It has been 4 years since I've been to my home country of Latvia so it was time to go back again. Tickets have been expensive the past couple of years so when I decided that I am really going, I spent numerous hours on the internet searching for the least expensive flights between New York City and Riga until I found what certainly wouldn't last long, a round trip with a cost of $578.02 on SAS. So I booked immediately and off I went...
Part 1 - Going there, EWR-ARN-RIX
I went to New Jersey, parked my car and caught a ride to Newark Airport.
: August 23rd, 2007
: Airbus 330-300 (SE-REF) - Star Alliance
This was my third flight on A330 and a first time on this aircraft.
After checking in with a not-so friendly airport check-in agent I went through a standard security check and off to the gate areas of Terminal B.
Our plane parked at the gate:
Company aircraft at a nearby gate getting ready for a flight to CPH
. This would be the aircraft I would come back on and also the first ever A330 I flew on 4 years ago. Was it really that long ago?
Finally boarded. For some reason I thought that I was in Italian airport and not in Newark:
And whoever said that B737 doesn't fly Trans-Atlantic in a regularly scheduled passenger service?
We pushed on schedule at 17:20 local time, started both engines and taxied to runway 22R for departure. Surprisingly there was no wait, only a couple of aircraft ahead of us who pulled to the runway and took off immediately. There were no announcements from the crew about the departure but the forward looking camera in my PTV kept me informed about everything. We took off toward southwest and made a right turn around the airport, went over Manhattan (I could easily make out Central Park on the downward looking camera) and turned northeast.
The drink service started shortly followed by a first meal. SK
only serves one alcoholic drink now throughout the flight at no additional cost so I settled for Swedish beer. There was a choice of fish or chicken so I went with chicken which was exactly what you would expect from the airline food.
I watched Analyze This for a while and then went to sleep. I woke up on approach to Scandinavia:
I was trying to guess the local time but gave up after a few minutes. There was sun rising down below:
A breakfast was served and we started our approach to ARN
. At that point connecting flight information was displayed on the monitors for a number of flights and gate numbers were displayed as well which was convenient. My second flight was displayed as well eventhough it was operated by a partner airline through code share.
We were descending into ARN
and the fog was so thick, I could not see anything out of the window. I had the forward looking camera on on my PTV and I was watching the altitude on the overhead display. We were down to 500 feet and nothing out of the window. Down to 300 feet and still thick fog outside. At about 100 feet or so, I saw the runway lights appear just in front of us and we performed a smooth touchdown.
A pilot went on on PA system and informed us that due to the thick fog we would take longer to get to the gate. I saw a 4-engined aircraft just in front of us taxiing very slowly. It turned out to be a TG
B747 and we parked in the gate right next to it. By that time, the fog got a little less dense:
We came off the aircraft after what was your average trans-Atlantic flight. The crew on this flight was very professional and friendly.
After a long walk to another gate and encountering a security check in the middle of the airport, I came to the gate for my second flight which did not arrive yet.
: August 24th, 2007
: Boeing 737-500 (YL-BBN)
This was my first ever flight on a B737.
At about the same time when this flight was supposed to depart, the airplane had just pulled into the gate on a flight from Riga:
As everyone exited the plane they called the boarding and we were able to go through the hallway to enter the jetbridge. Once there, it turned out that the door into the jetbridge was locked. The airport employee came in to open it, he swiped his card but nothing was happening. In the meantime, more and more passengers were at this door ready to board the aircraft. This same airport employee made a call on his radio in Swedish, swiped his card again and this time it worked. When we walked into the plane, the flight attendants were still vacuuming the cabin and let us in about a minute later. Complementary Latvian and Russian language newspapers were available by the door. I got into my seat just in time to see a Viking pass by:
By this time, the fog had cleared out, we taxied to the runway, there was very powerful acceleration and we took off for this one hour flight. I was sitting toward the end of this short aircraft and cabin service started from the front going backwards.
