Hello everyone and thank you for reading! Despite doing a fair amount of flying recently, lacking enough time to transform the incoherent notes made during each flight into a decent trip report, I haven’t posted much on the site recently. However, having found myself at an unexpected loose end in the midst of the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak, I finally found the time to sit down and begin editing these. The first of these being one of the eleven flights I took during a trip in June 2019 which I will present to you today.
Whilst my final year of university was, as you would expect, the busiest and most stressful, the cost of living in London meant that I needed to juggle my studies with working nearly full time in a North London supermarket. However, having managed to save some money over the course of the year, following the completion of my final exams, I decided to go on one final trip before heading out into the ‘real world’. The destination of this would be Korea, the place where I had spent my second year of university studying and lived at a couple of other points during my life. However rather than flying direct or with a single stopover, I decided to work in a couple of countries I had long wished to visit into my itinerary - Mongolia and Uzbekistan.
Following some planning, I finally settled on an 11-flight itinerary. My journey would take me from London City Airport from where I would fly to Paris Orly onboard a vintage WDL Aviation BAe 146-200 operating on behalf of BA Cityflyer (coincidentally this was the final day of operation of this service). Following a bus ride across Paris that evening I would depart Paris CDG on my first ever Boeing 757 flight, taking one of Air Astana’s jets to Nursultan. From the Kazakh capital I would take a domestic hop to Almaty before heading west to Tashkent, both flights operated by the same Air Astana Airbus A321. Following a several hour wait in Tashkent’s small domestic terminal, I then made a very short early evening flight to Samarkand on an Uzbekistan Airways Boeing 757-200 returning to Tashkent a couple of days later on a high speed train. Following two days in Uzbekistan’s capital I would then make the medium haul flight on Uzbekistan Airways’ latest Dreamliner over to Korea. Once there I spent a few days in Seoul before catching my third Korean Air A220 flight down to Busan, my favourite city in the world. Several days later I departed Korea’s second largest city on a MIAT Mongolian Boeing 737-800 before finally heading back to Europe on one of the airline’s Boeing 767s, departing Mongolia with a delay of a day due to the weather. Having initially planned to spend a night in Berlin, this delay ensured I missed my Helvetic flight to Zurich and Swiss flight back to Heathrow so I ended up booking a cheap last minute flight back to Stansted with Eurowings via Cologne.
Tashkent’s Chorsu Bazaar
Today I bring you my review of the Uzbekistan Airways Dreamliner flight from Tashkent to Seoul Incheon. Of course, this is a slightly awkward point in the journey to commence, however this ended up being the first report I edited. I hope you enjoy!
Forget London City, located a mere six kilometres by road from the centre of Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent International Airport is a true ‘city centre’ airport! Being a keen walker and aware of the fact that I would spend several hours trapped, albeit happily, in the cabin of an aircraft, the evening before my departure I took to the internet to see whether it would be feasible to attempt this journey on foot. However, with thundery showers forecast and uncertain of whether the main road to the airport would feature pavements (Uzbekistan cannot be described as the most pedestrian-friendly nation), I decided that my grand plan to trek to the airport was probably not the most sensible idea. Instead, I headed to the hotel’s reception to attempt to arrange a taxi for the following morning. Having been royally ripped off by a hotel-arranged taxi several months prior to this trip in Odessa, I approached this negotiation cautiously. Thankfully, after a short conversation, the reception staff promised to use Yandex Taxi, an Uber-like app popular across the CIS. Therefore, unless the driver had other plans I would end up paying the fare generated by the platform.
Online reviews of Tashkent Airport highlight inefficient procedures, long queues and the occasional unhelpful official. However, most of these were published before the recent changes to the airport, and, other than a long wait for bags, my arrival at the airport after my flight over from Kazakhstan was a painless experience. Nevertheless, I decided to adhere to Uzbekistan Airways and the airport’s official advice asking for passengers to arrive at the airport three hours prior to departure. However with an obsession for punctuality and my philosophy that time spent at an airport is never wasted, this, for me, is the norm. So, aiming to be there at 0645 I woke at 0550, and, after a quick shower and finishing the last of my packing I headed to reception. Here, one of the staff members ordered me a taxi. Ten minutes later, the Honda Prius of Tashkent, a tiny silver Chevrolet Spark pulled up and after clambering in we sped through the surprisingly sunny streets of Tashkent, arriving at the airport exactly eight minutes later.
