I arrived into Istanbul with about seven hours between flights and was informed at the transit desk that it was too early to check in for my Azerbaijan Airlines flight to Baku. I headed upstairs to the lounge where I spent the next five hours recuperating from what had been a lot longer journey than my originally planned direct flight from Newark to Istanbul.
Two hours prior to departure I headed back downstairs to the transit desk where an agent tried feverishly for 15 minutes to check me in, but was unable to. He took my passport and told me he needed to walk out to the check-in desks beyond passport control to obtain my boarding pass. I hate letting go of my passport, but I had no choice here and could only patiently wait. And wait. And wait. It is a good thing I headed down early because it took more than 30 minutes for the agent to return with my boarding pass!
By this time, boarding was scheduled to commence in 15 minutes and I had left all my gear in the Turkish Lounge. Back through security, back upstairs, and back upstairs, I gathered my belongings and then thought…what the heck, it ‘s lunch time. So I stopped for lunch, waiting until 20 minutes prior to departure to walk down to the gate.
In Istanbul “last call” signs display on the flight departure board far too prematurely and I knew that I had time to spare, even with the security check at the gate. I made it with five minutes to spare, quickly cleared security, and boarded the aircraft where the jet bridge was now deserted.
A crewmember greeted me at the door of the Boeing 767-200 aircraft directing me to my seat in the rear cabin of economy class. The flight was so lightly filled that I could count the number of passengers in the rear economy cabin on two hands. Business class—featuring an angled lie-flat seat—was also lightly filled.
At about 1/3 less than the cost of Turkish Airlines (I paid about $240 for the one-way ticket), I jumped at the chance to try a new airline even it meant no miles and a potentially bad experience.
The flight pushed back on-time and a safety demonstration was played in Azeri and then in English on the seatback monitors. The FAs smiled as they checked seat belts and closed overhead bins.
A meal service began shortly after liftoff and I was sure glad I had stopped for lunch in the lounge because this had to be one of the worst airline meals I have ever had—it started well with a bag of hazelnuts, but quickly went downhill with a mustard chicken and rice plate that literally had only two chunks of dry chicken and dried out rice. A side of sour cherries and green olives, a side of cheese slices (the only edible part of the meal), and a tasteless slice of cake rounded out the meal. I’d rather have this than nothing at all, because I am sure I would have eaten it had I been hungry, but compared to Turkish Airlines catering in Istanbul, this was like night and day.
I leaned back and was able to nap for the next hour prior to our descent into Baku, where the sun was already beginning to set.
A note on immigration in Azerbaijan—a visa is needed even if you are connecting to another flight without leaving the airport. Since I was continuing on to Georgia a few days later, I obtained a transit visa from the embassy of Azerbaijan in Washington, DC via post and had no trouble entering the country. Immigration lines were not long and I was not pulled over for a secondary check as I quickly exited customs without a checked bag. Outside, a throng of taxi drivers hungry for your business will whisk you into the city but if you head out to the end of the parking lot—as I did—you’ll come to a couple of private omnibuses that will take you into central Baku for 1/50 the cost (about $0.50 versus $25).
Read the rest of my trip report to the Caucasus!
Thrown Off a United Airlines Flight for Taking Pictures!
Washington Dulles to Kuwait City in United Airlines BusinessFirst
Six Hours in Kuwait City
Pearl Lounge – Kuwait International Airport
Kuwait City to Istanbul in Turkish Airlines Economy Class
Istanbul to Baku in Azerbaijan Airlines Economy Class
Baku – A City of Illusions?
Review: Park Hyatt Baku
Baku Metro (Pictures)
Overnight Train from Baku to Tbilisi, Georgia
Pictures: One Day in Tbilisi, Georgia
Overnight Train from Tbilisi to Yerevan, Armenia
Feeling at Home in Yerevan
Yerevan to Istanbul in Armavia Economy Class
The Flight Home from Istanbul…