Kazakh flag carrier Air Astana launched its first service between Almaty and Astana in 2002. Today, the Air Astana Group, which includes low-cost carrier FlyArystan, serves more than 90 destinations across Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
The group has 45 aircraft, and its expansion continues, both in terms of fleet size and network. Air Astana is currently renewing its entire fleet with long-range Airbus A321 neo aircraft, and will add its first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft in 2025.
Air Astana’s A321 neo LR aircraft were the first in the industry to feature ‘throne seats’ – single seats in a 1-1 configuration, as opposed to the standard 2-2 configuration. Other airlines, including Aer Lingus on its A321 LRs and Singapore Airlines on its Boeing 737 MAXs, have since joined the ‘throne seat’ club.
We arrived at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport at 0830 for the 1015 flight KC932 to Almaty. The Air Astana counters are toward the end of the terminal, in the ‘U’ check-in area. There was a short queue for business class and quite an impressive queue for economy, which made it clear this was going to be a full flight.
Having a business class ticket meant I was able to access Suvarnabhumi’s expedited security and immigration facilities, which still took a bit of time given how busy the airport was, but was far preferable to the regular access, where we struggled to even identify the end of the queue.
Air Astana uses the EVA Air lounge by the F and G gates in Bangkok, roughly a five to ten-minute walk from immigration but right near the Air Astana departure gate, which is usually F1.
The lounge surprised in a positive way, with an excellent food and beverage selection, modern and stylish interiors, and great views of the airfield. The EVA Bangkok lounge has plenty of different seating and lounging options, showers and clean bathrooms. It was also amazingly quiet between 0900 and 1000 when we visited, which was a nice change from the busy airport halls.
The layout of the lounge afforded a direct view of our F1 departure gate, which meant we could see exactly when boarding started. While a 0935 boarding time was indicated on our boarding passes, it commenced shortly before 1000 with priority given to business class passengers.
After settling into my seat, the cabin crew brought round a choice of cherry juice, orange juice and Champagne. I really liked the traditional Kazakh music that was playing during boarding. It was calming and mesmerising, and perfectly set the stage for my upcoming trip.
Boarding for the flight was completed quickly and we pushed back at 1020. It was a short taxi to the runway and by 1030 we were already airborne.
The intimate business class cabin has just 16 seats across five rows, arranged in an alternating 2-2 and 1-1 pattern. Rows one, three and five are arranged in 2-2 pairs, though there is a divider down the middle for privacy. Rows two and four are arranged in a 1-1 configuration. These are the ‘throne seats’ for those looking for a space with no seat mate, as well as direct aisle access and extra privacy.
Air Astana charges extra for reserving these seats when booking, although the fee is modest (around US$30 for the seven-hour journey between Bangkok and Almaty). If there are no advance takers, passengers can switch to a ‘throne seat’ for free at the time of check in.
I was in 3K on the daytime flight up to Almaty as I wanted to chat with a colleague but snagged one of the throne seats (4B) on the night flight back to Bangkok. Both seats were comfortable but, of course, having almost unlimited space left and right in the ‘throne seat’ was great.
On the way to Kazakhstan, I would highly recommend a seat on the starboard side of the aircraft – the J and K seats – as this is where, on a clear day, you will get views of the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush mountain range.
The Air Astana A321 neo LR business cabin is smart and elegant, with great quality finishes and there is plenty of overhead and seat pocket storage space. The highlight of the product, however, remains the fully-flat bed, which is almost two metres long and comes with bedding.
Noticeably missing, however, was inflight wifi. This took me by surprise, especially given that Air Astana’s fleet is brand new. That being said, the excellent inflight entertainment system provided many quality programmes, and the flight progress map was interactive and of high quality, too.
Large menus were brought round shortly after takeoff, printed in English, Kazakh and Russian, along with Samsonite-branded hardcase amenity kits and a hot towel. This was followed by a pre-lunch drink service that was served with two snack ramekins, one with a nutty concoction and one with olives.
Air Astana’s bar offerings really impressed. In addition to either Taittinger or Moët Champagne, the airline serves two whites and two reds in business. The white selection was a Chardonnay and Germany’s excellent Markus Molitor Riesling, while the red options were one Italian and a Chelti Saperavi Qvevri from Georgia. The drinks list also featured a variety of cocktails, including the Brutal Baileys Martini (12-year-old Chivas Regal whiskey and Baileys over ice) and Calimocho (red wine, coke and lemon).
Non-alcoholic options including soft drinks, teas and juice were plentiful as well. All Air Astana aircraft have espresso machines, meaning macchiatos and cappuccinos are available.
Lunch menu options comprised of a fish and prawn starter with grilled mango (no default vegetarian option). This was beautifully presented and came with a generously sized side salad with baby mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes. This, too, was nice and refreshing.
Next up was a tomato and roasted fennel soup with paprika-garlic croutons. Full marks here as well. Not only was the soup very tasty, it was also served piping hot (which is unfortunately quite rare!).
Main dish options included chicken parmesan with tomato caper sauce, mashed potatoes and vegetables; blue cheese-stuffed grilled beef tenderloin with Lyonnaise potatoes, sautéed vegetables and port wine jus; Thai seabass with pumpkin Chu Chee curry, steamed rice and vegetables; or traditional pad Thai.
I had the beef tenderloin; my fellow traveller had the seabass curry. Both were very good and of restaurant quality. This was followed by a cheese selection and a choice of three desserts: fresh fruits; mango crème brulée; or warm chocolate macadamia cake. An excellent meal, with excellent service.
The flight attendants working business class were extremely efficient, which meant that despite the many courses and sophisticated presentation the whole meal service, including pre-lunch drinks, was completed within two hours of departure.
The service was lovely despite a few language barriers and a full cabin. However, there was a noticeable difference between individual crew. Some were extremely hospitable and made you feel welcome as soon as you stepped on board, while others took some time to warm up. (I’m basing this not only on the flight reviewed here, but rather all seven Air Astana flights taken during my trip).
One slight criticism would be that there was no option for a second meal service or snack before arrival. I realise that some may not be hungry again so soon, but after six hours in the air I would have appreciated a sandwich or pre-arrival salad.
We landed on time at 1620 in Almaty, followed by a short taxi and were at immigration by 1630. This didn’t take long and the bags arrived on the belt quickly. We were curbside and off to our hotel by 1645.
I remain very impressed with Air Astana. The airline is a true gem that pays attention to the tiny details and makes you remember flying with them. The seats are very comfortable, the aircraft mostly brand new, and the food and beverage offerings easily rival other premium airlines.
- Flight duration 7 hours 5 minutes
- Configuration 1-1; 2-2
- Seat width 21.5in/55cm
- Seat Pitch 44in-45in/112cm-114cm
- Price Internet rates for a one-way business class ticket from Bangkok to Almaty in October start from £1,469.
- Contact airastana.com