Oh Babushka!: Ukraine International Airlines Economy Flight from Yerevan – Kiev – Almaty

Ukraine International Airlines

Flight Numbers: PS 614; PS 537

Flight Time: 3 hrs; 5h 45 min

Equipment: B737-800/900

Seat: Bitch Seat, Window Seat

I was trying to fly from Yerevan to Almaty. The cheapest ticket by far, was Ukraine International Airlines, which has me backtracking, flying Yerevan -> Kiev -> Almaty. Since I have plenty of time, it wasn’t a big deal to me.

As I learned, cheap tickets sell seats. It was my first time flying Ukraine International Airlines, and it was quite a learning experience for me for several reasons.

Check In: Print Your Boarding Passes at Home

My adventure started at check in. I did online check in rather late, and ended up in the bitch seat for the Yerevan – Kiev flight. It’s a short flight, so I will live. But that’s not the adventure. Being a full service airline, I assumed that I can get a boarding pass at the counter for free. Well, I was wrong. At the check in at Yerevan International Airport, the ground agent told me that I had to get a digital boarding pass, or my own printed boarding pass, failing which, I would have to pay for a boarding pass (she wasn’t nasty or anything). Thankfully, I was there rather early, so generating a mobile boarding pass was still possible. Lesson learned: When flying Ukraine International Airlines, please generate mobile boarding pass, or print at home. It has the Ryanair model of boarding passes.

Ukraine International Airlines

Boy! That’s Not Legroom

The flight itself – I am not a huge fan of the seating. It’s regular 3-3 like most B737s, and although it reports as average legroom, there was something about UIA that made it feel very cramped. I am just 1.63m/5”4, so if I felt the squeeze, I imagine so did everyone else. It really felt a lot more like a budget airline’s legroom than a full service airline’s average legroom. They served some drinks for the Yerevan to Kiev flight.

Oh Babushka! A Memorable Seatmate

The Kiev to Almaty flight was quite eventful, thanks to my seatmate. For the Kiev to Almaty redeye flight, the flight left with only one empty seat, and I managed to score that seat. But once again, things didn’t exactly work out as planned. A babushka, also a customer of size (COS) planted herself down in the middle seat beside me, leaving the aisle seat empty. I tried to gesture to her that she could move to the empty aisle seat, but she didn’t, so for the first 2 hrs of the flight, she leaned 30% of her body weight on me.

When I picked through the literature at the seat pocket, I noticed that food was for sale. Hence, I assumed that UIA uses the BA (and several US legacy)’s model of having food for sale. As it turns out, UIA does provide food for free on certain flights, and the Kiev – Almaty flights is one of those. As it was pretty late, I declined food.

Well, the babushka beside me found the concept of rejecting free food to be rather alien. She got very concerned that I might fly hungry. She poked me in the belly, and then poked her own belly, presumably indicating that I am too skinny for my own good (flattering, if untrue). She then fished out bread rolls from her handbag, and proceeded to stuff those bread rolls into my hands. At this point, I quite honestly didn’t know how to politely decline the bread rolls in my hand, so I simply had to eat them up.

Probably about 3 hrs into the flight, she finally got that it would be more comfortable for both of us if she moved to the empty aisle seat, so I finally got some extra room to my side.

Ukraine International Airlines

In conclusion

Despite being a full service flight, UIA’s model is closer to a budget airline. Do pre-print/generate your boarding pass, and you might or might not have food. The babushka beside me is also a lovely person, and made the flight one of my most memorable ones!

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Flight Review: Economy Class in Azerbaijan Airlines J2 76 from Istanbul to Baku (IST-GYD)

Flight time: 2hr 45 min
Aircraft Type: Boeing 787-800
Route: IST-GYD
Seat: 22F (Aisle seat of the middle row)

Azerbaijan Airlines J2 76 Istanbul to Baku (IST-GYD) Boeing 787-800 Economy Class

I usually fly alliance airlines to maintain status and the perks associated with it, but sometimes destinations are not served by alliance, or in this case, an alliance airline was less convenient, and would have cost almost twice as much.

Azerbaijan Airlines has several daily flights between Istanbul and Baku. They usually deploy their narrow-body aircraft on this route, but in my case, I lucked out – I ended up with their Dreamliner aircraft, which I love.

