You can find the first part of the journey from Korea to Mongolia on a MIAT Boeing 737-800 here
. Feel free to read this post on my blog
for more photos.
A False Start
On a June Saturday evening in the Mongolian capital, I found myself packing my bag in preparation for my 0915 flight to Europe the next morning following my two day stay in Mongolia. As darkness fell, the weather forecast that had predicted clear skies and light winds appeared to have gotten things a little wrong. Instead I was treated to a five hour long thunderstorm which brought perhaps the most impressive bolts of lighting that I have ever seen. Viewable from some way away, with each thunderclap the storm appeared to creep towards the city whilst the wind soon picked up and rattled the rather battered apartment block that I had called home for my short stay. Whilst aware that this carried the potential to delay my departure the next morning, I was not particularly worried - multiple sources predicted good weather, the aircraft set to fly me to Berlin was already on the ground in Ulaanbaatar, and most surprisingly, flights still appeared to be arriving at the airport in spite of the stormy weather. Finally, with around 24 hours until my flight back to the UK via Zurich, it would have taken a rather extreme delay for me to miss my connection.
Fuelling my confidence in an on time departure, the next morning I woke up to calm scenes. Outside the skies were mostly blue whilst a very gentle breeze could be felt as I opened the window. After ensuring I had all my belongings, I left the Airbnb and lugged my small suitcase down to the ground floor and towards the main road, Seoul Street. Whilst the apartment I had stayed in was pleasant enough, the owner of this had been far from helpful, turning up two hours late, after midnight on the evening of my arrival and had failed to offer advice on arranging a taxi back to the airport. Thus, in spite of being aware of the real possibility of being ripped off, I was left with little option but to flag down a taxi. As I had read is usually the case in the city, this came in the form of an ‘unofficial’ taxi, simply, a private car willing to offer a ride for a fee. Without any hesitation I jumped in and fifteen minutes later the taxi headed down the hill towards the airport as the crowded apron came into view. As it happened, whilst a number of flights had arrived the previous evening, none of these had been able to depart and thus a number of aircraft that I had not expected to see that morning were present, including a pair of Air China Boeing 737-800s, a Korean Air Airbus A330-300 and the highlight, an Antonov An-148 belonging to Angara Airlines, a Russian airline based in Irkutsk.
Looking towards the terminal building
And away from it (from the departures level)
Once at the airport, I was dropped off a short distance away from the terminal in the airport’s car park. Fortunately, I was only asked for 30000 tugrik (£8), a price that seems to be the standard fare between the airport and city for non-Mongolian passengers. Once this was paid, I entered the airport through the arrivals entrance and headed up to the departure level where I was greeted by scenes of absolute chaos. Whilst my flight was still showing on the FIDS as departing on time, seeing as no passengers were being allowed through to the international check-in hall, there was little to do but grab a coffee and stroll around. After an hour but still no sign of movement, at 0730 I became sceptical that an on time departure was still on the cards. Around me, passengers bound for China, Germany, Korea and Russia appeared to become increasingly flustered at the lack of information. However at 0745, a single MIAT worker appeared holding a plan of action which included the new departure times of each of MIAT’s flights complete with the registrations of the aircraft operating these. As it happened, the Boeing 767 set to take me to Germany should have operated a round trip to Seoul Incheon the previous evening. As with the airline’s other aircraft, with a backlog of flights to be operated, much to the dismay of my fellow passengers, assuming no further delays the service to Moscow and Berlin would now not depart until 0500 the next day, arriving in Berlin at 0940 local time.
Chaotic scenes inside the terminal
The aircraft set to take me over to Europe (in model form)
Unfortunately, MIAT did not provide anything to those passengers affected by the schedule changes aside from a certificate to prove this. After queuing for around an hour, I received this certificate, however, this was unfortunately rejected by my insurance company. Not fancying spending the next day in the airport, I decided to use my time queing to book a room in a local hotel. After some searching, I settled on a room at the Japanese themed Tulip Hotel for 39 USD. Unfortunately, seeing as there appeared not to be any hotels in the vicinity of the airport, I would have to once again splurge out on a taxi. Having had a standard 30000 tugrik trip with an official taxi following my arrival, I decided to head to the taxi rank once again. In spite of agreeing this fare with the driver beforehand, after the taxi pulled up at the side of the hotel the driver got somewhat aggressive and refused to let me out without paying a pricey 100000 tugrik.
Queuing for a delay certificate
Fortunately at the end of this chaotic and stressful morning, the hotel allowed me to check-in early and I soon ended up having a nap. A few minutes after I woke up, the hotel fell victim to a three hour long power cut and so I decided to make the most of this time by exploring the local area. Aside from this, my stay at the hotel was both pleasant and relatively uneventful.
Having carefully examined MIAT’s master plan of rescheduled flights, I was already aware that as I had hoped, Boeing 767-300ER JU-1021 was to operate that morning’s service to Berlin via Moscow. Hoping for no further delays, during my stay at the hotel, for better or worse I kept tabs on the aircraft in the hope that it would be able to undertake its round trip to Incheon on time and without any issue. Unfortunately, having departed from Ulaanbaatar around two hours behind schedule, a punctual departure from Mongolia (according to the new schedule) the following morning seemed impossible. Nevertheless, having pre-arranged a taxi with the hotel reception staff for 0050, I had little option but to leave in the middle of the night, regardless of what time my flight would depart. After heading down from my room, I handed over my key to the Flower Hotel’s reception staff before I made my way outside and into the dark and drizzly night. Fortunately, the driver was already waiting outside the hotel and he escorted me to the unmarked Honda Prius that would transport me the twenty or so kilometres to the airport. Continuing with the Japanese theme, the car’s steering wheel was on its right hand side whilst all of the information on the centre console was in Japanese. This served to remind me of the multiple second hand cars imported from Japan I had ridden during my time in Georgia. After leaving the hotel, the car sped down the mostly unlit and occasionally severely bumpy roads of Mongolia’s capital city. Following a speedy ride down the city’s backstreets, reassuring me that we were not heading out into the countryside, the taxi eventually re-joined the main road that leads to the airport. A few minutes later, the car descended the hill that leads to the airport and drove past the large lit up portrait of airport namesake and national hero Chinggis Khan (or Genghis Khan as he is also known) before pulling up to the departures level of the terminal. As the hotel reception worker had claimed, the driver only demanded a modest 30 000 tugrik (£9) and after handing this over I headed straight into the main terminal.
