In the planning process for my trip to Uzbekistan with MIR Corporation in December 2019, I insisted that a portion of my journey involved a domestic flight with Uzbekistan Airways. I knew I was flying Turkish Airlines into Uzbekistan but given the cheap domestic fares and opportunity to fly on a rare airline, I simply could not pass.
Uzbekistan Airways is a state owned airline, and the only airline of Uzbekistan. It operates a modern fleet of Boeing 787s (one of which is used on a 3 weekly service to New York JFK, and daily service to Seoul), A320s and 757/767s. They fly domestic Uzbek flights, regional Central Asia/ Middle East flights, and a handful of weekly services to major European gateways such as London Heathrow, Frankfurt and Paris as well as key Asian hubs like Seoul, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
You book their flights either with a travel agency or on their website directly. Flight are basically fixed price. There are two cabins, economy and business on every flight. Their schedule is not logical and even domestic flights are not daily and quite sparse. Given the timezone Uzbekistan is in, the departure and arrival times of international flights are often awfully early or awfully late.
General notes on flying in Uzbekistan: 1) previously I had read that the authorities are strict with taking photos of the airports, planes and interiors. That was definitely not the case with my trips, either on international arrival, domestic flights or international departure. No one stopped me from taking any sort of photos. 2) Heavy security: this remains true. Though not so many armed military personnel who surround and police the planes anymore as reported from reviews written in 2017. Like the train stations, you pass through an excessive amount of security checks at varying levels of strictness. 3) Check-in, boarding processes are not orderly and in some cases there are not signs of which airline is using which counter. Just go prepared and have an open mind and be flexible, English speaking staff will help if you are lost and confused. 4) Tashkent International-Domestic-International transfers: this is probably the biggest pain point if you book an itinerary that involves a direct transfer between an international and domestic flight in Tashkent. The two terminals are located on opposite sides of the airport. The only option to get to and from is to take a taxi or arrange a a car. There are no shuttles. It takes around 15-20 minutes to drive around the airport. There is no air-side transfer either. So you must clear customs/immigration and get your bags and head to domestic terminal, or grab your bags and head to international. It is very inconvenient.
Date: December 21, 2019
Flight: Uzbekistan Airways HY 23
Route: Tashkent TAS – Bukhara BHK, 272 Miles
Aircraft: A320-200 UK32016
Time: 8:30AM-9:20AM, 40 minutes inflight.
Cabin: Business Class, seat 3A
I arrived at the airport 2 hours prior to departure as recommended by the agency despite not having any checked-bags, the issue is that one never knows what awaits at the three security checks you got through.
After being dropped off, I proceeded through the terminal perimeter gate and security. You must show your ticket and ID. Your bags do not pass through a x-ray, but you are swiped and padded down before being let through. You then walk, in the open-air across the supposed drop-off roadway and into the terminal. You enter and place your bags through an x-ray machine while you go through a metal detector. Then I proceeded to the 10 or so check-in counters. Tashkent Domestic Terminal had clear signage. Firstly, there is only one airline operating, but secondly each domestic destination occupies around 1-2 counters and they are clearly marked with tourism posters behind of each destination but also clearly written on the screens above the counters.
There was technically a business class and economy class check-in, but not quite followed, but also didnt make a difference as there was barely any passengers at any one given time checking in. Check-in was super easy and straightforward. I inquired about a lounge as I did see online that the domestic airport had some sort of lounge, but Uzbekistan Airways themselves do not have a lounge at the domestic terminal and there is no other priority pass of sorts. I sat down in the check-in hall to have my hotel packaged breakfast. The terminal is simple two to three story building. There are bathrooms, vending machines and 1-2 small cafe. There is even a breast-feeding room, sure enough there were also signs pointing to a lounge but again it seemingly was non-existent.
After eating, I proceeded to departures. You line up, show your passport and boarding pass and hotel registration form to an agent sitting at a fold-out table, who writes your name down on what appears to be a hand-written passenger manifest for each departing flight! After they clear and stamp you boarding pass, you pass through the third and final security check involving x-ray machine and metal detector. I then enter the two-story high departures hall with some stadium seats, vending machine, lavatory, a cafe and a whole half of the room blocked off with divider walls as a prayer area. Thankfully announcements were made in Uzbek, Russian and English and was loud and clear to hear. But again, not too many passengers in the hall at any one given time.
