First published onNetwork Thoughts
6 PNRs for 4 flights for 2 of us of which we cancelled one, too complex when it comes to an airline like Uzbekistan Airlines! Rare airlines are fun to fly but they should not be so rare that you hardly get any information on what to expect.
The first time I saw an aircraft from Uzbekistan Airlines was in Amritsar. Fortunately, I got a chance to fly them during a recent trip to the country. The airline has monopoly in the domestic market. This was my 49th airline to board.
From offering coke and sprite at 4:45am to gun totting militia waiting for the aircraft, the experience in O’zbekistan is seemingly different than any other place I have been so far.
Uzbekistan Airlines wasn’t available on OTAs and the friendly travel agent said it wasn’t available on the GDS as well. This meant that the travel agent had to co-ordinate with another in Delhi who was authorized to ticket the flights. I took the matters in own hands and decided to explore the website of the airline.
The website is painful. The skeletal domestic schedule is pain to the AVGeeks’ eyes to understand and act upon. It left us with early morning – very late night trip to Bukhara and early morning departure to Samarkand with return the next day.
Booking wasn’t smooth. For 2 passengers, the website replicated the date of birth of the first passenger for the second and return on the same day was bookable, but return on next day wasn’t! We thus had 6 PNRs for 4 flights for 2 of us! Complex!
The payment gateway was smooth with Indian credit card accepted and tickets were emailed in no time. Seat selection on the website was also a breeze, with half the aircraft available for free seating.
Day of Departure
The hotel taxi and the local guide we met had told us to reach fairly early. I did my research, there was only one flight at that time of the day, yet we reached about an hour and half to departure to Terminal 3 which is a new terminal on the other side of the runway, away from the city. The taxi dropped us a few meters away and we went through our first check at the entrance which involved checking our passport and passing through a metal detector. The bags were not scanned but the guard had a hand held metal detector which he tapped on the bags.
At the entrance of the building was another metal detector and baggage scanner where all baggage had to be scanned and every passenger had to pass through the metal detector. This was followed by check-in. The grand building had 6-8 check-in counters, of which 2 were open and it was a quick and smooth experience.
Next stop – security, where an orderly line formed. The process is a little different. You take your ID to a counter, where ID & visa is checked, ID and face is matched, name on ID and boarding card is matched and you proceed to scan your baggage and pass through the metal detector.
The large Security Hold Area had a lot of seating, 4 gates, 3 dispensing machines, 1 café and a toilet block. The country has recently become lenient about photography, yet I wasn’t sure if the rules have changed or they look the other way when you click and thus kept away. Another outing to the same airport and I was confident enough to click pictures.
Even before we could finish our expensive coffee, boarding was announced. The apron did not have a single aircraft and was empty barring a few Mi-17 helicopters covered up. Busses lined up as passengers made their way to the bus and started our journey of few kilometers. It took 25 minutes to the apron at older airport and we stopped next to A320 (UK32020). Boarding was efficient and on-time. Immediately there was a drinks run, Cola, Sprite, Fanta and Water. All on the ground, along with the safety demo.
We pushed back on time and took off. Pilot announced a flight time of 35 minutes. The landscape was stunning. We soon started descending into Bukhara and had a nice soft touchdown on runway 01. Deplaning was quick and we were out in no time. The aircraft went to Moscow and we went to explore this ancient city on the silk route, making our way back to the airport much before the aircraft returned from Moscow.
Experience at Bukhara airport was similar, first check at the entrance of the airport complex, next at the airport entrance and a similar security setup and so was the flight. Passengers were rushing even after boarding was complete, drinks run was done and one passenger came even after the safety demo, all were accommodated as the militia guarded the aircraft.
A quick flight to Tashkent and we parked again at the old apron with another 20+ minute bus ride to the new terminal. We were to come back here in few hours to go to Samarkand.
We reached hotel a little past mid night and left at 0345 hours for our flight to Samarkand at 0530. It was exactly the same till the security hold area and then we saw an aircraft at the new apron. No more bus ride today! Orderly boarding followed and the even shorter flight took us to Samarkand, landing on runway 09 and parking at one of the many remote stands. Mini busses got us to the terminal.
Our fourth flight was to be the return from Samarkand, which we had to cancel and take a taxi to go back to Tashkent due to the weird rules of Uzbekistan. That meant that we had to process a cancellation. The usable website was not very helpful to find out if our fare class was refundable or not. A few clicks here and there resulted into nothing. I then decided to try the mobile app and voila! It worked. We cancelled the tickets from the mobile app and the refund (about 75%) was credited back in less than seven days. Very fast and efficient!
Overall, I have no complaints from Uzbekistan airlines. A lot can be done better but for the short flights which we took, without meals on offer. They were good, clean, on-time with pleasant staff. When you ask for just these for a regular flight, what more would one ask for a rare airline?
The only country where flying the IL-18 was possible, not any more sadly.