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September 29, 2014 / oneworld82

Uzbekistan Airways

I flew Uzbekistan Airways (HY) three times in 24-hours time. From Almaty to Tashkent, then from Tashkent to Urgench, then from Urgench to Bukhara. I was a little curious (and perhaps a little concerned) to see how this Skytrax 2-star airline would perform in economy class. Overall, it wasn’t that bad.

 

To Tashkent!

To Tashkent!

It’s always interesting flying in developing countries, where the flying “etiquette” (if there is such a thing) is rather different than in Europe or North America. Check ins are always chaotic, messy, disorderly; more than lines you have a number of people trying to get to the check in counter as fast as possible, cutting lines, pushing around, and the likes. It’s amusing to see to what lengths people would go to just cut one or two people in line. Does it really make a difference? When I witness this behavior – pretty common in my native country as well – I don’t get angry anymore, just amused. Overall, the flights were reasonably on time, the planes (A320s) pretty new, the service decent (including always a drink and even a small croissant as snack on the ALA-TAS segment), the baggage delivery prompt. But again, the real draw here are the people.

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Clearing immigration at TAS was less painful than anticipated. It took perhaps 45 minutes from when I stepped into the terminal to when I left it. Originally, I was scheduled to land at 11.40pm and to depart at 6.20am for Urgench, to go visit Khiva. Since I had read many accounts of endless lines at the airport for immigration, I had decided not to get a hotel in town since I thought I would have to spend only 2/3 hours at the airport before check-in opened. Unfortunately, my plane landed 30 minutes ahead of time and immigration was a breeze, so… by ~midnight I was already out of the international terminal!

Now, you need to know that domestic flights leave from a different terminal at TAS, which is (very inconveniently) located on the opposite side of the runway. No bus nor shuttle connect the two terminals, leaving taxis as the only viable option. Furthermore, that terminal is completely dead at night, since it’s very small and with no restaurants/cafes open. My original plan was to stick around the international terminal before going to the domestic terminal at check in time. TAS sees many international flights departing in the middle of the night, so I knew that the terminal would be busy. My plan had only one flaw: I did not know that only with a boarding pass they would let you inside!

And so here I am, seating on a bench outside the airport for 4 hours, watching Driving Ms. Sally on my iPad Mini while smoking a cigarillo and waiting for an appropriate time to go to the other terminal. To be fair, the wait wasn’t horrible. The temperature was nice, and there were plenty of people to keep me company, so to speak. About 2 and half hours before my scheduled departure time I made my way to the taxi stand, where I negotiated a $5 fare to the other terminal (a total ripoff, given that the ride last 5 minutes, but at 3.30 am I did not feel like bargaining too hard). With the driver came another guy, who was the one speaking English. He tried to convince me hard to change money at 2,800 CYM per USD. Thinking I could get a better rate in Khiva, I declined, but I should have accepted his offer as the rate was more competitive than the one I would get in the far west of the country. Lesson learned 🙂

Check in was on time and the flight was uneventful.

TAS domestic terminal

TAS domestic terminal

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Urgench Airport

Urgench Airport

People in this part of the World must not be too used to flying. The best example of this was on my URG-BHK flight. I was sitting next to a twenty-something young man who must have been flying for the very first time of his life. It didn’t look particularly nervous, but it was completely clueless of what to do and not to do on a flight. This was epitomized by his asking me whether he could smoke a cigarette or not. I guess that, after all, those non-smoking signs bear a meaning still today… 🙂

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On my Urgench-Bukhara flight, a flight that happens only once a week and that is catered mainly to organized tours, I also witnessed corruption. A group of Italians was flying on my same flight, and they had an Uzbek guide. I personally witnessed that guide handing a decent amount of money to a check in agent to ensure the same delivery of the suitcases to destination. It was all very casual and well oiled – it felt very normal. I didn’t think much about it though, I figured these things happen rather frequently in Uzbekistan, but it was an interesting experience nonetheless.

Anyways, overall Uzbekistan Airways didn’t disappoint. It’s reliable and fairly cheap. I made the mistake to buy my tickets outside the country – that’s what you do when you are short in time. Buy tickets while in Uzbekistan and pay in CYM  (Soum), the local currency. If you change money at the black market rates, you could save yourself a good 20/30% in overall fare. The tricks you learn traveling are endless 🙂

One Comment

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  1. Eulalia / Jun 10 2015 11:00 am

    excellent post I’m a huge aviation geek from India

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