Speeding through the morning streets
From the outside, it is unlikely that Tashkent Airport’s international terminal will win any architectural awards taking the form of an uninspiring mix of glass and concrete dating back to 2001. Like airports and train stations across the country, the terminal is surrounded by a tall spiked fence through which only those with official business at the facility can pass through after identity and security checks. Once I had joined a short queue, it took around five minutes to get through the first checkpoint after which I was able to proceed towards the terminal and join another queue for the second security check which would allow me to enter the terminal. Within around fifteen minutes of disembarking the taxi I found myself standing in the small, overly grey and somewhat worn looking check-in hall. With a total of nine international departures between my time of arrival at the airport and my scheduled departure time, as expected the check-in hall was busy with few places to sit down while I waited for check-in for my flight to open. Fortunately, not a great deal of time after arriving at the airport, at 0655 a robotic automated announcement rang out through the hall in Uzbek, Russian and English advertising the opening of check-in for flight HY513 to Incheon. Almost instantaneously a queue of passengers formed at the sole check-in desk allocated for the flight and, despite arriving at the queue within a minute, I found myself approximately twentieth in line to check in. Interestingly, Uzbekistan Airways seems to have a different baggage allowance for almost every single destination, however all in all this can be described as very generous. For my flight to Incheon, economy passengers were permitted to take 35kg of luggage each, and, judging by the amounts of luggage carried by my fellow passengers, most seemed to be making full use of this generous allowance. This and the single check-in desk made the experience of check-in a little frustrating. After thirty minutes of attempting to guard my position in the queue, I appeared to have moved approximately three metres towards the desk. However, all of a sudden, an airport worker dragged me away from the queue and asked me whether the small suitcase was the only piece of luggage I was travelling with. Seeing as it was, I was promoted to the front of the queue where I was greeted by a relatively friendly staff member. After a minute or so of furious typing, my Uzbekistan Airways boarding pass was printed off (this fortunately featuring my pre-selected choice of seat) and my small suitcase was tagged and sent on its way into the depths of the terminal.
Given the fact that most scathing reviews of the airport take issue with customs and immigration, I decided to head straight to the immigration booths without a further exploration of the terminal’s landside facilities. Positively, each booth appeared manned and these were queue-free. I was thus able to walk straight up to a counter and hand over my passport to one of the officers who completed the immigration formalities quickly whilst conversing in what appeared to be a chuckle filled light hearted conversation with another officer manning the neighbouring booth. After a quick and painless procedure, I headed to the third and final security check, which, like immigration was quick and efficient after which I strolled into the busy airside area.
The well-polished floors of the airside area
That morning, many passengers appeared to be connecting to India, having arrived on overnight flights from Europe, scheduled to depart on one of the trio of services that morning to the nation – these bound for Amritsar, Delhi and Mumbai. Meanwhile, alongside my flight to Korea, the other international departures consisted of two flights to Istanbul in addition to services to Almaty, Bangkok, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Moscow and Nursultan. After parting with some of my remaining Som through the purchase of a coffee, I decided to have a quick look around the relatively small terminal. Despite its size, the terminal houses a few cafes, a bar and a fast food restaurant coming in the form of the somewhat infamous TAS Burger. In addition those looking to do some shopping can do so in the duty free shop. Unlike in the landside area, seating was plentiful and multiple charging points provided. All in all, I have to say that the airside area most certainly beats the landside area – airside the terminal is relatively clean and modern, open and spacious with large windows allowing for plenty of natural light in addition to superb views of the apron and runways. However, with plenty of signs advising that photography is prohibited, I would strongly advise against any sort of aviation photography if you happen to find yourself passing through Tashkent.
I do have a couple of issues with the airport however. Firstly, whilst free wifi networks appear to be available throughout the terminal, these were non-functional for the duration of my stay. Secondly, whilst the majority of the terminal appeared to be clean and tidy, the same can unfortunately not be said for the toilets, which were in a dire state. Having exhausted all forms of entertainment in the terminal, I turned to the action outside. At that time in the morning the apron was a hive of activity, with every single active aircraft type in Uzbekistan Airways’ fleet visible. In addition, two foreign visitors were provided in the form of a pair of Airbus A330s operated by Aeroflot and Turkish Airlines.
