airBaltic’s A220 impresses amid wetleased Munich capacity push

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As capacity issues at Frankfurt Airport and a chilly relationship between Lufthansa and the airport operator bite, and in the context of an operationally problematic summer 2018, the German airline is boosting capacity dramatically at Munich, its second hub. In this summer’s schedule, a large part of the push on the connecting side is via wetleased aircraft, with airlines including Sun Express, Adria, Laudamotion and airBaltic operating for Lufthansa, while SWISS is taking over some Swiss routes from the German airline.

It’s no secret that I (and many others) consider the Bombardier C Series — excuse me, Airbus A220 — to be among the most comfortable narrowbodies in the sky. The spacious cabin, wide seats, big windows, massive bins, modern lavatories and quiet ambience are a real plus. That’s especially true since, on this route – Munich-Lyon – the A220 is the summer replacement for the Bombardier CRJ that usually operates — and that’s why I booked the flight.

Even the aircraft still occasionally refers to itself as the C Series! Image: John Walton

I’m also a personal fan of Munich Airport as a connection hub for Europe, with its compact size and bright, well-designed terminals a much more pleasant option than many.

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Yet the single gate staff member on departure was grumpy and failed to do any queue management or priority boarding. More crucially, the airline and Lufthansa need to do something about their bus gate boarding from G18: it’s four flights of stairs down from the gate area to the ground, and there’s neither escalator nor lift available for passengers’ use.

One imagines there must be a staff-accessible lift for passengers using assistance services, but for passengers who simply have a lot of luggage or don’t relish a lot of stairs, there is surely a better option.

After a scenic bus tour of the Munich apron, we climbed more stairs to the A220, and inside it was the same airy, bright and mood-lit cabin that has made it a passenger favourite.

In Eurobusiness, the middle seat of the set of three is blocked, and so is the aisle seat of the set of two, so I’d chosen the window in the set of two on the left-hand side of the aircraft.

Some of the forward seats are perma-blocked, I assume for crew number reasons. Image: John Walton

The seats are from ZIM, and the central structure means there is a huge amount of legroom even with a relatively compact seat pitch. I found them very comfortable for the short flight, as I had previously when encountering them on Swiss’ C Series-as-was. The cool green mood-lighting was pleasant too, and the small overhead screens with moving map and flight information were a nice-to-have addition.

The structure of the ZIM seat means more knee space. Image: John Walton

Service on board was the Lufthansa standard, so I was surprised to be offered a pre-departure beverage by the pleasant, smiling Latvian crew: this is certainly not standard on Lufthansa shorthaul, but after a busy week it was a welcome surprise.

I was struck as usual by the very quiet takeoff of the A220, and soon we were in the sky over the Alps.

Lunch was a chilled plate of seafood and mushrooms, with a surprisingly tender mozzarella ball and very umami-ish sundried tomatoes, and the little pot of dessert crumble-custard-pudding-whatnot was particularly good, and the crew cheerfully kept this tired passenger supplied with tea (including actual milk rather than just coffee creamer!) all the way to Lyon.

The food and service were entirely Lufthansa on this wetlease. Image: John Walton

The A220 shone on this flight, and indeed this #PaxEx-pleasing plane is proving popular with passengers wherever it flies. But the trip did flag up some issues for Lufthansa and Munich airport: departing from a bus gate doesn’t have to mean schlumping bags down four flights of stairs, and on a short flight the passenger experience on the ground is particularly important as a proportion of the overall trip. AirBaltic did a great job; I’m not sure that Lufthansa kept up its part of the deal.

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1 Comment

  1. Ryan Murphy

    John, interesting article. But can you please explain to me what is so quiet about the A220?? The cabin noise is incredibly loud and it’s a known issue….it might be quiet on the outside driven by the engine, but the inside is another story. Do you have any facts why you say it’s so quiet?

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