Hello everyone, this is the first part of my journey from Busan to Berlin via Ulaanbaatar and Moscow Sheremetyevo with MIAT Mongolian. The second part of the journey from Mongolia to Germany onboard a MIAT Boeing 767 turned out to be rather eventful and you can read more about it on my blog
- I do plan on uploading this to A.net sometime though! Hope you all enjoy this report!
At the time of my flight, with a small fleet of Boeing 737s and Boeing 767s, connecting Ulaanbaatar with a grand total of ten destinations, MIAT Mongolian Airlines can hardly be described as a one of the world’s major flag carrier airlines. Nevertheless, having previously come across MIAT aircraft across the world in Germany, Japan and Korea, I was very much intrigued by the airline and sought to one day fly the carrier and combine this with a trip to Mongolia. Whilst I had previously examined MIAT Mongolian’s options between Europe and Korea, my former attempts to book flights with the airline failed thanks to their comparatively extortionate ticket prices when compared to other options.
However, having booked a series of one-way flights from Europe to Uzbekistan and then onwards to Korea, I needed to find a relatively reasonably priced way of getting back to Europe and that end of my Eurasian flying adventure of June 2019. As I had expected, when searching for flights, China’s three major carriers (Air China, China Eastern and China Southern) topped the list with the cheapest fares via Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou respectively. However, having already flown on the latter two airlines and suffered from the occasional disastrous experience with both, and, in no rush to sample the former, I continued to experiment with various itineraries. Eventually, for a little over £100 more, I constructed an itinerary that would allow me to sample flights aboard MIAT’s Boeing 737-800 and Boeing 767-300ER. This involved departing Busan on a Thursday afternoon onboard MIAT’s then twice-weekly service to Mongolia. After two days in the Mongolian capital, I would then depart on one of the airline’s Boeing 767-300ER for a flight to Berlin Tegel via Moscow Sheremetyevo.
Whilst I usually prefer to book directly with the airline, given MIAT’s lack of a multi-city function on their website, and the extortionate cost of booking the two flights separately (over £600), I was left with no other option but to book via one of the booking sites. Attracted by a 2% cashback deal, which I could then convert to BA miles at a favourable rate, I decided to book via Opodo in spite of the fact that tickets on this site were offered at a marginally higher price of £308.99 when compared to those offered by other online travel agencies. After selecting the flights and entering my details, I was presented with a couple of seat maps where I could select seats for £9.14 per flight. After declining the offer as well as several other add-ons, I entered my card details and following thirty seconds or so, my booking was confirmed and I received a confirmation email within five minutes or so.
Initially formed in 1956, for the first few decades of their operations, MIAT Mongolian’s fleet was composed solely of Soviet built aircraft types. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union and Mongolia’s Communist regime in 1990 brought some change to the airline’s fleet with MIAT acquiring Harbin Y-12s and two former Korean Air Boeing 727s, later adding an Airbus A310 in 1998. The turn of the millennium brought with it further fleet modernisation with the addition of Boeing 737NGs to replace the airline’s Boeing 727s and the retirement of their Antonov and Harbin aircraft. More recent developments include the introduction of Boeing 767s and the retirement of their sole Airbus A310 as well as the recent introduction of the first of three brand new Boeing 737 MAX-8 aircraft (although at the time of writing, this aircraft is currently grounded). At the time of my flight, MIAT’s flying fleet consisted of one Boeing 737-700, three Boeing 737-800s and two Boeing 767-300ERs, with a fairly standard average fleet age of 12 years. Whilst Ulaanbaatar is perfectly placed to operate as a hub for those flying between East Asia and Europe, their network of routes remains rather limited, although in early 2019 the airline announced its intention to commence services to Abu Dhabi, Chengdu, Munich and Shanghai, with the long term goal of opening up a route to the US, although at the time of writing all of these remain a pipedream for the carrier.
