I apologize for the length of the report, but theres a lot to tell!!
DAC-KTM Biman Bangladesh Airways BG 701 (A310-300)
Maslin Executive Class, 2C
I arrived at about 11:30 am at Zia Intl. in Dhaka for the scheduled 13:15 departure of my flight to Kathmandu. Check-in was slow but by a friendly staff. She then informed me that my flight had been delayed due to technical difficulties with the aircraft. She gave me a new departure time of 14:25. I then cleared immigration and went up to the Maslin Class lounge. There is no boarding system at the J class lounge in Dhaka, so one must keep a keen lookout for one’s flight. Finally, after asking the under staffed (1 person) personnel at the lounge 9 times, he announced that boarding had already commenced and that the flight was in it’s final boarding stages. It appeared I was the only business class passenger on the flight that day, so I rushed down to the gate. And like the employee said, there was no one left at the gate so I rushed into the walkway and into the aircraft at 15:35 pm. Once I was seated, I was promptly approached by a crew member with a tray of orange or apple juice and was given a small stale rose. The legroom in the J class section of the A310 is pathetic. There was hardly any room. The leg rests are useless as there is no space to stretch them out!! The seats are very small. The seat layout in J class section was 2-3-2. That is the most tight seating I have seen on an A310! I have flown on Biman’s DC-10s and their business class is so much better! The aircraft has so much more leg room to offer with the seats being much bigger at a 2-2-2 configuration. Though the A310 has personal television sets in every seat, they are so scratched out and loose that its impossible to watch them. And what is the use of a PTV if you only have one channel to offer?
We pushed back from the gate after a video demonstration of the safety features of the aircraft. The video’s reception was quite bad. One could hardly see what was being demonstrated! We took off after a 25 minute wait for a Saudia 747-200 to land for a weird reason. We were finally on our way for the 1 hour 10 minute flight to Kathmandu at 16:05. We took off towards the north and banked a steep left turn towards the north west.
The cabin crew then promptly came down and asked what I would like to have for lunch (at 16:20??!). The choices were shrimp curry, chicken curry, or beef curry. I opted for the shrimp curry, which was good. Biman’s J class service on this route is I must admit quite good. They offered coffee, tea and a wide range of bread. I though that service was quite thorough and good for an hour flight. We commenced our descent at 17:00 Dhaka time. It was then when I asked the crew for a cockpit visit for landing. I was allowed and sat in the jump seat. The approach into Kathmandu Tribhuvan International was spectacular. The aircraft descended into the valley from the south in an opening of the endless valleys of Nepal. The view of the mountains was just breathtaking. Everytime I land in Nepal I fall in love with the secenery all over again. We touched town at Kathmandu at 17:15 Nepal time which is 15 minutes behind Dhaka time. Overall, the experience flying Biman was okay, but I definitely think the airline can do much better with the resources they have on them.
KTM-DAC Biman Bangladesh Airlines BG 702 (DC 10 55/F 28-4000)
Rajinighanda Executive Class/Economy Class 2F/1D
I noticed a weird thing as I was checking in in Kathmandu. Biman’s business class on it’s DC 10s are called a different name than the one in their A310s. There was a long wait for check in as there was no business counter for the flight, and there were only 2 counters for the flight that was booked for about 157 passengers. To my dismay, as I checked in, the staff said that there had been a plane change due to the late arrival of the DC 10 from Dubai in Dhaka, and 2 F 28s were on their way to KTM to carry the passengers back to Dhaka. The first flight was BG 702, which I was on, and the second one was BG 702 Alpha or just 702A. This meant that there was no business class available anymore on this flight, as Biman’s F 28s are configured in a one class layout. The clerk then informed me that I was “down graded” (is that possible??!) and said that I would be refunded the difference of the Y and J class fares upon arrival in Dhaka. I agreed and went straight up to the departure lounge to await boarding. It was 15:00, and the flight was scheduled to depart at 15:35 with BG 702A scheduled to depart at 16:05.
Nepal’s airport is currently undergoing renovations. To my knowledge, the airport’s runway is being extended as well as the terminal being renovated to accommodate more passengers. The ground staff at Tribhuvan International are also currently being trained to handle the arrival of up to three flights within 30 minutes.