According to the time printed on my boarding pass, boarding was scheduled to commence at 0900, however, exactly an hour prior to the flight’s departure at 0845, an automated announcement was played in the usual trio of languages (Uzbek, Russian and English) informing passengers that boarding had commenced through gate B9. Not wanting to be a last minute straggler, I promptly headed over to the gate where a large scrum of passengers could be seen in an order that very vaguely resembled a queue. Five minutes after the announcement was made, the scanning of passengers’ boarding passes commenced and after some shuffling I made it to the front of the queue. Upon handing over my boarding pass, this was scanned and returned to me as I was thanked and wished a nice flight in English by a friendly ground agent. I then headed down a flight of stairs to the ground level and boarded a boiling hot bus. Being one of the final passengers to board this, moments after stepping aboard, the doors closed and the driver cautiously pulled away from the terminal. During the short journey to the remote stand we passed the same uncomfortable Boeing 757 I had taken on the short 25 minute flight from Tashkent to Samarkand days earlier, with this aircraft now preparing for a morning flight to Amritsar.
At stand B8A, gleaming Boeing 787-8 UK78704, the then latest delivery to Uzbekistan Airways could be seen. Manufactured at Boeing’s Everett Factory, this airframe first took to the skies over Washington State on the 28th of February 2019, a little over three months prior to my flight. After receiving the airline’s colourful livery in Portland, the aircraft returned to Everett for further testing before being flown across to Central Asia in mid-April. Ignoring UK78703, Uzbekistan Airways’ Boeing 787 that had been initially bound for Royal Jordanian and thus featuring this airline’s cabin configuration, as with the airline’s other Dreamliners, UK78704 is fitted with a total of 246 seats (24 in business and 222 in economy). Comparing this to other two-class Boeing 787-8s, this is pretty average, comparable to LATAM but less than other full service carriers such as Air India, Ethiopian Airlines and Qatar Airways. In the week prior to my flight, the aircraft had flown a total of sixteen flights covering over 37000 miles, connecting Tashkent with just two destinations – Istanbul and Seoul Incheon.
Once the bus pulled up to the rear of the aircraft a short wait was required whilst a step of air stairs was driven up to the rear (4L) door of the jet. In the meantime, some entertainment was provided by an Air Astana Boeing 757 pulling up to the neighbouring stand after a relatively short flight from Nursultan. Thankfully, the wait was not too long and after just over a couple of minutes, passengers began to spill off the bus and onto the apron. With boarding permitted through both the 2L and 4L doors, whilst being seated in the rear economy cabin I opted to head to the former which allowed for a good view of one of the massive GEnx-1B engines that would propel us across Asia that day. Having read plenty of reports of those brave enough to openly photograph aircraft on Tashkent’s apron and the usual backlash received from the security guards which consists of the forced deletion of these photos, I was somewhat hesitant to take any. However, seeing as several passengers were openly taking selfies without intervention from any of the multiple security guards overseeing the boarding process, I decided to quickly get a few shots of the aircraft.
Prior to boarding, a short wait in the morning heat (already exceeding 30 degrees) was required on the steps before I was able to step into the icy cold cabin. Whilst this was temporarily refreshing, the cool temperatures onboard soon became a little uncomfortable. As passengers stepped into the aircraft, the crew demanded to see all boarding passes and I was given instructions on how to reach my seat in Russian. Turning right, I passed through a single row of business, isolated from the rest of the business class cabin by a galley before reaching the economy cabin. As I made my way to my seat, a lesser known Elton John song was played loudly and continued to do so on repeat for the next twenty minutes or so until the welcome announcement was conducted and again until we were moments away from take-off. I reached row 33 where my window seat was already occupied. This was an innocent mistake on the part of the aisle seat passenger and they were more than happy to switch seats after I showed them my boarding pass.