Whilst I cannot comment on the booking engine feature of the airline’s website, the site appears to be modern and easy-to-use, with all the features one would expect from an airline’s website. Despite being available in Mongolian only, one particularly interesting, and perhaps reassuring feature for those nervous flyers is the website’s inclusion of MIAT’s flight safety magazine. Whilst not of particular concern to myself, in spite of MIAT’s services to China, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and Russia, the airline’s website is only available in English and Mongolian. In addition to their website, the airline appears to be fairly active on Facebook, with relatively frequent updates and promotions posted onto their official page (with an impressive 72k followers). Meanwhile on Instagram, whilst there are several accounts which appear to be associated with MIAT, at the time of writing only the airline’s Hong Kong based account appeared to be somewhat active.
Shortly after I had arrived in Busan onboard a Korean Air Airbus A220, I received an email informing me that three days later, my flight to Mongolia would be delayed from 1305 to 1810, however, allowing for more time in what is perhaps my favourite city in the world, I could not really complain about this.
Looking towards Haeundae
Hoping to secure a window seat, and with no option to do so during the online booking process, as per usual I opted to check-in online. Fortunately online check-in for all of MIAT’s flights opens 48 hours prior to departure, and I decided to do so via the airline’s app. Upon entering my surname and booking reference I was transported to the usual summary of prohibited materials and after confirming I would not attempt to transport these I was taken to an overview of my booking. Noting that I had been automatically assigned an aisle seat, I opened up the seat map in order to select another seat. Thankfully, this showed a sea of empty seats and so I selected seat 23A before entering all the required API data. Once this was done, the check-in process was completed and I received a PDF boarding pass via email almost instantly. All in all, my online check-in experience was as quick and easy as that of any major airline and so I was left with nothing to complain about at this stage of the trip.
Given my fondness for Busan, had I had no commitments back in the UK I could have easily stayed in Korea’s coastal hub for another few weeks or months. Fortunately, the excitement of travelling to a new country with, what was for me, a rare airline, assisted in alleviating the gloom of leaving Busan. Plus, MIAT’s last minute schedule change enabled me to spend a few extra hours in the city before I made the journey up to Mongolia. Having spent much of my stay on the beaches, coastal walkways and mountains at the eastern end of the city around Gwangan and Haeundae, that morning, I decided to have a leisurely stroll around Nampo at the opposite end of the city. This district is a popular tourist hotspot that sits around the city’s main station, however my choice to visit that day was mainly based on the fact that it is somewhat closer to the airport. After leaving my AirBnb at around 1000, I caught a Line 2 subway westwards, changing once in Seomyeon onto Line 1 before eventually arriving at Nampo. Still with a small suitcase in tow, as I had planned, I left this in a locker at the station before I headed up into the warm morning air. Despite spending the second week of June in Korea, I had been very lucky in the fact that the weather for much of my stay had been very spring like, with the boiling hot days and humidity of summer yet to arrive. However, that day, things appeared to be changing and the weather was forecast to transform from the low to high twenties over the following few days.
After stopping for a coffee, having a decent wander around and a spot of light lunch in the form of a convenience store dosirak (lunch box), it was time to head over to Gimhae Airport. Whilst a direct bus service from Nampo to the airport exists, this is a local bus and so seats are not guaranteed, plus making plenty of stops, this takes around an hour. Seeing as I was carrying a suitcase, I opted to take the quicker albeit less geographically direct metro option. Thus, after collecting my suitcase, at around 1400 I stepped onto a crowded yet spotlessly clean and well air-conditioned vintage Line 1 train dating back to the 1980s. After riding a small fraction of the 40.5 kilometre line the train pulled into Seomyeon Station where I transferred onto a Line 2 service bound for the city of Yangsan. However, in order to reach the airport, one final transfer was needed, this taking place in Sasang where I headed above ground and boarded a driverless Busan-Gimhae Light Rail train. At 1445, several short minutes after leaving Sasang, the train pulled into Busan Gimhae Airport’s dedicated station and like many onboard, I disembarked and took the escalators down to the ground floor level.
