Air Baltic was launch customer on the brand new Bombardier CS300. Like the Airbus A320neo, it’s being advertised as better, brighter, more comfortable and with less environmental impact than other aircraft. For me, who sometimes struggle to combine my love of flying with my desire to keep the planet somewhat clean, this is a nice trend. Air Baltic took delivery of the first bird in december 2016, and I knew in my heart I needed to be on this aircraft soon. Unfortunately Copenhagen was not included in their “bragging month” where they flew her to various European cities to show her off. So I had to get up at the crack of dawn to catch a flight to Riga, spend 5 hours in the airport (thank god for Priority Pass – I like RIX, but it’s very small) and then catch the CS300 to Amsterdam. Two nights in The Land of Tulips and then straight home on Norwegian. A good plan indeed.
Well, except for the part where Schiphol decided that customers of Low Cost Carriers should not be allowed to roam their beautiful, awardwinning, worlds best and brightest and most welcoming airport, and instead sticks them into a far away, walled off corner of the airport where they can sit without access to all the shops and restaurants and be properly ashamed of not flying Legacy. I’ve always enjoyed flying KLM and transiting in Amsterdam, but I’m not paying 3-5 times the price compared to Norwegian for a virtually identical short haul experience. But I digress.
Air Baltic is flying the tiny Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 on the route between RIX and CPH, and holy mother of noisy aircraft. If I hadn’t been wearing noise cancelling headphones, I would have been deaf by now. The aircraft was mostly empty, and I wondered if this had something to do with the date. It was friday the 13th. But we chugged along and eventually reached a snow-covered Riga Airport. The Baltic countries knows how to deal with winter weather, as one lead-footed Estonian taxi driver proved to me on a snowy January afternoon a few years ago. I was duly impressed, but he insisted four feet of snow was but a mere dusting. Latvia is no different. Just remove the snow and keep flying. So I disembarked into Winter Wonderland and went in search of the CS300.
And there she was, YL-CSA, at gate C5, all pretty and sporty, freshly arrived from Milan, while her sisterplane, YL-CSB, was snoozing the day away. They’re not exactly being overworked, the new birds, but I reckon they will soon be flying hither and thither, especially when all 20 servings of CS300 have been delivered.
Finally it was time to board and I hoofed it to seat 24A while texting photos to my Better Half. It’s tricky, snapping photos without holding up the boarding, but usually somebody will do you a favor and block the aisle for an eternity while trying to fold their jacket just right, allowing you ample time to take pictures and perhaps even watch a movie or take a nap while you’re at it.
It was a very pleasant flight. The windows are large, the air is good (no dry sinuses!), the cabin airy and light and the tiny screens above each row displaying a flight map, something you don’t normally see on European short haul. The seat was very hard – my back was not impressed. A bit of padding would be nice. The noise levels were fairly low, right on par with the Airbus A320neo. No loss of hearing this time.
So I think the CS300 is right up there with the A320neo – and even the Dreamliner, although obviously much smaller and as such a bit more bouncy. While the improvements might seem subtle, all you have to do to really feel the difference, is to fly back home on an old Airbus A319. Never before have my favourite aircraft felt so tiny, dark and cramped as it did that day, with the CS300 fresh in mind.