Simple Flying was presented with an excellent opportunity to fly with airBaltic on their inaugural flight from Vilnius, Lithuania to Hamburg, Germany. This new service launched on May 3rd and connects Lithuania’s capital city to one of Germany’s largest cities and a major industrial center. Indeed, on the outskirts of Hamburg are Airbus’ facilities where various widebody and narrowbody jets are assembled. While you may never fly this exact route, this article will show you a little bit of Vilnius Airport as well as the airBaltic business class experience.
Passing through Vilnius Airport
Generously hosting one of our team members, we showed up at Vilnius airport a little bit before check-in was available. Since there was no need to check any bags for the trip, we checked in online, got a digital boarding pass, and headed through security.
Being a guest in business class, we were given access to the Narbutas Business lounge at Vilnius airport. The lounge is much smaller and simpler than many lounges found at larger hub airports, but it offered all the basics: A quiet space to work or relax, a small selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and a small selection of food. Food options were unfortunately limited to pre-packaged salads and sandwiches, vegetables, and soft cheeses.
One side of the Narbutas Business Lounge at Vilnius Airport. Photo: Chris Loh | Simple Flying
Boarding the aircraft
Moving closer to boarding the aircraft, we reached the gate early to see staff from the airline and airport celebrate the launch of the route. With the Vilnius to Hamburg service being a fairly short and low-key flight, the celebration was equally subdued, with a few photos taken for the airport’s social media, as well as a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony. With the route’s launch taking place on a Tuesday evening, the flight was rather empty. This meant that few members of the public were around to enjoy the free treats being handed out.
The event and boarding took place at a gate far away from normal activities of the airport. Photo: Chris Loh | Simple Flying
Treats were handed out to passengers to celebrate the event. Photo: Chris Loh | Simple Flying
A photo-backdrop was set up at the gate as well. Photo: Chris Loh | Simple Flying
The ribbon cutting ceremony. Photo: Chris Loh | Simple Flying
In fact, much of the flight’s experience would be affected by the low load factor of this particular service. Boarding at the gate was quick and easy, as was getting on and off the shuttle bus. Boarding was completed in less than 15 minutes and the plane even began rolling a few minutes ahead of the official departure time at 18:15. airBaltic has used jet bridges at Vilnius airport before, so travelers might experience either method of boarding and de-planing here.
The aircraft used for this inaugural flight was a nearly four-year-old A220-300 registered YL-CSK. This particular Airbus A220 is instantly recognizable as the only aircraft in the airBaltic fleet painted in the colors of the Lithuanian flag. This is one of three aircraft in the fleet which have special liveries. The first was painted in the colors of the Latvian flag and the other in the colors of Estonia’s flag.
Likely a deliberate move, the airBaltic A220 painted in Lithuanian colors was used for this inaugural flight. Photo: Chris Loh | Simple Flying
The business class ‘cabin’
As is common with all commercial passenger A220s, economy class seating takes a 2-3 configuration. With airBaltic being a European carrier, it wasn’t surprising that the airline takes a euro-business approach for its premium cabin. That is to say that business class consists of standard economy seating with these seats blocked off between passengers. This gives the airline the ability to shrink and expand its premium cabin as is necessary, allowing for much more operational flexibility.
A look at the interior of the airBaltic A220. Photo: Chris Loh | Simple Flying
Initially sitting down in the assigned seat of 1D, the first downside of taking Row 1 on these jets was quickly discovered. The front wall of the cabin limits the amount of legroom available to business class passengers seated up at the front. While passengers in rows further back might be able to stretch their legs out in the space under the seat in front of them, this is not something available to the seats in the front rows. As a result, the only advantage of sitting up in the very front row is a chance to get off the plane first. Otherwise, it might be preferable to take a seat further back – unless you’re on the shorter side, of course.
The unfortunate side of sitting in the very front rows. Photo: Chris Loh | Simple Flying
Being an Airbus A220, airBaltic’s overhead bins are some of the largest in the industry. This makes it incredibly easy to load a carry-on bag and should, in theory, reduce the amount of frustration for economy class passengers when trying to find overhead locker space.
All seats in the A220-300 cabin are a creamy white leather and have a decent amount of recline. The pitch between the seats is 32 inches, which is on-par with legacy carriers in Europe. Seat width is often a feature highlighted with A220 carriers. The middle seat is 19 inches wide, offering more space than other narrowbodies. The window and aisle seats are 18 and a half inches.
Middle seats are the widest on this aircraft with an additional half-inch. Photo: Chris Loh | Simple Flying
Unfortunately, airBaltic’s seats don’t have in-seat power to charge your devices. This might be fine for a short hop like Vilnius to Hamburg, but could be more of a problem if you’re flying one of the airline’s longer services – like Riga-Tenerife, or Riga-Dubai – especially since there’s no inflight entertainment system to keep you distracted on those longer flights. Overall, however, the majority of airBaltic’s flights are shorter hops within Europe, meaning a fully charged tablet or laptop should survive the trip – just don’t forget to charge it before your flight!
There’s no in-seat power, but there is an inflight magazine and a coat-hook at every seat. Photo: Chris Loh | Simple Flying
Business class service
Getting seated, a flight attendant brings a drink menu and asks if you would like a pre-flight beverage (this can be alcoholic or non-alcoholic). About 15 minutes after take-off, an inflight meal is served. On this occasion, the meal consisted of warm bread rolls with butter and a rucola-tomato-quinoa salad to start. The main course was chicken with sun-dried tomato in a horseradish sauce with asparagus, potatoes, and grilled red peppers. Following the meal (or during dessert), tea or coffee is served. Dessert was a chocolate mousse with blueberries and mint leaves on the side.
Considering the duration of this flight – which was just an hour and 40 minutes, the meal service takes up most of the available time at cruising altitude. With empty plates and cutlery taken away, it was then time to make the descent into Hamburg.
Touching down in Hamburg, we rolled towards the terminal and received a water cannon salute- a traditional act conducted for inaugural flights and other important services. Concluding the flight, passengers disembarked using a jet bridge.
The traditional water-canon salute for an inaugural service. Photo: Chris Loh | Simple Flying
De-planing via a jetbridge at Hamburg airport to mark the end of a successful and on-time inaugural service! Photo: Chris Loh | Simple Flying
Our thanks again to airBaltic for hosting us on this inaugural flight from Vilnius to Hamburg in business class. If you didn’t already know, airBaltic is Europe’s largest A220 operator and the world’s largest operator of the A220-300.
The airline’s headquarters and largest base is located at Riga international airport. However, it also has bases in Vilnius (Lithuania), Tallinn (Estonia), and Tampere (Finland). From these bases, the airline services much of Eastern and Central Europe, as well as Scandinavia. So, if you’re flying to any of these cities, airBaltic might be worth checking out!
Have you flown airBaltic – or do you have plans to in the future? Share your experiences and plans by leaving a comment!
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