last April.
MXP is great for spotting - traffic is not dominated by AZ any more...
Quoting Contact Air (Reply 12): Luckily you made your connection at RIX, so nothing should prevent your MD-90 trip on the next day.
Luckily, everything worked as planned.
Quoting Contact Air (Reply 12): According to my experience, coffee (and tea) are usually overpriced on LCC's. Nevertheless, many people (like me!) still buy it. For me, a coffee is essential, at least on a morning flight, and I guess I would even pay 5 Euro for it...
Hopefully there aren't too many LCC managers reading that...
Airbuseric From Netherlands, joined Jan 2005, 4402 posts, RR: 48
Reply 17, posted (7 years 8 months 1 week 1 day 1 hour ago) and read 15706 times:
nice report! Good pics. I really enjoyed this read, interesting carrier. And it gets already harder to score B733's and B735s in Europe nowadays, so pretty interesting metal
Hope to read the connection to Italy and back home soon.
"The whole world steps aside for the man who knows where he is going"
Lufthansa From Christmas Island, joined May 1999, 3290 posts, RR: 9
Reply 18, posted (7 years 8 months 1 week 12 hours ago) and read 15617 times:
Those definately aren't Ansett seats.
Ansetts 733s had winged headrests, plus they had drop down LCD in the first 7 rows (ment for business class). As gooder trip report as it was, its a shame to see what happened to those 733s.
I have flown the very aircraft in question many many times, from Brisbane to Townsville. Back then, it was very luxurious. It was only configured to seat 110 or so people, and the best of everything was on board.
I suspect it was stripped down when it went to brasil.
Still its amazing to see what happened to Cathrine Zulu Tango, as she used to be known.
That aircraft was a regular on routes along the Australian east coast. I must have flown that very aircraft maybe 15 times. Brings back memories. Thanks for the post!