Pzurita1 From Greenland, joined Sep 2002, 1417 posts, RR: 13 Posted (12 years 3 months 3 weeks 4 days 14 hours ago) and read 9644 times:
I did a search of trip reports with Druk Air, and this one seems to be the very first one. So, I am happy to share with you my experiences in one of the most unknown flag carriers in the whole word.
Please note codes for the following airports:
CCU: Kolkatta (previously known as Calcutta)
PBH: Paro (Bhutan only airport)
KTM: Kathmandu, Nepal.
DEL : Delhi
PB : Druk Air
IC : Indian Airlines
As some of you might know, there is no other way to visit Bhutan but to fly at least once (entrance or exit) on Druk Air (exception being made to all Indian nationals). So at least, you have the option to arrive by land and depart by air or vv. Anyway, given poor road conditions in India and windy roads in Bhutan, we decided to travel both ways by plane. So here is the story of CCU-PBH and PBH -KTM-DEL
We got into CCU airport very early as we had to pick up our tix in the terminal, as we had not had time to pick them up at Druk Air offices in CCU. However, we were neglected entrance to the terminal due to the fact that we did not have tickets in our hands. Though we explained the guard that we had to pick them up inside the terminal he did not allowed us in. However, a Bhutanese pax told us to wait and invited us to join a group of 5 pax in the same situation. They had already called the Druk Air counter and they were already working in issuing the tix for us to get inside.
After this very first stone in a trip, we were told that we could not check in yet, as it was forbidden to access that area before 7am. Why then does PB asks their pax to arrive 2 hrs early? There is no food court in CCU so we were hoping a breakfast would be served inflight. Saddly, another Bhutanese pax told us that this flight only serves a snack.
Anyway, the time to check up had arrived so we went to the counters. We had our luggage inspected first and then got our boarding passes. We were told to continue to customs and to reclaim your checked luggage. That was a strange thing to do: they take you outside the terminal to point out which bags are yours. So, we got our Exit stamp on our passports and headed to second level where we would have another inspection of our carry-on.
Only 10 pax were to board our flight which arrived from BKK exactly at the same time it was scheduled to depart to PBH: six Bhutanese, two Indians, and two Mexicans (my brother and myself). Meanwhile, activity in CCU was almost non existant: only one IC departed.
Despite CCU has jetways, and none was being used at the time, we had to take a bus in order to get into the plane, one of the two BAe in Druk Air’s fleet. We boarded throught the rear door and were received by a corteous Bhutanese flight attendant who told us to take the seat we liked the best. Easy to say, but hard to get. Despite we had been assigned a seat in our boarding pass, we had to look out for a place. The plane was almost full from BKK and that is why only 10 pax more were to aboard it in CCU. There were no two places together, but a nice lady from US offered us hers for us to seat together. It was quite a surprise to find two Spaniard women in that flight: we were not expecting to find anyone speaking Spanish in Bhutan.
As said, the flight was full. This a/c has only 72 seats, out of which 30 were taken by an American group. The rest was evenly divided between Bhutanese, Indian and other foreigners.
In no time we were into the air. The captain gave us a welcome to the plane saying he was happy to fly us to his country: Bhutan. This kind of messages really make you feel welcome. He also told us flying time would be 50 minutes and a snack would be served. Take-off took no time at all. I understood why PB had chosen this planes: they need no space to be airborne.
As soon as it was possible, two flight attendants delivered us our “snacks”: a bag of peanuts, and beverages. Trully, I was expecting so much more given the time of the flight. Flight occurred with no further incidencies. Service was good for such a short hop, a/c was clean, and everybody was in an excellent humor.
We were talking to these Spaniard women about how close mountains looked from the plane. And then the captain sayed we would be landing in no time, fasten your seat bealts and so on… Then we said: “Where are you going to land? All we see are mountains!”. Belive me when I tell you that we could see the birds in the trees in very high mountains. We landed safely and were quite surprised to find an airport in a place where it seemed it was not possible at all. After spending 10 days in Bhutan, you can hardly think in any other place for an airport. There are just a few small valleys surrounded by high mountains… May be an airport could have been also built in Jakar, central Bhutan, but that would have been too far from Thimphu, the capital.
Paro terminal is quite new and unique. It really strikes to find traditional Bhutanese architecture in the terminal. It looks quite nice. Paro airport is quite large for the two daily operations it have… Hopefully it was built in anticipation of future traffic. The old terminal, a tiny building, serves today as VIP terminal (not Business Class, but VIP).