Not the most luxurious business class but definitely more luxurious than economy
The rear of the rear economy class cabin
As one would expect from a brand new Boeing 787, the cabin was airy and bright, with very subtle moodlighting partially illuminating the cabin during boarding. On this aircraft, each economy seat is covered in a basic blue fabric and features an adjustable headrest covered by a fabric headrest cover on which Uzbekistan Airways’ logo is printed. Each seat also features a high quality Thales’ AVANT PTV as well as a USB port. However those looking to power up their laptop inflight may be slightly disappointed to hear that I was unable to find any plug sockets around the seat area. Aside from that, my only complaint was that despite being a flight of moderate length, neither pillows nor blankets were provided for passengers – although these were later handed out (albeit rather poorly as I shall later discuss). Focusing on the seat, this was well-padded and comfortable and the amount of legroom was reasonable. Unsurprisingly given the aircraft’s age, the cabin appeared to be in pristine condition with no marks or scratches visible. In addition, importantly, the cabin appeared to have been immaculately cleaned during its overnight stay on the ground in Tashkent. Turning to the seat back pockets, these were filled with a sick bag, a copy of the airline’s inflight magazine as well as the safety card, personalised for those Dreamliners delivered directly from Boeing, UK78701 and UK78702 (obviously printed before the delivery of this aircraft).
The safety card
A closer look at the seat fabric
Soon enough, all those who had travelled across the apron on the first bus had taken their seats and after some waiting, at 0915, the second and final bus pulled up to the aircraft. Once again, the aisles became crowded. Fortunately, seeing as much of the passengers’ luggage had been checked in, there was no jostling for space in the overhead lockers. Within ten minutes of the second bus arriving at the aircraft, most passengers were seated and strapped into their seats. Focusing on my co-passengers, that morning the flight was around 75% full with approximately 95% of the load consisting of Uzbek nationals. Half of whom seemed to be families residing in Korea and the other half workers, some solo and some travelling in groups. Meanwhile the remaining 5% appeared to consist of passengers from Kazakhstan, Korea and Russia. Given the number of Korean companies with ties to Uzbekistan and the nation’s rising status as a tourist destination, one may be surprised at the lack of Koreans onboard however, I imagine this group may make up a larger proportion of the load on Asiana and Korean Air’s regular flights. With all passengers onboard, the rearmost rows of the aircraft entirely empty and my aisle seat neighbour now standing and doing some stretches, seeking an entire row to myself I asked a passing crew whether I could move seats. Not making for the best start to the flight, I was given an angry glance and some stern words in a harsh tone consisting of 'you have a boarding pass, you have a seat number!'.
Waiting to go
Thanks to the early start to boarding, with twenty minutes until our scheduled departure time, all passengers were onboard and there was little to do but sit and wait. During this time the crew came around with plastic cups of water and Elton John was temporarily interrupted whilst the purser performed a tri-lingual welcome announcement. This contained all the usual details including the weather in Seoul and the flight time, which would be a short five hours and forty minutes, with the majority of the flight taking place over China. Immediately afterwards the moodlighting was dimmed and the safety video played three times in Uzbek, Russian and English – this seeming to be presented in an updated format to the one played on my Boeing 757 flight with the airline. Despite the fact the flight was bound for Korea, there was neither a Korean version of this, nor were any Korean subtitles present – however, considering there were hardly any Korean passengers onboard, this was perhaps hardly a necessity for that particular flight. Finally, given the date of the flight, once the safety videos came to a close, an announcement was made in Uzbek and English wishing all onboard a happy Ramadan and ‘health and happiness forever’ as the crew came around making their final checks.
Meanwhile outside the aircraft the security guards departed and the cones around the aircraft were removed indicating our impending departure. At 0938, a full seven minutes prior to our scheduled departure time, the cabin was filled with electrical whirring and whining sounds before the aircraft’s two massive engines powered up into life, accompanied by a reasonable amount of vibration. Once our flaps were partially extended and after a short hold for the Bangkok-bound Boeing 767 to taxi past, our aircraft propelled itself forward out of the stand and commenced a very short journey to runway 8L. During the taxi, the occupier of seat 32B reclined, and, despite sitting directly opposite two of the crew members, nothing was said – indicating either they did not notice this or they did not care. A couple of minutes after leaving the stand, with no holding our aircraft entered the active runway and performed a gentle rolling take-off.
Seeing as I was sitting on the left hand side of the aircraft, as we accelerated down the runway I was offered a fantastic view of the vast array of the diverse and interesting types that are stored at the airport, unfortunately unlikely to ever take to the skies again. These include types such as the Antonov 2, Avro RJ85, Ilyushin 76, Ilyushin 114, Tupolev 154 and Yak-40. If only I had visited Uzbekistan in the not too distant past, I would have had the opportunity to sample flights on these classic aircraft. After what seemed like a short take off roll, our aircraft rotated upwards, bringing Tashkent’s into view. Given the fact that the city is located in an active seismic area, the city’s skyline is largely flat however the tall television tower could easily be spotted as we rose up into the skies. Moments later Tashkent’s other airfield, Tashkent Vostochny appeared, where a cluster of Soviet built aircraft could be seen on the ground. After this we left Tashkent behind and passed over the dry-looking Chirchiq River and headed out over the green fields which turned dustier in colour as we headed away from the capital.
