Uzbekistan Airways – worst airline in Asia

I’ve flown on most Asian airlines at one time or another (except those in Indonesia on which only people who believe in life after death dare fly) but today, after a flight with Uzbekistan Airlines from Tashkent to Kuala Lumpur, I concluded that they must surely be the worst in Asia.

I’ve flown on Uzbekistan Airways a few times between Tashkent and Almaty, a route on which they operate old Avro RJ86s – and those flights could only be described as awful – but as that’s a fairly short regional route, it probably wouldn’t have been fair to rate them as the worst in Asia based on just those flights. But today’s flight was my first long haul one with Uzbekistan Airways – and it will definitely be the last.

When I got to Tashkent airport, I couldn’t see any planes at the aerobridges – only a dozen or so old Iluyshin Il76s parked some distance away near a hanger:

I prayed we weren’t going on one of those.

I walked around to the other side of the terminal and there I saw an old Airbus A300 parked on the other side of the tarmac. So I assumed that must be our plane – and it was (but I have no idea why they had to bus us out to the plane when the aerobridges weren’t being used – maybe they were just too lazy to tow the plane to the aerobridge).

I was one of the first to board, and whilst we were waiting for other passengers to take their seats, I noticed a pilot in uniform walking out of the cockpit with what looked like a glass of champagne in his hand. I said to one of the flight attendants: “Is that the pilot drinking champagne?” She replied: “No, he’s the pilot who will be flying us back to Tashkent,” and she walked off with an expression on her face that suggested she thought I was impertinent to ask such a question (but she didn’t tell me whether it was champagne that he was drinking).

Even if it wasn’t champagne, I never feel comfortable flying with airlines that take the crew for the return flight on the outbound flight to save the cost of putting them up in hotels at the other end. After a seven and a half hour flight, even if the pilots were able to get some sleep on the way, they must feel very tired after such a long flight, a two hour turnaround, and then another eight hours at the controls to take the plane back. I was glad I wasn’t on the return flight.

We took off at 10.30 am Tashkent time and the flight attendants – who were a surly bunch – served lunch, which was virtually inedible. The locals on board seemed to enjoy the sliced salami and cheese, but as that wouldn’t have been any good for my cholesterol, I waited for the hot dish. That was a mistake because it was so dried up that the peas and corn were black and stuck to the side of the dish, and the chicken was as tough and dry as leather. So I nibbled on a packet of peanuts and dried apricots, and decided to wait until dinner before landing.

After lunch had been served, the flight attendants retired to some empty seats at the back of the cabin, and they stayed there chatting for the rest of the flight. Getting a glass of water was a challenge as they kept ignoring the call button – the only way to get their attention was to take the empty glass to them and ask them to fill it up.

My laptop battery ran out after a couple of hours, and as there was no in-seat power supply, it turned into the most boring daytime flight I had been on, as I hadn’t thought of bringing a book to read.

I tried for a while to watch the movie – it was Episode 3 of Star Wars - in Russian. It did have English sub-titles, but the screen was too small and too far away to read them properly, so I gave up trying to strain my eyes.

The only real entertainment on the flight was a Russian couple sitting across the aisle from me who kissed and hugged the whole flight. She spent most of the flight sitting astride his legs, facing him. It was only when the seat belt sign came on that she would return to her own seat. The guy was constantly groping his girlfriend’s breasts, putting his hands up her t-shirt and down her pants – and none of the other passengers, or the flight attendants, batted an eyelid. Maybe that’s considered acceptable conduct on Uzbekistan Airways. I wasn’t particularly offended by what they were doing – although I’d guess that many passengers would be – I was more amused about what they could get away with on Uzbekistan Airways (they didn’t actually have sex, but they were pretty close to it).

At about 7.30 pm Malaysia time, when we were less than two hours away from landing, and there was no sign of dinner being served (and I was very hungry at this stage) I walked up to the back of the cabin and asked the flight attendants when they were going to serve dinner. One of them looked at me and just said: “No more food.” I told her on any long haul flight over seven hours, there would always be two meals served – or at least a main meal and some light refreshments later, depending on the time of the day. “Not on this plane,” she replied. I said I was hungry, so she agreed to go and see what they had in the galley. With a sulking demeanour, she brought me a dry bun and a packet of jam that she managed to dig up from somewhere.

I am sure there are worst airlines in Africa, but in Asia I doubt there are any worse than Uzbekistan Airways.

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