An airBaltic A220 pulls up to the gate at AMS. Photo: Jonathan Trent-Carlson
The advertisement on the jet bridge read “Uncharted Territory,” as an airBaltic Airbus 220-300 pulled in at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport (AMS) in December of 2019. This was the plane that would be taking me into territory that was personally uncharted for me. First, I was flying to Vilnius (VNO), the capital of Lithuania, where I had never been. Second, it was a type of aircraft that I had never flown on before. Third, it was also on an airline that I had never flown before, airBaltic.
To Lithuania In Economy Class on airBaltic’s A220
The boarding lanes prior to boarding. Photo: Jonathan Trent-Carlson
The boarding process at AMS involved lining up by fare class purchased, as displayed by overheard monitors. I lined up in the economy line, scanned my boarding pass, and walked down the jetway, towards uncharted territory. As I boarded the plane, I was struck by how spacious the cabin felt. At 6’2″, there was plenty of space for me to stand up.
The seats were arranged in a 3-2 configuration, similar to old McDonnell Douglas models. The windows were larger than those in preceding narrow body aircraft models. This allowed enough natural light into the cabin that the overhead lighting almost made no difference. The interior was mostly a light gray with neon green accents. Between the amount of natural light and the color scheme, the cabin gave off the feeling that you were almost in a modern day office.
I made my way past the first two rows, which were in the business class cabin, to row 14. Seat 14F was on my left, the side with three seats in the row. As it is an exit row seat, my bags had to go in the overhead bin rather than beneath the seat in front of me. AirBaltic equipped their A220s with Airbus’ Airspace bins, ensuring plenty of room for everyone’s carryon luggage. I put my bags in the bin and sat down.
Even at ground level cooking a fancy meal can be tricky. That’s why I’m so amazed by the delicious meals I’ve had while speeding at 600 miles per hour miles in the sky in a narrow metal tube. The fact that airlines can make restaurant-quality meals happen under those constraints — at least in premium cabins — is pretty awesome.
Probably the best food I’ve had in the skies was aboard Turkish Airlines, which relies on an Austria-based company named DO&CO to deliver its “gourmet entertainment” in the skies. So of course Austrian Airlines, which also uses DO&CO for premium cabin catering, has been high on my list ever since. I finally got the chance to fly ’em and try ’em. What did I think? Read on to find out!
An Alitalia Airbus A330-200. Delish!
Alitalia is one of those airlines that I have always watched closely but have never had the chance to fly. While its business matters are complicated and ever evolving, Alitalia continues to run a solid operation with a highly regarded business class product and service standard. I was happy to join the airline for a flight in Magnifica Class on its newly added Dulles to Rome route, one of a small handful of new routes Alitalia has added to its map this year.
Alitalia does not have its own lounge at Dulles and instead leans on Skyteam partner Air France, but that lounge is currently under renovation so Magnifica passengers have access to the nearby Turkish Airlines lounge in the meantime. After a few lounge drinks it was time to board EI-EJL, an Airbus A330-200. Alitalia’s longhaul fleet is made up of 14 Airbus A330-200s, 11 Boeing 777-200s, and one single Boeing 777-300ER. Why does its fleet contain a single 777-300ER? Well, nobody really knows, actually.
With other carriers bringing in record profits, United Airlines struggled to find the “Friendly Skies” after merging with Continental. In eight years together, they’ve experienced more PR nightmares than any other carrier in North America, by a country mile. Burdened by a negative reputation, United became an afterthought; soon overtaken by Delta and American Airlines.
After CEO Jeff Smisek resigned in 2015 under suspicion of corruption, things looked bleak. When incoming CEO, Oscar Munoz, experienced a heart attack one month into the job, the pulse appeared to be gone completely. We struggled to keep an open mind about the airline.
Bonus: Guest Flight Review: United Airlines Doesn’t Live Up To Expectations
Our first experience with the new United, back in 2015, did not go well. In Vancouver, we had difficulty checking in and selecting our seats, our flight from Denver to Austin was canceled and when we were finally re-booked on a later flight, our seats were separated. However, when I visited Austin a year later for the U.S. Grand Prix, United felt like a new airline. This time I had no issues selecting seats, no delays, and no unexplained procedures. Considering my moderate expectations for a basic economy fare, I had nothing to complain about. I couldn’t really judge the airline on my first two experiences; the sample size was too small. I needed another experience to break the tie.
Unfortunately, due to the personal circumstances which were about to unfold, the flight experience would be the least of my concern. But it became an opportunity to put United to the test and come up with a new conclusion. Read on to see a bit more what I am talking about and my two-stop journey on two airlines, and three aircraft types (including flying a 777 domestically).