BACKGROUND As well as standard economy, Swiss regional airline Baboo also offers the SMART ticket upgrade which includes lounge access, forward seating, onboard meals, hold luggage and flexible tickets. Baboo flies Venice to Geneva once a day, not including Sundays, and the route is normally served by a 74-seat Dash 8 Q-400 turboprop aircraft. However on this occasion the Dash 8 was delayed coming into Venice so an Embraer 190 was put on.
CHECK-IN I arrived at Venice Marco Polo by water taxi at 1300 in time for what should have been a 1455 flight (F7905), however as already mentioned the Dash 8 had been delayed by around an hour putting the boarding time of 1415 back to 1455. The water taxi dock was quite a walk from the terminal, it must have taken the best part of ten minutes at a leisurely pace. With no queue at the check-in desk and fairly painless security, I was airside by 1325 giving me plenty of time to have a look around the shops. My SMART upgrade gave me lounge access but we had lunch at one of the nicer airside restaurants which did not leave a lot of time before boarding. I headed to the Gate 21 for 1455, however the Embraer was not yet ready and I had to wait around for 15 minutes.
BOARDING There was no priority boarding as such, which is not altogether surprising on a small 74-seat plane. However, as I was flying with the SMART upgrade my seat (15D) was in the first five rows, identified by jazzier headrest covers carrying Baboo’s highly-stylised red and white branding. I was in my seat by 1515 and the plane took off ten minutes later.
THE SEAT The E190 has 27 rows in a 2-2 configuration, with the first five reserved for SMART passengers such as myself. To see a seatplan click here.
SMART on the Embraer is more like a business class product than on the smaller Dash 8 as the seats are much larger and with greater legroom than the rest of the plane. In fact the seats were so spacious there was no need for my neighbour, seated on the aisle, to stand when I needed to get to the toilet, I could get around her with no trouble at all. As one of my travelling companions noted, it was almost like being in a private jet.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? There isn’t much to choose between the seats in rows one to five as they all afford more space than anyone could ever realistically need, far more than to be expected on a short-haul flight of less than an hour. It was a wonder these seats still existed with many airlines keen to improve yields by sacrificing legroom to squash in more seats, especially on short-haul flights.
THE FLIGHT SMART passengers were offered wine ten minutes into the flight, one of the few actual differences in service between business and economy. The food offering was the same for SMART and economy, being mini salmon and cream cheese bagels and a small soft cheese sandwich, with curiously was made of two differently coloured breads with the crusts cut off. A fruit jelly in a tiny pot, no bigger than a shot glass, constituted pudding. The portions were very small but delicious and seconds were available, creating the impression of finger foods, a novel way to present what was essentially a snack meal.
All the seats on the Embraer had IFE screens but unfortunately there was no active system. I was told Baboo has plans to implement a working IFE system in the near future, though no word when and in what form.
To wrap up the service, SMART passengers were given a 200ml bottle of Pommery champagne with a logo specially designed for Baboo apparently by two design students. Unfortunately they were handed out towards the end of the flight and it didn’t dawn on me until far too late that I might be asked to relinquish my Pommery by Swiss airport security, as I was continuing my journey onto London City via Geneva.
ARRIVAL We landed at 1620, less than one hour after taking off. Everyone was off the plane by 1630, and so began the confused search for the correct gate for transit passengers. We had to walk in what was essentially a large circle to find the right gate for the onward flight. As expected, I was relieved of my Pommery, although I was given the chance to neck it by the sympathetic security.
VERDICT Very pricey for an hour-long flight but SMART gives ticketing flexibility, checked luggage and lounge access. Also a huge seat on routes served by the Embraer.
PRICE A mid-week return in January from Baboo’s website starts at £412, including the SMART upgrade.