SQueeze
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Posts: 294
Joined: Thu Mar 20, 2014 11:33 pm

Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Fri Mar 22, 2019 4:42 pm

Background

Turkmenistan Airlines just made news recently. In early February, it was banned from EU airspace, and the UK followed suit. So I feel fortunate that I managed to get to try this enigmatic, and elusive airline just recently prior to the ban and transitted through a little-visited country.

I have been eyeing Turkmenistan Airlines for years on my occasional trips between India and Europe. But it’s proven to be elusive. Until very recently, it was not bookable with online agents and it still doesn’t have a global website to book online from. To make a booking, I had to email their office in Delhi, and the flights were always full since they only fly to Delhi once per week on Saturdays and my work trips were confirmed only a week or two in advance and seats are usually sold out at such short notice. A few times I dropped by their office in Connaught Place, an old-school airline ticketing office from another era. A few times, the staff even told me to book Air India when I was insisting to waitlist myself on their flights. They were bewildered why I wanted to fly via Ashgabat and not flew direct to Europe with Air India for the same price or cheaper.

Late last year, I managed to fix a work trip a month in advance and seats were still available on Turkmenistan which I discovered by chance on Skyscanner as they recently uploaded their availability into the GDS. They offered the cheapest business class fares between India and Europe at INR50,000 (usd700) and I snapped it.

So this became the most anticipated trip of the year to end 2018.

Part 1:

Flight: T5 536
Aircraft: 737-800NG (not a MAX although it was so new that I thought it was)
Reg: EZ-A019
Seat: 3D
Class: Business Class
Load: 50%


On a cold Saturday morning in mid December, I arrived at Delhi Terminal 3 for the flight I had been waiting for for years.

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Unlike the usual business crowd on a weekday, Saturday morning is usually an interesting time when Delhi has flights to places like Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and the likes and today’s security queue is quite a curious sight to me since I have been fascinated by Central Asia since a long time. These people look like they come from another world, another era.

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Turkmenistan Airlines opened a few counters for its single weekly flight. Passengers seem to be mostly Turkmen in origin. They are quite recognisable with their tall colourful head dress.

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Business class has its own counter, and this is where I spent the next 10 minutes being scrutinised about my unconventional route to Europe. As usual, check-in agents in India don’t quite believe that Singaporeans do not need visas to enter the UK and I had to point out the many UK passport stamps I had in my passport to prove. He also seemed surprised that I bought the ticket online. I figure it must be just recently that T5 started selling tickets in the common GDS. I bought mine at cleartrip.com

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Warning notice is in English and Russian although there is also a Turkmen headline on the top right. The interesting I noted here was the coconut. Coconut? Really? Forbidden? Why? May be their President doesn’t like coconuts ? :D

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My boarding passes were soon printed and it was then smooth sailing through a quiet passport control and security line.

To my disappointment, Turkmenistan Airlines does not offer lounge access to business class passengers in Delhi, so I headed straight to the Gate, 1 hour before departure.

It was a long walk and I was trailing behind these Turkmen ladies with beautiful and colourful head dresses.

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Delhi’s waiting area is actually very pleasant and spacious. It’s definitely better to wait here than in the windowless low-ceilinged SilverKris Lounge on Friday evenings.

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I had my first peek of the elusive airliner, green-liveried Turkmenistan Airlines, which just arrived from a red-eye sector from Ashgabat.

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Boarding was on time and on boarding, I had better glimpse of the airliner. It’s a 737-800NG. Yes, and I didn’t expect they have such a brand-new aircraft. I knew it was going to be a 737-800 but I thought it’s going to be one of those older models which Jet Airways fly. I didn’t have high expectation. This plane is 2 years old or so.

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The seats are spanking new, but unfortunately the blue looks like a generic design by the manufacturer, except for the ethic motif details at the seat back. Layout is standard 2-2 layout with standard reclines and standard pitches for regional flights.

