Air Baltic Business Class Riga-Brussels – Excellent service but a long flight in a propeller aircraft
At the Airport
After a long day of meetings, I arrived at Riga Airport at 4:50pm with only 40 minutes until my departure. Riga Airport is small so this was no problem, especially with a business class ticket. I had already checked in online so therefore only needed help printing a boarding pass. There were two desks for business class in Air Baltic’s large check-in area, of which one was open and without a queue so I quickly received attention.
There is also a fast track at Riga Airport for those travelling in business class and this was also without a queue. Oddly enough, I was requested to not only show my boarding card but also an identification document, in this case my passport, which felt a bit strange for a flight within Europe between two Schengen countries.
There was no time for a lounge visit as the boarding process began early, so I made way directly to gate A2, followed by a short bus journey to the aircraft, even though it was parked no more than 100 metres from the terminal building. I presume it was more of a security issue.
Boarding and First Impressions
A Dash 8-Q400 aircraft would be used for the flight to Brussels. There was high occupancy on board, but as it turned out, I was the only passenger in business class and, therefore, had plenty of space at the front of the aircraft.
Once all passengers were in their places, the flight attendant came forward to greet me and asked if I wanted something to drink before departure, either water or orange juice. At one time sparkling wine was offered before departure, but this seems to have been discontinued. I asked for both. Newspapers were also offered, including the Financial Times and The Times in English. A pillow and a blanket were distributed as we taxied to the runway.
Pushback was five minutes before schedule and the ascent from the airport provided a nice view of downtown Riga. The flight time between Riga and Brussels was estimated at 2 hours and 30 minutes.
The aircraft flying us to Brussels was a Bombardier Dash-8 Q400, a turboprop aircraft with seating for 76 passengers. Business class consisted of two rows. I had a pre-booked seat, 02A, and, as I said, was alone in business class.
In business class, the neighbouring seat is always kept vacant to provide each passenger with extra space, otherwise, the seats are the same throughout the aircraft.
The Dash-8 Q400 is generally a pretty quiet aircraft considering it is a turboprop. I have had no problems with it on short flights around The British Isles and Scandinavia, but for a flight of 2 hours and 40 minutes it could possible be somewhat irritating with the constant humming sound. For flights over two hours, I would much rather see a jet being deployed.
The menus were distributed before departure along with the drink list. As the departure time was 5.30pm, a three course meal was to be served in business class.
The drinks range was fairly extensive, consisting of champagne, sparkling wine, two red wines, two white wines, beer, several spirits and a range of non-alcoholic beverages. The champagne on board was Heidsieck Monopole Brut. A specialty to try on board was the coffee, Riga Black Balsam, containing a traditional Latvian herbal liqueur. The beverage selection is perhaps not comparable to what you get in business class on long-haul flights, but it is certainly not bad for business class within Europe.
Service began with a small amuse bouche and a choice of drink. I ordered a gin & tonic which was served with ice, lemon and a cocktail stick. The appetiser consisted of tuna, vegetables and a slightly hot sauce.
A moment later the meal tray arrived. The starter was mozzarella with tomatoes, the main course was chicken with vegetables, and dessert was a kind of crumble cake with cream and chocolate. Everything tasted rather good and the food was filling, but I would have preferred some more accompaniments to the chicken other than just vegetables, maybe some potatoes or rice with a nice seasoning or sauce.
I ordered a bottle of wine to accompany my meal. There were two to choose from and I chose the French Gérard Bertrand 6ème Sens Blanc Pays d’Oc. Bread was offered with the food. It was very nicely presented in its own basket and consisted of two different rolls and two slices of brown bread.
While I ate, the stewardess assisted with selling and serving in economy class whilst keeping an eye on me at the front. I was offered more wine but instead ordered a coffee. I would have happily enjoyed a whisky but the supply on board was not so attractive, therefore, I had a cognac instead.
I was again offered coffee and tea. The coffee seemed to be prepared in the rear galley and therefore took some time before it was served at my place. A small piece of chocolate was placed on the tray with the coffee.
During the remaining half of the flight, the stewardess sat in the back of the cabin, together with a colleague, but continued to pass me once in a while to see if I wanted something more to drink. It was also simple enough to ring the bell.
Two female flight attendants were working on board, of which one was the purser and took charge of service in business class. Overall, service was stylish and elegant, for example, all drinks were served from a sleak black tray and wine was poured by the attendant in front of me. The glass was then placed on a paper mat and put on my table next to the bottle with the label visible. It is small touches such as this that stand out, create a noticeable difference and add value.
Another very positive detail I noticed was how the flight attendant folded down all the tables at vacant seats in business class, i.e. in the front row and the two seats across the aisle. I had thought this was strange but then realised it was to prevent economy passengers, visiting the toilet at the front of the plane, from sitting at one of the vacant business class seats.
Otherwise, the staff were slightly less talkative than others I have met on some of my other flights with Air Baltic.
I spent the remainder of the flight getting a little work done and following up on some of the meetings I had during the day.
At 7:10pm we landed at Brussels airport, 20 minutes before the scheduled time, and parked at the far end of the A-pier, the pier used for Schengen departures. The Dash-8 can not connect directly to the piers which meant a short walk in the drizzle to get into the terminal.
Overall, I was pleased with the hospitality, a good standard for business class within Europe. The service was elegant and the dinner enjoyable. But 2 hours and 40 minutes is a long time in a turboprop aircraft, no matter how quiet and modern it may be.