Back at the airport
Unlike the previous day where it had been near impossible to move thanks to the crowds of disgruntled passengers seeking information, that night the airport was somewhat calmer. Thanks to MIAT’s failure to arrange any sort of accommodation for delayed passengers, it came as little surprise that as I walked through the departure hall, I noticed plenty of slumbering passengers. Many of whom I recognised from the previous morning. Having already long exhausted my wifi allowance on the airport’s complimentary network, I found myself with little to do until check-in opened. Thus, after making several laps of the terminal’s small and dated landside departure hall, I headed to the arrivals level in order to stop at the airport’s only open landside cafe. After making it past several drivers touting for custom, I made it to the local branch of Korean coffee shop chain, Tom N Toms. Understandably given the cafés selection of comfortable seating, the coffee shop appeared to be a popular space for those waiting for check-in to open and after ordering a slightly overpriced cappuccino I secured the café’s last free seat. Thankfully, not only did my coffee allow for some middle of the night refreshment, the password for the café’s wifi network was printed on the receipt and so I was able to track the process of the Boeing 767 scheduled to operate the service over to Europe. Worryingly yet perhaps expectedly, this revealed that the aircraft had failed to make an ontime departure from Incheon, not leaving the airport until 0225 Mongolian time and thus guaranteeing a delayed departure. Indeed, a short while later, this was confirmed by the departure boards which pushed back the flight’s scheduled departure time from 0500 to 0630. Given the fact that my connection in Berlin back to the UK had gone from 23 hours to three and a half and finally to an hour and a half, this was a little worrying.
After spending as much time as I possibly could in the café, I decided to climb the stairs back up to the terminal’s departure level which by this time appeared to be a little busier thanks to Aeromongolia and SCAT Airlines’ flights to Irkutsk and Nursultan respectively. Interestingly, I noticed that the demographics of both flights appeared to consist mainly of middle-aged Korean passengers, with those heading to Irkutsk appearing to be on some sort of tour. At 0405, those passengers heading off on MIAT’s two morning Boeing 767 flights, the 0625 service to Incheon and my 0630 to Berlin via Moscow, were allowed to proceed through to the terminal’s international check-in hall. Once my passport was very quickly glanced at by a seemingly uninterested security guard, I was able to enter this large hall and was promptly escorted to one of the five open desks checking in MIAT’s economy class passengers. With only seven passengers in front of me, all of whom appeared to be transporting a reasonable amount of luggage, I expected this queue to go down quickly however, it took almost thirty minutes of standing in line before I was able to reach the desk. Perhaps owing to the fact that I had checked in online, compared to those passengers in front of me, check-in was a fairly quick process. Once at the desk, the reasonably friendly check-in agent asked whether I was aware that I had a different seat on each sector. After replying that I was and that this wasn’t an issue, two plain boarding passes were printed off and my suitcase was sent into the depths of the airport.
Waiting to check-in
Unlike check-in, security was a quick and painless affair and I was able to head through to the immigration area no more than a couple of minutes after being handed my boarding passes. As with the immigration area for arriving passengers, only a limited number of booths were available for departing passengers. However, despite this, having ended up behind a single Mongolian passenger, almost no waiting was needed before I handed over my passport to the usual stony faced immigration officer. Once this was checked, this was returned and I was free to explore the delights of Ulaanbaatar’s airside departure area. As I headed up the escalators to the main area of this portion of the terminal, it was clear that far more had been invested in this than the landside area. Whilst it is highly unlikely that this area will be winning any awards any time in the near future, the terminal’s airside area appeared to be far smarter, more modern and cleaner than the landside area and home to a respectable number of cafes and shops. One of the terminal’s more interesting and unique features consists of a small exhibition space displaying historic artifacts from across Mongolia as well as several mannequins. Seeing as I did not have great heaps of time to kill in the airside area, my only real complaint about this stemmed from the fact that none of the toilet doors appeared to actually lock.
A well-polished waiting area
The exhibition area
Following a quick stroll, I took a seat on one of the comfortable leather sofas conveniently located next to a charging point where I waited for my flight. Meanwhile, outside the skies gradually began to brighten as a new day arrived revealing the hills on the other side of the airfield as well as a collection of aircraft on the ramp. From an aviation enthusiast’s perspective, Ulaanbaatar Airport is not the most spotter-friendly, offering only fairly limited views onto the apron, with the only unobstructed view being a several meter wide gap next to the business lounge. From here, one of SCAT Airlines’ Boeing 737 Classics sporting the carrier’s old livery could be seen waiting for its flight back to Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, the entire fleet of local carrier Hunnu Air could also be seen, this consisting of two ATR 72s as well as their ex-China Southern Embraer 190 delivered to the carrier several weeks previously. Meanwhile, an Aero Mongolia Embraer 145 could also be seen being prepared for its flight to Irkutsk. A short time later these aircraft were joined by a trio of widebodies - an Aeroflot Airbus A330 arriving after an overnight service from Moscow Sheremetyevo and MIAT’s entire Boeing 767 arriving from Incheon.