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There is a leg rest. But I can’t recall if there is calf support too.

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I peeked through to the economy class section which spots the same seat colour design. By this time, I was trying be discreet as I was warned once already by the crew for not taking pictures. I also encountered such aversion to pictures on Uzbekistan Airways and I already expected the same here.

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The crew was actually quite nice. They were not super warm but they were not cold either. I have no complaints. Their apprehension for photography, I think, is more of an inherited behaviour from Soviet times more than anything like an unfriendly culture.

The unusual thing here is that there is a portrait of a handsome man perpetually smiling at everyone mounted in the front of each cabin. The President is watching. Imagine sitting at first row....

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Amenities were then distributed before take off. They were these bright green pillows and basic thin white slipper slippers...

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And then a very nice colourful blanket was also provided. The blankets came in various colours. I actually wanted the purple one but it ran out.

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In flight magazine.

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Which, of course, had to feature the President.

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And the new 737MAX was proudly being featured. Hmm… considering recent news, this would not have been a great advertisement.

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Safety card is in 3 languages.

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Looking out of my window, I watched these boxes being loaded one after another into the flight. Looks like this flight is quite a trade caravan of the 21st century.

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This took quite awhile and we were delayed by almost an hour before we started to taxi towards the runway.

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A Corendon livery trailed behind. Corendon doesn’t fly to India. I think this must be one of Spicejet’s many wet leases.

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And then soon after we were off into the hazy skies of Delhi.

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When we reached cruising altitude, we had a good view of the Himalayas in the distance.

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We crossed into Pakistan airspace above Lahore. Currently, at the time of writing, this airspace is closed and the flight to Turkmenistan would take much longer.

I am very fascinated by this portrait. Also it is the only inflight entertainment available.


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Slightly more than an hour into the flight, a sumptuous meal arrived comprising of 3 breads, salad, cold cuts, dessert, and a big main of rice and beef. The presentation was not particularly appealing, although I find it interesting because it looks like something that comes from the soviet era.

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I like the packaging of the condiments.

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Despite its appearance, the food was actually very delicious. I would even rate it as one of the best economy class meal ever. The rice was moist, beef was tender and fell apart easily. The bread was fresh and not dried out. It was so good and this is the proof. I mopped it all clean.

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So I asked the crew if the very delicious food came from Delhi or Ashgabat. They said it was flown since the night before from Ashgabat. Wow. Well done for a challenging task.

The meal was ended with tea and chocolate. By the way, I think it's a dry airline. I was not offered any alcoholic beverages. Not that I asked.

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Then I spent the next hour or so admiring the stunningly beautiful views of Afghanistan. It started with a flat desert, then it gradually rose to mighty rugged mountain ranges, and then it flattened out again as we entered Turkmenistan airspace. These are some of the best views I have ever seen from an airplane window.

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2.5 hours later we approached Ashgabat.

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We flew over wide empty highways.

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And came face to face with a bird. I believe this is the VIP terminal.

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And then a big bird! What an airport terminal design! Turkmenistan is now famous (or infamous) for its weird architecture.

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The control tower also has a weird design.

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There are very few other airlines that fly in here. Most airliners here are Turkmenistan Airlines only.

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We disembarked into a glossy and flamboyant new terminal building.

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SQueeze
Topic Author
Posts: 294
Joined: Thu Mar 20, 2014 11:33 pm

Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Fri Mar 22, 2019 4:46 pm

Transfer passengers had to go through a security checkpoint but it was not manned and I just strolled through.

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The departure concourse is just as glossy and flamboyant with lots of motifs.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t get to the most flamboyant of them all - the check in hall. True to its inspiration of a bird, the check-in hall is fully covered by feathers. This is one pic I took from the internet.

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The departures gates are bright, and spacious. Acutally, it is quite a pleasant airport to transit through unless you like shopping because there is practically none there. However, it’s perfect for a peaceful rest.

