For the past year, Christopher Voss has been leading the expansion of airBaltic’s charter flight services. He has also viewed the charter scene from the other side, working as an air broker (i.e. arranging the rental of planes) all over the world. 

Can you explain how charter flights differ from regular flights?

Along with regular scheduled flights, airBaltic also operates occasional charter flights for heads of state, ice hockey teams or business delegations, to name a few. In addition, the airline provides seasonal charter flights for tour operators like TezTour. We usually get requests from air brokers or tour operators to provide aircraft at specific dates and times. Then we check and see if we have something available. If we do, then we send a quote with our offer, and in the bestcase scenario, the client books the flight with us. Charter flights are a very competitive business, especially in the wintertime. Many airlines are not very busy during that season, which means that there is a lot of downward pressure on prices.

How did you start your career in the charter business?

Initially, I worked for a destination management company (DMC) in Fiji.

Fiji sounds like a lovely place to be!

Parts of the country are like a real paradise, but it isn’t always easy to work in such a nice place while others are having fun on the beach. I began organising charter flights for small tour operator groups to Fiji’s small outer islands and really enjoyed that. After returning to Europe, I was given the opportunity to work as an air broker for a company in Cologne.

Where are you from?

Hamburg, Germany, but I have lived in the USA, Fiji and Australia, and now I’m in Latvia!

It sounds like the whole world is your home! How did you end up at airBaltic?

I remember flying with airBaltic many years ago on a trip to the Baltic States, but I hadn’t had much contact with the company after that. I set up a profile on LinkedIn a long time ago and that is how the airline found me. I actually didn’t even apply for this position! They asked me if I was interested and to send my application. It was really exciting for me, because I had never worked for an airline before. I really wanted to get to know the “other side” of the business, so to speak. I also enjoy working abroad very much. For me, it’s always nice to actually live in another country, rather than just be a tourist.

I know that Latvia isn’t Fiji, but how do you like living in Riga?

I do like it a lot! I come from a coastal city myself, although for the past years I had lived and worked in Cologne. Now I am enjoying being closer to the sea again, and Riga is a nice city. It just took some time to settle in and get used to the cultural differences.

What are your main responsibilities at airBaltic?

I am looking after the charter department. airBaltic got into the charter business on a bigger scale only last year, when we started to operate flights from Aalborg, Oslo and Italy.

How important it is for an airline to have charter flights?

Operating ad hoc charter flights helps to fill in the gaps. For example, if we have an aircraft that is not busy for some hours during the day because there are no scheduled flights, then charter flights provide a great opportunity to sell that capacity, which cannot be used otherwise. Secondly, charter flights for tour operators provide fixed revenue that can be planned well in advance. Once the charter flight is confirmed, the client is obligated to pay you what you have agreed upon. The commercial risk with scheduled flights is much higher. When you put a scheduled flight out into the market, you hope that people will take a liking to the route, but you can never know beforehand how successful it will be. Our charter capacity for this summer has been more or less sold and our ability to provide any additional charter flights will be limited, also because we are going to phase in new aircraft later this year. We are really looking forward to putting our new CSeries aircraft out for charters next year!

Can you name some upcoming charter flight destinations with airBaltic?

We will be flying from Italy again on weekends and we will have some charter flights from Iceland. We are also happy to be working with TezTour this summer again. And we have some more plans up our sleeve that we can’t reveal yet.

How easy is it to find new clients for charter flights? Do you have to look for them or do they look you up?

It is a bit of both. Since airBaltic is not that well known from the charter side, my job is to increase our client base and get more requests that are suitable for us. We get a lot of requests between Scandinavia and the Baltics from brokers, tour operators and travel agencies that know about our operations in this region. But we cannot just sit and wait for requests; we also have to go out and look for clients.

What has been your favourite charter project so far?

Last September, we helped Opel to launch a new car model and flew more than 3,000 car dealers to Granada. One of our aircraft was dedicated to that project, and for two weeks it flew only for Opel. Interestingly, when I was a broker, I worked for a similar project from the other side. It was amazing to see this project come together. I was really proud of everyone involved, because it was difficult to fly out every day from different destinations, some of which we had never been to before. It was also challenging to fulfil the clients’ special requests, for example, in regards to the catering. However, our efforts were greatly appreciated and we received very positive feedback from Opel.

Which do you prefer: travelling through a tour operator or planning your own holidays?

Traveling definitely is the best way that I like to spend my time. Since I am working for an airline for the first time, I enjoy its benefits to the fullest. For example, I can decide on a Friday morning that I want to go visit my friends in another city for the weekend. That is new for me. Maybe after a while I may get tired of that, but for the moment, having this freedom is great! 

What are your favourite travel destinations?

Unfortunately, the ones that are the furthest away from here. I really love New Zealand. I have a friend who lives there, so I try to visit her at least once every two years. During the past few years, I’ve started to explore more of Italy and France. And this summer, I plan to get to know the Baltic States a little bit better. BO