A little after 0530, the newer of MIAT Mongolian’s two Boeing 767-300ERs, locally registered JU-1021, pulled into gate 2. Having only taken to the skies in March 2013, this particular aircraft is the seventh youngest passenger Boeing 767 in the world and was a little over six years old at the time of my flight. In May 2013, the aircraft was flown across to Asia in order to commence its career with MIAT, receiving its winglets several months later in late 2013 or early 2014. Since then, the aircraft has been spotted at a selection of MIAT’s destinations and is capable of transporting 25 passengers in business and 195 in economy. This configuration proves to be comparable to other Boeing 767-300ER operators Air Astana and LATAM.
Whilst my boarding pass stated that boarding would commence at 0545, given that this allowed only fifteen minutes for those arriving from Korea to disembark and the aircraft to be cleaned and prepared for its next trek, I was highly sceptical that boarding would occur at this time. In addition, it is also worth mentioning that thanks to the airport’s design, there is only one boarding pass/identity checkpoint for all of the terminal’s four international gates. As a result, boarding can only occur one flight at a time and with several international departures, I was already aware that boarding for the flight was likely to be a convoluted affair. Once it became clear that boarding would not commence at 0545, having already been delayed for 22 hours, understandably any passengers felt disgruntled. Unfortunately and embarrassingly, some passengers decided to vent their anger by being aggressive to and in some cases shouting at members of the airport staff. Three males, all of whom appeared to be travelling separately were particularly vocal, shouting at staff members in German and Italian with the occasional swear word and insult in English. Fortunately, I rarely see signs of such aggression when travelling, even when faced with a long delay. Seeing such a display was most definitely frustrating and, had I been the captain, I would have had absolutely no issue in refusing to transport these passengers.
Waiting for boarding to commence
One hour after the aircraft pulled into the gate and fifteen minutes behind the flight’s new scheduled departure time, boarding for the Moscow-Berlin service commenced with those needing assistance and those travelling in business invited to proceed to the gate first. Within five minutes, all those in economy were invited to board - with this not being arranged by rows or zones. Soon enough, my boarding pass was scanned and after walking past the airline’s older Boeing 767-300ER bound for Incheon, wishing I was on my way to Korea, I arrived at a queue. As it happened, the aircraft was still in its final stages of being readied, however fortunately after a couple of minutes, passengers were allowed to proceed onto the aircraft. After some time, I stepped onto the aircraft via the L1 door where I was greeted in English and asked for my boarding pass. Once I had shown this to one of the flight’s crew members, I was advised to head down the second aisle and proceed towards the rear of the aircraft.
Finally making my way towards the aircraft
First up on my journey to the rear economy cabin was the aircraft’s twenty five seat business class cabin consisting of five rows of slightly dated looking seats in a rare 2-1-2 configuration. After pausing for a moment to allow a passenger to place their multiple items of hand luggage in an overhead locker I made it through to the aircraft’s smaller forward economy cabin. Perhaps indicating that this had once been intended as a premium economy cabin, in this section the seats are covered in a beige fabric featuring a traditional repeating pattern. However those in the larger rear economy cabin instead covered by a duller blue fabric with the same pattern as on those seats on the Boeing 737 I had sampled several days prior to this flight. As with that aircraft, all seats onboard, both in economy and business featured a disposable headrest cover advertising Mongolia’s Trade and Development Bank. Eventually, I made it to my row towards the rear of the aircraft and slid into 31K.
The forward economy cabin
and the rear economy cabin
As one would expect from a long haul widebody aircraft, each seat back in economy featured a PTV, almost all of which were switched off at the time of boarding. However, these could be switched on revealing a welcome screen. In addition a USB port was provided however I failed to come across any plug sockets in the area around my seat. During the aircraft’s time on the ground the aircraft appeared to have been decently cleaned, however I did notice several marks and scratches around my seat, despite the relatively young age of this particular aircraft. However, my biggest problem with the aircraft took the form of the amount of legroom provided which seemed to be below average for a widebody aircraft operated by a full-service carrier. Turning to my seatback pocket, aside from the safety card and sick bag, this contained a Sky Shop catalogue, a copy of the airline's inflight magazine and a copy of the Mongolian edition of Forbes magazine. Despite being a reasonably long flight over to Moscow, no pillows or blankets were placed on economy seats prior to departure. However given the chilly temperatures inside the cabin, a number of people requested the latter and the crew appeared to hand these out without any issues.
As time passed passengers continued to stream onto the aircraft and after several minutes I was joined by a fellow passenger who came to take the aisle seat. Despite being almost entirely convinced that I would miss my onward connection in Berlin, like most I wished for a swift departure and I was thus happy to see that boarding was completed fairly quickly with the last passengers making it onboard by 0705. Nevertheless, outside cargo appeared to continue to stream onto the aircraft whilst torrential downpour commenced, this undoubtedly creating a rather unpleasant experience for those workers on the ramp. That morning, the flight appeared to be approximately 80% full in economy with around a quarter of those onboard appeared to be from Mongolia, another quarter from Russia and the remaining half to consist mostly of tourists from France, Germany and Italy. With most of those from France and Italy set to leave the aircraft in Moscow to head onwards to a selection of destinations in the two countries on Aeroflot services. At 0710, the eclectic mix of jazz, Western pop and traditional Mongolian music that had provided the soundtrack to boarding came to an end. This was then followed by an automated announcement claiming our flight to be moments away from departure before the captain performed their welcome announcement in Mongolian and English. During this he thanked us for choosing to fly with MIAT, apologised for the delay and informed us of the flight time and weather in both Moscow and Berlin.
