Good Advice Tried and Tested

Air Baltic business class B737-500

23/05/2016

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 the airline 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

Online check-in 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 flight and chose seat 2A. It appeared no one else was sitting in the three rows assigned to this premium cabin.

I tried to print my Air Baltic boarding passes but they came out looking very odd so there was obviously a problem of some kind. Instead I emailed them to myself and stored them as a PDF.

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.

I arrived at London Gatwick's South Terminal by train at 0757, with about 90 minutes until my flight at 0930. I went straight upstairs to security, passing through the automatic barriers by scanning the barcode on my phone. Screening was quick, with laptops and liquids out. I was airside by 0810.

THE LOUNGE

Business class passengers have use of the Club Rooms lounge in Gatwick South, on the second floor transit area. Operated by No1 Traveller, the facility is open to the public for a £40 fee. There is free food and drink, alcohol (including spirits and champagne), wifi and magazines.

BOARDING

At 0840, departure screens showed my Air Baltic flight to Riga as departing from Gate 31. I headed down there at about 0850 – the walk is about ten minutes. Although screens said it was boarding at 0855, the process didn't start until about 0905, with business class passengers and people with young children called first.

After having my documents checked and electronic boarding pass scanned again, I crossed the airbridge and took my seat. It soon turned out that I was the only person in business (economy was busy, though). A very friendly member of crew greeted me with a smile and offered me a choice of water or juice before take-off.

THE SEAT

Business class on this Air Baltic plane 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. The cabin is sectioned off from coach by a movable curtain.

Air Baltic business class seat on the B737-500

There was a good amount of legroom (34 inches) and the surfaces clean. A perfectly decent product for a relatively short route (two hours 30 minutes). There is no in-fight entertainment or wifi.

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.

THE FLIGHT

Air Baltic flies both B737-300 and 500 versions of this plane on the route – I was on the B737-500 with 22 rows and 120 seats. After a safety demonstration from the crew, we pushed back late at 0945, taking off at 1000. There was no explanation as to the delay. Once airborne, a second drink was offered and a food menu handed to me.

I had pre-ordered a vegetarian special meal but the standard three-course breakfast would have been an appetiser of lightly salted salmon with cream cheese, cucumber and capers; a main of scrambled eggs with vegetables and mozzarella; and a dessert of honey roasted granola with dried local berries and yoghurt. On the back of the menu you could rate what you thought of the food.

Air Baltic vegetarian special meal

I wasn't drinking but the winelist featured two whites (Cotes du Rhone Pasquier Desvignes, France, and Santa Luisa Sauvignon Blanc, Chile); two reds (Reserve de Tholomies Merlot, France, and Ponte Bello Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Italy); and two sparkling wines (Bernard-Massard Selection Brut, Luxembourg, and Heidsieck Monopole Brut, France). There was also the option of spirits, soft drinks, tea and coffee.

My meal tray arrived at 1040. My starter was of a very tasty hard cheese with dill and tomatoes; the main was of white rice with sweet and sour char-grilled vegetables, which was better than I expected but not a typical brunch dish; while dessert was granola and yoghurt. I was offered a glass of wine but stuck with a couple of cups of green tea instead. I felt well looked after.

ARRIVAL

The plane started its descent at 1215, landing smoothly in Riga at 1230 (1430 local time). We disembarked via steps at the front and took a bus to the terminal. Passport control was quick. It's about 15 minutes in a taxi to the city centre.

VERDICT

A very good short-haul service with everything from seat selection and luggage, to a meal and date changes built into the cost of the business class ticket. (In economy, these are ancillary fares.)

FACT FILE:

DEPARTURE TIME 0930

JOURNEY TIME 2h 45 mins

SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-2

SEAT PITCH 34in/86cm

PRICE Internet rates for a midweek business class flight from London to Riga with Air Baltic in June started from €505.

CONTACT airbaltic.com

Jenny Southan