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I went up and down the concourse looking for the lounge, only to find it tucked away discreetly near where I came down from the arrival concourse.

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The lounge is another surreal place with practically no one and it seems like an infinity of space.

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My food and coloured drink. Just like it looks, it tasted awful. Dry and bland.

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Part 2

Flight: T5 427
Aircraft: 757-200
Reg: EZ-A014
Seat: 1D
Class: Business Class
Load: 50%


The next sector of the journey was on an ancient 757-200, 18 years old. It first flew in 2001.

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It’s noticeable that the majority of the passengers in this sector were Indian in origin, and I believe they were connecting mainly from Amritsar because I didn’t see many Indian faces on my DEL-ASB flight.

Boarding was from the 2nd door and business class passengers had to walk through a small segment of economy cabin, which noticeably had very very limited legroom. This is the worst I had ever seen on any non Low-cost carriers.

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The business class cabin has 4 rows of seats in 2-2 configuration.

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As evident, these seats come from a Long time ago. And the pitch is also very poor. The recline is just as poor too.

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Pre-take off drink. If i am not mistaken, apricot juice.

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There was just one choice of newspaper, duplicated in 2 languages. It consisted of 4 pages each, and was obviously daily propaganda to the Turkmen people and who else but he would be in the headlines.

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Here too, he was watching perpetually ....

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I decided to move to the other side. To be with him. Let's have a meal together


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Christmas decoration was on the other side, even if Turkmens are not christians mostly.

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Amenities consisted of the same thin green pillow and a more basic green-coloured blanket.

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SQueeze
Topic Author
Posts: 294
Joined: Thu Mar 20, 2014 11:33 pm

Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Fri Mar 22, 2019 4:53 pm

Taxi to the runway was quite short and this was the last look of the incredible bird terminal.

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The weather was not too good but I could spot some of Ashgabat’s grandiose projects. I definitely wish to come back (if I could sort the cumbersome visa) to see the strange city of Ashgabat which is full of weird and grandiose marble buildings and monuments.

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A short while later, lunch was served. It was as sumptuous as the earlier breakfast service. This time I chose the chicken selection. The other dishes were almost exactly the same as on the ex-Delhi flight which proves that they cater for a round trip flight on Delhi sectors.

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It was a beautiful day above the Caspian Sea.

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And then we flew over Baku, Azerbaijan which I visited in 2017.

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And then we flew alongside the Caucasus in Georgia, which I also visited in 2017

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That was the last external shot I captured and a short while later, it was cloudy all the way to London.

There was no inflight entertainment at all so I was just with my book for the next 5-6 hours.

Pre-landing snack was a sad-looking stuffed pita bread. The other option was sandwiches.

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We landed an hour late into a London even if we had taken off from ASB on time. The unusual delay must have been caused by the extremely rainy weather.

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We were actually trailing SQ308...

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Lastly, disembarkation was chaotic and crowded but the crew did make an effort to let business class passsengers got off first.

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Verdict:

For the price it offers, I think they have given more and I would not hesitate to fly it again especially if it is in their newer 737s and 777s. These fly to Paris, Frankfurt, Bangkok, and Beijing but not London or Birmingham. The food is the best and most memorable part of my experience. The crew is ok and I think is still way better than most American carriers. The airport is comfortable although there is nothing much to do there but Turkmenistan times their connection quite well so this shouldn’t be a problem for anyone. But of course, at the time of writing, European routes are all suspended.
 
gte439u
Posts: 346
Joined: Tue Nov 04, 2003 7:49 am

Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Fri Mar 22, 2019 5:05 pm

Thank you for posting a most fascinating trip report on an airline that few of us will have the chance to fly.
 
tonyban
Posts: 258
Joined: Tue Jun 06, 2006 4:55 am

Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Fri Mar 22, 2019 6:42 pm

Very nice report. I don't think I've ever read a report on Turkmenistan before. Thanks for posting.
I flew on Uzbek about 15 years back. This was quite similar.
I wonder why they serve beef on a flight originating out of India ?
 