Technically there are four gates to board through but only two sets of automatic doors. There is also only one departures board with flight information…conveniently located right about the boarding doors. There is no “gate agent” per se and definitely no gate counter. The domestic terminal is all bus gates. After about an hour or waiting around and people watching and just observing the terminal, I heard the call for my flight. Except it seemed like no one was boarding yet and then gate lice situation occurred. Soon enough two agents arrived and starts boarding. No ID checks at this point, just check to see your boarding pass and that you getting on the right flight.
I board the bus, and after it fills it buses us to the plane. Upon disembarking passengers are filtered to the front or aft boarding stairs depending on their seats. Airline agents at the bottom of each step and at the exit of the bus checked boarding passes to guide passengers to the right steps. Lots of checks yet at the same time a little lax, given no boarding pass barcode swipe and that it looked as though it was a manual hand-written passenger manifest!
I boarded through the front stairs and door and settled in seat 3A, in the last row of 3 rows in business class. Uzbekistan A320 business class consists of 12 recliner seats with power outlets, old-school swivel footrests under the seat in front, and overhead entertainment. The seats dont recline much but that isnt too bad for a short flight or the regional ones the aircraft is used on. No entertainment throughout the flight, just airmap, which I was fine with. I was offered a packaged wet wipe and asked what I’d like to drink, no alcohol, just juices, tea, coffee or water. I had some apple juice. I flipped through seat pocket content and really liked how Uzbekistan Airways’ inflight magazine has a list of the airlines’ fleet with seat map included! The flight attendants were direct but a tad cold. The lavatory had a vase of fresh flowers and spray-can of air freshener, a fascinating touch that I have never seen before. Unfortunately, despite it being a similar length of haul as a flight to Dushanbe in Tajikistan, domestic business class does not come with slippers, eye mask and shoe horn as some have documented in their own reviews (specifically that of One Mile at a Time). I was secretly hoping for those items to take with me as a souvenir.
Soon the last bus arrived with the last passengers and the door was closed. It appeared there were two empty business class seats. But upon taxi, they were occupied by Uzbekistan Airways staff, who also later were eating a full inflight meal in the galley. They showed a safety video, that was both outdated and cringeworthy, but it was very Soviet. Nonetheless got the point across and was once shown in Uzbek and another time in English, so I appreciated that. Announcements were also made in both. After a short taxi, we were airborne.
The remainder of the flight itself was completely uneventful. I was offered the same range of drinks again right after takeoff, and was consistently asked if I needed refills, so at least the flight attendant was proactive. But the two crew in the front essentially sat the rest of the flight playing on their phones, while the HY staff stood and ate his meal behind the curtain, but visible when pax used the lavatory. I spent the flight taking a quick nap, watching the airshow on the overhead screens and looking out the window as the clouds overcasting Tashkent slowly disappears to reveal the plains and deserts of Bukhara. Soon we were on descent into Bukhara airport.
Upon landing, it was a quick turnaround taxi to our stand and down the stairs. No buses, just a short walk around the plane to the terminal. I learned that all train and airport terminals in Uzbekistan are designed and built around the same basic aesthetic. Again, no one stopping anyone from taking photos or selfies with the plane or terminal. I walked right through the arrivals and baggage claim and out the other wise. Took a right turn along the roadway to the fence and gate, where my guide and driver awaited me. Bukhara airport itself see a handful of international flights from Russia, the same terminal handles both domestic and international and is all bus/stair gates.
And so concluded my Uzbekistan Airways domestic flight experience.
I have heard on international longhaul, there is much to be desired. My friend flew in economy from Seoul to Tashkent and said the entertainment system selection was sad, and lacked content, even the small number of films available were all local content. And the food was not great.
I am still glad I chose to do this flight, although next time I’d save the money and do the $35 economy class instead. But nonetheless it was an uneventful, safe way to get around Uzbekistan.