Once this announcement was made, fourteen minutes of nothingness commenced. Beneath the aircraft all cargo had appeared to have made its way onboard and the cargo door had been closed, whilst inside the cabin all appeared to be set for our departure. At around 0725, fearful of a further delay all onboard were likely pleased to hear the voice of the purser who performed another short welcome announcement before the airline’s animated safety video commenced. Given the fact that this particular Boeing 767 was the only such aircraft in the fleet fitted with PTVs, some may be surprised that the airline invested money into an animated safety video, rather than an announcement accompanied by a demonstration. As the safety video played, at 0731 the Boeing 767 jolted back and commenced a very slow pushback. During this, the aircraft’s two Pratt & Whitney engines quietly spooled up and following a pause, at 0737 the aircraft commenced its taxi to the runway. As we traversed almost the entire length of the airfield, I noticed Aeroflot’s Airbus A330 rotating upwards through the rain droplet covered window, beating
MIAT on the race to Moscow.
After a six minute taxi, at 0743 the Boeing 767 turned onto runway 32 and after a short pause, the aircraft commenced a powerful takeoff roll. As the aircraft sped down the runway, once the rain droplets cleared a decent view of the airport’s storage and maintenance areas could be had. For those interested in military aviation, here a brightly coloured Mongolian Air Force Mil Mi-171 could be seen before a host of stored aircraft came into view. These consisted of a trio of Fokker 50s, a pair of Antonov An-2s, a white Soviet-built helicopter and a mysterious green tailed Let 410. Following what seemed like a short takeoff roll, the small terminal and ramp could be seen below where the aforementioned Hunnu Air Embraer 190, a Hong Kong bound Eznis Airways Boeing 737-700 and a USAF Boeing C-17 could all be seen. Moments later the Boeing 767 left the airport behind before heading out over the Tuul River after which residential and industrial areas sped past below.
As we left Ulaanbaatar, the residential areas soon transformed into grassy hills however our aircraft soon entered the clouds, cutting through these gently before the aircraft arrived in the Land of the Blue Sky’s bright blue skies. Seeing as Mongolia is renowned for its beautiful landscapes, I was a little disappointed that nothing but thick clouds could be seen during the initial stages of the flight as we headed up to our cruising altitude of 36000 feet. Thankfully, as the aircraft neared this altitude the clouds dissipated a little revealing the mountainous landscape of Khövsgöl Province in northern Mongolia. As we neared the top of the climb, inside the cabin for some reason all those PTVs that were on suddenly rebooted. Whilst this would have been a little annoying had I been mid-film, seeing as the views of the Mongolian mountains were providing my sole form of entertainment, I was not particularly bothered by this. Once the seatbelt signs were switched off, the crew passed around with Mongolian and Russian newspapers as well as MIAT branded packets of typically economy class style low quality headphones.
Around 35 minutes after the aircraft’s departure from Ulaanbaatar, as had been the case on the flight from Busan, the crew kicked off the meal service by handing out MIAT-branded honey roasted peanuts and serviettes. Once the entire aircraft had been served, the crew retreated to the galley and around an hour after our departure, the service continued. Unlike the flight from Busan, this was conducted in a logical manner and I was soon handed a paper bag and offered a drink. After opting for an orange juice this was handed to me in a paper cup by a polite and friendly flight attendant. Turning to the bag, this contained a light breakfast consisting of a pastry that resembled a croissant in shape but had a bread roll texture which was filled with a chicken and egg filling alongside a coffee flavoured snack, comparable to a chocolate teacake. All in all, whilst some may have expected a hot breakfast, I found this to be a perfectly acceptable offering considering that a hot meal would be served later on in the flight.
Fortunately, unlike on the flight from Busan the crew were fairly quick to take away the rubbish from this service, doing so around fifteen minutes after handing the bags and drinks out. Turning my attention to the outside world, the frozen mountains below flattened a little and the ground became greener as we headed into Russian airspace. After crossing the border the Boeing 767 found itself 36000 feet above Russia’s Tuva Republic which lies to Mongolia’s northwest. The aircraft soon headed over Kyzyl, the region’s small capital city which claims to be the geographical centre of Asia. From there the aircraft then headed towards the republics of Khakassia and Kemerovo before clouds rolled in below the aircraft where they remained for some time.
Once the views of the diverse landscapes below were taken away, I was left with little to do bar feel cold thanks to the cabin’s still chilly temperatures. I thus decided to explore the aircraft’s inflight entertainment system - a unique feature of this aircraft, with the only other PTVs in MIAT’s fleet found in the business class cabins of their Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. Given MIAT’s number of flights between Mongolia and both China, Hong Kong and Korea, it came as little surprise that aside from English and Monglian, the system could also be used in both Chinese and Korean. Despite the fact that this particular aircraft regularly operates the carrier's services to Berlin, Frankfurt and Moscow, neither a German nor a Russian language version of the system was provided. Likewise in spite of regular year round services to Tokyo Narita and seasonal flights to Osaka Kansai, a Japanese version of the system was also absent. Turning to the screen quality, this was simply mediocre and was in no way assisted by the multiple marks and scratches on the screen itself. With no controller, the screen could only be controlled by touch however unfortunately this was annoyingly slow to respond to this and would regularly freeze for around thirty seconds. However, complaints over, the system managed to redeem itself thanks to its reasonable selection of content. This consisted of a reasonable selection of mostly Hollywood films both new and old in addition to several locally produced films. However, in spite of the airline’s destinations, films from China, Europe, Korea or Russia were absent from this. Away from films, I counted a total of 27 television programmes, 70 music albums and 10 games, and of course a good old moving map channel. Given the bank’s significant amounts of advertising across MIAT and Ulaanbaatar Airport, I was not surprised to find that all visual content was preceded by a couple of adverts for the Trade and Development Bank.
