Review of Azerbaijan Airlines flight Moscow Baku in Economy

Airline Azerbaijan Airlines
Flight J2808
Class Economy
Seat 33A
Aircraft Airbus A340-500
Flight time 03:10
Take-off 13 Jul 22, 10:55
Arrival at 13 Jul 22, 15:05
J2 13 reviews
A321Lufthansa
Published on 22nd June 2023

Hello everyone and welcome to the report of AZAL Airlines flight J2808 on board the rarest quad-engine nowadays - A340-500!

Last summer I decided to head to Austria for summer holidays with a stop-over at Turkish Riviera, so then was the time to choose how to get there.
At that time there were quite few options - either Turkish Airlines with very high prices from Russia (though there were some half-charters to Antalya at a cheaper price but onboard an ordinary A321) or Aeroflot onboard A330-300s with quite an uncomfortable seating.
In mid-June it turned out that Azerbaijan Airlines is going to resume flights to Russia soon and… using A340-500 from Moscow! I was twice happy when I found out that it is possible to fly from Baku to Istanbul on a Boeing 787-8. Afterwards I purchased an enormously cheap ticket from Istanbul to Antalya for just 133 euros in business class of a very fresh A321neo.
A stop in Baku seemed quite weird - but on the other hand, Russian Airlines were flying to Turkey almost near Azerbaijan so it was not a huge detour at all. 
So that's how this journey started - weird judging from the position of an ordinary man but tempting for a true avgeek. 14,5 hours en route instead of 4-5 hours of a direct journey but really worth it.  Azerbaijan Airlines operated out of 2 airports in Moscow - Domodedovo and Vnukovo, and also its low-cost subsidiary Buta Airways serves flights to Zhukovsky airport. I chose a flight from Vnukovo because it takes me only half an hour to reach it, and also the morning flight onboard an A340-500 operated out of there. 
  
By the way, it is still unknown if AZAL is going to bring A340-500s back this summer as they are still absent in their schedule.


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Moscow Vnukovo airport, terminal a


My journey started without a rush due to a relatively short drive so I decided also to pick up some necessary medicine on my way. When I was near Moscow Ring Road on Leninsky prospect, my aircraft was already approaching Vnukovo:


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Already in 10 minutes I was at the airport, and there was still more than 1,5 hours of time before departure.


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So I passed a necessary security check at entrance (like it is in all Russian and Turkish airports, for example) and headed to local flight display to locate where my desks are located. I always enjoy departures from Vnukovo as the terminal is very airy and spacious, though some people find it too dark.


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The check-in for my flight was at desks 106-108. A senior employee asked if I had an effective vaccination (that was 2 days before its expiry, also it was necessary for entry to Azerbaijan before last year) but I had some problems with opening of a special app. Finally I told him that my final destination is Istanbul and I have a mere transfer at Baku so he let me in without any problems. 
The check-in process was relatively quick - I checked in my both bags (I had to pay in advance 40 euros for a second one) and received boarding passes for my both flights.


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Afterwards I went to customs where I was asked by officer about cash I had with me and my final destination (I said Istanbul via Baku) so he brought me aside to count all my cash and then let me be. Passport control was flawless, and for security check I had to wait around 10 minutes due to plenty of passengers there. Moreover, not all security check points were working.
That's why the whole process took me around 20 minutes, and then I was airside:



So now it's time for some planespotting. Here are two B757-200s at the same time - a freighter and a passenger version of Aviastar-TU (operating for SDEK post carrier) and of Azur Air (or non-Azur, how I call it due to its sardines tin cabins?) respectively.


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And an Azimuth Airlines SSJ-100 heading to Erevan:


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And here is my ride for today at gate 23 - the only one in Vnukovo eligible to handle A380s - though it was never used for it. What a stunning blue livery, especially on an A340-500!


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The boarding was about to start in a few minutes:


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And… here we come. Despite it was still around 50 minutes before departure, the boarding commenced, and I was the second to board.


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Moscow - Baku aboard AZAL A340-500


<u style=""><b style="">So here is a brief info about our ride:
Aircraft type
: <u style=""><b style="">Airbus A340-542.
Registration and name: 4K-AZ85 "Karabakh
First flight: 06.02.2008
Delivery date: 24.12.2012
Test Registration - F-WWTG

It was originally intended for the Indian Kingfisher, then it was going to be bought by Portuguese HiFly, but they changed their mind. So it stayed in the factory for almost 5 years.