Gradually the landscape below rose up into hills before transforming into rather impressive snow-capped jagged mountains as we headed towards the eastern end of Uzbekistan. As we neared our cruising altitude of 39000 feet, the seat belt signs were switched off and the crew made another announcement, this time giving the usual warnings regarding the usage of seatbelts and the prohibition of smoking on board the aircraft. As this was being made, the crew members came around distributing non-branded headphones - the usual cheap type that can be found on airlines across the world. Once these had been handed out, the crew came around distributing pillows and blankets, however, the crew did a terrible job at the distribution of these, missing out several rows, including mine. Given Tashkent's location - squished into the northeast corner of Uzbekistan, only fifteen minutes into the flight, our aircraft passed over Namangan before heading into Kyrgyz airspace. As we passed over Kyrgyzstan, the voice of the reassuringly calm sounding Captain Igor filled the cabin who informed us all of our flight’s cruising altitude, flight time and expected arrival time of 1925 in Russian and English.
Less impressive than the scenery - the cheap earphones
At 1030 the pre-lunch drinks service commenced and I was soon approached by one of the crew members. Without any words I was given another angry glance, seeing this as my cue to ask for a drink, I requested an orange juice which was poured right to the brim and then shoved in my direction, causing it both to spill both on the aisle seat occupier and the middle seat. In addition to this, I was also handed a packet of peanuts, a wetwipe and a serviette. Seeing as the aisle seat occupier received the exact same cold service, I did not take this too personally. As I drank this, I admired the landscape of rural Kyrgyzstan before this was swallowed by clouds which parted around fifteen minutes later upon entering Chinese airspace.
The pre-lunch service
As soon as the initial drinks service had been concluded, the crew got to work distributing the early lunch/late breakfast, or rather brunch service. That morning the options consisted of chicken or plov. Seeing as I would likely not have the opportunity to enjoy Uzbekistan’s national dish anytime in the near future without parting with a fair amount, I opted for the latter. This was handed to me in a standard foil container along with a plastic box containing a wide selection of side dishes – namely, a selection of meats, a salad, a meat pastry, a bread roll, cherries, a slice of coconut cake and a packet of dried apricots. Meanwhile condiments came in the form of apricot jam, butter, cheese spread and mustard. Overall, whilst the presentation left a little to be desired, the sheer quantity of food was somewhat impressive. I soon pulled back the metal lid of the main dish and found a reasonably sized portion of meat plov staring back at me. Taste wise, this was fairly reasonable however the rice seemed a little dry, likewise the side dishes were all of acceptable quality.
Great views accompanying lunch
During the service, the impressive and diverse landscapes of Xinjiang flew past below however this was soon temporarily blocked by the clouds. As I ate this,several gaps in the clouds enabled me to enjoy the impressive and diverse landscapes of Xinjiang below. Around fifteen minutes after being handed our food, a drinks round was made (albeit only a tea and coffee) before the remains of the service were taken away. By the time the lunch was over, clouds had come in once again beneath the aircraft blocking any view of the impressive and diverse landscapes of Xinjiang. Aside from overtaking the Boeing 767 that had taxied ahead of the aircraft on the ground in Tashkent, little entertainment was provided by the world outside. I thus decided to turn to the IFE system. As always with the Thales system, I found screen responsive and the picture quality impressive. Whilst Uzbekistan Airways has a fairly wide-reaching network of flights, the system is only available in Uzbek, Russian and English. As one may expect, content-wise the system is much more modest than those of most major airlines with a grand total of 25 films (these originating in France, Hollywood, Russia and Uzbekistan), 28 albums/playlists (split into six categories - classical, jazz, new age, pop, rock and Uzbek), ten games and eight pages of information relating to Uzbekistan. Interestingly, television programmes served to be entirely absent. Last but not least, wifi is also available for purchase onboard the aircraft, requiring a voucher code from the crew. This comes in a range of packages, starting at 5.95 USD for 20MB up to a hefty 52.95 USB for 220MB.
