We arrived at Astana Airport International (TSE) early, at around 5pm, for the 2055 flight KC231 to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport (BKK). The business counter had no queue, although we had a short delay waiting for our tickets to be upgraded.
Kazakhstan is currently on a “yellow” (moderate) terrorist alert, following an attack in Aktobe on June 9. As such, extra security measures were present, which included an additional luggage scan and metal detector on arrival at the airport (before check-in), which caused something of a bottleneck. There was also a frosty reception from the immigration staff and an intense level of scrutiny over documents (don’t lose the “migration” slip of paper received on entering the country).
After passing the final hand luggage scan the lounge is immediately to the left, accessed up a winding staircase or by lift. It is a basic but smart, moderately sized facility with capacity for about 40 people. There are comfortable leather tub chairs around small tables, individual stools at desks facing out of the windows onto the apron and a reading area with a selection of international publications. A small but tasty food offering includes canapés and sweet treats, plus soft drinks, coffee/tea and a bar.
While there are easy-to-view flight status screens, the lounge assistants were on the ball with real-time information and informed us our flight was boarding at around 8.30pm – there was no queue at the gate. I proceeded to seat 1H, where I was offered a selection of juices, water and champagne, plus two English-language newspaper options.
Air Astana’s B757 aircraft is seriously dated – in fact it is the oldest aircraft in the fleet, with an average age of 19 years. As such, the 16 business class seats, arranged in a 2-2 configuration, are rather retro.
Shortly after take-off I was amazed to witness my neighbour slowly sinking to the ground. The seat stretches forwards and down into an angled-flat bed, but it feels rather undignified to be so low to the ground with your feet lying on the floor, and has limited comfort levels. Additional issues include an almost total lack of storage space, no direct aisle access for window passengers, and no inbuilt IFE screens. Instead, business class passengers receive a tablet and headphones to stream content.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE
With only 16 seats in four rows for business, there is not a great deal of choice. If you don’t want to be disturbed by your neighbour clambering over you, choose the window seat. Conversely, if you like to be up and down a lot, choose the aisle. The front of the cabin is next to the galley and bathroom, so it does suffer from additional noise/traffic disturbance.
We pushed back slightly behind schedule at 2105 and the captain informed us the flight would take around 7 hours and 25 minutes. Friendly cabin crew recited the four menu options (beef, chicken, fish or vegetarian) and noted my meal choice.
We took off at 2115 and reached cruising altitude 15 minutes later. At this point, cabin crew distributed blankets, duvets, plus the tablets and good-quality noise-cancelling headphones. The IFE system was easy to navigate with clear resolution and excellent sound quality thanks to the headphones. A quick look revealed around ten new blockbuster releases, a selection of classic and international titles, plus some popular TV shows like House of Cards.
The amenity kit is worth a mention – neatly contained in a black velvet bag with two compartments, the pouch is stocked full of goodies beyond the usual suspects to include a pen, hairbrush and makeup remover wipe.
A drinks trolley passed through the cabin at 2145, with almonds and an additional tasty smoked-fish canapé. Dinner was served at 10pm with plated service, featuring a smoked duck starter with salad and bread. This was followed by a tasty lentil soup and a generous portion of grilled chicken with new potatoes, carrots and a sauce. This was fairly good; the chicken was moist and tasty and the attentive service was excellent.
Attempting to watch some entertainment with dinner was tricky, as the meal took up all of the table space leaving no room to prop up the IFE on its stand.
After dinner, I stretched out and tried to sleep for a few hours. It was not the most comfortable experience and there were quite a lot of little disturbances throughout the night – including the pings from the galley – so I only managed to doze.
The lights came back on with 40 minutes to go before landing, and I was offered tea or coffee.
We landed on schedule at 0520 in Bangkok, ready to transit to Hong Kong. Thankfully, the early hour meant the airport was quiet and security queues were less overwhelming than normal.
Air Astana’s B757 is a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to the seat product, with severe limitations in comfort and entertainment. However, the old Boeing aircraft are due to be replaced by A321neos – the first is scheduled for delivery in September and a further ten are on order. The soft products, however – F&B, service, amenities – are of a very high standard.
DEPARTURE TIME 2055
JOURNEY TIME 7 hours 20 minutes
SEAT PITCH 127cm/50in
SEAT WIDTH 51cm/20in
SEAT RECLINE 127cm/50in
PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from Astana to Bangkok in mid-July start from 766,007 tenge (US$2,279) including taxes and surcharges.