9w748capt
Posts: 1523
Joined: Sat Feb 02, 2008 10:27 am

Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Sat Mar 23, 2019 3:18 am

WOW!!! What a stunningly fascinating report. Thank you so much for not just posting this but for linking my post in the other thread. I rarely check the TR forum anymore so I probably would not have seen it for awhile.

Loved all of your pics, from the start in Delhi all the way to the end. What a fascinating window into a place I'm 99.9% sure I'll never go. I wonder what all of those Turkmens boarding the flight in Delhi do? Businesspeople in India maybe?

And Ashghabat airport - wow that is bizarre beyond belief! What a sad state of affairs that so much money is being spent on vanity projects when most of the population is still quite poor (at least that's what you read on the internet anyway).

Anyway thank you again for posting - really one of the best TRs I've read in a long, long time!
 
9w748capt
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Joined: Sat Feb 02, 2008 10:27 am

Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Sat Mar 23, 2019 4:21 am

tonyban wrote:
I wonder why they serve beef on a flight originating out of India ?


I found this very interesting too. Not that Indians don't eat beef - many do - but still seems quite rare indeed.
 
maverick4002
Posts: 81
Joined: Sun Jul 12, 2015 2:14 pm

Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Sat Mar 23, 2019 1:13 pm

Has the EU ban been lifted? I was on Flight Radar last night looking at 757s in the air and I swear I saw about 3 from them, over the EU.
 
debonair
Posts: 3406
Joined: Sat Jan 03, 2004 10:50 pm

Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Sun Mar 24, 2019 12:01 am

maverick4002 wrote:
Has the EU ban been lifted? I was on Flight Radar last night looking at 757s in the air and I swear I saw about 3 from them, over the EU.

The B757 is NOT banned, only Turkmenistan Airlines is. Very sad for the Punjabi community in BHX, now losing AI as well. :cry2:
 
PSAatSAN4Ever
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Joined: Thu Sep 13, 2018 5:38 pm

Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Sun Mar 24, 2019 3:40 pm

An absolutely enthralling report. Bravo, sir - outstanding job!!

So, they've got the airport, they've got the location, and they've got the catering - check, check, and check. Next step: re-certification. Get back into the EU. Then join the 21st century and get a website that allows people to, you know, purchase tickets on-line. Maybe the ever-watching President will decide that his beautiful transfer airport needs to be seen by the world, and transit visas will be available upon arrival for most nations. Final step: contingency plans for IRROPS, and it might actually work!

I know it wouldn't be profitable at a level like DOH or DXB, but an India-UK transit hub might prove effective enough, and with the right connection times, snag a bit of the market, if for nothing else being nearly right on the direct flight line.
 
345tas
Posts: 170
Joined: Sun Mar 09, 2014 7:05 pm

Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Sun Mar 24, 2019 9:09 pm

Thanks so much for this report! Fascinating from start to finish.

That food looks amazing.

From what I heard in Uzbekistan last year from travellers who'd dashed across Turkmenistan from Iran, it is indeed desperately poor, with legions of old ladies sweeping empty 8 lane highways etc.
 
767747
Posts: 2195
Joined: Wed Jan 26, 2005 10:08 am

Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Sun Mar 24, 2019 10:59 pm

Thank you for sharing this interesting routing with great photos. Looks like you had a good trip! Food looks okay.
I love to fly!
 
Southamerica
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Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Mon Mar 25, 2019 3:24 am

Wow! Thank you very much for sharing this outstading report!
 
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fbgdavidson
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Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Mon Mar 25, 2019 3:49 am

Superb! Love the quirkiness of it all! I did chuckle at the unmanned security checkpoint at ASB!
"My first job was selling doors, door to door, that's a tough job innit" - Bill Bailey
 
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ClassicLover
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Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Mon Mar 25, 2019 8:41 pm

Really nice report there! Those Boeing 757 business class seats look very similar to what TWA/American Airlines were offering on their 757s right through to the early 2010s, so that took me back.

