Air Astana is the national flag carrier of Kazakhstan, with bases at its former capital (Almaty) and new capital (Astana). With international flights distributed between these two cities, Air Astana offer a unique stop-over opportunity when travelling from East/Southeast Asia to Europe.
Most national airlines around the world fly out of their home base (usually the capital), which makes connecting flights a simple process. In Kazakhstan, the capital was moved from Almaty to Astana in 1998, and money has since been poured into the new capital to make it a worldly destination.
With flights needing to serve both major cities, routes are split between the two. Flights to Western Europe fly out of Astana, while there are more options to East/Southeast Asia from Almaty, with some destinations having flights from both cities. That means that any destination not served from one city, a domestic connection is made to the other.
With the airline operating two hubs, passengers can fly from Bangkok to London (and vice versa) with a free stopover in both Almaty and Astana. With this flight combo you get to see the two main cities of Kazakhstan, and when I booked it was about the same price as a direct Bangkok-London flight.
This double stopover would also work combining London, Paris, Frankfurt, Warsaw, and Kiev, to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Beijing, and Seoul.
Originally I had intended to do this combo via Ho Chi Minh City. Unfortunately the SGN service was cancelled just months before I took this flight. I’m not sure if this is a permanent cancellation or a seasonal stoppage.
For this flight search I used Vayama, which I find to be good for making complex international bookings. Using the multi-city option I put a full day in between each flight, giving me a day and a half in each city.
[Search for Air Astana flight with Vayama.]
There are flights from both Astana and Almaty to Bangkok, so you could just do Bangkok – Astana – London. Among the cheapest flights I found were with this option, but where is the fun in that?
It seems that having flights to Bangkok from two cities might be stretching the airline a bit thin. A few weeks before my flight I got an email saying my Bangkok – Almaty flight had been cancelled, and I was put on the next days flight. As a result I only got to have half a day in Almaty. My schedule was already tight, so I wasn’t able to move this flight.
This was my first time to Kazakhstan, and thus my first time on Air Astana. I hadn’t heard much about them, and I didn’t know what to expect. It turns out that they have won awards, including the best airline of Central Asia.
Here is my review of the three flights, and what to expect when flying with Air Astana.
Bangkok (BKK) to Almaty (ALA)
I checked in online to make sure I got a reasonable seat. The check in process was also showing the Almaty to Astana flight, even though I wasn’t flying that leg until the next day.
Checking in online saved time at the airport as the queue for online check in was much smaller. I made sure that the bag wasn’t checked through to Astana instead of Almaty.
I never get tired of seeing the departure halls of Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Flight 932 departs at 10.15 and arrives at 16.25, making it a scheduled flying time of 7H, 10M. As I lost a day due to the rescheduled flight I only had one afternoon to explore Almaty. I could not afford any delay today. Fortunately the flight left on time, and as it was summertime in Almaty I would have a late evening and early morning sunrise to see the city.
Free newspapers upon entry. I already had my Kindle loaded with books, plus I didn’t need the challenge of trying to read a broadsheet paper in an economy seat.
The flight from Bangkok to Almaty is with a 767, which maybe my favourite wide-body aircraft.
It’s my favourite because the economy seat layout on the 767 is 2-3-2, so there is only one middle seat per row. By comparison a 777 is usually 3-4-3 across.
The welcome drink and snack.
Tengri – the inflight magazine of Air Astana.
The entertainment units are wide, and the screens are easy to see in any light situation.
Nomad Club is the frequent flyer program for Air Astana, though I didn’t join it. Not because I wouldn’t join a club that would have me as a member, but the frequent flyer offering is very limited if you are not from Kazakhstan or not a frequent traveller of the region. It’s not in any alliance either, so I couldn’t collect points anywhere else.
I did check out the route map to see where else I might go. This always induces more wanderlust. Damn, I should have joined the Nomad Club, if only to have a Nomad card in my wallet.
I mentioned that my original flight was cancelled and I was placed on the next days flight. This flight was only half full as well, so it seems they are not filling their Bangkok services, at least during the week I travelled. For long-haul flights I usually get an aisle seat so I can stretch my legs often. With a row to myself I could have a window and aisle.
As much as I enjoy having an empty row, I always feel bad for the airline when a flight leaves half full. I was only at the start of my flight and I could see how this airline rates so well among those who have flown it.
The amenities pack with items more useful for a night time flight.
The lunch menu, with a choice between braised beef or roast chicken.
The roast chicken was great.
And I loved the box of assorted Kazakh chocolates and sweets for dessert.
I know I shouldn’t drink coffee inflight, but I can never say no.
This flight has wifi available, starting from $5 USD for email and social media. For some reason flying is one of the few occasions when I don’t get wifi separation anxiety. I love the enforced offline time that flying provides, and I never buy the wifi option. I use the time to read, watch movies, or do some offline work.
