First impressions I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 2 at 1855 for my six and a half hour flight to Almaty, leaving at 2105. There were three check-in desks for economy and one for business class. There was only one person at the desk and I took my place behind him. My turn came quickly and I was processed swiftly and given a lounge invitation. I went upstairs and joined the queue for security, which was moving fast. I headed straight to the lounge, which is well signposted and is near Gates 17-19, although it is a long way from Gate 38 where the flight was leaving from, on the other side of the terminal. Air Astana is the only airline with a non-stop service from London to Almaty, flying twice weekly (rising to three times from October 29). As well as this Tuesday night flight, a Saturday flight leaves at 1715, arriving in Almaty at 0525. Return flights are on Tuesday and Saturday at 1230, arriving in London at 1515. BMed also has flights to Almaty, stopping at Ekaterinburg.
The lounge Air Astana uses Air France's lounge, which is large and offers drinks, including alcohol, and cold snacks. There are TVs at each end and a bank of desks at one end with some workspace and plug-in for laptops.
Boarding The flight was called at 2040 and I made the 15-minute walk to the gate. When I reached it at 2055 it was deserted, but then I saw that the last few economy passengers were being ushered past a different set of desks. I joined them and was in my seat quickly. Business class passengers are boarded last as economy passengers pass through business class to find their seats.
The seat There are five rows of business class seats on this two-class B757-200, configured 2-2. The seat is a cradle seat (BA's old version) with four controls to alter the leg rest, recline, lumbar position and cushion width. Seat pitch is 127cm, cushion width 51cm. I found it reasonably comfortable but a little cramped at times; to visit the toilet I had to climb over the legs of the person next to me. The in-flight entertainment (IFE) was via a communal screen, with a listings card for each pair of seats. There was a selection of documentaries, animated films and a couple of spoof movies, which played on a cycle.
The flight Before take-off, attendants offered a choice of English or Kazakh newspapers and a drink. Our almost full flight pulled away from the stand at 2105 and was airborne at 2125. I was impressed by the amenity kits, which included Molton Brown lip balm, mouthwash, hand and body lotion all in a smart case. We were also given blankets and headphones. Dinner was served on trays and a white tablecloth, with a metal spoon and fork and a plastic knife. There was no dinner menu; a tray was brought out with a starter of cold meat and a side salad along with a dessert of vanilla sponge pudding. Later the attendant brought a tray of three hot dishes, chicken, fish or beef to select from. I chose the beef with potatoes, courgettes and peppers, which was good. The meal was well presented although I was initially confused to have received my starter and dessert simultaneously. After the meal the cabin lights were dimmed and I managed to get comfortable enough to sleep for two or three hours. When I awoke, the eagle-eyed attendant immediately offered me some breakfast: a plate of fruit, a bowl of yoghurt and a croissant. There was some confusion over landing cards – I was handed one in Kazakh which the attendant had to translate for me – she then came back and apologised that she had given me the wrong one, so she returned with a different card.
Arrival We landed at 0851 local time and it took a few minutes to file out of the plane. Economy passengers were kept back until business class passengers had filed off, so we arrived first at immigration. I went through to the baggage area where my luggage appeared after 10 minutes.
Verdict A friendly service with eager, helpful cabin attendants. The product is old but in reasonable condition, and upgrades are in the pipeline (since I flew dinner menus have been introduced, and new IFE is on the way).
Price Air Astana's published return fare is £1,507 in business class.