POST 6 – October 29th 2018 – Travel lifestyle

Moving to warmer seas... (part 1)

Air Baltic C300  RIX-AMS + Air France AMS-CDG Business class + Air France CDG-LYS Economy

I was extremely lucky with the great weather I had in Moscow, and to some smaller extent in St Petersburg. But the trend was there at the end of the trip… Fall was there, and it started to get pretty cold and humid. Fortunately, and as I tried to explain in the post « 0 » on my blog, I considered which were good parts of the year to visit some countries, and my next stop will bring me to a much warmer destination… Dubai and the Emirates, followed by South Africa. I got a pretty good deal as explained before departing Riga to Dubai, which will allow me to come back home for Christmas (and also get enough tier points to qualify for Air France / KLM Flying Blue Platinum status at the same time).

My flight from Riga to Amsterdam was operated by KLM partner on this route, Air Baltic, which is the national airline of Latvia. This airline follows the low cost model when it comes to economy class bookings : you need to pay for beverages, food and luggage to be brought on board. However, they have a business class. And also brand new planes, as they were one of the first airlines to get the Bombardier CS300, nowadays called Airbus 220-300.

 

Air Baltic CS300 (now called Airbus 220-300

Disappointment = Expectations – Reality, as a good colleague and friend of mine usually says… I was honestly not having many expectations out of this flight. I was just curious to fly an aircraft and an airline I never flew before with.

I was booked to get to Paris CDG via AMS, with a flight to Dubai the next day. Since I was not feeling spending a day in Paris, I decided to book a cheap one-way on Air France to see my family for one evening in Lyon and then a train ticket to get to CDG the next day (the frequent flyers call this « nesting » a ticket). So at the end, I had two different reservations to get to my final destination, Lyon and inquired the evening before to the Air Baltic counter if I could have my luggage checked through to Lyon (I also called Air France a few months ago when I booked my trip to confirm this could be done and the agent confirmed). After 5 minutes explaining my situation, the agent confirmed this was possible and added a note the file so I would not have to ask again the next morning.

The next morning, I showed up at the business class counter of Air Baltic and the check-in of my luggage to Lyon was very swift. The agent was, however, unable to issue my boarding pass to Lyon, but only for the first couple flights. The luggage tag though displayed the 3 segments and LYS as the final destination…

Clearing security was a swift process thanks to the premium security lane and I then went to the only lounge located in Riga airport for a quick breakfast.

The lounge was quite nice, and operated by TAV (who operates some Turkish airports). There was some space available and it was clean. The buffet was ok, with a selection of a few hot dishes and the toilets were located within the lounge and were properly maintained.

After 30 minutes, I left the lounge to reach my departure gate at the end of the pier C, a good 5 min walk away.

Boarding started a couple minutes later, with a priority boarding announcement made for business class passengers but no enforcement.

Air Baltic BT617 – October 24th 2018
RIX Riga – 07:40
AMS Amsterdam Schiphol – 09:55
Airbus A220-300 (ex. Bombardier C300) – YL-CSC – Seat 2A, Business class, window.

It was my first time on a C300 and I immediately liked the cabin atmosphere, in addition to the greeting from the purser standing at the aricraft entrance (btw, the cabin crew on that flight were 3 very good looking flight attendants J).

I was however a bit surprised by the relatively small size of the overhead bin opening. I had to force a bit to fit my carry on bag inside. The cabin is configured in a 2-3 configuration with the seats B and E neutralized for the business class seats. I selected the seat 2A for this flight, which corresponded to a bulkhead seat. There was no class divider between economy and business and only 2 passengers, including me, where in business class. Economy class started at row 4 and looked pretty full. A predeparture drink was offered (water, apple or orange juice) and the paper menu was given. Finally, a nice blanket and a pillow were located under the table located in place of the neutralized seat.

This aircraft has larger windows than the similar aircrafts for this category (Embraer 190 series for example), and each row is equipped with a small color screen (about the size of a smartphone screen) to show the flight route and information and broadcast the safety instructions before take off.

We pushed back on time and took off under the rain (but I don’t really remember that part as I fell asleep J)

 

I woke up somehow 45 min later and the purser came to me asking if I was interested in having some breakfast and stating she did not want to wake me up as « I was sleeping like a baby ». She then informed me this would take about 10 minutes to warm it up and offered me another drink, green tea this time. This nicely came with all the « toppings » you would expect on a plate, including some lemon slices.

