Andy Mossack reviews the flatbed luxury of Air Astana Business Class on a recent flight to Almaty.
It seems Air Astana’s reputation as a class act is well deserved. Perhaps surprisingly you might say after all, this Kazakh and Eurasia carrier may not be in the premier league when it comes to first pick for businesspeople and tourists. Yet it has been the recipient of countless air industry awards including Skytrax which has bestowed gongs practically every year since 2012.
It’s remarkable success story is due in no small part to the personal endeavours of President and CEO Peter Foster, whose partnership deal with BAE Systems in 2005 and personal involvement in every area of the business, catapulted it from a fledgling national airline to the highly profitable business it is today. A major player in the region that’s continuing to thrive despite battling the COVID epidemic, an attempted domestic coup and launching FlyArystana in 2018, its new low-cost carrier.
So, what’s the secret then? How is it that this relatively unknown airline runs under the aviation radar so to speak, yet still manages to grab all number of plaudits from its peers? I was on a mission to find out when I recently flew Air Astana business class overnight from London Heathrow to Almaty.
One of the first things that surprised me when I boarded Air Astana Business Class was the seat configuration on its Airbus A3221LR business class cabin. No conventional two-by-two down the five rows here, instead an interesting two-one, two-one layout, which obviously means a virtual stampede for the four single throne seats. Sadly, I missed out on one of those prized assets, trying desperately to avoid the smug looks of those lucky royal recipients.
Nevertheless, my flatbed pod was very comfortable; a relaxing soft grey with burgundy tones, plenty of storage space, a pair of quality headphones perched within easy reach, a generous entertainment screen and a lie-flat space of seventy-eight inches. All good then, but not radically different from other business class seating.
Then the surprises came.
First off was the subtle fragrance. It was almost within touching distance but kept wafting away from me. “What is that lovely scent,” I asked my steward Akbota as she passed by. “a gift from our mountains” she replied with a wry smile. This was interesting. I discovered more of it in the hand wash, hand soap and face mist in the washrooms, as well as some more absorbed into my duvet roll.
Turns out it is a fragrance specially created for Air Astana Business Class by Galileo Watermark and inspired by the smells and scenery of the remote mountain tops of the Kazakhstan Altai region. They say smell is closely linked to memory, so unless my memory is fading, this was a first for me.
My amenity kit was another welcome surprise and another first. A miniature Samsonite case no less. This little beauty, in a very fetching blue, contained skin and body care products from French designer brand PAYOT and a clutch of travel accessories, many made or wrapped from bamboo and kraft paper. Partnering with Samsonite, one of the leaders in luggage is a genius move.
Strangely, the women’s amenity kit was different, a pouch designed by Italian luxury brand Coccinelle. However, both kits contained the same travel accessories.
So fully scented and Samsonite accessorised, my pre-take-off drink was a choice of either Taittinger Champagne (yet another welcome surprise), juices or water.
So far so good then.
As this was an overnight flight, there was much sleeping to be had, so the crew wasted no time in bringing out the dinner service. The Air Astana Business Class menu offers no shortage of food, something Kazakhs expect. Providing guests with substantial portions is almost a Kazakh rite of passage, so expect nothing less with Air Astana.
Dinner begins with two choices of appetizer, I chose Bocconcini and heritage tomatoes with pesto, before tucking into a salad of mixed leaves with puy lentils, mandarins, and cherry tomatoes. A country vegetable soup with sour cream and garlic flatbread was up next, before tackling a choice of four main courses. Sauteed chicken supreme with lentil curry, shepherd’s pie, pan-fried cod fillet, or pumpkin ravioli with creamy mushroom sauce.
Fortunately, after my choice of chicken main, there was a thankful pause in proceedings to recover before diving headfirst into dessert and then cheeses. Fearlessly, I chose wild berry panna cotta which got the nod of approval from Akbota who had clearly been impressed with my fragrance noticing. She delivered my dessert with a little aside “I threw in a few of those fresh mixed berries too Mr. Mossack.” Wow – two desserts. I may not have bagged the throne seat, but I seemed to be in the crew’s good books.
A goodly quaff of fine scotch later proved to be the perfect way to a good night’s sleep, broken only by having to land for a short stop at Aktau on Kazakhstan’s Caspian Sea shore.
Now we were on the home stretch; a two-and-half-hour flight to Almaty with a new crew on board and a tasty breakfast before landing, now some five hours ahead of the UK.
It was a ten-hour flight all in, a slightly longer flight time than usual to avoid Russian airspace. Excellent cabin service, attentive crew, comfy bed and plenty of meal and wine choices. My only regret is the lack of opportunity overnight to watch the in-flight entertainment. That’s the trouble with having to sleep. But there was always the return daytime flight. Another dose of award-winning Air Astana Business Class hospitality? Why not. Perhaps I’ll even bag a throne seat and get to look smug.
All pictures (C) Andy Mossack and Air Astana
Tell me more about Air Astana Business Class
Air Astana is the principal airline and flag carrier of the Republic of Kazakhstan, based in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Established in 2002, the airline operates scheduled domestic and international services from its main hub, Almaty International Airport, and from its secondary hubs in Astana, Atyrau and Aktau. Currently, Air Astana services up to five flights per week out of London Heathrow to Kazakhstan’s Almaty.
Air Astana Business Class fare London to Almaty return start from £1,895 per person inclusive of airport taxes/government fees/charges.
Economy flights with Air Astana to Almaty start from £540 per person inclusive of airport taxes/government fees/charges.
Starting first in 2010, Air Astana has repeatedly received service excellence awards from Skytrax, APEX and TripAdvisor, together with a Global Market Leadership Award from Air Transport World in 2015. Today the Air Astana Group operates a fleet of 43 aircraft split between Air Astana, its full-service airline, and FlyArystan, its low-cost airline established in 2019.
Passengers are served by more than 6,000 highly qualified staff, the majority of whom are from Kazakhstan, supplemented by experienced foreign personnel
For more information on visiting Kazakhstan please visit the Official Kazakhstan Tourist Board.