We got into the terminal, payed our visa, gone through customs and a stamp of our Bhutanese visa, and we are ready to pick up our luggage. As have been said, the terminal is large and nice, but terribly cold. Temperature in PBH was 5C, and I guess the terminal was 10C inside! Since no one without a tix is allowed inside the terminal, we had to meet our guide outside of it… poor guy, he, as long as many others, had to wait in the chilly winds of Paro Valley.
While we were in Bhutan we took notice of four interesting facts:
1. They stopped serving DAC since December, so all flight to BKK are either via CCU or RGN.
2. PB will be receiving 2 A319 for which they had payed U$ 78 M.
3. Bhutan received only 6,300 tourists in 2003, and record was 2001 with over 7,800. Anyway, this means only 17 tourists getting into Bhutan daily!!!!! According to the figures read in Kuensel, local newspapers, it would more than 10 years to pay those a/c with tourism receipts!!!!
4. Roads in Bhutan are long and winding… The country is the same size as Switzerland, but it takes almost 36 hrs to cross it… Speed on average is 30km/hr… So, airports would be very handy… However, as I have written, there is little space… But, a couple of airstrips will be very handy for emergencies and local traffic… I guees they could have one airstrip in central Bhutan, and other in Western Bhutan.
Saddly, it was time to go back to India. Since PBH is two hours away from Thimphu, we decided to spend the night in Paro and have some extra sleeping time. We arrived to the airport two hours before our flight, and it seemed all other pax were already there. I guessed they all wanted to have a seat in the right part of the plane to take a look to Mt Everest in our way to KTM.
Before checking in, you have to pay airport taxes and get all your luggage through security screens. My brother went to pay taxes and exchange all ngultrum left (as Bhutan is the only place to buy or sell them), while I queued for security screens. They made me open every single piece of luggage and took me a long time… I thought I would not get one of those right side seats! However, we had Business Class tix (Royal Executive Class), and we were the first pax in that class so we got our right side seats straight away. We went out to say farewall to our guide and driver and had to do a lot of forms-filling in order to go out.
We went back to terminal and had security checks again for our carry-on… Then headed to customs. So, we went to the Royal Executive Class saloon which looked much more like a waiting room in a jail… We felt it was a punishment to be there and not a premium. However, we stayed there because they had the only TV in airport and there was not much to do in PBH. Duty free is very small, probably the size of my bedroom, and extremely expensive: Incense sticks bought in Thimpu for Nu25 costed Nu250 in Duty Free!!!!
We were told boarding was already in place, so we went to the first of 3 further revisions of our carry-ons…. It was nonsense, as every revision was 5 mts away of the previous one, and we all had to open our bags in every one of them… We spent 20 mins there!
Finally, we walked over the tarmac and got into the a/c through the front door. Flight again was full with all but one of Business Class seats taken. We said hello to all friends we had made during our stay in Bhutan which were also in the same flight, and it felt as a flight with old pals.
The day before we had seen one of Druk Air’s planes landing at Paro from our hotel. It passed no more than 200 mts from our window, as there was no more space in the narrow valley. So we were quite excited to see such a take off from inside the plane. Again, it took no time to be airborne. And the captain quickly let us know what I had feared. DEL was closed due to heavy fog (visibility less than 50m) so will have to wait longer in KTM. I really had no problem because I was not in a hurry and we were in Business Class.
I started to read the inflight magazine: Tashi Delek (Good luck). It looks nice from the cover, but inner photos are very poor quality with little interest articles. Well, there was one interesting article saying that PBH-KTM flies along 8 of the 10 highest peaks in the world. It was a good guide for what we were just about to see. I was curious about finding so many adds of hotels and tours agencies in Bhutan, since all tourists arriving to Bhutan had their tours previoulsy paid and arranged… What is the purpose of paying for and add in a magazine devoted to pax with no other choice of hotel?
We had the same f/a from our previous flight, plus the f/a devoted to Business Class which we had not seen before. They offered us a choice between veggie and non-veggie breakfast, with a metal cuttlery!!!! What is the point in so many exhausting revisions looking for weapons and razor blades, when inside the plane they tempt you with metal knives!?
Anyway, we had our breakfast, which was OK, and after our trays had been lifted, we saw the first of a long and white chain of mountains. It was quite a feast to see mountains the same height as our plane. The captain was pointing us every summit and all the pax were watching through the small windows. It even seemed no one was sitting in the left side and many were standing in the aisle to take a better look. I reckon, I was very happy to see Mt. Everest from so close, it was rewarding and a perfect end to our trip in Bhutan.
