One of the best airlines in the world is one you've probably never heard of — here's what it's like to fly Air Astana

  • Air Astana is the flag carrier of Kazakhstan, operating in 60+ destinations primarily in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russia.
  • Though the airline is only 16 years old, it has won a ton of awards. For the last six years, consumer aviation website Skytrax has given it a 4-star rating and named it the best airline in India/Central Asia.
  • I decided to fly Air Astana Economy-class cabin on a flight, from Seoul, South Korea to Almaty, Kazakhstan and Almaty to Moscow, Russia, to see what the experience was like.

Chances are, unless you’re an airline junkie, you’ve probably never heard of Air Astana.

Only launched in 2002, Kazakhstan’s flag carrier is relatively unknown to most Americans and Europeans, unless they happen to have taken a trip to Russia. But that may soon change.

In just 16 years, Air Astana has built a reputation for friendly staff, new, well-kept planes, and great service. For the last six years, consumer aviation website Skytrax has given it a 4-star rating and named it the best airline in India/Central Asia. In 2014, Business Insider named it the 12th best airline in the world.

The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation said in 2012 that Air Astana had “performed better in its first decade than just about any other start-up carrier.”

Add in the fact that the list of best airlines these days is dominated by flag carriers like Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Emirates Airlines, and Etihad Airways, and I was very excited to give Air Astana a try.

I got my chance recently when booking a long-haul trip from Seoul to Moscow for the World Cup. I am pleased to say that Air Astana did not disappoint.

Read on to see what I thought of my flight on Air Astana, departing from Almaty International Airport to Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport, operated on a 767-300ER.

For a recent flight from Seoul to Russia, I decided to book Air Astana, the national carrier of Kazakhstan. I was little bit nervous because the flight required a connection in Almaty, the former capital of the country. The first flight went off without a hitch and I landed at Almaty International Airport. It was a bit dinky.


To get on my second flight from Almaty to Moscow, I had to go through the transit desk in Almaty. Everyone on my flight was transferring to Moscow, as we were all heading to the World Cup. Because Almaty requires passengers to pass through security at the transit desk, I had to wait in line for an hour during my layover.

My flight was on time. After checking our passports at a small gate inside the airport, we boarded a bus that drove us to the plane on the tarmac. There’s something about boarding a plane from the airstair rather than the gate that makes me feel like a celebrity.

The boarding process went pretty smoothly. Business Class looked to be very nice with 21-inch wide seats and 37 inches of pitch. They also looked to have a ton of legroom. Maybe one day I’ll get to find out.


If you want to reserve seats in the first, second, or emergency exit rows in Economy Class, you’ll have to pay extra through the company’s MYSEAT service. I wasn’t buying, thank you very much.

By the time I got to my seat, most people were already seated with their bags stowed in the overhead compartment. Nearly half of Air Astana’s fleet is made up of Airbus A320 and A321 planes. But for long-haul flights, like my trip from Seoul and to Moscow, they use 767-300ER planes.

The downside of boarding after everyone was seated is that there was little space for my bags. It was made worse because a number of the compartments were filled with these Air Astana bags of blankets. The fluffy, luxurious blankets came in handy on the long flight, so I won’t complain too much.

The 4-hour, 40-minute flight started with the flight attendants coming around with hot towels. This should be standard on all flights. It starts the day off right.

Then they come around offering Kazakhstani candies. I took a few.

Leg room was solid, if unspectacular. Economy seats on the 767-300ER have 18.1 inches of width. I can imagine if you are tall — I am only 5-foot-7 — this could be a problem. The 30 to 32 inches of pitch isn’t much, either. But the seats felt well-kept and not pilly.

That pitch measurement is assuming you can put your seat back at all. For some reason, it was incredibly difficult to push in the button to recline my seat. I had to use two hands.

One of the best parts of the flight was the amenities package. Even though my flight was only around 5 hours, Air Astana didn’t skimp. It made me feel like I was in Business Class.

