In a one-off flight, Grant Bradley and a squad of spotters get on board airBaltic from Auckland... to Auckland
A near-new Airbus A220-300, which was on a sales trip around Asia-Pacific and the first of the aircraft to visit New Zealand. This twin-jet is aimed at the 100 to 150-seat market and is the smallest plane in the Airbus stable.
Based in Riga, Latvia, airBaltic is a fast-growing low-cost carrier with a network of more than 70 destinations throughout Europe and is up against some tough competition in that segment.
26A. This was in an all-economy configuration in the 145-seat cabin. Slimline Zim Flugsitz seats from Germany, moulded to afford more legroom (there's a 76cm pitch on every seat) and, even nicer, they were 46cm wide. This is because of the three-two configuration. Nice for passengers but the economics aren't going to work for every airline. This had very cool Latvian styling in a cabin with great lighting and huge windows - there's an abundance of natural light.
Nil on this demonstration flight but fares in Europe start at €9.99 ($17) and anything extra you pay for - it's all about ancillary revenue. But the airline does have Business Class, the same seats but without a neighbouring passenger, in a section of the plane that is curtained off. In there you get food, baggage and even newspapers.
Took off on the dot. This flight took us over Mount Taranaki, Lake Taupō and Tauranga before returning to Auckland, and because the view was so good we were a bit late getting back.
Two - the one at the rear was huge and this is to cater for the growing number of travellers with reduced mobility.
Touchdown: Cathay Pacific first with Airbus A350-1000 in Auckland
Airbus is trying to sell this plane so there were Air New Zealand reps, some from Air Chathams and Auckland Airport staff as well as charming execs from airBaltic - one of Airbus' biggest A220 customers and surely their most enthusiastic. Also on board were four teenage plane spotters invited along by airline and Airbus bosses (after parental permission), who had the best spotting day ever.
Three flight attendants efficiently delivered canapes and Champagne to the two-thirds full cabin with smiles. Not standard fare on scheduled flights.
The bottom line
It can be safely said airBaltic's not going to fly here again any time soon so the experience was worth having. The hardware was excellent. An A220 has a wide-body feel for a single-aisle aircraft, and airBaltic has got the styling just right. It was a classy move to give the plane spotters a treat.