Boarding the BGLRT for the short hop
Pulling into the elevated airport station
The international terminal’s unimpressive façade
Seeing as the airport’s station conveniently sits opposite the airport’s two terminals, connected to both via covered walkways, I did not have far to lug my luggage until I entered the ground floor arrivals level of the international terminal. With a fair amount of time to go prior to my departure, as I had suspected, the check-in desks for MIAT’s flight to Ulaanbaatar were yet to open. I thus decided to pass the time by having a wander around the terminal before taking a seat on the upper level. That afternoon, a respectable total of thirteen international flights could be seen on the departure boards prior to the scheduled departure time to Ulaanbaatar. However, despite this, the landside portion of the terminal did not appear to be particularly busy with plenty of places to sit and only a few short queues viewable at several check-in desks. Moving on to the facilities provided in this portion of the terminal, multiple cafes, restaurants and shops could be found with most of these being chain stores such as Lotteria, Holly's Coffee and Tous Les Jours. Having already had lunch, I headed to Tous Les Jours where I ordered an overpriced coffee, cautiously sipping this as I surfed the airport’s quick and reliable wifi network. Upon doing so, I opened up a flight tracking app and was pleased to see that the inbound flight had made an early departure from Mongolia and was well on its way to Busan.
The international terminal’s check-in hall
By 1525, four Air Korea staff members donned in Korean Air’s former ground staff uniform arrived at the four check-in desks reserved for MIAT’s early evening service and a small queue leading up to these could be seen. With the opening of these desks appearing imminent and not wanting to get left behind, I headed downstairs by which time the first passengers appeared to have been called forward to the desks. Interestingly, there were no separate desks for those flying in business class or for those who had checked-in online. However, seeing as I was not flying in business and as the queue was relatively short, I could not make any complaints about this. As I slowly shuffled forwards, I found myself standing behind a group of weary looking middle aged adventure travellers from the US armed with piles of large trekking bags. Whilst the presence of such passengers was far from surprising given Mongolia’s status as a popular adventure holiday destination, I could not help but notice the luggage labels on their bags. These revealed that the passengers had flown with Japan Airlines from the US to Tokyo Narita, connecting onwards to Busan where they had arrived that morning on one of the airline’s Boeing 737-800s. Whilst this is not the most indirect route, I couldn't help but think that flying to Ulaanbaatar with Air China via Beijing or Korean Air via Incheon would have saved them the hassle of an extra stop. However, who knows, maybe they were aviation enthusiasts like me, eager to sample the delights of Mongolia’s national carrier.
After a ten minute wait, I arrived at one of the desks where I was greeted by a friendly check-in agent. After some typing, my passport and Mongolian visa were checked before a Korean Air branded boarding pass and baggage tag were printed off. After the gate and boarding time were circled in the usual manner, I was advised that boarding would be undertaken via a bus before being sent on my way. Following a brief stop at a spotlessly clean toilet block, I headed through to security and immigration. Thanks to the efficient staff and the fact that I was not carrying any significant electronic items or liquids in my bag, I was able to pass through the security check within a couple of minutes. However, seeing as only two out of the ten immigration desks reserved for those with foreign passports were manned, officially exiting Korea took a little longer to do. This served to be the exact opposite of Incheon Airport where I find security can take a little longer to pass through but once this check is done, I am usually able to walk up to an immigration desk without any queuing. That said, seeing as I made it to the airside area in a little under 25 minutes after joining the check-in queue, I am not entirely qualified to complain about waiting.
Having undergone a significant extension since my last visit in October 2014, I found the airside portion of Gimhae Airport’s international terminal to be spacious with plenty of shops, cafes and restaurants. Crucially, despite being a little busy, I found plenty of places to sit, plus those needing to power or charge their devices will be pleased to hear that a good number of plug and USB sockets can be spotted throughout the terminal. As I have found is usually the case at Korean airports, the terminal appeared to be spotlessly clean throughout. My only real complaint about the terminal being that thanks to multiple layers of glass, any decent photography of aircraft outside the terminal is a little difficult. However of course, this is only an issue for the relatively small number of aviation enthusiast passengers and I thus doubt that most who pass through the terminal will complain about this!