The package included slippers, ear plugs, a dental kit, pen, hand cream, and an eye mask. The mask had two sides: a red side that said “Do Not Disturb” and a green side that said “Wake Me Up For Meal.” Very clever.

After taking a lot of flights recently with subpar entertainment systems, or no entertainment system at all, Air Astana’s was a revelation. It was an Android-based tablet loaded with movies, TV shows, and games. I ended up playing the popular mobile game 2048 for quite a while.


It’s crazy that some carriers haven’t upgraded their seat-back entertainment system to tablets. It’s so much better. I also binge-watched a season of Fargo during the flight. The quality was top-notch.

The in-flight magazine was one of the better ones I’ve read, offering a ton of useful tips about visiting Saint Petersburg and Moscow. Everything was written in Russian, Kazakh, and English.

The view outside the window was a visual treat on both the flight from Seoul to Almaty and Almaty to Russia. This is from the first flight, as we passed over the desert in Inner Mongolia.

The service on Air Astana was incredible, at least from the perspective of someone who is used to flying American carriers. Flight attendants were moving up and down the aisles constantly with drinks, snacks, and meal service. First, we got these cheese crackers.

Next up was a box of Kazakhstani sweets and chocolates. There were too many in there to eat, even for someone with a sweet tooth. I’m still carrying around a few in my backpack.

Next up was meal time. On my first flight, I opted for the chicken. It wasn’t the best chicken I’ve ever had, but it was high quality for an economy-class flight. There was a light brown sauce over it and the meat was juicy. The best part was the chopped beet salad that came with it. After two weeks in Korea with few veggies, the salad was much needed.

On my second flight, I opted for a beef stroganoff pasta. It may not look pretty, but it was very tasty. Who doesn’t like cream sauce on pasta?

I’m not sure what I was flying over when I saw this, but this blue-green lake was unbelievable looking. AirAstana primarily operates in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russia. The landscape was stunning the whole time we were flying.

After a couple more hours of watching Fargo, we landed in Moscow. Overall, my experience with Air Astana economy was spectacular. The plane was new and well kept, the flight attendants were attentive and nice, the entertainment system was top-notch, and the airline didn’t skimp on food or goodies.

After flying Air Astana economy on two flights, I can say confidently that the airline knows how to treat passengers in economy. While I’m sure Business Class is great, I wasn’t in it, so I won’t speak to that. But it’s clear that Air Astana wants to make a good impression on its economy passengers, which I cannot say for US carriers like United or American, in my experience.

At the end of the day, it comes down to the little things that were clearly thought out. The blankets provided by Air Astana, which were available on both flights that I took, were big, fluffy, and warm – not the thin, paper blankets of other airlines. The number of times a flight attendant came by to offer drinks, a snack, coffee, or tea made me feel like a valued customer on the flight, not just a number.

It helps a lot that Air Astana is a new airline. Nearly their entire fleet is planes that are around 10 years old or less. I was on a 767-300ER, but the majority of their fleet is Airbus A320 and A321. That makes a big difference when you are choosing your carrier. You have a much higher chance that you’ll be on a fresh, well-kept plane with Air Astana, rather than one that’s been through 20 or 30 years of flights.

The food was solid. It wasn’t the best airline food I’ve ever had – that still goes to Japan Airlines – but the portions were generous and there were lots of snacks to go around. I particularly enjoyed the Kazakhstani sweets, which gave me a tiny window into the culture.

With all of that in mind, it should be obvious that I would fly Air Astana again. The only downside was transferring through the Almaty Airport, which was small, old, and had an excruciatingly long transfer process. But given how good the flight was, spending a couple hours in an airport that wouldn’t be out of place in rural Montana isn’t a huge price to pay. And if there are Air Astana routes that don’t pass through Almaty, even better.

Give Air Astana a try if you have a chance. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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