As the aircraft cruised westwards across Siberia, aside from the occasional very slight bump, the flight was smooth and uneventful. With little to see outside and feeling somewhat fatigued from my stressful twenty four hours, I decided to take a nap. After I awoke around half an hour later, little had changed both in and outside the cabin. However by this time, the seat felt truly uncomfortable and cramped. However this was most definitely not assisted by the fact that my neighbour’s leg had well and truly found itself into the area that should have been reserved for my legs whilst his head occasionally came to rest on my shoulder. Meanwhile, around two hours after our departure from Ulaanbaatar and thus approximately a third of the way into the flight, the clouds parted as the aircraft passed over Russia’s third largest city, Novosibirsk, home to around 1.6 million residents. Once the city’s buildings slipped away from view, the mostly flat, green landscapes of rural Western Siberia could be seen. Around halfway between Novosibirsk and Omsk, the interestingly shaped Lake Chany and the town of Kazantsevo on its northern shores could be seen. From there the aircraft continued west, passing to the north of Omsk and over the long Irtysh River which runs for a total of 4249 kilometres. Once again, clouds soon took away the view and after once again pondering the chances of making my flight from Berlin, I decided to pass the time by taking another nap.
The interesting Lake Chany
After a decent rest, I opened the window shade to find that the clouds had parted as we neared Russia’s fourth largest city, Yekaterinburg, often considered to be on the geographical border between Asia and Europe. Meanwhile, the universal scent of warming airline food could be smelt as it wafted through the cabin indicating that this would commence soon. Four hours after the flight’s departure at 1140 Mongolian time or 0640 Moscow time (as I shall use from now on in the report), several trolleys were rolled out from the rear galley and the lunch service commenced. A short time later, one of these reached my row and I was asked the usual 'beef or chicken?' in a stone cold manner before being offered a drink. Having had beef on the flight from Busan and ended up wishing I had the chicken, this time round I decided on the chicken as well as an orange juice to accompany this. This was handed to me on a tray alongside a meat and cheese salad, a bread roll with butter and a small packaged chocolate cherry cake that had been imported from Turkey. Upon opening the foil lid from my main dish, it was revealed that this consisted of chicken lightly doused in a sauce with a few vegetables and rice, meanwhile glancing over at my neighbour’s beef meal, this seemed to consist of some form of beef stew with mashed potatoes. Quality wise, this was somewhat mediocre – the chicken had somewhat of a BBQ grill taste and was rather chewy however the accompanying rice seemed to have been cooked well. All in all, I did not have any major complaints plus I have to give MIAT credit for the fact that two ‘meal’ services were made on the relatively short flight.
Around thirty minutes after the service commenced, a hot drinks round was made and I opted for a fairly standard tasting black coffee. As I cautiously sipped this, taking care not to burn myself or spill any on my shirt, after miles and miles of countryside, the large Bashkortostan town of Neftekamsk and the wide Kama River appeared. Turning back inside the cabin, unlike the flight’s previous service, it took quite some time for the crew to collect the trays, with these not being cleared until around fifty minutes after these were handed out. Almost immediately after my tray was taken away, the seat belt signs were re-illuminated and an automated announcement played advising passengers to fasten their seatbelts. As if by magic, as soon as this finished, we found ourselves passing through a particularly bumpy patch of clear air turbulence. As we bumped around, below the aircraft very little could be seen aside from fields, woods and the occasional village and small town. Once the turbulence settled down a little, the capital of Tatarstan, Kazan. Thanks to the gaps in the clouds, the majority of the city was visible and I was able to spot the city’s famous Kul Sharif Mosque, the Kazan Arena as well as the airport just to the north of the city. Meanwhile inside the cabin, once the seatbelt signs had been switched off again, a comprehensive announcement played regarding the commencement of the onboard duty free service. However, as was the case on the flight from Busan, no one appeared to be interested in this and the duty free trolley ploughed down the rear economy cabin without making a single stop.
Looking down at Kazan
As the flight entered its final quarter, like many passengers at this time I decided to visit the lavatory. After passing to the south of Nizhny Novgorod, I headed out of my seat and joined the queue for one of the three toilets at the rear of the aircraft. Following a long wait, I opened the door to one of these which I found to be pleasantly clean, tidy and sufficiently stocked with the basics.
Following my short trip, I returned to my row where I found that my neighbour had fallen fast asleep in the time that I was away. After guiltily waking him up and sliding into my seat, there was not a great deal of time left prior to our arrival in Moscow. Once again, I drifted off for a while and awoke at 0820 with approximately 140 miles to go until Moscow Sheremetyevo. Soon enough, the aircraft could be felt leaving its cruising altitude and gently commencing its descent, with the seatbelt signs reilluminating as the aircraft passed to the south of the town of Vladimir. This was then followed by an automated announcement in Mongolian and English informing all onboard about our impending arrival after which the crew came around ensuring all appeared to be secure for landing. As the Boeing 767 smoothly sank down towards the green fields and forests that surround Russia’s capital, the speedbrakes were partially extended, serving to slow the aircraft down with some vigour.
As the Boeing 767 passed down through 10000 feet, the flaps were partially extended and Moscow’s 333 kilometre long A-107 road came into view. At this point in the flight, those on the opposite side of the aircraft would have most likely been treated to decent views of Russia’s capital. However, from my position, I was instead offered peaceful vistas of green wooded landscapes with the occasional village or small town visible in the middle of these. As the aircraft sank further, several lakes and the Klyazma River which soon turned into the Moscow Canal could be seen at which point the flaps were fully extended as was the landing gear hinting at our imminent arrival.