After we passed by Mt Everest the plane did a sharpa turn abandoning the trail of Himalaya. My brother and I thought Druk Air pilots fly closer to Himalaya just for people to see them closer. I thank them!!!! After a while, we were arriving into KTM right in schedule and the pilot told us that conditions in DEL had improved just marginally (vision of 100m and that they needed at least 800 m to land)… So he warned us that we might remain in KTM station for 2-3 hours. Again, I had no problem with this.
About 10 people deplaned in KTM and the rest was requested to remain seated while officers were doing all paper work to have us deplaned meanwhile we could fly to DEL… It took less than 30 minutes and we were in the transit area of KTM. While waiting, we saw a QR coming from DOH, a PIA 737 and some Buddha Air flying domestically. The transit area was full so we thought it would have been better for us to remain in our comfortable seats in J class.
After no more than 40 minutes, I saw an American lady telling their kids and husband that boarding to our planes was already taking place. So we joined them, and when getting to the gate we were told off by Nepalese airport staff because we were the last one… They said everybody else was in the plane… How come!!! There was no announcement nor nothing else… One of them said: “of course there was no announcement that boarding would take place… That is why you have to be close to the gate and ready.”…
As a matter of fact, we were the last to board, but no one complained. I guess most of the pax had been told off the same way. Again, flight was full, and again, it took no time to take-off. We were served a sandwich and beverages, and exactly the same was served in the Tourist cabin. Saddly, there was no IFE, no screens no nothing… I guess that is why Druk Air pilots divert the plane so close to Himalaya…
Before arriving to DEL the pilot told us that traffic in DEL was heavy and we were 14 in the list to land… So we were wondering around for 40 mins… Flight attendants offered us more drinks and we had a couple of Cognac cups. Good way to relax after so many delays.
With no more hassles we landed into DEL, qeued for a while in customs and picked up our luggage… We still had 3 days more in DEL…
Overall, PB service would be average, similar to that received in domestic flights in US… Staff is always smiling and very professional. By the way, f/a look very smart with their dresses and coats arriving to PBH… Everyone looked at them… It made me feel as if I were in an airport in 1960’s when being a f/a was a such a big thing!
I hope you have enjoyed this trip report with Druk Air… I will be glad to answer your questions.
Furthermore, I would like to add just a few things of the rest of flight I took in this trip:
MX), Mexico">MEX-LAX (MX) Nothing interesting to say.
LAX-HKG (CX) Little seat pitch, cramped in the middle seat of a A340-600--- Screen is too large and so close to your eyes that is uncomfortable. Poor selection of films, so I saw once and again the Humor Channel (So Graham… great talk show!). Audio channels do not correspond to those in the inflight magazine. Poor food. I had so much expectations about CX…
HKG-DEL (CX): Seat pitch was notorioulsy larger… It was not only an illusion… I was able to tie my shoes even though the seat in front of me was fully reclined… TV screens were smaller, the right size!!!
DEL-CCU (IC): Normal flight… I found IC a good standard airline…
HKG-LAX (CX). It took us only 11.30 hrs instead of 14.50 on the other way… The strange thing is that the route used was a straight line from HKG-LAX and never followed the path of the maximum circle route as used in the incoming flight.
LAX-MX), Mexico">MEX (MX): I was anxious about getting into MX 763… but it dissapointed me… It looks rather old inside and as IFE has only 3 screens in all Tourist Class… Half the plane is devoted to Business Class (amazing!). And service was as usual, good but not out performing.
Vimanav From India, joined Jul 2003, 1538 posts, RR: 14
Reply 1, posted (12 years 3 months 3 weeks 4 days 14 hours ago) and read 9508 times:
Hey.. good to see a unique report about a unique carrier - Druk Air. What is even more interesting for me is that you transitted my two home bases - Kolkata and Delhi. I am sorry you did not find a food court at Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport/Kolkata. But once you are in, on the first floor there is the airport restaurant. They serve excellent chilli chicken and fried rice!
The jetway at CCU airport is only used for larger aircraft. The BAe 146 AFAIK is never allotted the jetway. Yes baggage identification is another cumbersome procedure that Druk subjects you to. It is a fairly common practice with IC as well.
I hope you enjoyed your stay in India as much as you did Bhutan.
Sarfaroshi kii tamannaa ab hamaare dil mein hai, Dekhnaa hai zor kitnaa baazu-e-qaatil mein hai
Gamps From United States of America, joined Jul 2003, 469 posts, RR: 1
Reply 4, posted (12 years 3 months 3 weeks 3 days 19 hours ago) and read 9404 times:
Very rare report on Druk Air..
