First, when planning my trip to Riga I intended to take outbound on K2 and inbound on BT, so I could log two new types: AT4 and F50. Unfortunately, the time spread between the flights was insufficient to visit the city, so I decided to take both flights on BT instead. Luckily, the day when I was taking the trip, AT4 has already been in my log, as I managed to score it when completing my daytrip to Kraków, three days earlier. If interested, my report covering this trip can be found here: A Day In KRK Or How I Killed 2 Birds With 1 Stone (by SPLTA Jul 26 2011 in Trip Reports)
The booking was made on Air Baltic’s site three weeks prior to the journey. It was pretty annoying experience with a number of additional services keeping popping in and out throughout the process. I did, however, accepted one of the offers. Since I was determined to get a window seat I decided to fork out extra 5 € each way for “seat request”, especially that the seat map showed only handful of window seats opened. I chose 07A both ways.
I did OLCI the day before the trip. It was irritating experience once again, as I was forced to answer some irrelevant questions regarding registered luggage (I was travelling with hand luggage only) to complete the process. Additionally, it took free attempts to successfully save boarding passes. Oh, and it turned out that miraculously plenty of window seats became available, so I needn’t have paid for “seat request” when booking the flights. 10 € expenditure didn’t ruin my finances, but it left a bitter taste in my mouth. On the other hand, there might have been some last minutes annulations.
Flight. no. BT468 (first time on the carrier)
SDT - SAT: 0750-1030 (+1 hour time difference)
A/C type: Fokker 50 (first time on the type)
A/C reg: YL-BAU
Seat no. 07A
I arrive at the airport at 0650 and head directly to the security in the older part of the terminal. There are no lines whatsoever, so am through in no time. I check the FIDS and take a stroll to gate 26.
I have no intention to buy anything on board, so I pay a visit to the nearby retail and buy a bottle of Coke Zero. The boarding commences bang on time at 0720. I am one of the first to go down to the awaiting bus. Unfortunately, not all passengers bother to meet the boarding time, so I spend over 15mins in the cold interior. Finally at 0740 the driver starts the engine and after short ride he pulls in at much welcome YL-BAU.
I am greeted at the door by a young male purser. There are some newspapers available, but there is no single Polish title, I believe. Soon I take my seat with the view of the wheel.
The seat pitch is pretty cramped, as expected.
Interestingly, there are still couple of passengers standing in the aisle when the purser informs the captain that the boarding has been already completed. Then we are given a welcome speech in Latvian and English. We are also informed that our flight is predicted to last 1h40mins. When all passengers are finally settled in their seats, the manual safety demo in Latvian and English is performed. The engines are started at 0750 and we commence our taxi to the RWY33. Sitting on the wrong side of the cabin I cannot see the number of aircraft ahead of us, but there must be quite a line, as it takes really long to reach the active. Once almost there the captain comes over the PA advising us that we have to wait additional 3mins, as we are second to take off plus there is one airplane to land. Soon we finally take off.
Some 10mins into the flight the BOB service begins, but I don’t even bother to check the menu card. The skies are totally covered by thick layer of clouds as we are flying above north-eastern Poland.
The interior definitely is showing its’ age. Seats themselves look pretty good, the upholstery is clean and not too worn out. The old style overhead control panels are in a really bad condition, though. Aside of the yellowish colour, the elements seem not to have been fixed too precisely and it feels like they are to fall off any minute. There are some glue stains around cheap looking seat number stickers. It all adds up to an overall gloomy impression.
Later I reach for the magazine, and skim over the article on Budapest, the destination recently added to Air Baltic’s route map. It would be nice to visit Hungarian capital one day, especially if taking flight(s) on MA’s 736.
Having waken up at 0500 I feel a bit sleepy, so I decide to take a short nap. I cannot make myself comfortable enough, so I take a look outside instead. No clouds whatsoever anymore, so enjoy the views. The vast rural areas are dominant with only couple of towns to be seen, as we are cruising above Belarus and/or Lithuania.
Soon the announcement is made advising us that we are to land in Riga in 20mins. This is followed by information regarding gates numbers for the connecting flights. Interestingly, it is also given in Russian.
After performing the 180 U turn over Gulf of Riga, followed by the truly scenic approach above the Baltic Sea beaches, we land on RWY18 at 1040 LT. The weather is really great, it is sunny, about 30C.
Goodbye YL-BAU, hope not to see later in the evening.
While entering the terminal building I quickly snap the picture of this rare aircraft stopping by at RIX en route to JFK.
Once landside I first go to the exchange. Expecting the rates at the airport to be less preferable than the ones in the city I decide to buy only small sum of local currency, the Lat. Then I head to the Tourist Information where I buy the 24 hours public transport ticket and obtain a complimentary city map. To get to the public bus stop one has to cross the parking lot first.
When on the bus I have a chat with two young Polish girls that have been sitting behind me on the plane. It turns out they have a 12 hours layover in Riga. Then they take late evening onward flight to Tbilisi. I am surprised to hear they are not coming back from Georgia by air. They intend to travel by hitchhike, visiting Armenia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia on the way back home. There are some traffic jams en route, so it takes a bit longer to reach the city centre than expected. Once there, I bid the girls farewell and wish them good luck. I need some more local money, so first I step inside the nearest exchange to learn that rates are noticeable worse than at the airport. Then I start exploring the old town.