The airside international departures hall
Having seen almost 111000 movements in 2018, Busan Gimhae Airport is Korea’s fourth busiest, and that afternoon, a relatively constant stream of traffic was present. As one would expect, many of the aircraft outside could be seen wearing the mostly silver livery of hometown airline, Air Busan. In addition with plenty of flights to both domestic and international destinations, as well as a large maintenance facility on the opposite side of the airfield, a significant number of Korean Air aircraft ranging in size from their small Airbus A220-300s to one of their Boeing 747-8s could be seen. Alongside aircraft from these two carriers, a fair few aircraft from Korea’s LCCs could be seen heading to and from the domestic terminal, as well as a couple of Asiana Airlines Airbus A320s operating geographically domestic but technically international flights to Incheon. Finally, in addition, Airbus A320s from China Eastern, China Southern, Dragonair and Peach were visible during my stay as was a Shanghai Airlines Boeing 737-800. Like many of Korea’s regional airports, Busan Gimhae Airport is also home to several squadrons of ROKAF aircraft, with the military portion of the airfield serving to be one of the largest of the force’s bases. Specifically this is home to a selection of military tanker, transport and AWACS squadrons. Thus, as I waited, several locally based ROKAF CASA and Hercules aircraft could be seen practicing all manner of interesting approaches and departures.
A sharkletted Air Busan waiting to head off for a very short flight to Fukuoka
After a reasonable wait, at 1650 I watched as one of the six aircraft in MIAT Mongolian Airlines’ fleet came floating down over the Nakdong River estuary before making a smoky touchdown on runway 36L. The aircraft’s arrival came a reassuring twenty minutes ahead of schedule (or almost five hours late, depending which way you see it). That evening, the aircraft taking me up to Mongolia would be Irish registered Boeing 737-8AS, EI-CSG. This particular aircraft took its first flight over the skies of the Northwestern US in May 2000, and, as you may have guessed from the aircraft’s customer code, this began its commercial life with Ryanair a short time later. At the time, this was the seventh Boeing 737-800 to be delivered to the airline, with Boeing 737-200s then forming the backbone of the low cost carrier’s fleet. After eight years of flying around the skies of Europe, during which time the aircraft was fitted with winglets, in April 2008 the aircraft was flown to Southend. Here, the aircraft’s Ryanair titles and tail motif were replaced by those of MIAT however the basic Ryanair colours were retained. Christened with the name Ogedei Khaan (the third son of Genghis Khan), the aircraft headed to Asia to commence its new life with MIAT Mongolian Airlines. Once here, the aircraft soon received a more permanent white and blue livery which lacked Ryanair’s yellow before being painted into the airline’s current livery in late 2011. Since spring 2008, the aircraft has been flying with MIAT, however during summers between 2015 and 2018, EI-CSG operated stints transporting European holiday makers on behalf of Czech carrier Travel Service Airlines. In its current configuration, this particular Boeing 737 is capable of carrying up to 174 passengers (162 in economy and 12 in business) and operates mostly on flights from Ulaanbaatar to destinations across Northeast Asia. However the aircraft has occasionally been used on MIAT’s only year round connection to Europe, their service to Berlin Tegel via Moscow Sheremetyevo. In the week prior to my flight the aircraft had operated a total of 31 flights, covering over 28000 miles, connecting Ulaanbaatar with Beijing, Busan, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Khanbumbat, Seoul Incheon and Tokyo Narita.
After a long walk around the rectangular terminal, at 1725 I headed over to gate 6 which is located in the middle of the twelve gate terminal. True to neither the boarding time given on my boarding pass, nor the information given on the FIDS, boarding commenced at 1730. At this time, I joined the short queue of eager passengers and soon had my boarding pass scanned and passport checked before I was allowed to head down the stairs and onto the waiting Air Korea bus. Whilst many airlines and handling companies enjoy squeezing as many passengers as is physically possible onto buses, that day this proved not to be the case. With a seemingly constant shuttle of buses heading to and from the aircraft, the bus doors slid shut with a fair few vacant seats and we soon headed off. Upon pulling away from the terminal, the bus headed down the relatively empty flight line. During this journey, we passed two modern aircraft both being prepared for the 140 mile hop down to Fukuoka- a sharklet-equipped Air Busan Airbus A321 and a Korean Air Airbus A220-300.
