Maps generated by theGreat Circle Mapper -copyright © Karl L. Swartz.
For my trip in February 2015, Latvia was on the to do list. Being not overly connected to the UK, this meant that Air Baltic would undoubtably be involved at some point – not that I was too bothered about that. I had long seen their lime tailed aircraft at Gatwick over the years so knew of their existence. I had initially considered a straight LGW-RIX-LGW return as the prices were pretty decent – under £100 – but where was the fun in that? I studied options and the most interesting and cost friendly one seemed to be an OSL-RIX-LGW routing, which would include flights on both the airlines Dash 8 Q400 and their ageing 737-300.
I’m led to believe that Air Baltic are the only carrier to accept BitCoin as a payment method?
As the fares were pretty decent, I decided to throw in a couple of pre assigned seats too.
This left getting to Oslo to figure out. Unlike Riga, there were plenty of options from London – with BA, SK and DY all offering direct flights for reasonable prices. I came close to booking the Friday evening departure with DY, but at the last minute remembered that British Airways franchise partner Sun Air offered flights from London City to their base at Billund and then onwards to Oslo. Having long wanted to try out Sun Air this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I logged on to ba.com and studied the options. Unpredictably, cash prices were a little on the steep side.
Fortunately, there were reward seats available and I parted with a few Avios to secure my seats. I was glad to see that these two flights would be operated by both the prop and the jet version of the D328.
The journey began at my local station at 06:30am to make the thirty minute or so train ride to London Waterloo, before catching a combination of the tube and the DLR over to London City.
Upon arrival, I headed over to the BA desks to grab a boarding pass – a technical error on BA.com the previous day meant I was only given a boarding pass for the first sector.
Annoyingly though, I was still only handed the one boarding pass.
I made my way through security, and although it was busy it didn’t take too long. It could have been quicker however. LCY now employ the same technique as at a few airports – where everybody’s put into a separate queue at the metal detector. Good in theory, but if the person in front takes an age to get their bits into the tray (as was the case with me), it can be a little frustrating when others are coming and going whilst you’re still stood there.
Once I was through, I headed off to grab some breakfast.
I checked the status of my incoming flight and saw it was operated by MHS aviation – so a British Airways flight, operated by MHS Aviation on behalf of Sun Air… Nice mixture there.
As I’d set off earlier than planned, it meant I had a while to wait – but this wasn’t an issue as I had a good enough view outside.
Almost as soon as my aircraft landed, boarding was announced, so I made my way down to gate 10.
Dornier 328 Prop / D-CMHB
Seat: 4A / Euro Traveller
Off Stand: 09:05
On Stand: 12:07
Once in the holding pen, I counted around twenty or so other passengers, so a moderate load. There was a separate area for gold card/OneWorld Emerald card holders but due to the low load, I didn’t bother with it.
This mornings albino prop.
Something else on its way.
Boarding was announced, and the gate agent announced that strictly no electronic equipment was to be used on the ramp. And as we were escorted out to the aircraft, I figured it would be sensible to obey this rule to avoid any issues – so no ramp pics today. I was the first on board and I took my seat.
Sun Air’s own inflight mag
Flight time was announced at a pretty lengthy two hours, due to having a strong head wind. A minute or two behind schedule, the engines fired into life and we rolled forwards quite literally a few metres to the threshold of the runway.
After waiting for a BA E190 to land, we rolled into position, the engines spooled up and we were catapulted over East London.
We skimmed the clouds for a bit (to avoid what looked like a Thomson Dreamliner from what I could see) before climbing up to cruising altitude.
About the best shot I could get of the approaching traffic.
Once there, the lone crew member started the service. At first, I thought it had been enhanced to just your standard BA offerings on this type of route.
However, a few moments later, the meal trays were distributed.
It consisted of chicken and pasta with a bread service. No other options were available. Following this was a tea service.
And finally ice cream and digestifs were brought around on a tray. Which seemed a little odd as it still wasn’t 10am, but I indulged anyway.
Phew – what a service!
Once the seemingly never ending meal service was over, I updated the trip report and listened to some music – while keeping an eye on the outside world as we passed into an increasingly snowy Scandinavia.
A few moments later, the lady sat in the row next to mine tapped me on the shoulder and mentioned she noticed I was taking a lot of pictures…. Here we go again. My initial suspicions were false though, as she mentioned she was the cabin crew manager and wanted to know if they were doing a good job so far. I replied that I was very impressed with the service and she said she was glad that they were doing a good job, and that having noticed my BA Gold tag on my bag, was pleased that they were keeping their frequent flyers happy. She also mentioned the guy sat in front a Sun Air pilot and if I had any questions for either of them or concerns, I shouldn’t hesitate to ask.
