Uzbekistan Airways gets a bad rap. The reputation of Uzbekistan’s flag carrier, Havo Yollari, is in my opinion undeserved. Customer service issues are usually the primary complaint, but with a modern fleet of Boeing and Airbus airliners and an outstanding safety record, getting from point A to point B could be worse.
Options out of Uzbekistan Airways hub facility, Islam Karimov International Airport in Tashkent, are admittedly limited. With an extensive domestic and international route network featuring 58 destinations, Uzbekistan Airways generally favors routes to CIS countries, Asia, and Europe. Connecting service on Aeroflot, Turkish Airlines, Korean Air, Air Astana, and Asiana allow travelers access to the rest of the world.
The biggest drawback to flying Havo Yollari is the Tashkent Airport, although incredible improvements to the arrivals and departures process have been made in the just past year. Passengers are no longer forced to fight a mob arriving at passport control, and the customs procedures for departures and arrivals now feature a “green lane” for those with nothing to declare. The same cannot be said of the flight boarding process which still feels like being a grain of sand in a hourglass. Queueing simply does not exist here.
The onboard experience is a different story. On our flights we encountered friendly crew members who provided a solidly decent service. The aircraft were clean with modern interiors and advanced inflight entertainment systems, but with few programing options. Most long haul flights are handled by widebody Boeing 767s which feature a spacious 2x3x2 configuration in the economy cabin. Food service features Uzbek national cuisine and a wide selection of beverage options including international wines.
Uzbekistan Airways recently took delivery of a second Boeing 787 Dreamliner which has enabled the airline to begin non-stop service from Tashkent to New York – JFK once weekly. Previously, the route was operated with a stopover in Riga, Latvia, with 767 aircraft. The extended range and efficiency of the 787 has enabled Uzbekistan Airways to offer a tempting alternative to the city pair which faces no direct non-stop competition.
On domestic routes, Uzbekistan Airways still deploys a few Ilyushin Il-114 turboprops. Otherwise, most service between major cities are on Airbus A-320s. Domestic service operates out of a seperate terminal at Tashkent airport making seamless transfers to internal flights impossible. The current procedure for connecting to a domestic flight involves exiting the international terminal and taking a taxi to the opposite side of the airfield.
Our experience on domestic flights departing from Tashkent Airport were much less complicated than international ones thanks to the lack of immigration formalities that make the process at the international terminal more time consuming. The domestic terminal, which opened in 2011, is a big step up in terms of design and functionality. The large modern departure hall is of an international standard, and following a security check, the airside is on the ground level enabling passengers to walk directly across the tarmac to the aircraft, or board by bus.
The domestic service we encountered on the Tashkent – Urgench route was about what you might expect from a two hour internal flight. Snacks and drinks were served, some time to read a book and the in-flight magazine, and uneventful landing at the Urgench airport where we were presumably the only flight arriving that morning. When our driver failed to materialize the lights were turned out and we were ushered to wait outside once the other passengers had left the building.
As far as airlines go, Uzbekistan Airways is about on par with major US carriers for the onboard experience. The airport experience is certainly lacking, but big improvements are being made. Skytrax has awarded Uzbekistan Airways a 3 star rating, which is on par with the big three US airlines, United, Delta, and American.
The Uzbek national flag carrier continues to invest in equipment upgrades, and airport renovations seeking to improve the passenger experience. As the country markets itself as an international tourism and business destination, more and more travelers will have the opportunity to experience this unique Central Asian airline.