A short time after leaving the terminal, at 1740 the bus slowed as it neared an Air Busan Airbus A320 before arriving at stand 20 where the MIAT Boeing 737 could be seen waiting to take a fresh load of passengers to Mongolia. As soon as a bus came to a halt, the doors slid open and we began to spill onto the apron. Being one of the first passengers off the bus, I was able to proceed up the stairs and head into the boiling hot aircraft with absolutely no waiting. Upon entering the forward galley I was given a lukewarm greeting by two of the flight’s five strong cabin crew members. With only one way to go, I soon turned right into the aircraft’s business class cabin where I was greeted by classical music and the sight of three rows of very comfortable looking old-style leather business class seats in a 2-2 configuration. All bar one of which was empty, with one seat being occupied by a tough looking reflective jacket wearing crew member who I assumed to be a mechanic or a security guard. Within seconds I arrived in the aircraft’s large economy cabin where mismatched orange-yellow lighting illuminated the 162 seats in front of me. All of these were covered in blue fabric featuring a repeating pattern and sported a disposable fabric headrest cover with an advertisement for Mongolia’s Trade and Development Bank was imprinted. Seeing as the cabin was almost entirely empty at that time, I made it to my seat 23A in no time and soon made myself comfortable.
Despite being well padded and featuring pleasantly large ‘old-style’ armrests, the legroom was far from great. Whilst I cannot find any data for this, I would claim this to be akin to the aircraft's initial owner, Ryanair. Thankfully, the aircraft appeared to have been well cleaned during its turnaround with few (if any) traces of rubbish however wear and tear was omnipresent, with plenty of scratches and marks visible across the cabin. Moving to the seatback pocket, this contained a safety card, a MIAT Mongolian branded safety card, a copy of the airline’s self-titled quarterly inflight magazine and their Sky Shop catalogue. Interestingly, Skyshop is the name given to the inflight shopping service onboard Korean Air. Whilst the aircraft had been near empty upon boarding, thanks to the constant stream of buses showing up at the aircraft, the cabin soon filled up and the economy cabin ended up being almost entirely full. Thanks to the early commencement of boarding and the efficient work of Air Korea, boarding was announced as complete ten minutes prior to our scheduled departure time. That evening, around 40% of those in economy appeared to be fairly young lone passengers from Mongolia, who were likely studying in Korea and returning to the country for a break. Meanwhile, I would say around 50% were from Korea, with many middle aged travellers forming part of a large church group and the remaining 10% being from a selection of nations including Germany, Japan and the US.
Moments after boarding was completed, a welcome announcement was performed by the purser in Mongolian and English featuring the usual thanks for flying with MIAT. Considering the links between Korea and Mongolia, the significant number of Korean passengers onboard and MIAT’s relatively high number of services to Korea, I was a little surprised that no Korean version of any announcement, pre-recorded or otherwise was made throughout the flight. Turning my attention back outside, as soon as boarding was completed, the stairs were backed away from the aircraft and at 1801, our pushback commenced. As we headed backwards, four cabin crew members headed to the aisle where they performed the manual safety demonstration whilst the purser read through the safety instructions. A short while after coming to a halt, the Boeing 737’s two reliable CFM56-7B26 engines powered up and our flaps were partially extended. Four minutes after the aircraft’s pushback had commenced, at 1805 the Boeing powered forward, beginning its taxi to one of the airport’s runways. As is common in
Northeast Asia, as we headed off, several of the ground crew waved farewell to the jet.