The airport terminal looks totally cool :) ... and your line "one of the best economy class meals ever" made me laugh! Not to mention having your meal with the dude on the wall! Fair play, excellent report and great pictures to go with it. Loved it!
I do enjoy a spot of flying, especially when it's not in economy!
 
k89
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Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Tue Mar 26, 2019 10:56 pm

This is one of the strangest airlines I've seen, nice to actually see a trip report on them. I would assume that Turkmenistan Airlines mostly handles connecting traffic. They have a unique hold on the ATQ-LHR/BHX market vs ASB. Other than Air India no other airlines fly between ATQ and LHR/BHX and fly a majority of the market.

I wonder if QR does well on LHR/BHX to ATQ. From BHX I found an option on QR to ATQ with a two hour stopover in DOH. Both EK and EY don't fly to ATQ so they don't handle the market.

Also why does Uzbekistan Airways fly to ATQ? For LHR connecting passengers?
 
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dfu
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Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Wed Mar 27, 2019 2:37 pm

Fascinating....
 
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hirofumi
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Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Thu Mar 28, 2019 3:25 pm

Thanks for sharing the experience of a very rare airline. Wow the airport at Ashgabat is quite stunning! But the seats - well I'd say it was worth what you've paid for.

By the way what were those condiments?
 
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gunsontheroof
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Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Sat Mar 30, 2019 5:23 am

Wow, terrific report! I've been fascinated by Central Asia (as well as its airlines) for over a decade now and really enjoy any glimpse into the first-hand experience that I can get. ASB is every bit as ridiculous (and empty) inside as I'd imagined. Well done.
Picked a hell of a week to quit sniffing glue.
 
Kent350787
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Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Sat Mar 30, 2019 6:31 am

Thanks for the very interesting report. I especially liked the look of the meals - I agree not presented nicely, but appears tasty .

18yo 757 is "old"? many fleets in other countries have aircraft that old or older! :)
 
Chaostheory
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Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Sat Mar 30, 2019 11:13 pm

I'm glad I found this on my occasional visit to this forum. Lovely read with great humour. It had me chuckling throughout.

Turkmenistan and Central Asia by expansion is a fascinating part of the world and is definitely worth a visit. I spent most of my time visiting Mary for a friend's wedding many years ago. The Turkmen rug in our home which I brought back is still going strongly too, despite the best efforts of our three boys.
 
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alex0easy
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Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Mon Apr 01, 2019 3:26 pm

Fascinating. Thanks for this post.
 
ben175
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Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Tue Apr 02, 2019 4:54 am

Amazing trip report!
 
usflyer msp
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Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Wed Apr 03, 2019 10:48 am

Interesting report. Im headed to Central Asia in August and my first stop is ASB. Im flying S7 so I won't get the full Turkmenistan experience but I will definitely check out the extravagant terminal. Off to shave my beard off for the Visa photo...
 
Bostrom
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Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Wed Apr 03, 2019 7:07 pm

Very interesting report. Thanks for sharing your trip with us!
 
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Spiderguy252
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Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Sun Apr 07, 2019 8:58 pm

Fascinating is the word.

Thanks for sharing one from the Stans!
Vahroone
 
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Loran
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Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Tue Apr 30, 2019 10:30 am

Great report, thank you very much. Glad to find this one between all the boring EK/QR/etc. premium class reports.

I was fortunate enough to fly twice on T5 domestically, firstly Dasoguz to Ashgabat (712) and Türkmenbashi to Ashgabat (738) during a 1 week tour across Türkmenistan. Weird stuff indeed and well worth the visit, although during my visit in 2014 the previous terminal was just being demolished and the new one was far away from being built.

As a side note, Türkmenbashi's terminal is similar, albeit smaller. 6 airbridges IIRC for 3x daily T5 flights to ASB. Completely empty terminal, literally deserted, a bizarre scene worth seeing :smile:

Hope they return to Europe soon, if so I'd try them on an international service, too.