Somewhat decent legroom:
I was watching the cabin crew serve drinks and some snacks that were being sold on this flight. The last time I flew BT
4 years ago, the food was complimentary. This time it made me wonder how people are willing to pay for the food on this one-hour flight so I decided that I would settle just for some water when flight attendants get to me with their cart as I was sitting in row 17. However, by the time they were done somewhere around row 10, we have started our descent and cabin service stopped. The two flight attendants then quickly pushed their cart to the end of the plane. A man sitting somewhere around row 12 called a flight attendant over and requested a drink. Her response was that the service was over. I personally think that this is a major screw up on BT
's part, they should either serve all passengers or none at all.
There were 3 flight attendants on this flight. One was making sure that business class passengers are happy and the other two served about 40% of economy passengers while the other 60% got absolutely nothing. For the level of service, considering I did not get any service, I would give BT
0 out of 10.
We soon descended into RIX
and I saw the 9-story buildings of the Zolitude neighborhood on my left, which meant that we were landing on runway 18. As we landed, I looked at the terminal and saw the biggest plane that ever visits RIX
on a regular basis, an HY
B763 on its stopover between JFK
I exited the plane, went through passport control, got my luggage and was easily out of the airport. I have read before the trip that it is now mandatory to show a proof of health insurance if you visit Latvia but nobody could care and nobody even hinted about it.
I was staying in Latvia for the next 9 days and as I learned from Marcus (FLIEGER67), it's always a good idea to include non-airplane pictures as well so here it goes:
Kalku Street, (which used to be called Lenin Street during Soviet occupation):
St. Peter's Church (destroyed during World War II
, rebuilt in 1970s):
Presidential Palace (I actually saw President Zatlers being driven about a minute before I took this picture):
A rooftop cat:
Freedom Monument (Which was almost destroyed by the Russians just before World War II
Guards at the Freedom Monument (They stand still and there is a change every hour):
This should give you an idea of Riga's location in the world:
Latvia has recently become famous as a sex capital of Eastern Europe. Latvian authorities try to discourage this activity by putting out posters such as this one:
This trolleybus is actually not made by Bosch. It's made by Skoda in the former Czechoslovakia:
Lido Restaurant on Krasta Street (A must for any Riga visitors):
A residential neighborhood called Purvciems:
Latvian-made electric train doing a Riga-Jurmala run:
Town of Kraslava (located about 10 km from the border with Belarus):
Part 2 - Coming back, RIX-ARN-EWR
It was soon time to go back to the US and I had to be at the airport bright and early in the morning (while it was still dark outside) to catch my 7:35 departure flight.
: Septermber 3rd, 2007
: Boeing 737-500 (YL-BBE)
This was my second flight on B737 and a first time on this aircraft.
I checked in for the flight and went through security check. I had a bottle of Vodka in my carry on that I was bringing for my manager back at work which was confiscated by the security. They stated that it's a European Union requirement that no alcohol in excess of 100 ml can be brought onboard. I thought that was very weird because they sell alcohol in duty free which obviously can be brought onboard.
I went throught the passport control and stopped by a duty free to find out whether or not I will be able to buy any liquor and bring it onboard. A girl working there asked me for my final destination. After I replied that I'm going to Newark she informed me that I wouldn't be able to bring alcohol with me. What kind of nonsense is this? Anyway, I had to let go of this idea and came back to work the following day empty handed.
This advertisement would probably be a dream of any aviation fan, especially anyone who's ever been denied a right of airport spotting by the ignorant US authorities:
-154 just before departure to SVO
Our plane parked at the gate:
Our plane from the inbound flight a few days before:
Some times I am amazed at people inpatience. For some reason people think that it is a benefit of being able to board the aircraft before everyone else. I wonder what are they thinking? Do they think that they will leave faster or they will get better seats? Come on, this is not WN
. I was walking around the gate area spotting while these folks were waiting in line to get on our plane:
I calmly boarded the plane after everyone else rushed through the process, got into my window seat, and took a picture of the only runway at RIX
. However, the main focus of this photo was the IL
-76 parked in the woods:
We pushed back after some passengers were taken off the plane. They came in on a connecting flight from Baku and did not have a visa to enter Sweden. BT
representative said that they won't be let into Sweden and that the airline will be fine if they try to enter. They were advised to go to the Swedish embassy before they fly.
