Review: airBaltic Airbus A220 (SAS Wet Lease)

Review: airBaltic Airbus A220 (SAS Wet Lease)

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FROM: ATH
TO: ARN
CABIN: Premium Economy
DATE: June 2022
REVIEW RATING:
BEN SAYS: Flying an airBaltic Airbus A220 as part of an SAS wet lease agreement was fun. This was a solid flight, though I did miss having Wi-Fi and power ports.
14

Our next stop after Greece was Sweden, and we traveled between the two countries on an interesting flight — we booked a flight on Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), but it was actually operated by an airBaltic Airbus A220.

How I booked our Scandinavian Airlines business class tickets

I booked us on the following flight between Athens and Stockholm:

06/29 SK1834 Athens to Stockholm departing 11:30AM arriving 2:05PM

Specifically, I booked SAS Plus, which is Scandinavian Airlines’ premium economy product. It’s like intra-Europe business class, except middle seats aren’t blocked. The cost for a one-way ticket was $239, which was only $50 more than was being charged for economy.

Admittedly I receive many priority services anyway on account of being a Star Alliance Gold member. Even though seat blocking isn’t a perk of SAS Plus, I’ve consistently found the SAS Plus cabin to be much emptier than the economy cabin on leisure routes, and I place quite a bit of value on that. For example, while economy was nearly full on this flight, we had four rows all to ourselves in SAS Plus.

Basics of the SAS & airBaltic wet lease agreement

For those not familiar, airBaltic is an airline based in Riga, Latvia, which exclusively flies Airbus A220s. It’s a pretty nifty airline operating with a unique business model. However, the airline has had some challenges in recent months, due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the impact this has had on airlines. Given Latvia’s geography and airBaltic’s former routemap, the airline isn’t able to operate many routes anymore, and has more planes than it needs.

airBaltic is leasing out planes to a couple of airlines this summer, including Scandinavian Airlines and Eurowings Discover. So our Scandinavian Airlines flight was operated by airBaltic as part of a wet lease agreement. What does this mean?

  • The ground services are exactly as they would be with SAS; you check-in at the SAS counter, the boarding gate has SAS branding, etc.
  • The plane and crew (including pilots and flight attendants) are from airBaltic, and the crews wear airBaltic uniforms
  • However, the crews carry out the standard SAS inflight service, so food and drinks are exactly as they’d usually be when flying SAS

SAS Plus check-in & boarding

Check-in for our 11:30AM flight opened at 9:20AM. We arrived at the airport around 8:30AM to leave plenty of time (given the chaos at many European airports), but that meant we just ended up sitting in the check-in hall for nearly an hour.

The check-in process was efficient, and within a few minutes our bags were checked to Stockholm.

SAS check-in Athens Airport

By comparison to other airports, Athens was an oasis of calm.

Athens Airport terminal

There was a fast track security lane that we had access to on account of our tickets, and security took all of five minutes.

Fast track security Athens Airport

We spent around 90 minutes in the Goldair Handling Lounge Athens Airport, which is where SAS sends its customers. Our flight was departing from gate B13, which was just across from the lounge.

SAS boarding Athens Airport

Boarding was scheduled to start at 10:50AM, though in reality the inbound aircraft only arrived from Stockholm at 10:50AM, so we were a bit delayed on boarding. The A220 has such big plane energy!

airBaltic Airbus A220 Athens Airport

For what it’s worth, we were flying the A220 with the registration code YL-ABJ, which was basically a brand new plane — it joined airBaltic’s fleet in May 2022.

airBaltic Airbus A220 cabin & seats

airBaltic Airbus A220-300s feature a total of 145 seats, in a 2-3 configuration. The A220 is a pleasure to fly, thanks to the 2-3 layout, huge windows, and spacious-feeling cabin.