The breakfast main (omelette) was good, so was the starter (although I never ate duck mousse for breakfast !). The dessert was ok but pretty small.

Half way through the flight, the crew came with some duty-free sales to offer. At this moment I also asked the purser, Laura, if I could visit the cockpit after landing in AMS and she told me she would ask the captain, but later added « Erik is pretty cool, so I think it will be fine after everybody would have disembarked » (I like the fact this airline is like a « family business J).

We landed ontime, right next to a British Airways aircraft, and taxied for a good 5 minutes to our gate in Pier-C of AMS.

After everybody left the plane, I was invited to visit the cockpit, and felt again like a 10-year old kid for 5 minutes 

As the agent in Riga was not able to print all my boarding passes for my journey, I asked the transfer desk of KLM if my boarding pass to Lyon could be printed, as the self service kiosk was showing me error messages when attempting to print any boarding pass. After trying to explain for a good 5-minute to a KLM agent that I wanted to print a boarding pass and arguing why I would need it (she kept saying « Yes but your itinerary does not go to Lyon but to Paris and tomorrow Dubai… » – I don’t think I am the first passenger on AF/KLM to ever travel on two different reservations), she simply refused to print the boarding pass to Lyon, stating she cannot do it (LIE !), and that I should do it in Paris.

That’s the usual story with KLM. They will never (or rarely) try to go the extra mile. And that’s pretty annoying.

I then went to the Crown lounge to find it as usual, crowded, with lines to get pretty much everywhere, dirty (especially the restrooms), and with a mediocre catering. Still better than waiting on a bench, but not really the premium experience one would imagine. I anyway think that no lounge is good in AMS.

I went to the boarding gate C5 (the usual one) about 30 minutes before departure, to find the boarding area very crowded and messy (again – as usual), and the boarding eventually started 20 minutes before departure.

Air France AF1341 – October 24th 2018
AMS Amsterdam Schiphol – 10:35
CDG Paris Charles de Gaulle – 11:55
Airbus A321 – F-GTAY – Seat 1A, Business class, window.

The plane was quite full that day and due to some luggage handling delays, we had to wait an extra 10 minutes before starting the engines. Then, the captain informed us that our runway was the furthest away, resulting in a long taxi time. We eventually took off at 11.25, so almost an hour late. A towelette was given after boarding to business class passengers.

The light lunches were distributed, consisting in some hummus with zucchini sticks, a piece of smoked salmon with a blini, a warm pizza muffin and apple mousse as a dessert. For a 45-min flight, I think this is ok, although the dessert could have been more elaborate. The paper menu coming with the tray was obviously containing the wrong information…

Note that this aircraft was equipped with the new cabin so USB ports were available at every armrest.

We landed at 12.05 in CDG, and after almost 15 minutes of taxi time we reached our gate in the terminal 2F.

The cabin crew was not very friendly on that flight, but we managed to pick up some of the delay on the way to CDG.

I was finally able to print without any issue my boarding pass for the flight to Lyon to one of the self service kiosks and headed to the lounge in the terminal 2F. It was quite crowded but the staff was nicer and it felt also cleaner. The catering was also better.

Boarding to Lyon started 25 minutes before departure, and although automatic gates were in use, the gate staff was checking ID’s of all passengers, and were very polite.

Air France AF7644 – October 24th 2018
CDG Paris Charles de Gaulle – 14:05
LYS Lyon Saint Exupéry – 15:15
Airbus A319 – F-GRHT – Seat 3C, Economy class, aisle.

My flight to Lyon was pretty uneventful, I slept during most of the flight, and got the usual tomato juice with the butter cookies. We landed ontime. But to my greatest surprise, my luggage was… not on the belt !

According to the luggage service agent, my luggage was correctly tagged to LYS, but the system of AF « evacuated » it from the system in CDG (so I was standing on the arrival belt in CDG) as there was no indication that I had another ticket to LYS. Would have been nice if, for instance, the agent in AMS would have though about this. Would have been nice…

I ended up with the usual PIR form indicating my luggage was delayed and the agent in LYS added to the system that LYS was the final destination – to have it picked up from CDG.

 

So to make a long story short, they were ready to load my luggage on the last flight of the day to LYS, but this would have meant having it delivered in the next morning. Unfortunately, I was supposed to take the train at 8 am the next day to go back to CDG, so I asked the luggage service to keep it in CDG, and I eventually managed to pick it up the next day and check it in again to Dubai this time, after sending some Russian souvenirs by post (!) to my parents in Lyon…

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