Then we taxied to runway 18 and took off into the fog for this one-hour long flight.
Somewhere over the Baltic Sea:
I will not even attempt to describe the cabin service. I will only say that it was exactly the same as on the previous flight. Not even a glass of water was provided to me as I was sitting too far toward the end of the aircraft, I was sitting around the middle. By the time the flight attendants served about a third of the passengers, we were already approaching ARN
and we soon landed:
We got off the aircraft at the same gate that we flew out several days earlier and there was already a number of people waiting to board the aicraft to go back to RIX
Eventhough my US-bound flight was to depart from a gate nearby, I had to go to the other side of the terminal to check in for the flight and get my boarding pass. However, I did not need to recheck the luggage, it was checked in all the way through in RIX
. And I think that it is a bit strange that they can check the luggage all the way to final destination but not the passengers. While waiting in line to get a boarding pass, I enjoyed Swedish countryside (Can anyone spot a B747 in this picture?):
I'm no expert but this looks like ARN
is different from my nearest airport which is JFK
. I'm so used to seeing KL
B777s so it was interesting to see a KL
B737 for a change:
is clearly an SK
I then proceeded to the gate and had to go through security again. I was also selected for a secondary check but they didn't find anything, including the Vodka that was confiscated in RIX
. I was finally allowed to go through and saw my next ride being parked, a Sigrid Viking.
: Septermber 3rd, 2007
: Airbus A330-300 (SE-REE)
This was my fourtth flight on A330 and a second time on this aircraft.
I got into my seat 26A and we kept waiting:
Our captain came on the PA system and advised us that due to the strong headwinds it will take us longer than usual to cross the Atlantic and that he expects some turbulence on the way, however he also mentioned that hopefully the flight will be smooth.
Then another announcement came. The captain informed us that there was a malfunction in a computer controlling the fuel system and that he would like that taken care of before we depart. This was greeted by someone who exclaimed "Good Idea" in the back of the plane.
A few minutes later a red Volvo station wagon pulled up to the plane and SAS mechanic came out of it and climbed on board into the cockpit. He came back out about 20 minutes later and we finally pushed back:
We then taxied into position on Runway 19R:
and immediately took off:
Soon after take off the captain announced that the entertainment system does not work and the moving map display will not be working during this flight. I realized that this would be the only thing informing me about our current location:
The captain said that he normally does not do this but this time he will tell us about our routing. He said that due to the weather we will not be taking the usual route but instead take a southern course over Great Britain and cross the Atlantic into Newfoundland.
Luckily the moving map was the only think not working, so I got a chance to see The Whole Nine Yards and Kramer vs. Kramer. There were two meal services and although the food was exactly what you come to expect on the airplane, the service was very professional.
At no time did I know what our position was so I used what people had available to them 20 or so years ago, and that was my watch. About 7 hours into the flight I saw land beneath us and almost 9 hours after take off my ears started popping so I knew we were descending. It looked like we flew over Connecticut and then made a left turn around Poughkeepsie descending into EWR
. It did look like the pilots were desperately trying to slow down:
Then Manhattan appeared on the left and I could even see Verrazanno Narrows Bridge through the fog:
The runway appeared up ahead and through my PTV I saw that we were landing on Runway 22L:
This was followed by a smooth touchdown:
After we vacated the runway we taxied into the gate and the journey was over. One thing I still don't get is why is it illegal to talk on the cell phone while walking from the plane to the immigration but that's what was being told by airport employees.
I would really like to hear your feedback if you have read so far. It literally took me several nights to write this report and it would be sad for me if no one reads it. Your comments are what keeps me writing these reports so please have them coming.
A mile of runway takes you to the world. A mile of highway takes you a mile.