So. Air Astana. How is it? I mean, it’s probably not an airline you’ve considered flying unless you were heading to Central Asia, but actually it could be a useful airline going forward coming from Asia to Europe. It’s reasonably priced and connects primarily through a quiet airport in Almaty or further north in Nur Sultan (previously known as Astana). It’s not going to be super convenient for every connection, but having said that coming from China or North Asia to Russia or other Eastern European countries it is a great choice, on an airline I was genuinely surprised with and that was after I had heard that it was pretty good.
On top of that, Kazakhstan can now be visited visa-free for many nationalities (including Australian!) and so you have the chance to see a part of the world you might not have considered if you wish. Passing through smaller airports with less traffic makes the trnsit experience must less stressful than your Hong Kongs, Shanghais, KLs etc as well. Yes, the Almaty airport is very limited, there’s no doubt about that, but I’d trade that for crowded and overpriced Dubai at the drop of a hat.
But, the actual airline experience? At the end of the day, that’s what counts. I need to start with the booking and the rebooking. I initially was flying Hong Kong to Almaty to Dushanbe. The price was competitive, around $750 AUD or $600 USD. Not super cheap either, but as far a I could see the only other option was China Southern and that meant going through Urumqi Airport, which I was keen to avoid after past experiences – either way I needed to overnight and overnighting at Urumqi meant getting a Chinese visa, and last time I put Urumqi on the list of places I would visit, they weren’t going to issue the visa until I took it off. So it was a potential headache I was happy to avoid.
When I wanted to change the ticket, to leave from Kuala Lumpur instead, it was actually easy. Well, not 100% but the good news is it only cost me $180AUD more. It was all done on the phone, which did cut out a couple of times. And then I had to get a special code to confirm the payment from my credit card, which my bank couldn’t find initially. But once that was sorted, so was my flight and I was able to choose seats etc online.
So, economy class Kuala Lumpur to Almaty. Not fully booked – is there anything better when in economy (other than being told you’re being upgraded) than finding you have extra space? A seat next to me free, a day time flight (which is great for views as you go right over several mountains) and I have to say, a very comfortable, hassle free eight hour flight.
Twenty kilos of checked baggage and 8 kilos of carry-on. Nice mood lighting in the cabin, friendly staff, the only downside I can remember is that it took a while to check people in. Not because there were so many people, but because the system seemed slow. A lot of people with extra baggage as well. As always I try to be one of the first, and I was through quickly, but I could see how long it was taking.
The Aircraft was a Boeing 767 and it was a super smooth flight despite going over so many mountains. I saw the landscape then change from mountains to desert, it was brilliant. Legroom was good, the plane was in good condition and felt very new. I really don’t know what else to say (well, the Business Class looked like heaven) because I think it’s easier to review when you have a bad experience!
The second flight was the next morning, and without a hotel at Almaty Airport I was forced to go into town which was annoying because it took nearly an hour in bad traffic and the taxi driver ripped me off. A post coming up on that! Arrived at the hotel at 5 – 6pm and had to leave by 8 am the next morning so there was little I could except try to sleep, and get ready for Tajikistan. HINT HINT Air Astana! Build an airport hotel at Almaty International!
To Dushanbe it was a much smaller plane, an Embraer 190 E2. Had to go downstairs at the airport and get bused to it. The flight was fine, not as polished as the one from KL, but I had expected that. A little bumpy at times, but the mountains were even more spectacular than those spied on the first flight – yes, I did ensure I had window seats on both flights!
All in all, I definitely found Air Astana to be the second best airline of the eight I flew on my 2019 trip. Emirates just pipped it, but I was very impressed and have no hesitation in recommending them. As always my reviews are completely independent! I would fly them again without hesitation – the only issue is it would need to be on a convenient route, and Central Asia is often ‘not on the way’ to a lot of places!
I believe they are easily the best airline in Central Asia on word of mouth and my experience with them, but I don’t actually have another Central Asian airline to compare them to. Thanks for reading today, May the Journey Never End!