Racing the Bangkok-bound Boeing 767
Plenty of Russian films
An information page about the airline
Next, I turned to the pristine copy of the summer 2019 issue of Uzbekistan Airways’ self-titled magazine. Whilst not wanting to deny the presence of adverts in this, these appeared to be minimal, largely limited to the very first and last few pages. After skipping past the adverts, I arrived at an interesting nine page feature dedicated to the airline’s new Airbus A320Neos and expanding Dreamliner fleet. After this, a selection of well written and interesting articles on topics pertaining to both art and culture and sport could be found, these written by a selection of Uzbek journalists and academics. Last but not least, a full timetable of the airline’s flights as well as seat maps for the airline’s aircraft, office locations and a route map could be found at the end of the magazine. Whilst Uzbek may be the official language of the nation, all articles are published in two languages only – English and Russian. Unlike some airlines who see their inflight magazine as just another source of advertising revenue, it appeared as if Uzbekistan Airways actually cared about the quality of this. As such, I can conclude that this issue was one of the more interesting and well written inflight magazines I have had the pleasure of reading.
An interesting spread detailing the airline’s latest deliveries
By the time I had explored the reasonable entertainment options the land below was visible once again, from the left hand side of the aircraft I received good views of the city of Changji, identifiable thanks to the large and impressive Xinjiang Grand Theatre before we continued our journey over the orange sands of the Taklamakan Desert. Around this time, the crew came around with customs forms (however lacked the necessary immigration forms). With these only available in English, realising I speak this, three passengers sitting around my seat, all of whom were bound for a construction site in rural Korea, handed me their passports and work-related documents and asked me to fill in their forms on their behalf. Once this was done, I returned the correct passport and form to the correct passenger and ensured they signed this so as not to cause them any delays upon arrival.
The small city of Changji
Meanwhile below, Urumqi passed by before the impressive peaks of the Bogda Shan mountain range came into view. After flying over the desert once again, the clouds rolled in and blocked the view for the next hour. By the time the clouds cleared around an hour later, the landscape below continued to consist of desert with the occasional patch of rocky mountains with few signs of life below bar the G7 road which runs all the way from Urumqi to Beijing. At 1315, or 1715 KST as I shall use from now on in this report, signs of life were spotted when the sand dunes transformed into sandy coloured fields - these bearing a resemblance to those we had left behind in Central Asia. After flying over the Inner Mongolian town of Dengkou and brown coloured Yellow River the landscape once again transformed to uncultivated desserts for several minutes until we neared the city of Baotou, the largest city in Inner Mongolia. From here our aircraft flew parallel with the Yin Mountains and over Hohot before the skies clouded once again.
Given the sheer quantity of food each passenger had been served during the meal service, I was not expecting too much in terms of a snack service given the length of the flight. However, at 1725, the purser announced that a snack service would commence shortly. Immediately after this was made, the crew proceeded to angrily dish out small cheese sandwiches in the usual unfriendly manner before passing around the cabin with tea and coffee. I opted for the latter which was handed to me with a sachet of powdered milk. Whilst texture and taste wise the cheese resembled plastic, despite the quality, I found it hard to complain about the fact that a second round of service was offered on this relatively short flight.
As is usually the case when approaching Seoul from Central Asia, Europe or the Middle East, after a long crossing of China, our aircraft gently skirted around Beijing before heading almost directly southwards and then suddenly turning eastwards towards Tianjin. In clear conditions, this route allows for absolute fantastic views of Beijing for those on the right side of the aircraft and of Tianjin for those on the left. Unfortunately however, that day the thick clouds below meant no such views could be had as we headed over the urban sprawls of the region. With little to see outside, and with just over an hour left to go until our arrival, I decided to make my second and final trip to the toilet. After a long wait, I headed inside one of the cubicles that sits in between the front and rear economy cabins. Despite nearing the end of the flight, upon entering I was pleased to find the toilet in a clean and presentable condition. One other interesting observation from my visit was that, unlike on the airline’s Boeing 757 that I had sampled, there was no written signage in either of the two lavatories I visited, with all signs limited to symbols only. Whilst this may perhaps be to cater to a wide spectrum of nationalities, it also seemed somewhat generic as if Boeing had either lacked an Uzbek speaking translator or as if they had been unsure of who the aircraft was destined for until the last minute.