Seeing as all movements that afternoon had utilised runways 36L and 36R, I was a little surprised at the fact that the Boeing 737 appeared to be heading to the opposite end of the airfield. Following a short taxi, the aircraft came to a halt at E1 whilst in the far distance, a line of aircraft could be seen waiting to depart at the opposite end of the runway. After waiting for an Air Busan A320 to depart from runway 36R and a Philippines AirAsia Airbus A320 to land on runway 36L after a flight from Kalibo, the aircraft crossed runway 18L and headed onto runway 18R. Taking into account the fact that our aircraft needed to head north, I did find the fact that our aircraft was the sole departure at that time to take off into the opposite direction a little odd. As we entered the runway, one of the pilots accidentally broadcast themselves repeating our take-off clearance over the cabin’s speakers! At 1816 our aircraft performed a powerful rolling take-off, speeding past the extensive collection of locally based military before rotating up past the two terminals before a birds eye view of two Airbuses waiting to depart from runway 36R was offered.
As the Boeing 737 powered away from Gimhae Airport, making a steep climb over the Nakdong River estuary, good views of the Sasang and Hadan areas of Busan could be had before the aircraft gently commenced a 180 degree turn to put us on course for Seoul. As we banked, the world’s sixth busiest cargo port came into view followed by the cities of Changwon and Gimhae alongside a collection of mountains, industrial areas and farmland. Around ten minutes after leaving the airport, a small portion of Korea’s fourth largest city, Daegu, could be seen below which was followed by the small city of Gumi. The latter being somewhat historically significant being the hometown of Korea’s controversial dictator Park Chung-hee, and his daughter, impeached former president Park Geun-hye.
Whilst our departure and initial climb had lacked so much as a single noticable bump, it was not until the aircraft ascended through 25000 feet that the seatbelt signs were switched off. At this time the cabin lights were also turned back on and a couple of crewmembers passed through the cabin handing out immigration forms. Several minutes later, the aircraft levelled off at its initially cruising altitude at which point the captain performed their brief welcome announcement in Mongolian and English. After leaving Korea’s southeast, unfortunately a combination of haze and low clouds prevented any perfectly clear views of the mountainous landscapes below. However, as the aircraft neared Seoul, Osan Air Base could be seen before the aircraft turned towards the coastline and climbed once again to 36000 feet. Thirty minutes after leaving Busan, the crew passed through the cabin distributing packets of honey roasted peanuts which came in MIAT branded packaging alongside serviettes featuring the airline’s logo. It is worth mentioning that whilst this pre-dinner was very much appreciated, no drinks were handed out, which, in my opinion would have been rather welcome given the hot temperature of the cabin.
As I ate these, the aircraft headed out over the West Sea and I caught sight of a small selection of islands some distance from Korea’s western coastline. Unfortunately, as we headed out to sea, clouds soon rolled in below ensuring no views as we headed towards China’s Shandong Peninsula. As we reached the midpoint between mainland Korea and China, the seatbelt signs suddenly reilluminated and moments later the aircraft entered a rather strong patch of turbulence which proved unrelentless for a good twenty minutes. Following this extended period of bumping and shaking, once things had settled, at approximately 1930 Korean time, the crew commenced the dinner service. Whilst I cannot claim to be an expert in cabin service, this appeared to be done in a rather inefficient manner. First, two crew members each with their own drinks trolley proceeded to the front and middle of the aircraft and began to hand out drinks. Meanwhile, a couple of minutes later, a third crew member began handing out meals to several rows around the middle of the aircraft before retreating to the rear galley and allowing the other two crew members to finish serving drinks to all passengers. Once all passengers had their drinks, one of the crew members came around asking passengers whether they would like beef or chicken before handing meals out to passengers by hand. All in all, I cannot help but think that this was a rather strange and inefficient way to undertake the flight’s dinner service, however, I must assume that there was a reason for doing things in this unusual order!
