The airBaltic fleet currently has seven Bombardier CS300 aircraft, and it plans to acquire at least as many more over the course of this year. By the end of next year, twenty new CS300s will call the Riga Airport home. Cabin Standard specialist Gatis Stanga heads to Canada, where the Bombardier aircraft are manufactured, to pick up every new airplane.

The Bombardier CS300 airplanes have called Riga home now for more than a year. When did you see them for the first time?

I saw our first new airplane in Canada in the summer of 2016, at the Bombardier plant. The plane wasn’t finished yet then. That was the first time I had seen an airplane being built. I was shown the entire plant and introduced to the processes that take place there. That was really a wonderful thing to experience! I finally saw the finished masterpiece when we went to inspect it in November of that same year. An acceptance flight is performed for each aircraft. The pilots test it according to their checklists, and I check it according to my own checklist, which pertains to the cabin standards.

What happens during the acceptance flight?

I check the cabin and all of the equipment in it – the ovens, the water systems, the cabin management system – to see that everything is in its place and working like it should be. When everything has been checked, then we’re ready to bring it home to Riga. That’s always a very special moment, when we bring a new airplane back home. But nothing tops the feeling we had when we arrived in Riga with that very first airplane. As we neared the Riga airport we could already see the huge sign saying ‘Welcome home airBaltic CS300!’ When we landed and opened the door, a big crowd of people greeted us. The grand opening event was also a very uplifting and emotional moment for all of airBaltic’s employees. Maybe it sounds like I’m talking about this airplane as if it were my child... but that’s actually not that far from the truth. (Laughs.)

In aviation circles, the CS300 is praised as a state-of-the-art aircraft. But what do passengers say about it?

Very many passengers have expressed compliments about how nice of an atmosphere it has, thanks to the quiet engines and the light-coloured interior. The individual screens give them the feeling that they’re on an inter-continental flight. Passengers are also pleasantly surprised by the size of the lavatories – they’re much bigger and more comfortable than on other planes. That’s especially important for passengers with special needs as well as for parents with young children. I’ve had representatives from other airlines on some of my flights – including pilots and flight attendants – and they’ve also always been surprised to see how spacious and modern the airplane is. It’s not only people’s reactions that show how excited they are about these airplanes – just look at the comments people leave on Instagram for any picture taken on a CS300. (Laughs.)

How do you, the flight attendants, rate this airplane?

It’s very comfortable working on a CS300. The biggest problem on flights has always been the stowing of hand luggage. But there’s enough room on this airplane for all of it. The kitchens are spacious, which lets us work more freely, without bothering each other or the passengers. The aisle down the centre of the cabin is also wide enough that passengers can pass us when we’re walking down the aisle with our service carts. We’ve noticed that passengers on a CS300 are calmer. The airplane is new, spacious, and light, and therefore they seem less worried about flying. They enjoy the comforts more, and therefore it’s easier for us to work, too.

How long have you been working for airBaltic?

This summer it’ll be twelve years since I joined airBaltic. I ended up here more or less by chance – an acquaintance recommended me for the job, and I decided to try it. I was promoted from cabin crew member to senior cabin crew member. Then I was a Cabin Crew Team Leader for seven years, and now I’ve been a Cabin Standard specialist for more than two years. I’m also continuing as a senior cabin crew member and a line trainer.

Before you began working for airBaltic, did you have any idea about what it’s like working as a cabin crew member? Did any of those ideas later turn out to be true?

I’m not one of those people who dreamed of becoming a pilot or working on an airplane since I was a little kid. I had never even flown on an airplane before. The field of aviation gets romanticised very much, but the work is actually a lot harder than people think. There are so many things that go on behind the scenes, things that the passengers never see. They usually only see the service part of the job, but that’s actually secondary in our role during a flight. All of the technical checks take place before the passengers are allowed on board. You need to love working with people in order to be a good flight attendant. Sometimes we have to greet and say goodbye to almost 600 passengers in a single day. You also have to be able to work on a team, because only good teamwork ensures that a flight is smooth and safe. You need to take into consideration that this job comes with a very specific schedule and that you’ll also have to work on weekends and holidays. 

You mentioned that the passengers see only a small part of the cabin crew’s work. What really goes on behind the scenes? What does your working day look like when you’re flying?

Before a flight begins, we discuss all of the service procedures that will take place during the flight. Then the pilots inform us about the length of the flight, the weather conditions, and everything else that pertains to our flight. We all head through security together on our way to the airplane, and then we do our obligatory safety checks on the plane. Each cabin crew member has his or her own responsibilities and zone that needs to be checked. When all of that is done, then we’re ready to greet the passengers and help them get situated in their seats as quickly as possible. After boarding, the passengers are counted and, after receiving permission from the captain, we close the doors. Then we begin the cabin safety preparations before takeoff, which include the safety demonstration and cabin check, during which we make sure that all of the passengers have their seatbelts buckled, the window shades are up, the tray tables are up, and baggage is in the correct places. When the cabin is safe, we report to the pilots, take our own seats, and prepare to take off.

After takeoff, we begin serving passengers and then just give them some free time to relax, work, read, or talk with each other. Shortly before landing we prepare the cabin just like we do before takeoff. Then we tell the pilots everything is ready for landing, and we take our seats again until the airplane has come to a complete stop and the seatbelt signs are switched off. When all of the passengers are off the plane, we check the cabin to make sure they haven’t forgotten anything or taken too much with them. And when the cleaning crew has finished cleaning the airplane, we’re ready to start all over again with the next group of passengers! 
 
What do you think passengers expect of the cabin crew?
 
We take on a lot of roles while we’re in the air: we’re psychologists, doctors, waiters, babysitters, and so on, and so on. But first and foremost, we’re on the plane to care for the safety of the passengers. Sometimes it seems that passengers see the airplane as being just a big, bottomless, flying restaurant. But it’s impossible to replenish our store of panini when we’re ten kilometres up in the air – like it or not, but there’s a limited amount of space on an airplane. The same goes for baggage. We always try to help passengers to the best of our ability and provide alternatives to them, but our own options are limited, too. We know that passengers expect the highest standard of service, and that’s what we try to deliver.
What’s your greatest motivation at work? In a way, I no longer consider working at airBaltic to be a job; instead, it’s a hobby. In my experience, there are two types of people who work in aviation: one group is the people who are completely fascinated by aviation, and the other group is people who just see it as a normal job. I’m definitely in the first group, because aviation has completely drawn me in. It’s such a dynamic field – there’s no daily routine to fall into and no boredom. 
 
In that case, what other hobbies do you have?
 
I really enjoy travelling. I take a longer trip twice a year, usually in the winter. On my last trip I travelled to Thailand, Malaysia, and Japan. If I have just a few days off, I try to fly somewhere in Europe. This month I plan on spending a few days in Rome. I also like going to the theatre and other cultural events as well as attending education seminars, because I believe that a person must always be expanding his or her horizons. One cannot live solely in the field of aviation, no matter how much one likes it. BO