At 15:30 I looked at the departure screen and saw that my flight was still on time, though the Biman plane had not landed from Dhaka yet. At 15:45 I heard a plane landing and went to the window to see a Biman F 28-4000 landing and taxing to the tarmac. It was then when a Biman ground agent went around and started shouting Biman 702A to Dhaka, now boarding at the top of his voice. (A fine announcement system). When I looked at the screen, it still said that BG 702 was still on time. By this time, it was already 17:00. I then asked the Biman agent about the status of my flight. He said the plane was minutes away from landing, but returned to Dhaka because the pilot had tried to land three times and couldn’t. As mad as I was, I was glad that the pilot returned to Dhaka if he wasn’t sure about landing in Kathmandu. The screen now read that the flight was delayed until 18:10. By the time departure time came, the plane from Dhaka, not surprisingly, had not landed yet. At this time there were no Biman staff around to ask for any information. It was at 21:30 when a Royal Nepal staff shouted out that the flight had been canceled and rescheduled for 07:35 the next morning. We had to re-clear immigration and go back down to the check in desks where Biman staff were taking out our luggage. That was when tempers flared between the manager of Biman in Nepal and other passengers. Biman provided accommodations for all passengers. They called my name along with about 7 others. They said tomorrow’s flight would be operated by a DC 10 and would be given business class seats again. They kept us at the Everest Hotel, a 5 star hotel near the airport. They kept the Y class passengers at some other hotel. At 5 am we got a wake up call. By 6 am we were boarding a bus back to the airport. We are all checked in and given new seats assignments for the new aircraft layout. Clearing immigration was another pain. Once in the waiting lounge, it was 07:20 and no sign of a Biman plane. It was about 10:45 am when the DC 10 landed. We boarded the plane at 11:20 am.
Upon boarding, the very cheery cabin crew rushed to offer juices and the usual stale rose. They then gave a small gift; a wallet with Biman imprinted on it. We were airborne by 11:50 am. As we took off, we banked to the right and took a circle around the Kathmandu valley, then exited towards the south. We flew to the south then turned eastwards towards Bangladesh.
Biman’s seats on their DC 10s are quite spacious at a 2-2-2 layout. The downfalls of their J class is that there are no PTVs, and leg rests are this interesting pillow type thing that wraps around the bottom of the seat in front of you.
As soon as the seat belt sign was shut off, the crew gave a small plate of assorted pastries and a cup of tea or coffee as breakfast. The pastries were sour and obviously in appropriately kept from yesterday’s flight. Captain Ahmed then informed us that there was an “incident” at Dhaka Airport, and we would have to divert to Chitagong Intl. I found out later that the “incident” was that a Malaysian Airlines 747-300 smashed into a small empty dump truck and was stuck on the runway. It took officials about 5 hours to clear the runway.
So we landed at Chitagong at 13:00 and were kept at a hotel in the city. At about 19:30 after they had given us dinner, they said that it was now okay for our flight back to Dhaka to take off, but the DC 10 had already left for Singapore. They said an F 28 was ready for departure, but we would have to be given re-assigned seats. They said that they would refund J class passengers ¼ of the total airfare we had to pay.
We boarded the F 28 at 20:30 and were greeted by a new set of crew members. You would think after all that Biman made us go through, the crew would be extra nice to the passengers, instead, they were the exact opposite. We pushed back at 20:40 and left for Dhaka for a 55 minute flight.
The seat belt sign remained on throughout the flight, though there was no turbulence. The crew served no meal, but offered “lassi”, or this Indian milk drink. I declined. I do understand that the F 28 is a small plane, but the legroom was just really bad. I am not a very tall person at 5’10”, but I was very crunched in my seat. Reclining your seat was not an option. The aircraft was at a very disturbing state. Some overhead bins wouldn’t close, there was water leaking from the ceiling, there was no bathroom door, and the plane’s seats were creaky and loose.
We made a hard landing at Dhaka at about 21:30 local time, almost 2 days late.
Overall, the whole experience was a disaster. Some problems Biman could have helped, some not. But the way they handled the problems was un-professional and not satisfactory. The condition they keep their F-28s in is absolutely shameful.