The Latvians (as many other nations in the region, including Poles, though not to such an extend) seem to be very proud of their independence. Hence when visiting the city one can admire impressive Freedom Monument, honoring soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence (1918–1920); a humble monument commemorating Latvian children deported to Siberia or visit the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia.
Ironically, Russian language is still dominant on the streets of Riga. It’s not only commonly used by older people, the youngsters seem not speak Latvian (or use it as first language) as well. I know there is a reasonable (ca. 30% of population, I believe) Russian minority in Latvia, but it feels like the proportions were the other way round.
After a couple of hours stroll around the historical centre it is high time to find some place to eat. I decide to try the Steiku Haoss restaurant. The place resembles TGI Friday’s or Jeff’s restaurants a bit.
The heat and two beers I have had to the meal make me feel a bit lazy. I don’t feel like walking anymore. It seems I have seen all the major attractions anyway, so I decide to get back to the airport and visit the aviation museum prior to departure.
The Aviation Museum
When reaching the place I ring the bell and wait. Soon the man wearing shorts and flip flops shows up at the gate. He takes the 5 Lat note from me and lets me in. The museum is more like a junkyard with various aircraft and equipment scattered all over the place. Some exhibits are in a really poor condition. They are squeezed on a relatively small area and it’s not easy to take decent photographs, as many of them are blocked out by the other.
Flight. no. BT463
SDT - SAT: 1905-1945 (-1 hour time difference)
A/C type: Fokker 50
A/C reg: YL-BAU
Seat no. 07A/11A
It’s 1750 when I decide to go to the security. When airside I hang around the retail area and then go to the gate. I get there well in advance, so I have a chance to observe boarding of BT317 to Tallinn, as well as BT339 to Helsinki at the neighbouring gate A2.
No air-condition there, so the place is really hot and stuffy. Interestingly, the restroom is air-conditioned though. I sit at the gate for a while, but soon gets thirsty, so I take a walk back to the main part of the terminal where I get rid of the last Lat coins buying a bottle of water and a bottle of Coke Zero. When back at the gate the boarding of both flights is almost completed.
The YL-BAO goes to TLL, while its’ sister ship hidden behind flies to HEL this evening.
When the boarding begins I am one of the first to leave the gate as I hope the awaiting bus to be air-conditioned. It is not the case, luckily the opened doors located on both port and starboard produce a natural air circulation. Soon the doors are shut down and we take a relatively short ride to the aircraft. I count 22 persons on the bus, so the LF amounts to nearly 50 %. When getting off the bus I am disappointed to see it is YL-BAU to take us to Warsaw.
With such a light load the boarding is completed in a matter of couple of minutes. After a longer while the captain comes over the PA informing us that we are waiting for three more passengers. He says he knows it’s pretty hot in the cabin, but things are going to get better once he starts the engine. Some 5mins later there is one more announcement from the cockpit advising us that the missing passengers are to board in 3mins. Soon the bus pulls in at the aircraft. There are no passengers to be seen, but the agent holding some papers in her hand. She boards the plane, passes the papers to the FA and then quickly gets back to the bus. It’s 1905 when the captain starts the engines. Next the welcome speech is given, followed by a manual safety demo. We leave the stand moving backwards using our own power. After a relatively short taxi to RWY18 and a powerful, rolling take off pretty soon we are airborne.
About a quarter into the flight the BOB service begins. I don’t buy a thing, but when the FAs stop next to me I ask if I could possible change the seat. "No problem" is the answer, so as soon as they disappear with the cart in the galley I move to seat 11A. The seat behind me is empty, so I decide to recline. It feels not so cramped now.
Nothing to be seen outside, as it is cloudy throughout the flight.
I kill the time reading “Polityka” magazine borrowed from co-passenger sitting on the other side of the aisle. I have a lot of laugh seeing this drawing, referring to the recent plans to reintroduce passport controls on internal EU boarders.
The caption could be translated as: "This is not passport control. We just want to get to know you better within the frames of the European Integration."
The rest of the flight is uneventful. We land on RWY15 about 1945 LT, performing the most gentle touchdown I have ever experienced. Having a very light load this evening the Fokker needs less than half of the runway to slow down. Next it backtracks and leaves the active using exit opposite the terminal building. After a short while it stops at the nearby remote stand. I say goodbye to the purser and disembark.
It’s a short bus ride to the terminal building. Couple of minutes later I find myself at the bus stop in front of the arrival hall. The next bus departures in 3mins and some half an hour later I am back home.
It was a pretty enjoyable and successful day trip. The main goal was achieved, as I managed to log the F50. I was a bit unlucky to get the same example on the outbound and inbound flights, though.
As for the Air Baltic, I found their website not too user friendly. Both booking and checking were somewhat frustrating experience, so not so good first impressions. The personnel seem to be the company’s asset. All the cabin crews encountered were friendly and professional. I also liked the fact that the captains on both flights kept us well informed. No complimentary meals/drinks were offered, but it is not a problem on such a short flights, in my opinion. Although YL-BAU is a well dated aircraft, that is probably scheduled to leave the fleet soon, I believe it really needs some additional maintenance works.
Riga with its’ well preserved old town is pretty interesting place to visit. In my opinion, the city lucks the character, though. I think I liked Vilnius better for its’ (more) lively atmosphere.
The Aviation Museum was a real letdown. There was plenty to see, but given the condition of the exhibits and the way they were displayed, the 5 Lat admission fee was a rip off, imho.
I hope you enjoyed reading this report. Your comments, questions etc. are much appreciated.