Azerbaijan Airlines J2 76 Istanbul to Baku (IST-GYD) Boeing 787-800 Economy Class

They have three classes of service on this aircraft: Business, Premium Economy, and Economy. Business is 3 rows of 2-2-2; Premium Economy is 5 rows of 2-3-2, and Economy is a lot more rows of 3-3-3. In aircrafts where the Economy seat arrangement is 3-3-3, I usually choose the middle aisle, because it minimizes disruption – middle seat person has a 50% chance of bothering you. Look cranky, and maybe s/he will choose to bother the other person instead of you.

Azerbaijan Airlines J2 76 Istanbul to Baku (IST-GYD) Boeing 787-800 Economy Class

The flight was great, actually! The aircraft is new, clean, and the seat is decent. I got an aisle seat, and the legroom was decent as well. Seats also have IFE with USB chargers, although I didn’t find anything to my liking (I usually just watch sitcoms). I did stream some Azerbaijan music just for kicks. There’s also a USB charger on the IFE if you want to charge your phone.

Azerbaijan Airlines J2 76 Istanbul to Baku (IST-GYD) Boeing 787-800 Economy Class

Although this is a short 2.75-hr flight, the service was good. After takeoff, the flight attendants came around with hot towels. After hot towel service, lunch was served. I got their beef plov (pilaf), which was edible.

Azerbaijan Airlines J2 76 Istanbul to Baku (IST-GYD) Boeing 787-800 Economy Class

Overall

I don’t know what it’s like to fly their narrow-body aircraft, but I’d say that their Dreamliner is a solid option for short-haul economy.

The Closest I Got to Flying a Private Jet: Review of Safarilink from Zanzibar to Wilson (Nairobi) International Airport (ZNZ-WIL)

Safarilink from Zanzibar to Wilson International Airport Nairobi (ZNZ-WIL)

Flight Time: 2 hrs

Aircraft: Dash 8

Seat Number: Can’t remember, it was unassigned, and by the time I got on, only seats in the last 2 rows left.

I am fairly reliant on Google Flights for checking my flight options, but sometimes, it doesn’t hurt to check out Orbitz or Expedia. In this instance, Orbitz actually threw out a very surprising option – Safarilink – an airline I’ve never heard of. Despite my initial reservations about this, there were several factors that made a perfect choice:

    • Price and convenience: This was the best option by a long shot. It was half the price of Kenyan Airlines (check), and while it was some $20 more than Fly540, a budget airline, it was a direct flight.
  • Timing: Kenya Airlines flights were either too early, or too late. This one left in the mid-afternoon (~4 pm) and would arrive in Nairobi before it got super late.
  • Convenience: It flies into Wilson Airport. I never knew about Wilson airport before this, but as it turns out, it’s a small international airport for Nairobi. The Wilson airport is a lot closer to town, and being a small airport, I figured immigration will be less of a nightmare (true).

I arrived some 3.5 hrs before the flight, and at about 3 hrs before the flight, someone showed up at the check in counter. After locating my name on a list (yes, a print out), I was then given this laminated card as my boarding pass, with no seat number. Yes, just a laminated card with nothing else. No boarding time, no boarding gate etc. Interesting.

Safarilink from Zanzibar to Wilson International Airport Nairobi (ZNZ-WIL)

At about 1 hr before the flight was supposed to depart, I rolled down from the lounge. About 45 min before the stated departure time, a small plane with “Safarilink” written on its body landed in the small Zanzibar airport. A guy then yelled out “Safarilink”, and about a dozen people lined up. He took our boarding cards, and led us to a small aircraft.

Safarilink from Zanzibar to Wilson International Airport Nairobi (ZNZ-WIL)

The Dash 8 has about 8 rows of 2 by 2 seats, and a 9th row with 5 seats. There were more seats than people, so we all spread out. I was one of the last to board, so I ended up on the second last row, with a free seat beside me. Because the plane is so small, and everyone on the flight was present, we actually departed 30 mins before the stated departure time, and landed in Nairobi 30 min early as well.

Safarilink from Zanzibar to Wilson International Airport Nairobi (ZNZ-WIL)

During our short flight, the one FA also rolled through with a cart, and gave everyone juice boxes, water, nuts, and a small snack. We arrived in Nairobi 30 min before our stated time, which was nice, because there was still daylight.

Safarilink from Zanzibar to Wilson International Airport Nairobi (ZNZ-WIL)

The Wilson Airport is tiny, and is home to other smaller aircrafts. The immigration was just one person, but with a dozen people, it didn’t take her long to process everyone.

And this, to date, is the closest I’ve gotten to flying on a private jet.