As we neared the airport, the ideal dachas for aviation enthusiasts came into view below and we headed over the electrified railway tracks that connect Sheremetyevo Airport with the main railway network. At 0847, the Boeing 767 gently floated down over the airport’s perimeter road before a selection of twelve of the latest business jets and several interesting Antonov 72/74s and Ilyushin Il-76s could be spotted. Six hours and five minutes after taking to the Mongolian skies, following a smooth approach the Boeing 767 made a bumpy touchdown on Sheremetyevo’s runway 24C. As the aircraft slowed, several Boeing 747 freighters belonging to hometown airline, Air Bridge Cargo as well as a single DHL liveried Tupolev 204 operated by Aviastar-TU could be seen, after which most aircraft appeared to take the form of a range of types operated by Aeroflot.
After heading off the runway, the aircraft held for around a minute in order to allow an Aeroflot Airbus A320 and an A330 depart from runway 24L. At this time a number of passengers appeared to be desperate to stand up, however those brave enough to do so received a stern telling off from several of the crew members. After admiring these two aircraft climb up into the skies, the aircraft continued on its journey, first passing Terminal D where an interesting Severstal Avia Sukhoi Superjet could be seen amongst the masses of Aeroflot aircraft. As we headed over to the gate, the purser welcomed all onboard to Moscow and informed everyone of the procedures for the onward flight to Berlin. This revealed that all those continuing onwards would have to leave the aircraft, pass through a document check and security before being allowed to reboard the aircraft, with the purser claiming that reboarding would commence forty minutes after the flight’s arrival. Following a short taxi, at 0856 the aircraft pulled up to gate 56 where it slotted in between a pair of Aeroflot Airbus A321s.
After coming to a halt, a jetbridge was connected and disembarkation commenced at around 0900. Following several minutes of waiting, I managed to stand up and head down the cabin, thanking the three crew members that were wishing passengers a farewell at the L1 door before heading up into the terminal and commencing my short transit at Sheremetyevo.
After heading up the jetway I found myself following the signs for the international transit area along with the flock of passengers who were simply simply connecting in Moscow. That morning I would estimate at least three quarters of those non-Russian passengers who had arrived from Ulaanbaatar to be connecting onwards. Around half of whom were heading on to Berlin with MIAT and the other half bound to a host of destinations, most of which were dotted around Europe however I did overhear some Tel Aviv-bound Israeli passengers as well as a group of Americans on a mammoth journey to Washington. Having arrived at stand 56, or gate 54 as it is known inside the terminal, the relatively long walk to the security area involved a journey down the flight line where a selection of Aeroflot Airbus A330s and Boeing 777-300ERs could be seen waiting to take passengers to destinations across the world.
Around ten minutes after arriving in the terminal, I reached the long queue for a pair of desks where the passports and boarding passes of all connecting passengers were checked before such passengers were required to pass through a single security checkpoint. Following a ten minute wait, I handed over my passport and boarding pass which were soon returned before I was able to head to the checkpoint. Reaching this involved another queue and eventually I sent my bag on its way through an x-ray machine whilst I passed through the usual metal detector. Without any issues, I collected my bag and found myself in the terminal’s relatively small airside departure area by which time boarding for the onward flight to Berlin had already been announced. After a quick trip to some surprisingly unpleasant toilets, I returned to gate 54 where boarding had just commenced and thus a small queue of passengers could be seen. Whilst I did not have a great amount of time to explore Moscow Sheremetyevo’s Terminal F, my experience that morning was not the best, and, having read plenty of negative reviews regarding the airport’s transit experience, it appears as if I am not the only passenger that has found issues with this.
Once I caught sight of the queue, I joined this and following a short wait, my boarding pass was scanned before I headed down the jetway and reentered the Boeing 767 via the L1 door. As I stepped aboard I received a friendly welcome before I headed across the galley and turned right into the small business class cabin. Seeing as I would be sitting in seat 13K for the flight over to Germany, it only took several seconds to reach my seat in the aircraft’s exclusive 42-seat forward economy cabin. Here, each seat’s beige coloured patterned fabric made a nice change to the bland blue tones of the aircraft’s rear economy cabin. However aside from their differences in colour, as one would expect, the seats in both the front and rear economy cabins were identical with my same complaints regarding legroom still being applicable to my new seat. Whilst the cabin appeared to have been cleaned during its short time on the ground in Moscow, perhaps assuming that most passengers would reboard and take their original seats, neither the cleaners nor cabin crew appeared to have made any effort to collect or tidy up the blankets which could be seen strewn across seats all over the cabin. This perhaps failed to give off a greatly positive impression for those passengers who had joined the flight in Moscow. Within a couple of minutes I was joined by a late middle aged Russian gent who was presumably only joining the aircraft for the last quarter or so of its journey from Mongolia to Germany.
Despite claims on the FIDS inside the terminal at Sheremetyevo that the flight to Berlin would depart at 1025, by 1005 all passengers appeared to have made their way onto the aircraft and a few minutes later, glancing forward I witnessed the L1 door being shut in preparation for our departure. Given the service’s 22 hour delay and the wide range of options that exist for those needing to travel from Moscow to Berlin, I had assumed that many of those joining the flight for its final sector would have been rebooked onto other services. However, this appeared not to have been the case with a nearly full business class cabin and an economy cabin that appeared to be approximately 70% full. As I had expected, the same army of cabin crew members could be seen working the flight on this sector. Once the door was closed, the captain welcomed everyone onboard once again in Mongolian and English and gave the usual details regarding the flight and the weather in Berlin. As it turned out, the flying time for this sector would be 2H15, which, assuming a prompt departure alongside a quick passage through immigration and a short wait at baggage collection would enable me to catch my onward flight to Zurich. However, turning outside, frustratingly the neighbouring Manchester United liveried Aeroflot Airbus A321 appeared ready to depart, this aircraft’s pushback delaying our own by around ten minutes. Meanwhile, back inside the cabin, once the captain had made their announcement, the purser welcomed all passengers once again before the airline’s animated safety video played as the crew passed through the cabin ensuring all was in order for our departure that morning.