On intra-Europe flights, the business class cabin (or in this case premium economy cabin) size can differ based on demand. This flight had 11 rows of business class. Since there’s no seat blocking in SAS Plus, that means there were 55 SAS Plus seats available.

airBaltic Airbus A220 cabin

For most travelers it’s ideal to sit on the left side, since there’s no middle seat.

airBaltic Airbus A220 cabin

The right side of the cabin has a single middle seat in each row, so that’s only preferred if you’re traveling as a party of three.

airBaltic Airbus A220 cabin

airBaltic has 32″ of pitch throughout the cabin on its A220s, so that’s definitely above average. This is truly a very comfortable ride.

airBaltic Airbus A220 seats
airBaltic Airbus A220 seats
airBaltic Airbus A220 seats

airBaltic had the standard A220 seatbacks, with two expandable pouches, plus a tray table that folds down from underneath the literature pocket.

airBaltic Airbus A220 seatback
airBaltic Airbus A220 seatback
airBaltic Airbus A220 tray table

The overhead consoles were pretty awesome — they had reading lights, individual air nozzles, and small television screens.

airBaltic Airbus A220 overhead console

Those TV screens had a map feature that displayed for the entire flight, which I enjoy keeping an eye on.

airBaltic Airbus A220 TVs

Maybe I just never noticed it before on the A220, but I thought it was smart how the flight attendant call button was in a different area than the lighting buttons. Many travelers accidentally push the call button instead of the lighting button, so that seemed well thought out.

airBaltic Airbus A220 call button

The cabin also had cool mood lighting, using airBaltic’s signature green colors.

airBaltic Airbus A220 mood lighting

In terms of cabin baggage, the A220 has large overhead bins, which can accommodate standard size carry-ons.

airBaltic Airbus A220 overhead bin

While SAS Plus doesn’t come with seat blocking, we booked seats in row 11, and we had our row all to ourselves, and the three rows in front of us were empty as well — you can’t beat that! Meanwhile economy was quite full.

airBaltic Airbus A220 cabin

There was a proper curtain between premium economy and economy. Typically in SAS Plus there’s not a curtain, but rather just a small sign indicating the separation of seating zones. So in that sense this provided a better experience.

airBaltic Airbus A220 business class curtain

Another advantage of the A220 is the lavatory. While it’s up to airlines to decide how they want to finish cabins, the A220 pretty consistently has spacious lavs, especially compared to planes like the 737 MAX.

airBaltic Airbus A220 lavatory

You can’t beat a cabin like this for short haul travel. The two major downsides to airBaltic are that there are no power outlets and no Wi-Fi, both of which are features that you’d find in SAS Plus on Airbus A320neos. I think it’s cheap how airBaltic still isn’t installing power outlets on new planes, especially when you consider the airline flies between Riga and Dubai, which is a flight blocked at 6hr45min to 7hr15min.

airBaltic departure from Athens

Boarding was efficient, and at 11:30AM the captain came on the PA to advise us of our flight time of 3hr20min. He said we were still waiting for some bags to be loaded, but should be pushing back soon. The cabin manager soon added her welcome aboard, and interestingly referred to it as a “Sass” flight (rather than pronouncing it S-A-S — I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, I just hadn’t heard it pronounced that way before). After that announcement, the standard airBaltic safety video was screened.

Obviously as an avgeek I knew exactly the kind of flight I was booking and was excited about this being a wet lease. In these situations I always wonder if the average passenger is curious what’s going on with this, or if they don’t even put any thought into it.

At 11:35AM the main cabin door closed, and at 11:40AM we began our pushback. I loved sitting right near the engine and wings, as it made for some great views.

Pushing back Athens Airport

We had a pretty lengthy taxi to our departure runway, but I enjoyed the views. I found it noteworthy that both American and Delta flights were boarding from remote stands (the planes weren’t just parked there, but I saw passengers being bused).

Taxiing Athens Airport
Taxiing Athens Airport
Taxiing Athens Airport

By 11:55AM we were cleared for takeoff on runway 3R.

Taking off Athens Airport

The views on departure were gorgeous, as usual.

View after takeoff from Athens Airport
View after takeoff from Athens Airport

The seatbelt sign was turned off about 15 minutes after takeoff.

SAS Plus inflight service

One benefit of flying SAS Plus is more inflight service. SAS Plus guests are served a snack, and on top of that can order any food and drinks off the buy on board menu. You can find that menu below.

SAS inflight menu

About 30 minutes after takeoff we were served a snackbox.

SAS Plus inflight snack

The snack consisted of chicken breast, sundried tomatoes, orzo, cheese, and some crackers. The snack was reasonably decent, but nothing too exciting.

SAS Plus inflight snack

To drink I ordered a bottle of still water and a Coke Zero.

SAS Plus inflight drinks

About 90 minutes after the initial service, the crew came through the SAS Plus cabin with a cart one more time, to offer more drinks and snacks. I ordered a cup of coffee, as well as some sea salt cashews and cheese & chive crackers.