The layout was not changed in AZAL, and it remained 36 seats in business class and 201 in economy - a total of 237. Moreover, even the bar between the first and second business class cabins was inherited from the original layout (the map is taken from AZAL official website):


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Flight Information:

The flight route to Baku flies now southeast from Moscow and passes Ryazan, southwest Mordovia, Penza, then goes through Ulyanovsk and Saratov regions, crosses the Kazakhstan border near the edge of Orenburg region and then passes Uralsk/Oral, Atyrau and Aktau before crossing the Caspian Sea and landing in Baku.
About 400 km are added to the route - this route is 2,357 km against 1,926 km direct route. 


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So let's get back - what a breathtaking feeling it is when you enter a flying legend. Here is the business class inherited from Kingfisher which looks very luxurious in terms of early 2010s:


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Then it is followed by economy split in two cabins - I will be in the rear one for a better view.


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I will be seated in 33A this time:


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The cabin is still quite empty with barely any persons. It looks nice with seats that are generous in terms of width - 18.1" was my measurement.



The pitch is also very generous:


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As well as headrests in every seat are well-padded:


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A guest from sunny Tajikistan - B737-800 of Somon Air is our neighbor at the teminal:


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The boarding process lasted for quite a long time. My seatmate turned out to be a very nice and polite senior Azerbaijani with whom we had conversations throughout the whole flight. 5 minutes before scheduled departure time we were pushed back and began our way to runway 24:
 



As we line up and finally begin our takeoff, we see some Russian Special Flight Squadron aircrafts as Tu-154, Tu-204 and IL-96 (the latter are used exclusively for government) parked in front of Vnukovo-2 Government Terminal. 



At the crossing point with the runway 01/19 we finally lift off. Taking off on a quad-jet is always a special feeling.


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Right after takeoff we make a sharp left turn and get a glimpse of Moscow skyline for a matter of seconds.


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Then we glide through magnificent summer clouds above Moscow region which is especially beautiful in summer:



Then we get an adorable view of Domodedovo airport. Somewhere on its apron there were our colleagues on a B767-300 who will follow us soon afterward. Last summer AZAL flew A340-500 to Vnukovo and B767-300 to Domodedovo, and in the evening they swapped them between these two airports.


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Right thereafter the ground hid in a thick layer of clouds, and it's time to check the IFE which was very obsolete and with extraordinarily slow response. It was available in Azerbaijani and English.


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The response of the screen was very slow, so I couldn't enter any of categories mentioned there:


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Only the flight map was able to open:


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Neither did the old-fashioned remote control help. Shame on Kingfisher for having chosen obsolete IFEs when the classic Panasonic EX was already available (just look at TK ex-Kingfisher A321s built in 2008-2009 - they have an IFE originating from mid-1990s).


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So now let's have a quick tour of cabin from both aisles: 


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Unfortunately, there was no inflight magazine featured in the pocket but only a safety card:


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Soon enough the meal service began - but first we were given warm towels - in Economy class, that is so delightful and unexpected, especially in this rather small airline.


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After another 20 minutes, it was finally my turn to get a meal:

1) Appetizer - cucumber and tomato salad and assorted cheeses with an olive;
2) Hot meal - lamb kebab with baked potatoes (the alternative was chicken);
3) Dessert - baklava

Despite the hot dish didn't look that fine, it tasted very good! Though the baklava was quite hard.


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And from beverages I chose red wine and water. By the way, Azerbaijani red wine was quite good.


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After the meal service a hot beverages selection was offered but I opted for another glass of water. And some roasted nuts were handed - for example, Turkish airlines provides them only in business class.


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So now it's time to have a glance at some smaller cabin details which are absolutely identical to A330:


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Meanwhile we were crossing the border with Kazakhstan as airlines have to avoid the airspace of Southern Russia due to a very well-known reason. Though from the end of August 2022 a more straight route a bit to the west was opened - via Russian cities Volgograd and Astrakhan. But still it is accessible only for Russian airlines (+ Belavia, Georgian Airways and all some small airlines from Armenia). Even AZAL's low-cost carrier Buta Airways has to do a large detour via Kazakhstan while flying to Kazakhstan. By the way, the city of Atyrau in Kazakhstan is still mentioned with its Soviet name Gurjev here.