I stuck with the iPod and the inflight mags until descent started.
SunAir route map
And the fleet
BA Highlife was also available.
Making our approach into Billund.
We made a few turns before making a smooth touchdown. Upon arrival on to stand, it was across the tarmac and up into the terminal.
I did see signs for transfer, but the actual transfer area itself was behind a locked door – so I had no option but to clear customs and go back through security again. This was no bother though as I had over four hours until my next flight – and its not as though Billund is overly busy anyway.
Landside in the terminal.
I stepped outside for a breath or two of fresh air before heading back in again.
I attempted to grab a boarding pass from the BA desk. This didn’t go to plan however, as the desk wasn’t manned – which is a little poor considering BLL is Sun Air’s main hub and there are flights throughout the day.
So instead, I grabbed a thermo paper one from a machine and headed through security. I made things a little more complicated than necessary by accidentally leaving my liquids bag in my rucksack – the staff picking up on this as it passed through the X-ray and rescanning the whole lot. It wasn’t a big deal though and I was on my way within a couple of minutes.
One of the few shops around
There wasn’t too much to be seen in the main area at BLL so I headed up to the King Amlet lounge – which was huge. And heavily guarded.
I set up camp here for the next few hours.
Pretty decent lunch.
View of the shopping area from the lounge.
With around an hour until departure, I was feeling a little bored of the lounge, so I went for a walk around the pretty small terminal.
There were a few windows around to see what was about.
This would turn out to be my ride to Norway.
Around fifteen minutes later, the gate was announced and I headed down.
Boarding was called shortly afterwards and I made my way across the ramp. As my boarding pass was scanned, I was handed a valet service tag for my bag “just incase”. It turned out to be fine – as it was on the previous leg.
Dornier 328 Jet / OY-NCW
Seat: 5A / Euro Traveller
Off Stand: 16:44
On Stand: 18:00
I was greeted at the door and took my seat.
Boarding was completed reasonably quickly and the captain announced a flying time of just an hour and five minutes. The engines made a pretty noisy start up and we made a pretty fast taxi over to the runway.
We then departed without much hesitation into some snowy skies. This jet version of a prop was pretty quick.
Pretty soon after departure, the service started. I expected the bar service from the previous flight to be dropped due to the shorter flight time, but it was carried out. I asked for a Coke and got a full sized can rather than the traditional mini ones that are normally found onboard.
Following this, the meal service began. This time around, it was mini burgers and a potato salad.
Followed by tea and then digestifs and ice cream – the same as earlier.
All the while, being treated to a great sunset outside.
Once the meal trays had been collected, decent had started into darkness.
There wasn’t too much to be seen by this point, as the sun had gone down completely by now. We touched down and taxied over to the regional jet area – which was possibly the furthest point from the terminal. It was then on to a waiting bus and over to the terminal.
Once through, it was on to an SAS bus to the city.
Upon arrival it was a fifteen minute or so walk to my hotel, the Park Inn.
A few pictures from my evening in Oslo.
When in Scandinavia…
The next morning, I grabbed some breakfast at the hotel, before heading back to the bus station.
I then made the forty minute or so back to the airport.
Upon arrival, I headed straight through a very quick security. No souvenir boarding passes today, as BT charge €10 for them…
Once through, I took a look at the lounges but it wasn’t overly clear if I could use my Airport Angel card in them or not so I didn’t bother. I just took a quick walk around the terminal before waiting at the gate.
Around thirty minutes before departure, YL-BAF pulled on to stand, and as usual the queue to be first aboard formed.
Boarding began and not for the first time, things came to a sudden halt on the air bridge – but only for a minute or two.
Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 / YL-BAF
Seat: 17D / Basic Class
Off Stand: 10:47
On Stand: 13:18
Once on board, the cabin filled up reasonably quickly however I was lucky enough to have a free seat next to me.
We pushed back and made a quick taxi out to the active.
There was no holding and we powered into to surprisingly bumpy skies.
During the climb, the seatbelt sign was turned off for around two minutes, before the turbulence meant that it had to be switched on again. The crew still got on with their service though. I ordered myself a cappuccino for €3.
The captain came over the PA once we had reached cruising altitude and gave a few facts about the flight and what the weather was expected to be in Riga. I spent the remainder of the uneventful flight browsing the pretty decent in flight mag and sipping on my drink.
And listening to some music.