Once the aforementioned Airbus A321 powered up and commenced its taxi to one of Sheremetyevo’s runways, at around 1020, the MIAT Boeing 767 left the terminal behind and started its two powerful engines before coming to a temporary halt. After a few moments, the Boeing propelled itself forward and commenced what turned out to be a pleasantly short taxi to runway 24L. As we made our way to the runway, a host of relatively interesting aircraft could be seen. These included a Rossiya Airlines Boeing 747-400, a Nordwind Airlines Boeing 777-200ER sporting a hybrid Nordwind-Singapore Airlines hybrid colour scheme and an Embraer 190 operated by Russian carrier Pegus Fly. By 1029 the Boeing 767 made it onto the runway, however, adding insult to our delay, the aircraft was required to hold for two arrivals on the parallel runway. These consisted of an Aeroflot Airbus A320 and an AirBridgeCargo Boeing 747-8F touching down at its home base after a long flight from Shanghai. Finally at 1031, it was our turn to take to the skies and so the aircraft commenced what seemed like a short and powerful takeoff roll. After speeding past an Aeroflot Sukhoi Superjet waiting to cross the runway, the Boeing rotated into the skies, bringing an end to its short stay on the ground in Moscow.
As the aircraft climbed, a good birds eye view of a selection of stored Aeroflot jets, the majority of which appeared to be Sukhoi Superjets, before the airport’s new runway came into sight. Interestingly, an engineless ex-Aeroflot Ilyushin Il-96 could be seen standing on the sole taxiway leading to this, perhaps in an attempt to guard this from any accidental departures. After leaving the airport behind, the aircraft shook a little before passing through a patch of clouds. Once through these the seatbelts signs were switched off at which point I drifted into a light sleep as the aircraft climbed up to its cruising altitude of 36000 feet.
Fortunately, I coincidentally managed to wake up just as the flight’s light brunch service commenced at 1000 Berlin time. Sitting at the front of the cabin I ended up being one of the first passengers to be served. This time, I was handed another filled croissant (albeit one that contained a different filling of meat, cheese and gherkins), a packet of MIAT’s honey roasted peanuts in addition to a serviette and a lemon scented wet wipe. This was then followed by a round of drinks where, being rather thirsty I requested both a coffee and an orange juice from the friendly flight attendant. As with my flight from Busan, hot beverages were served in a DIY style with passengers handed a cup of hot water along with a coffee sachet or a teabag. All in all, I was fairly satisfied with this service. Granted, it may not have been as plentiful as many East Asian airlines offer on their short haul services, however it certainly beat the offerings of many European carriers with similar flight times.
As the crew handed out drinks, some inflight drama occured when the passenger next to me got rather annoyed when the crew failed to give him a whole 1.5 litre bottle of water, instead giving him two paper cups of this. Whilst I do not speak Russian, during the whole fiasco this passenger kept turning towards me and muttering several words in Russian. Eventually the crew finally ceded to his demands and brought a small plastic bottle of water from business class. Turning to the flight’s progress, as with most flights between Moscow and destinations across Western Europe, after leaving the Russian capital the Boeing 767 headed almost directly west before entering Belarusian airspace after passing Smolensk. However, unfortunately by this time thick clouds beneath the aircraft blocked any view of the ground beneath the aircraft during our 25 minute crossing of the country prior to heading into Lithuanian and then Polish airspace. Seeing as my excessive photo taking was rapidly draining my phone’s battery, as the aircraft headed westwards I turned to the seatback USB port however unfortunately this did not seem to work.
Fortunately as the aircraft headed into Polish airspace, the clouds began to clear up a little revealing the green summer scenery 36000 feet below the aircraft, although seeing as I spent much of the flight drifting in and out of sleep, I can’t really comment too much on this. Around an hour and fifty minutes after taking off from Moscow with around 140 miles or 225 kilometres to go until Berlin, the aircraft could be felt gently commencing its descent over Poland’s Greater Poland region. As had been the case with prior to the aircraft’s arrival in Moscow several hours previously, this was almost instantly followed by an automated announcement with the usual instructions regarding seatbacks, tray tables, window shades and seatbelts. Seeing as I would likely not get the opportunity to do so again, I decided to make one final trip to one of the aircraft’s lavatory. As had been the case prior to the aircraft’s arrival into Moscow, I found this to be in a clean and pleasantly acceptable state despite being at the end of the aircraft’s long journey over from Mongolia.
Upon returning to my seat the aircraft was still a fair way from landing with the green countryside of western Poland seeming to be some distance beneath the aircraft. Nevertheless at this time the crew could be seen passing through the cabin conducting their final pre-arrival checks, ensuring this was secure for the aircraft’s arrival. Turning my attention back outside, around fifteen minutes after the Boeing 767 had commenced its descent, the aircraft crossed over the River Oder which at this point in its course serves to mark the border between Germany and Poland. Once firmy over Germany’s equally green countryside, the aircraft made a gentle turn to the south prior to turning west again to set us on course for Berlin Tegel’s runway 26R. As we headed towards the ground, the aircraft’s speedbrakes were partially extended followed by the flaps, meanwhile below a large and modern heliport, yet one that was devoid of helicopters could be seen passing by. Later research revealed this to be a helicopter base for the local squadron of helicopters operated by Germany’s Federal Police, located just to the northeast of Berlin.