Also it is interesting that you were in Bhutan during one of the most turbulent times they are facing with the military action against some rebels. May be that is the reason for the extra security. Bangladesh shelters the rebels so they were afraid some leaders might skip out of the country to DAC, hence the cancellation of Paro - DAC.
Their check-in baggage rules are notoriously strict - did you face any problems?
Was there any restrictions on photography inside the terminals at Paro? Regarding TV go easy on them please . Because TV was introduced in Bhutan only in late 90s! As you may have observed they are one small happy country with King's stress on Gross Domestic Happiness..
Last question - did you see any helicopters at all in Bhutan? There was once proposal by an Indian company to operate helicopters to different parts of the country for tourists, but I guess it never took off.
Rojo From Spain, joined Sep 2000, 2515 posts, RR: 8
Reply 5, posted (12 years 3 months 3 weeks 3 days 15 hours ago) and read 9380 times:
Wow... your vacations were quite an adventure. Some day I will schedule a trip to Bhutan, but I think it will be in the future - fuuuture, since I have to get back to work after I finish school to recover financially. Man, England is quite an expensive country compared to any place in the world!! Specially after you get back from Argentina and Uruguay!!
Abotu CX, I heard some bad comments on their service from HSBC employees that worked with my brother... most of the times they tried to avoid them, but since HSBC had a deal with them, they always ended up flying CX. So how do you rate them compared to other airlines flying to Asia??
Pzurita1 From Greenland, joined Sep 2002, 1417 posts, RR: 13
Reply 6, posted (12 years 3 months 3 weeks 3 days 10 hours ago) and read 9361 times:
Here some answers to your questions:
I did went to First Floor looking for the restaurant. But, being so early, it was closed. However, it seemed much more like an abandoned restaurant rather than a closed one.
CCU and DEL airports are quite ok in the counter areas and waiting halls. However, I visited the fourth floor of CCU to take a look from the Viewing Area. Not only it was closed, but homeless people were actually living there... Very bizarre.
I imagined such a small a/c as Druk Air's would not fit jet bridges. Thanks for your info! And indeed, I trully enjoyed India, though I was only to DEL, JAI, Agra and CCU.
I booked my whole trip (including air tickets, hotel, meals and guides) in Mexico via email and fax.
English, as a matter of fact, is the language of education. Everybody speaks English and Dzongkha, the native language. However, Bhutanese were very happy to hear us say a few phrases in Dzongkha. They really appreciate when you avoid taking for granted they speak English.
I was aware of troubles in south Bhutan and recent militia developing. However, the country seemed so peaceful we could not believe the Bhutanese Army had killed over 100 rebels.
Security in PBH was a hassle. I had no problem anyway. They found a razor blade and batteries, which were returned to me and my brother as soon as we get into DEL.
We had no problems taking photos both inside and outside PBH terminal. In fact, security guards joined our photos!
According to my guides, there are yet none helicopter in Bhutan. They also told me the Swiss Govmt was to donated a helicopter for emergencies.
Mmmmhhh. Hard to compare CX with other Asian airlines since I have only flown with MH... While MH was 10/10, CX was 7.5/10
Airsicknessbag From Germany, joined Aug 2000, 4723 posts, RR: 31
Reply 7, posted (12 years 3 months 3 weeks 1 day 19 hours ago) and read 9293 times:
Thanks a lot for this nice report on an indeed truly exotic airline.
Two questions please:
1) Nobody I know has a Druk Air sickbag in his collection. The rumour among the collectors´ scene is, that PB use bags which are actually in TG design. Is this true?
2) Concerning Bhutanese visa: did you get them in advance? Did you get them directly at the embassy (where?) or via a tour operator/travel agent? Was it difficult to get the visa? (I hear individual travel is not allowed and every visa application needs to be approved by the ministry of tourism, that´s why I´m asking.)
Pzurita1 From Greenland, joined Sep 2002, 1417 posts, RR: 13
Reply 10, posted (12 years 3 months 2 weeks 5 days 17 hours ago) and read 9170 times:
Answers to your questions:
1. I did not look for sickness bags. But I can tell you that most of consumibles were Thai: towels, cuttlery, etc.
2. I got visa from Mexico via fax. There is not that much hassle getting it. Your travel agent (in Bhutan) takes a proof or your payment to the DoTourism to ask for the visa. It takes no more than 10 days to do this paperwork. After this period, you'll get a Pre-Visa form which you shall use it to pick up your tix and enter the country. As soon as you land, you get the proper visa stamped on your passport showing your Pre-Visa