Opting for the beef dish, this was handed to me on a tray which, aside from the main dish, contained a limited selection consisting of a packaged bread roll, a packet of savoury crackers and a small tub of butter. I ought to mention that, everything on the tray, including both the plastic mug, cutlery packet and butter appeared to have been heated. Consequently, the butter had melted entirely, although the inadvertently heated bread roll was also a nice touch! Upon opening up the foil container, I found the main dish to consist of chunks of beef in a sweet soy sauce based sauce which sat atop a bed of rice. Glancing over at my neighbour’s chicken dish, this appeared to consist of chicken with kimchi and rice, and upon seeing this I wished that I had opted for the chicken instead. Whilst the meal felt a little lacking, the quality of the main dish was not all too bad, although the rice did seem to be moderately overcooked and thus crispy. Once the majority of passengers had finished eating, at 1915 Mongolian time, the seatbelt signs were turned back on once again just as the hot drinks round commenced. Despite this, the crew pressed on first presenting passengers with a tray containing two different sorts of tea bags as well as a sachet of coffee. After this, another crew member came to fill passengers cups with hot water.
As the Boeing 737 crossed high above China’s northeast, thanks to the blanket of clouds below nothing could be seen of the region's towns, cities and diverse landscapes. With little else to do, I decided to have a quick explore of the MIAT provided entertainment onboard the flight. With no personal or overhead screens onboard this particular aircraft, this was limited to the airline’s quarterly inflight magazine. As is occasionally the case, I found this to be heavily laden with advertisements for a range of Mongolian businesses. With the services advertised ranging from newly constructed housing estates to questionable karaoke bars. Focusing on the magazine’s articles, these were plentiful yet ultimately lacked much diversity, virtually all of which consisted of interview style pieces with a range of characters - artists, celebrities and entrepreneurs. Perhaps slightly more of interest to aviation enthusiasts was the airline and fleet information pages at the rear of the magazine. Finally, it is worth mentioning that almost all articles appeared to be in both Mongolian and English. However articles or information in any other language were completely absent from this publication.
Once I had exhausted the inflight entertainment options, I was pleased to see that the clouds beneath the aircraft had begun to break up offering glimpses of the remote and sandy coloured landscapes of northern Hebei and Inner Mongolia. Meanwhile, almost an entire hour after the dinner service commenced the cabin crew passed through the cabin collecting trays from the front and middle thirds of the economy class section of the aircraft before retreating to the rear galley. Perhaps convinced that the crew would not return, my two seat mates who were travelling as part of the large church group proceeded to take matters into their own hands and carry their trays to the rear galley. Eventually, around thirty minutes later, the trays from the rear portion of the galley were removed. Once again, I was a little taken aback by the inefficient way that the crew appeared to be doing things that evening. After the trays had been collected, I decided to make a quick trip to the toilet. Despite looking a little tired, I was pleased to find this to be fairly clean and was stocked with all the basics.
After returning to my seat, the aircraft entered Mongolian airspace at which point an announcement was made regarding the duty free service. Unlike the previous rounds of service, the trolley sped through the cabin at lightning speed and not a single purchase appeared to have been made. Beneath the aircraft, my first glimpses of Mongolia’s golden landscape were offered as we sped across Sukhbataar Province, passing to the west of Naran. As we headed across Mongolia, dusk rapidly approached and at 2033, the seatbelt signs were reilluminated for the third time during the flight. However, this time these were switched back on in preparation for our arrival. A couple of minutes later, the purser conducted a pre-arrival announcement informing all passengers of the local time in Mongolia before making the usual requests regarding tray tables, seatbacks, window shades and seatbelts. After miles of nothingness bar the sight of hills below, the first signs of life came only a relatively short distance away from the Mongolian capital. This involved glimpses of the town of Bagakhangai and its airbase coming at 2037. From there the aircraft continued to sink downwards over the hilly landscape where a few small industrial sites and settlements could be seen before we headed out over the Bodg Khan Uul Biosphere Reserve, here the occasional cluster of gers could be spotted indicating that we were definitely over Mongolia.
As the aircraft continued heading downwards, a couple of cabin crew members passed through the cabin ensuring all was secure for the flight’s arrival and at 2043, the Boeing 737 passed over the airport at 9000 feet. This presumably allowed those on the opposite side of the aircraft to get a good view of Ulaanbaatar and its airport. Four minutes later, the aircraft banked to the right in order to line up for an approach to runway 14 whilst the aircraft’s flaps and landing gear were extended. Meanwhile inside the cabin, one of the pilots made the ‘cabin crew prepare for landing' announcement at which point the cabin lights were switched off.