Safarilink from Zanzibar to Wilson International Airport Nairobi (ZNZ-WIL)

Flight Review: Business Class on Malawian Airlines from Blantyre to Dar Es Salaam (BLZ-DAR), ET 42

Malawian Airlines

Route: BLZ – DAR (Blantyre – Dar Es Salaam)
Air craft: Q400
Seat: 2J
Flight time: 2 hrs

Although this is operated by Malawian Airlines, I booked it as an Ethiopian Airlines. I was booked in economy, but got a gate upgrade to business class.

There are 7 seats in business class on Malawian Airlines Q400 from Blantyre to Dar Es Salaam, with 3 single, business class seats (1-3 A) seats, and 2 sets of two seats (rows 2 and 3, seats J & L; J is aisle, L is window). There is one very small lavatory for business class right at the front.

Malawian Airlines

As a Q400, there is very limited cabin space. Although there were only 5 passengers in business class, cabin space filled up quickly. As I had a bulkhead seat, I had to find stowage for my two bags (one carry-on and a “laptop” bag).

I was assigned Seat 2J. Seat 2J is actually a bulkhead seat, so I had plenty of legroom. The leather seat is basically the same as comparable Q400 flights, meaning, it is comparable to US domestic first class seats on older aircraft, or the same seats as my Premium Economy flight on Aerolineas Argentina two years ago.

Malawian Airlines

After take off, the flight attendant came around to take dinner and drink orders. She served drinks first, before plating up dinner individually. Choice was either chicken or beef. The cabin was pretty tight, she actually plated up the food on seat 1A. The food actually looked the same as the food in economy, but served in real plates. I opted for the chicken this time.

Malawian Airlines

Overall

I probably wouldn’t pay extra to fly business class. The economy seats are tighter, but I’m a small person, so it makes no difference to me. But thanks for the upgrade anyways!

Flight Review: Economy Class in Malawian Airlines from Johannesburg to Blantyre (JNB-BLZ), ET21

Malawian Airlines

Economy Class

B737-700

Flight time: 2 hrs

I stalked the seat map availability like a hawk. I was initially in 11 F, but moved myself to 23 F as the back of the plane looked emptier. Bad idea – the plane left full, and I ended up with your cliché stinky guitar guy in the middle.

Malawian Airlines

Malawian Airlines from Johannesburg to Blantyre to Dar Es Salaam was the cheapest option, and was sold as Ethiopian Airlines 21. I credited it to my Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles program, and the points posted about three days after the flight (to my relief). Ethiopian Airlines actually credits 100% on most fare classes to Turkish Airlines if you’re looking for a way to build a nice stash of miles.

Malawian Airlines

The aircraft is a little bit old, and the seats have seen better days. It wasn’t the cleanest, and legroom was average, and not particularly generous. There are also no entertainment options, so bring something to do on the plane. Being a full flight, there was quite a fight for cabin space. I was glad that I got priority boarding with my Star Alliance Gold status, as I was able to get a spot for my bag.

Malawian Airlines

Although the flight was short, it was a full service flight. They served lunch (chicken or beef), but they the time they got to me, they’ve run out of coke light (another reason not to sit at the back of the plane).

I had the beef, which was some sort of beef stew with chuck, and some mash. It wasn’t very good, but it was edible. They also served some sort of strawberry mousse as dessert.

Malawian Airlines

Overall

It was a short flight, and while the plane was older, I can’t complain considering the price.

I Think I May Have Peaked: The Day of Upgrades, 29 August 2018

Malawian Airlines

Today started out as a regular travel day, which then turned epic, as I was given a couple of very nice surprises. My travel plans involved flying from South Africa to Tanzania, and the cheapest flight was $150 on Air Ethiopia (actually operated by Malawian Airlines) with a stopover in Blantyre, Malawi.

The day started off normal enough. I went to the Ethiopian Airlines counter, only to be told to check in at the Malawian Airlines counter, and ended up on a very full flight.

Then, those of us who were flying on to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania were gathered, and corralled into the transit waiting lounge at the small Blantyre airport, to wait for our flight to Tanzania. Nothing much to report, it was just a small room, but I spent my time writing.

As it turns out, our flight to Dar Es Salaam was oversold. About 15 mins before boarding, I heard one of the airport staff call my name. He asked for my boarding pass, and gave me a new boarding pass for business class. I had gotten an op-up (explained below)! Granted, it was for a short flight on a Q400, but I was still elated.

To top off my day, when I arrived at the Hyatt Regency Dar Es Salaam, after giving me my keys, the front desk agent casually mentioned that I had been upgraded to a suite as I was walking away. Talk about a great day.

What is an op-up?