Descending over the lovely summer countryside
Before I knew it, the fringes of Berlin came into view and the aircraft sank down over some of the city’s leafy residential areas. Exactly an hour prior to my Zurich bound flight’s departure time and 2H14 after departing Moscow, at 1045 the Boeing 767 made a very smooth touchdown on runway 26R, contrasting with its bumpy landing in Russia. Funnily enough, as we slowed the first aircraft I spotted on the ramp was incredibly similar to the last aircraft I had seen at Ulaanbaatar that morning - a USAF Boeing C-17 Globemaster III. However, this particular example was based at Charleston AFB in South Carolina. Next to this stood Germany’s Air Force 1, a Airbus A340-300 named after Konrad Adenauer as well as a fellow Luftwaffe operated VIP aircraft, an Airbus A319.
Following some gentle breaking, the purser welcomed all to Berlin in Mongolian and English, ending their announcement with an apology for the delay. At this point, despite realising the likelihood of missing my flight, I hoped that if immigration and baggage collection were quick, and the ground staff at Tegel were willing to allow me to take my fairly small suitcase onboard the aircraft as hand luggage, I would be able to make my onward flight. However, within a few minutes of our arrival, my heart sunk a little as, rather than taxiing up to the terminal, the aircraft turned right and slowly eased its way into remote stand 27. In addition, it appeared as if the ground staff were not yet ready for our arrival as it took a grand total of ten minutes for the L1 door to be reopened and disembarkation to commence. Perhaps serving to further anger passengers at the aircraft’s late arrival, or to speed out disembarkation once this commenced, the same Taylor Swift song rang out loudly on repeat. Fortunately, just before a riot kicked off, at 1205 the L1 door was opened and disembarkation commenced. After thanking the crew once again, I headed down the airstairs and into the pleasant lunch time sunshine.
As I walked over to the awaiting bus, by coincidence I noticed the arriving Helvetic Airways Embraer 190 that I hoped would be able to take me to Zurich. Once the first bus was full, this was driven to the E arrivals area where I managed to promptly exit the bus and enter the small immigration hall. Whilst this soon filled up with long queues forming at immigration, I was able to walk straight up to a desk and after handing over my passport and having this scanned, I found myself in the very small baggage collection hall. Hoping from the prompt arrival of luggage, as time passed, no baggage emerged, with the first suitcases not arriving until 1230, by which time I was fairly certain that my chances of catching my next flight were slim to none. Nevertheless, once my bag did emerge, I grabbed this and made a quick walk through customs and up the stairs to the departure level where I proceeded to gate A07 where the Helvetic Embraer 190 could still be spotted. Following a quick security check I headed to the jetway where I was sternly told by a security guard that I had missed my flight. Thus, after being let through an emergency exit, I made my way over to Swiss’ ticket counter where I was told by a rather unfriendly agent that I would have to purchase a new ticket. Rather than paying a fortune to sample Swiss I instead headed for Skyscanner, purchasing the cheapest ticket to London that day, a Eurowings combination to Stansted via Cologne for just over 110 Euros.
Here’s several photos from my Eurowings flight back to London several hours later
When living in Korea, my spirit of adventure, lack of funds and passion for roundabout routings had seen me fly off on trips to Japan, the UAE and the UK with itineraries that involved an intermediate domestic flight in China with China Eastern and China Southern. On no fewer than two occasions, air traffic control delays in China ensured that I arrived at my destination around a day late. In both cases I was provided with nothing by means of food vouchers or compensation, however each airline did provide basic overnight accommodation in Kunming and Shenzhen. MIAT on the other hand provided nothing more than a certificate to prove that the delay occurred, which failed to prove much held as my travel insurance provided would not compensate me for the hotel stay in Ulaanbaatar or cost for alternative flights back from Berlin to London.
However, I should mention that MIAT’s ground staff in Ulaanbaatar all seemed to be working hard and were relatively friendly throughout the whole fiasco, this was particularly respectable given the hoards of angry and aggressive passengers they were forced to deal with.
Moving on to the flights themselves, neither the flight from Busan nor the service to Berlin featured anything that had been particularly notable. Whilst I did encounter friendly crew members, these were balanced out by those members of the crew who seemed to be rather cold and distant. The Boeing 737-800 and Boeing 767-300ER did not feature the most comfortable economy class cabins that I have sampled, however they were far from the most uncomfortable; plus, the inflight entertainment on the latter aircraft was somewhat appreciated. Moving on to the food, this was mediocre at best.
To summarise, ignoring the delay and the poor management of this, I found there to be nothing special about my experience with MIAT during the trio of flights I took with the airline. However, heading westwards, providing Mongolia’s only direct link to Western Europe, MIAT does provide both a convenient and important service. The only reasonable alternative to this without any major backtracking via Beijing or Incheon would either be Aeroflot or Turkish Airlines with a change of planes in Moscow and Istanbul respectively, plus a mid flight stop in Kyrgyzstan for the latter’s services. Whilst I was happy to have finally had the opportunity to fly with MIAT and was pleased that I managed to do so at a reasonable rate, I would be probably be unlikely to fly with the carrier in the near future.
Thank you very much for reading and feel free to browse some of my other reports below!
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 A220-300 Gimpo-BusanKorean 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-GatwickMIAT Mongolian Airlines Boeing 737-800 Busan-UlaanbaatarMotor 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-AlmatyUzbekistan Airways Boeing 787-8 Tashkent-Seoul IncheonVietjet 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.