Not too long after the flaps and gear were extended, Ulaanbaatar appeared in the distance as did several residential and industrial areas before the aircraft crossed over the Tuul River. Moments later at 2052, the aircraft darted over the perimeter fence at which point an unexpected visitor could be spotted, a US Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster. 3H37 after departing Busan, the aircraft made a gentle touchdown at which point another even more unexpected visitor appeared, a USAF Boeing C-40B sporting the blue, white and gold ‘AF1’ colours. Meanwhile, more expected yet equally rare (for me) aircraft could be seen in the form of one of Hunnu Air’s recently delivered Embraer 190s alongside a Boeing 737-700 operated by the reincarnated Eznis Airways. As we gently decelerated, the airport’s small aircraft graveyard came into view which featured former MIAT Antonov 24s, ex-Aero Mongolia and Hunnu Air Fokker 50s, a single LET 410 and some abandoned Soviet built helicopters. Eventually the Boeing 737 taxied off the runway and made its way towards the empty terminal whilst a superb sunset filled the skies in the background. After the usual post-arrival announcement was made in Mongolian and English by the purser, the aircraft reached the apron and slowly pulled into gate 1.
Within a few minutes the jetway was connected and at 2100 the aircraft’s L1 door was opened, by which time passengers could be seen standing in the aisles, raring to escape the jet. After thanking the crew, I stepped onto the jetway and made the very short walk over to the airport’s small immigration area. Despite the fact that all immigration booths were manned at that time, given the fact that there was only a very limited number of these and no automated gates or separate desks for those holding Mongolian passports, significant queues formed at each of these desks and it took quite some time to reach one of these. Seeing as our Boeing 737 had been the only international arrival at this time, I dread to think what this area looks like at the time of multiple or widebody arrivals. Following a twenty minute wait, I handed my passport to the immigration officer, who, like the majority of immigration officers I have encountered across the world displayed a facial expression best described as half-bored, half-angry. Being in possession of a Mongolian visa seemed to speed up my entry into the country a little and within a minute my passport was returned and I proceeded to the basic and old-fashioned baggage claim area where my bag could be seen waiting for collection on the stationary carousel.
Upon picking up my suitcase I exited into the landside arrivals area, first heading upstairs to the small bank in order to change some money. After this, I descended back down to the arrivals level and made it through the army of unofficial taxi drivers, soon arriving at the official taxi rank. Stepping into the first car, I showed the driver the address of my Airbnb just off Seoul Street and was met with some puzzled looks. Nevertheless, the driver soon pulled away and sped at lightning speed down the main road into the city, worryingly spending much of the journey texting with both hands on her phone, holding this in the middle of the steering wheel. After a quick start to the journey, once with passed the city’s colourfully lit Power Plant No.3 we became trapped in traffic traffic and spent the remainder of the journey stopping and starting, weaving in and out of the jams. Despite the driver's initial puzzled looks at the address, I was dropped off right outside the door of the apartment, thirty minutes prior to the time that I had arranged to meet the owner of this – however, in reality a long wait was in store as he did not arrive until well after midnight and appeared to be in an rather worse for wear state!
Given the plentiful poor reviews of MIAT Mongolian, admittedly I was not expecting five star luxury or service and so, I was not disappointed with the airline. That said, there was nothing about my first experience with the carrier that had left me particularly impressed. The Boeing 737 that had brought me up from Busan was not in a great condition, nor was it greatly comfortable and I would not want to end up in that aircraft for any longer flight. Meanwhile the crew were largely unremarkable and ignoring the heated butter fiasco, the meal service was simply mediocre. However, all of these combined mean that for those not so interested in flying on an unusual airline, both Air Busan and Korean Air would likely prove far more enjoyable and comfortable ways of getting from Korea to Mongolia.
Here's a photo from the next part of my trip
Somewhere between Korea and the UK.