Op-up is a short for operational upgrade. Airlines have revenue management software, which helps them predict and manage inventory. Airlines often overbook their inventory, predicting that some customers will not show up for their flights (no shows). However, from time to time (or more often these days), everyone shows up, and suddenly the airline has a problem. Airlines often have some buffer in other classes, e.g. first class, business class, or premium economy seats available. In these instances, they will bump up economy passengers into other classes, so everyone who bought a ticket will still get on the plane.

Different airlines process operational upgrades differently. There are forum (plural?) dedicated to speculating how this system works. Usually, having elite status of some sort helps, but based on my personal experience, being lucky really helps. (And this is coming from someone who is not particularly lucky).

So, why was I so ludicrously excited over this? Prior to this last month, I have NEVER gotten an op-up. I am an Alaska Airlines MVP Gold, Delta Platinum Medallion (Skyteam Plus), American Airlines Executive Platinum (OneWorld Emerald), and Turkish Airlines Elite (Star Alliance Gold), and have gotten elite-based upgrades on Alaska, Delta, and American. But despite all my shiny statuses, I have never gotten an op-up. To rub salt to the wound, several of my friends and family members have gotten op-up, even with a complete lack of flying status, which goes to show the importance of luck. Sometimes, airlines are looking for a specific number of people to op-up, e.g. four, so a party of four travelers might be upgraded together.

In any case, I guess the stars aligned for me this month. In both the British Airways and Ethiopian Airlines (Malawian Airlines) flights that I have gotten an op-up this month, they were overbooked in economy by one, and as luck would have it, I probably had the highest elite status. While I have no elite status with the operating airline, I probably did have the highest partner elite status.

Excuse me, while I go buy some lottery tickets.

Reviews

Malawian Airlines: Johannesburg to Blantyre (JNB – BLZ), sold as Ethiopian Airlines 21 ET21 Economy Class

Malawian Airlines: Blantyre – Dar Es Salaam (BLZ – DAR), sold as Ethiopian Airlines 42 ET 42 Business Class

Hyatt Regency Dar Es Salaam Regency Suite

Flight Review: Premium Economy on Aerolineas Argentinas from Cordoba to Mendoza, 21 July 2016

Aerial view of Flight from Mendoza to Cordoba

I have probably repeated myself over and over about this – I have morphed from budget backpacker to luxury travel on a shoestring, and my tolerance for suffering has gone down significantly. Initially, I was going to take the 12 hr bus ride from Cordoba to Mendoza. However, after some price comparison, I don’t really save a lot flying vs taking the bus. Also, flying really just takes an hour. And to give you an idea of what a degenerate I’ve become, I figured that it was just $20 more to fly premium economy (the highest class of service) vs. flying economy. I can spare an Andrew Jackson. As I hate rushing, I booked a 5ish pm flight from Cordoba to Mendoza.

Aerolineas Argentina Club Economy AR2535 Cordoba - Mendoza (COR - MDZ)

After lunch, I asked for a late check out, and eventually took a taxi from Cordoba to its airport. The Cordoba airport seems to be quite a work in progress. They were ripping off the renovation plastic at my waiting area.

Aerolineas Argentina Club Economy AR2535 Cordoba - Mendoza (COR - MDZ)

Aerolineas Argentinas is a Skyteam member, so I was able to credit this flight to my Delta account. The nice thing about Delta miles is that they sit there and never expire, even if Skypesos suck in general.

Aerolineas Argentina Club Economy AR2535 Cordoba - Mendoza (COR - MDZ)

Premium economy on Aerolineas Argentinas is arranged 1-2 in four rows, although the there are only two single seats. I chose one of the single seats. The legroom is generous, although the overhead space is somewhat limited. Larger US-sized carryons will probably not fit in the overhead cabin. There was also a quick snack service, where I was given a water, a sandwich, and the ubiquitous Alfajor. There were also power sockets for those who need to charge their electronics. I don’t think mine worked, though.

Aerolineas Argentina Club Economy AR2535 Cordoba - Mendoza (COR - MDZ)

One of my gripes about Argentinian baggage handling is, even if you have a premium tag, it literally means nothing. They will load it in whatever order they got it, so if you’re hoping your bag will be one of those that rolls out earliest, tough luck! This happened both in Buenos Aires and in Cordoba.

Aerolineas Argentina Club Economy AR2535 Cordoba - Mendoza (COR - MDZ)

From Mendoza airport, I simply took another cab to the Park Hyatt. I’m rapidly running out of pesos! Eep!