A Kazakhstan migration card is provided during the flight.
I didn’t watch any movies on this flight, so I just had the flight tracker playing to see what I was looking at out the window.
Here we are about to cross the Bangladesh coast.
Apparently this is somewhere between Peshawar and Kabul.
Approaching Almaty over the spectacular Tian Shan mountain ranges, which means the Mountains of Heaven. I’m not disagreeing with that name choice.
A second meal is served before landing. It’s not a long enough flight for two full meals, so a light snack of a hot apple pie is served.
Almaty is located at the foot of the Trans-Ili Alatau mountains (part of the Tian Shan mountain ranges), and the mountains provide a stunning backdrop for Almaty Airport.
The flight arrived on time, so by the time I got dropped my bags off at the hotel I had about three hours of light to explore the city, plus half a morning the next day.
Almaty (ALA) to Astana (TSE)
After my brief exploration of Almaty, part II of my Air Astana adventure was the domestic leg from Almaty to Astana. As you would expect there are numerous flights to choose from throughout the day, so I picked a midday one so I didn’t have to rush in the morning.
Most of these flights are point-to-point flights on A320’s. I didn’t realise that I booked the Astana-Frankfurt flight, which originates from Almaty. The good news is that this is on a 767 as well.
Once again I was happy to be sitting by a window with a row to myself.
Flight 621 departs at 12.55 and arrives at 14.40, for a scheduled flying time of 1H, 45M.
A last look at the mountains surrounding Almaty.
The tough thing about doing this multiple-stop trip is that I now want to see more of Kazakhstan. I was looking over the domestic map to see where else I could go, and contemplating a thorough visit of “The Stans”. Kazakhstan is the 9th largest country in the world (and largest landlocked country) so it’s no surprise to see there is an extensive domestic flight network.
A light lunch is served on this flight, and there was only one option of chicken pasta.
Once you start heading north of Almaty, Kazakhstan flattens out to an endless expanse.
I had a window seat for this flight, and I was fortunate to have picked the right side (on the right side) giving you a great view of the city when approaching the airport from the south.
Astana is the geographical opposite of Almaty, with not a mountain in sight here. Being on the Great Steppe it’s a flatness as far as the eye can see.
I had a day and a bit in Astana, and it was well worth making time to having a look around the city instead of flying through. Here is my trip report on Astana – the futuristic capital of Kazakhstan.
Astana (TSE) to London (LHR)
The third and final leg of my trip was from Astana to London. I checked in online to reserve an aisle seat.
Astana Airport is suitably futuristic like the rest of the architecture in the new city.
Checking in at the airport was a breeze.
Todays flight was on a 757. This aircraft is like an extended version of a 737 (single aisle with 3-3 seat configuration).
In contrast to the Bangkok flight, the flight to London was full. If you are an airline flying to Heathrow and can’t fill the flight then you would have to question your ability as an airline.
Flight 941 departs Astana at 14.40 and arrives in London at 16.45, making it a scheduled flight of 7H, 5M.
The Air Astana flight safety video is shown three times in Kazakh, Russian, and then English. After watching this nine times in fours days I had the jingle stuck in my head for a while.
A welcome drink and snack.
The menu is also presented in Kazakh, Russian, and English.
When lunch was served the mood lighting was on, thus my photo has a purple-red glow. I can assure you the lunch tasted better than this photo looks.
The western routes of Air Astana.
An amenities pack is provided of stuff I didn’t need. I only opened it for you, dear reader. Collectors of airline paraphernalia will be satisfied with the items with Air Astana branding.
The same movies were on as on the Bangkok flight. I usually watch movies on overnight flights, but for day flights I enjoy the opportunity to do laptop work without the distraction of internet. One of the major reasons I booked this flight (apart from the double stopover bonus) was that both flights were during the day. I can never sleep on overnight flights, so I base my flight searches on time of day.
The flight arrived on time at Heathrow, and by the time I got to my hotel it was dinner time. I was able to go to bed like it was a normal day. By flying from Bangkok to London via two day-time segments I avoided jetlag completely.
So that was my Air Astana experience. I got to fly with a great airline while experiencing interesting stopovers (and visiting a new country). I would be happy to fly Air Astana again, either to see more of Kazakhstan, or on the way to somewhere else in Central Asia.
Dr. James Welch says
This was a fine article. Extremely well developed and interesting to veteran and novice travellers alike. It could do with some minor proofreading to correct errors, but it was a very nice read and a pleasant experience.
The downside? Now I HAVE to travel on Air Astana and visit Kazhakstan…this was truly an invitation to travel. I now have itchy feet!
Beth Forsey says
Keep on writing, great job!