SAS Plus inflight snack

I’d say the crew was… fine. They weren’t in any way rude, but they also weren’t particularly friendly, and didn’t go above and beyond. They were just going through the motions, which is fair enough, especially as part of an arrangement like this.

At 3hr20min, this is one of the longer intra-Europe flights out there, and without Wi-Fi the flight definitely felt pretty long. I had downloaded a few shows and managed to do some offline writing, but even so, this flight didn’t really feel like it passed quickly.

airBaltic Airbus A220 cabin inflight
airBaltic Airbus A220 cabin inflight

About an hour before landing the captain provided an update on our arrival, anticipating that we’d be landing around 2:15PM, and would start our descent in around 30 minutes.

airBaltic Airbus A220 map feature
airBaltic Airbus A220 map feature

airBaltic landing in Stockholm

Our descent into Stockholm was pretty smooth, and about 15 minutes before landing the seatbelt sign was turned on. Unfortunately the weather left a bit to be desired.

Approaching Stockholm Airport
Approaching Stockholm Airport
Approaching Stockholm Airport

As expected, we touched down in Stockholm at 2:15PM.

Taxiing Stockholm Airport

From there we had a five minute taxi to our arrival stand, where we parked next to an Icelandair Boeing 767. We headed straight to baggage claim, and our bags arrived less than five minutes after we got there.

Icelandair Boeing 767 Stockholm Airport

Bottom line

I always enjoy taking a unique flight, and I’d say an SAS Plus flight operated by an airBaltic A220 is one of those. Overall this was a solid flight — the A220 is a joy to fly, we had lots of empty seats near us, the flight was mostly on-time, and the inflight snack was decent. The cash cost for this flight wasn’t bad either.

For a flight this long, I did miss the Wi-Fi and power ports that SAS typically offers, though.

If you’ve flown on an airBaltic A220, what was your experience like?

Conversations (14)
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  1. Kris Guest

    Don’t you think the seats aren’t very comfortable.. especially if you were going on a longer flight??

  2. Charles Guest

    You miss a very important point that changes everything. There is only one rear toilet in this Air Baltic's 220. That sucks for any medium range flight. I been there and is a nightmare with a lengthy queues the whole flight.from the mid to the back end rear.

  3. 0504Traveller Guest

    I recently flew on airBaltic three times - twice directly with them and once through a partnership with Lufthansa. - full review on my blog (0504Traveller.blogspot.com)

    As you said, the A220 is nice for a short, regional flight. Most of my flights were an hour or so with the longest at 2.5hrs. At that point, the seat did become a bit uncomfortable.

    The delayed arrival and service of the plane as well as the average...

    I recently flew on airBaltic three times - twice directly with them and once through a partnership with Lufthansa. - full review on my blog (0504Traveller.blogspot.com)

    As you said, the A220 is nice for a short, regional flight. Most of my flights were an hour or so with the longest at 2.5hrs. At that point, the seat did become a bit uncomfortable.

    The delayed arrival and service of the plane as well as the average customer service is what I also experienced in all 3 flights - every flight was delayed and no notice was given by the gate agent (only got an email from airBaltic 20 minutes after the delay); and the crew was average at best.

    as you said, there is NOTHING to do on the plane - no wifi, no streaming, nothing unless you bring your own entertainment. as i said, a good plane for regional, short flights.

  4. Steve Guest

    My Swedish friends say "Sass". They corrected me when I said "S-A-S".

  5. Irina Guest

    Thank you for the review.
    Tbh I find it funny that Air Baltic is leasing out their own aircrafts, whereas if people buy tickets to fly with Air Baltic, they get some old Maltese aircrafts....

    1. Charles Guest

      The latvians are a nice and quiet bunch that historically 've lived abuses from soviets, germans, swedish and you name it. Therefore they witness silently how their taxes are expend in this so called national airline who serves the interests of many but no the latvians. They lease their brand new planes to first class airlines such as SAS and then go and lease from other lower reputation airlines so the poor Latvians flying on...

      The latvians are a nice and quiet bunch that historically 've lived abuses from soviets, germans, swedish and you name it. Therefore they witness silently how their taxes are expend in this so called national airline who serves the interests of many but no the latvians. They lease their brand new planes to first class airlines such as SAS and then go and lease from other lower reputation airlines so the poor Latvians flying on a 90s fokker while their germans counterparts enjoy the perks of these brand news 220s. Not a very clear business model to be honest

  6. Bror Guest

    I flew Air Baltic with my wife on 2.7.22 HEL-RIX, RIX-BCN and back on 12.7.22. The return flight from BCN was operated by Air Horizont 737-400 which was 30 years old! So it's interesting that they wet lease aircraft to other airlines while they don't have enough planes for their own routes.
    When compared to 30 year old 734 the A220 wins handily even if it has no WiFi or power available. This was...

