Tried & Tested

Air Baltic business class B737-500

23 May 2016 by Jenny Southan
BACKGROUND Latvia-based low-cost carrier Air Baltic connects the Baltic states with 60 destinations throughout Europe, Scandinavia and the Middle East from its home base in Riga. It flies twice daily from London Gatwick, codesharing with BA. Although Air Baltic features a business class section with food and drinks included, the economy experience is no-frills, in that food and drink has to be paid for. There is the option of a hand-luggage only Basic fare, a Premium fare that includes checked luggage, seat selection, priority bag drop and fast-track, and Business, which also includes the flexibility to cancel, get a refund, change the name or date, use the business lounge and get an onboard meal. CHECK-IN I had checked in online before my outbound flight and save my boarding pass as a screen grab of an email PDF on my phone. Online check-in with Air Baltic can be performed 72 hours in advance, with pre-selected seats at a fee for economy class passengers but free for those in business. I checked in the day before my outbound flight and chose seat 2A. It appeared no one else was sitting in the three rows assigned to this premium cabin. Business class passengers can take one suitcase measuring 55cm x 40cm x 20cm as hand-luggage, as well as one personal item such as a handbag or briefcase, plus two pieces of checked luggage up to 40kg in total. On arrival at 1400 at Riga International airport, which is about 15 minutes by taxi from the city centre, I walked past the Air Baltic check-in desks (14-16) and headed straight for fast-track security as was only carrying hand-baggage. There was no one else ahead of me so I was straight through, pausing only to scan my boarding pass and then remove my laptop and liquids. I was airside by 1405. THE LOUNGE Air Baltic business class passengers (and Priority Pass members) can use the Primeclass lounge in the Schengen area. It is a smart, light-filled space with additional seating on an upper mezzanine level facing the stands. There was free wifi, several Samsung workstations, free papers and magazines including the Danish edition of Business Traveller, and a self-service station for people to help themselves to local digestif Black Balsam. There was also a couple of buffet counters offering wine, beer, soft drinks and spirits, as well as cheese, crackers, sandwiches, soup, rice and goulash. It was peaceful on the Tuesday afternoon I was there so didn't have a problem finding a spot to work for an hour. No announcements are made so you have to keep an eye on the departure screens. BOARDING My 1530 Air Baltic flight to London Gatwick was departing from Gate D3, a couple of minutes walk from the lounge via passport control (again there was no queue here). I was impressed by the airport – it was compact, modern and easy to navigate with a couple of good duty-free shops and cafes. I headed to the gate at 1510, soon after it was announced that boarding had started. As there was no separate business class lane I had to cut in front of the other passengers, with an apology, to get priority boarding. I then walked across the tarmac to where the plane was waiting, ascending via steps at the front. Once seated, a friendly member of crew offered me water or juice and said she would serve me lunch (a pre-ordered vegetarian meal) any time I wanted during the 2.5-hour flight (it would only take ten minutes to prepare). She also gave me a copy of the drinks menu. THE SEAT Air Baltic’s business class is fitted with the same slim-line Recaro seats as in economy, upholstered in navy blue leather. However, middle seats are kept free with a pull-out table separating them from A-C and D-F so they are effectively configured 2-2. The cabin is sectioned off from coach by a movable curtain. There was a good amount of legroom and the surfaces clean. A perfectly decent product for a relatively short route but no in-flight entertainment. Pillows were also available – placed under the central tray table. There were also fold-down seat-back tables. I was the only person in business class on this flight. WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? I prefer not sitting in row one as I like to be able to stow my bag under the seat in front. If you want the most legroom sit in seats 1A-C. The bulkhead is closer to 1D-F so they are more restricted when it comes to space. There were three rows of business class on this flight. THE FLGHT The aircraft pushed back a little late at 1540, taking off shortly after. We were at cruising altitude by 1550. I was served a gin and tonic before lunch, which came at 1640. The was a starter of Brie cheese and a bread bowl, a main of ratatouille, and a dessert of mango cheesecake. It was all pretty good, certainly fresh, with proper china dishes and metal cutlery. The crew were very amenable but didn't have too much to do with me being the only person in business class. ARRIVAL We landed at London Gatwick at 1820 (1620 local time), having made up the time en route after our late departure. VERDICT A stress-free short-haul business class flight with a good meal and friendly service. FACT FILE: DEPARTURE TIME 1530 JOURNEY TIME 2h 50 mins SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-2 PRICE Internet rates for a midweek business class flight from London to Riga in June started from €505. CONTACT Jenny Southan
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