Thank you again.
Regards,
Loran
703 717 727 732-9 747 757 767 777 787 AB2/6 310 318-321 330 340 359 380 D8M D91/3/5 D1C M11 M81-90 L10 IL1/8/6/7/W/9/4 TU3/5/2 YK4/2
 
SQueeze
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Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Mon May 06, 2019 2:00 am

Thank you all for the appreciation. I truly enjoy these experiences and share.


tonyban wrote:
Very nice report. I don't think I've ever read a report on Turkmenistan before. Thanks for posting.
I flew on Uzbek about 15 years back. This was quite similar.
I wonder why they serve beef on a flight originating out of India ?


Hi, they do offer non-beef options too. They are probably just a simple set up and India market is quite small with a few flights a week (Delhi 1x, Amritsar 5x). I don't think they will cater specifically to a demographic. All catering is also lifted off from Ashgabat on the overnight turnaround. It will only be truly strange if they make Delhi airport to cater beef onboard.

Loran wrote:
Great report, thank you very much. Glad to find this one between all the boring EK/QR/etc. premium class reports.

I was fortunate enough to fly twice on T5 domestically, firstly Dasoguz to Ashgabat (712) and Türkmenbashi to Ashgabat (738) during a 1 week tour across Türkmenistan. Weird stuff indeed and well worth the visit, although during my visit in 2014 the previous terminal was just being demolished and the new one was far away from being built.

As a side note, Türkmenbashi's terminal is similar, albeit smaller. 6 airbridges IIRC for 3x daily T5 flights to ASB. Completely empty terminal, literally deserted, a bizarre scene worth seeing :smile:

Hope they return to Europe soon, if so I'd try them on an international service, too.

Thank you again.
Regards,
Loran


Thank you, Loran. They have excellent international service on their 737s and 777s. Avoid the 757s.


k89 wrote:
This is one of the strangest airlines I've seen, nice to actually see a trip report on them. I would assume that Turkmenistan Airlines mostly handles connecting traffic. They have a unique hold on the ATQ-LHR/BHX market vs ASB. Other than Air India no other airlines fly between ATQ and LHR/BHX and fly a majority of the market.

I wonder if QR does well on LHR/BHX to ATQ. From BHX I found an option on QR to ATQ with a two hour stopover in DOH. Both EK and EY don't fly to ATQ so they don't handle the market.

Also why does Uzbekistan Airways fly to ATQ? For LHR connecting passengers?


I believe so.


ClassicLover wrote:
Really nice report there! Those Boeing 757 business class seats look very similar to what TWA/American Airlines were offering on their 757s right through to the early 2010s, so that took me back.

The airport terminal looks totally cool :) ... and your line "one of the best economy class meals ever" made me laugh! Not to mention having your meal with the dude on the wall! Fair play, excellent report and great pictures to go with it. Loved it!


Actually I think i wanted to say "one of the best business class meals ever". Despite how it was presented, it really tasted amazing. But then yes, on hindsight, it looks more like a sumptuous economy class meal presented in business class. No economy class meal comes close to this.
 
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allrite
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Re: Turkmenistan Airlines Business Class: The President is Watching ...

Fri May 10, 2019 1:07 am

Thanks for the amazing trip report from a fascinating region of the world. I agree with your comments about the views above Afghanistan. Sadly it's a country that few of us will probably have a chance to visit, but from the air it is absolutely incredible. I had the pleasure eight years ago of flying over Afghanistan and across Turkmenistan during the daytime on Malaysia Airlines en route to LHR and the scenery was stunning. High snowcapped mountains, desolate landscapes with painted sands, the only sign of people in the river valleys. Sadly most flights from Asia seem to cross it at night.

Ashgabat Airport looks pretty interesting too, a vanity project no doubt though there is a heritage of interesting architecture in the region.
I like artificial banana essence!

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