    I flew Air Baltic with my wife on 2.7.22 HEL-RIX, RIX-BCN and back on 12.7.22. The return flight from BCN was operated by Air Horizont 737-400 which was 30 years old! So it's interesting that they wet lease aircraft to other airlines while they don't have enough planes for their own routes.
    When compared to 30 year old 734 the A220 wins handily even if it has no WiFi or power available. This was our first time with them so the spacious seat pitch was a nice surprise.

    1. JS Guest

      I also flew the HEL-RIX leg recently and it was operated by a 30 year old Fokker 100 (!) wet leased from Romania.

      The aircraft had definitely seen better days but that was a rare experience nowadays. The crew handed out 10 EUR vouchers as compensation for the downgrade.

      They are also leasing a 737-900 from Ukraine International.

  7. Bruce Guest

    @BenSchlappig The reason the American and Delta aircraft were boarding from remote stands is that ATH can only handle five widebodies at jetbridge extra-schengen gates at a time. TK1846 (77W) usually gets a jetbridge and that leaves around 10:30, whilst QR203 (usually 77W or 788) arrives a little later and that always gets a jetbridge. The double daily Air Canada 777s usually also get jetbridges, but delays sometimes mess up the pattern. From the photo...

    @BenSchlappig The reason the American and Delta aircraft were boarding from remote stands is that ATH can only handle five widebodies at jetbridge extra-schengen gates at a time. TK1846 (77W) usually gets a jetbridge and that leaves around 10:30, whilst QR203 (usually 77W or 788) arrives a little later and that always gets a jetbridge. The double daily Air Canada 777s usually also get jetbridges, but delays sometimes mess up the pattern. From the photo I could see DL202 (339 from JFK), DL222 (333 from ATL), UA124 (781 from EWR) and UA982 (788 from IAD) were parked at jetbridges leaving no space for DL 212 (333 JFK-ATH and returning ATH-BOS) and AA333 (772 from JFK), which had to go to remote stands. The morning rush from the States and Canada really leaves not enough room for the widebodies at the apron!

  8. Marcus Guest

    Flew the airBaltic A220 on wet lease by SAS back in May. Also in Plus. The crew on that Amsterdam bound flight was excellent, and I had pretty much the best experience I’ve ever had on a narrow body, not that I’ve flown that many wide bodies. Bags were late, but that is par for the course at Schiphol nowadays. Otherwise no complaints, other than lack of power that is.

  9. Jesper Guest

    As a Scandinavian, I can say that pronouncing SAS as a word rather than as three letters is quite common, also among the SAS crews. A bit random what people do.

    1. Tom Guest

      Cool!

      "Sass" sound much cleverer than and nowhere near as boring as S-A-S.

  10. Criced Guest

    You schould have got a box of chocolates also

  11. Jonathan Trent-Carlson Guest

    I have flown AirBaltic's A220 in economy and business. My reviews can be found on Airline Reporter.

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Bruce Guest

@BenSchlappig The reason the American and Delta aircraft were boarding from remote stands is that ATH can only handle five widebodies at jetbridge extra-schengen gates at a time. TK1846 (77W) usually gets a jetbridge and that leaves around 10:30, whilst QR203 (usually 77W or 788) arrives a little later and that always gets a jetbridge. The double daily Air Canada 777s usually also get jetbridges, but delays sometimes mess up the pattern. From the photo I could see DL202 (339 from JFK), DL222 (333 from ATL), UA124 (781 from EWR) and UA982 (788 from IAD) were parked at jetbridges leaving no space for DL 212 (333 JFK-ATH and returning ATH-BOS) and AA333 (772 from JFK), which had to go to remote stands. The morning rush from the States and Canada really leaves not enough room for the widebodies at the apron!

2
Jesper Guest

As a Scandinavian, I can say that pronouncing SAS as a word rather than as three letters is quite common, also among the SAS crews. A bit random what people do.

2
Steve Guest

My Swedish friends say "Sass". They corrected me when I said "S-A-S".

1
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