Unfortunately there wasn’t too much to be seen outside for the duration.
Throughout the flight the crew were pretty pro active at making themselves busy – constantly passing through the cabin making sure all rubbish was collected and generally making sure everybody was ok every few minutes.
I just happened to glance out of the window and noticed we were heading into come clouds – and the seatbelt sign had been switched on. I packed my earphones away and a few moments later the gear was coming down whilst still in the clouds.
We touched down into a snowy Riga and made the journey over to the stand.
Followed by a bus journey over to the terminal.
After this it was out into the outside world to find a way to the city.
As there was a mini bus parked up, that would do.
Upon arrival, I took a brief walk around before checking into my hotel, the Radisson Blu.
The Freedom Monument with my hotel in the background.
The Nativity Cathedral.
The Radisson Blu in the centre of town.
After dumping my bags, I headed out again to see what was around – I mostly stuck to the old town.
My exploring was cut short slightly though, as it started to rain and then snow. So I figured I would be better off leaving it for the following day, which had taken a far more wintery theme.
When it was time to return to the airport, I took a minibus as I had plenty of time and it just happened to depart from outside my hotel. Around thirty minutes later I arrived.
Once more, I headed straight through security after a brief walk landside.
I had a choice of four lines to choose from and I chose the wrong one – an elder couple having no clue to the process at all were holding up proceedings. Once through, I had a brief look around the shops.
I then headed into the RIX business lounge for some lunch. As far as third party lounges go, it was pretty decent.
It was reasonably busy with LH passengers, but after a few moments I spotted a virtually deserted upstairs area with views across the ramp – perfect.
I waited here with some snacks and wifi until around forty five minutes before departure.
I made my way through passport control and into the basement.
LH getting deiced before heading off.
Boarding was called and I was the last person on to the first bus.
Boeing 737-300 / YL-BBR
Seat: 19A / Basic
Off Stand: 15:29
On Stand: 16:09
I made it on board just a few moments before a pretty big snow storm broke out.
Here is the snow.
A young is guy sat in the aisle seat, but then a group of his mates followed shortly. One looked at me with confusion and says to the others “whats he doing there?” – Obviously thinking I was Latvian or just being plain rude. I was defiantly in the right seat though (that I had paid to be in from the moment I booked) so too bad. From overhearing their conversation it would appear that they had all been out the night before and were all feeling a little worse for wear.
Some deicing needed I think.
Before pushback, we were pretty haphazardly de iced.
We made a slow journey over to the active and waited around for quite a while whilst a private jet landed.
We turned on to the active and made a pretty loud takeoff. Although annoyingly the de icing fluid stuck to the windows like glue – meaning that the views were more than a little distorted.
Even as we climbed, the de icing fluid still remained firmly attached to the windows, meaning pretty much all window shots came out blurred.
Not too much can be said about this flight really. I watched a couple of videos on my iPad, listened to some music and didn’t bother with any of the buy on board service.
Oh, and I remained pretty cramped throughout, due to my seat mate taking up as much space as he could whilst trying to sleep.
Still rubbish views.
Descent began into a pretty sunny Gatwick.
Luckily, upon descending, the deicing fluid finally cleared meaning I could see what was going on at last. We seemed to be flying at a reasonably low altitude for quite a while so I figured we would be landing on 08R.
Two turns to the right confirmed this.
We touched down and made our way over to the South Terminal.
As the engines were shut down, there was no power to the aircraft, so everything went dark and quiet. As there was no attempt made to get any power either, after a few minutes it got a little hot on board too. I wonder why this was? Surely the flight deck needed more than back up power? After around a ten minute wait, I made my way off into the South terminal. I hadn’t actually arrived here from an international flight since mid 2010. It didn’t look too much different though – unlike the rest of the terminal.
Upon reaching the station, there was bad news for me – Clapham Junction station was closed and the train to Guildford had been cancelled. Therefore it meant I was faced with a nearly two hour wait for a train home. Rather than hang about, I decided to get a little creative with my routing. It took quite a bit longer than if everything was running to plan, but certainly a lot less than two hours. It also meant I got to use one of the London Trams for the first time.
And with that brings an end to Februarys trip.
Sun Air were defiantly worth the hype in my opinion. A great on board service, comfortable planes and friendly enough crew – although I do have to question them serving lunch at 9:30 in the morning. Surely a breakfast sandwich and some cereal would work better?
Air Baltic also got the job done. Their website worked fine, the flights were more or less on time, the planes (despite the 737 being a good few years old) were in pretty good nick and the crews were pretty efficient and hard working.