Turning near Beijing
Once back in my seat an announcement was made in Uzbek and English informing us that the aircraft would commence its descent imminently and asked all passengers to return to their seats and fasten their seatbelts. In addition a stern reminder that the blankets and pillows remained property of the airline was also made prior to the crew passing around the cabin to collect these. After passing through the Bohai Straight to the south of Dalian and north of Yantai, the aircraft neared the Korean Peninsula, carefully making its way around North Korean airspace. With fifty minutes to go until landing, our aircraft began its slow and gently step descent. Meanwhile at the front of the cabin, several crew members appeared to be fighting with a bassinet which appeared to be impossible to remove from the bulkhead. After a few minutes of attempting to remove this, a crew member wearing a first officer’s uniform (but perhaps a flying engineer) appeared and removed this with ease before retreating to the front of the aircraft. As the dusk rapidly approached, the Boeing 787 smoothly descended through the first layer of cloud bringing the West Sea into view as we sank below 10000 feet. Beneath our aircraft, several of the islands that lay off the coast of Incheon came into view as well as a flotilla of fishing vessels presumably on their way out to sea for the night.
As we neared the airport, the aircraft proceeded to do a loop around the island of Deokjeok with the speedbrakes extending, increasing our descent rate as we neared the end of this. After flying north, our aircraft turned onto the base leg for Incheon’s runway 15L no more than twenty kilometres from the border with North Korea as our flaps were extended as we sank down towards the airport. Eventually the gear was extended with a thump and the purser made an announcement reminding us to keep our seat belt fastened until the aircraft arrived at the gate. As we neared the airport our aircraft passed the islands of Jangbongdo, Modo, Sido, Shindo, before floating over the seawall of Yeongjong Island and the road that loops around the airport and flying past a couple of stored Korean Air Cargo Boeing 747-400Fs.
At 1934, after a smooth approach the aircraft made a bumpy touchdown, five hours and forty nine minutes after lifting off from Tashkent. This was followed by some rather heavy braking as we slowed alongside the Incheon’s massive cargo terminals where the usual selection of Korean (Air Incheon, Asiana Cargo, Korean Air Cargo) and American (FedEx, Polar Air Cargo and UPS) jets could be seen. A short while later the aircraft taxied off the runway and proceeded towards Terminal 1 at a slow pace indicating that we may have been following a follow-me car or simply that the pilots were treating this new jet with extreme care. As soon as we left the runway, rainbow moodlighting suddenly illuminated the cabin before the purser performed a tri-lingual announcement, welcoming us to Korea and thanking us all for flying with Uzbekistan Airways. After which Elton John rang out on repeat throughout the cabin once again. In spite of the purser’s pre-arrival announcement asking for passengers to remain seated, plenty of passengers seemed to stand up as we taxied, those brave enough to do so receiving a stern telling off from the crew.
As we taxied I was pleased to see the aircraft turn towards the masses of Asiana jets, indicating that we would be using the main area of Terminal 1 as opposed to the satellite terminal, this theoretically allowing for a quick transit out of the airport. Ten minutes after touching down, the Dreamliner pulled into gate 33, the engines spooled down and the main cabin lights were switched on. Once at the gate, a single jetway was connected to the aircraft very quickly and as a result disembarkation began no more than a few minutes after pulling into the gate. Despite the fact that many of the passengers appeared to have large amounts of hand luggage, perhaps desperate to escape, passengers left the aircraft at an impressive rate. Whilst I had been sitting in the rear economy cabin, I managed to exit the aircraft a mere eight minutes after our arrival. After walking past two crew members who seemed to spend the entire disembarkation process glancing angrily at passengers without saying a word, I stepped onto the glass jetway and up into Incheon’s older yet still bright, clean and modern terminal – passing underneath the TV screen featuring the Korean and Uzbek flags, welcoming passengers to Korea.
Pulling into the gate
Whilst I cannot deny that the journey to immigration was substantially quicker than had I arrived at the satellite terminal, a significant walk was still needed in order to reach immigration. This took me past a host of Asiana Airlines’ aircraft ranging in size from the Airbus A321 to the Airbus A380 as well as an EVA Air Airbus A330 sporting the Badtz-Maru livery ready to return to Taipei. Having made a quick walk and overtaken many of my flight’s passengers, the immigration area was largely empty, however before making my way towards a counter, I did need to fill out one of the immigration forms usually handed out on the aircraft. After doing so, I was guided towards a queue and proceeded to wait. Whilst there were only three passengers in front of me, all of whom had arrived from Tashkent, the officer manning the desk to where I had been sent seemed to be thoroughly interrogating each passenger – sending all three away for further questioning. After a longer than expected wait, I approached the desk and handed over my passport. Here, I also received some questions in Korean about my previous visits to Korea, starting in English but then switching over mid-interrogation to Korean. After this initial language practice, as with all non-Koreans arriving I had my fingerprints and photo taken before I was allowed to enter Korea.
Fifteen minutes after stepping off the aircraft, I arrived in the baggage claim hall and proceeded to the carousel 20 where my small suitcase could already be seen spinning around. After picking this up, I had this X-rayed at customs before entering the landside area and heading down to the AREX station in order to catch the all-stop train into Seoul bring my second and final flight with Uzbekistan Airways to a close.
A couple of photos from Seoul to finish
To conclude, the six hours I spent in one of Uzbekistan Airways’ Dreamliners, was not an overly negative experience. The aircraft was modern, clean and comfortable, the inflight entertainment system whilst a little lacking in content worked well without any glitches and the catering was impressively plentiful if not a little varying in quality. However, undoubtedly the crew very much let the airline down on this flight. Having hoped for a positive experience given the reasonably polite and friendly crew that had worked the flight to Samarkand I had taken with the airline, not a single crew member I interacted with onboard the flight to Incheon seemed not only not happy to be at work but was also somewhat aggressive. Would I fly with the airline again? If the price was right, then probably – the carrier delivered both myself and my bag to Korea on time and in one piece, however next time I would hope for a better set of crew onboard the aircraft.
Thank you very much for reading this report! Here are my others if you’re interested
OTHER TRIP REPORTS
Korea DomesticAir Philip ERJ-145 Gimpo-GwangjuAsiana Boeing 767 Gimpo-JejuAir Busan A320 Busan-JejuJeju Air Boeing 737-800 Busan-JejuJin Air Boeing 777-200ER Jeju-GimpoKorean Air Airbus A330-300 Jeju to BusanKorean Air Boeing 747-400 Gimpo to JejuKorean Air Boeing 787-9 Gimpo-Jeju (INAUGURAL KOREAN AIR BOEING 787 FLIGHT)
Short HaulBek Air Fokker 100 Almaty-AstanaChina Southern Airbus A321 Beijing-Xi’anCityjet Avro RJ85 London City-CorkFar Eastern Air Transport MD-80 Taipei Songshan-MakungIberia Airbus A350 Madrid-Heathrow (INAUGURAL IBERIA A350 FLIGHT)Jeju Air Boeing 737-800 Daegu-BeijingJoy Air Xian MA60 Yantai-Dalian-YantaiMeridiana MD-80 Olbia-GatwickMotor Sich Yak-40 Kiev-OdessaLucky Air Airbus A320 Lijiang-KunmingSouthern Sky Airlines Antonov 24RV Almaty-Balkhash-AstanaThai Airways Boeing 777-300 Bangkok-PhuketTibet Airlines Airbus A320 Kunming-LijiangUkraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 Kiev-IstanbulV Air Airbus A320 Taipei-Busan
Medium HaulAir India Boeing 787-8 Incheon-Hong KongChina Eastern Boeing 737-800 Incheon-KunmingChina Southern Boeing 777-200 Urumqi-BeijingKorean Air Boeing 737-800 Incheon-KunmingSCAT Boeing 737-500 Xi’an-AlmatyVietjet Airbus A320 Ho Chi Minh City-Taipei
Long HaulChina Southern Airbus A330-200 Istanbul-UrumqiChina Southern/Korean Air B777/A321/A330 Seoul-DubaiKLM Cityhopper/KLM Fokker 70 and 747 Combi Humberside-Amsterdam-Seoul IncheonKorean Air A380 Seoul Incheon-Paris CDGOman Air Airbus A330-300 and Boeing 787-8 Heathrow-Muscat-BangkokThai Airways Bangkok-Karachi-MuscatVietnam Airlines Airbus A350 and Boeing 787-9 Heathow-Hanoi-Seoul Incheon
Somewhere between Korea and the UK.