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A UTAir's B737-800 on its way to Sochi (now flights heading there no more pass Kazakhstani airspace) was on a way lower altitude than we were:


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And then some truly alien landscapes in the region of Atyrau began. It was one of the most mesmerizing views I had ever experienced from a plane:



But then, after crossing a bay of Caspian sea, some even more breathtaking views of Mangistau region began. It felt like we were overflying Mars:



And here are we very close to start a direct approach to Baku soon:


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But first we pass Aktau - the capital of Mangistau region in Kazakhstan:


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This yellow lake Koshkar-Ata, unfortunately, has a dismal history, because at one time a lot of uranium waste (less than a third of total waste, the rest being other mining waste) was dumped there, and since then the region is threatened with a serious environmental disaster, because the poisonous vapors are spread due to constant evaporation - which is why enormous sums are spent annually on pumping water into the lake.


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And this peninsula with a small town Kyzylkum is already not that far from Turkmenistan:


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In around 20 minutes our descent to Baku above the Caspian Sea was in full swing:


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And finally the Azerbaijani land appeared with the towns Bilgah and Mashtaga close to the edge of Absheron Peninsula where Baku is located:


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Some detailed views of these small towns and villages at arm's length:


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And we are getting very close to the airport above large fields in its outskirts. One hundred… fifty, fourty, thirty, twenty, ten…


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Retard! Here we are at Baku Heydar Aliyev Airport (named after the first President of Azerbaijan) almost 10 minutes early and after a 2:50 long flight. The landing of our beauty was very smooth.


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And here are both Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. The former one was opened around 2014 and serves international flight. Not long ago it was even awarded with 5* Skytrax. The latter one originates from Soviet period and serves domestic flights (from 20th of June also some international traffic served by low-cost carriers).


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Here is the weather radar of the airport:


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Baku is certainly a large cargo hub with its main base cargo SilkWay Airlines:


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We park at gate 9 near UTAir's B737-800 and Buta Airways (this exact frame I'll test 1.5 months later on a flight from Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen to Baku):


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As it can be seen here, one of the neighboring case is also capable of handing an A380 but never handled it as neither did our departure gate in Vnukovo. :)


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Quite soon the deboarding process begin, although I'm not in a hurry at all - I still have around 4 hours till my next flight to Istanbul:


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Here I go to the other side and take a picture of the business class cabin from the back. Despite the outdated 2-2-2 layout, it looks very luxurious thanks to semi-enclosed seats. If only the IFE wasn't that obsolete…


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And then I take a quick shot of the onboard bar between the 1st and the 2nd business class cabin. For this picture I was told off by the crew so I thank them for a fantastic flight on this legend and evade quickly. :)


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Baku Heydar Aliyev Airport, Terminal 1


As soon as I entered the terminal, I was amazed by how modern and stylish it was. After exiting the jetbridge I head right following the sign to transfer.



And here we say goodbye to our beast. Hope to get once on board its sister as AZAL has 2 in their fleet.


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Soon I'll be upstairs in this mesmerizing departure area…


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But first I go to the transfer section where my documents and the boarding pass for next flight were checked.


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And the last picture I take before security check for transfer passengers (which was flawless) is this beautiful A320 heading to Antalya:


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See more

Verdict

Azerbaijan Airlines

7.8/10
Cabin8.0
Cabin crew8.0
Entertainment/wifi6.0
Meal/catering9.0

Moscow - VKO

8.6/10
Efficiency8.0
Access9.0
Services8.5
Cleanliness9.0

Baku - GYD

8.4/10
Efficiency8.5
Access8.5
Services8.5
Cleanliness8.0

Conclusion

So, what happened next is another story. :) Now it's time to summarize the results for this flight.

Vnukovo airport, Terminal A - 9/10. Although it was a bit slow at controls and checks, the experience was very pleasant and easy - I arrived, checked in, got through all the checks and almost immediately boarded.
Azerbaijan Airlines - 8/10. The flying legend A340-500 itself deserves all the dithyrambs but the airline itself pleased me with its excellent service and friendly crew. They don't have that pomposity of bigger airlines but just sincerely do their job - it does not even come to mind who else hands out hot towels in economy class.
Baku Heydar Aliyev Airport, Terminal 1 - 8/10. Just by the number of stars it received in 2018. It's a compact, stylish and cozy airport.

Related

4 Comments

If you liked this review or if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to post a comment below !
  • Comment 630736 by
    NGO85 SILVER 2002 Comments
    Thanks for sharing this great report on a rare carrier and a rare aircraft type!

    The J2 livery looks very good, especially in the sun. The cabin is such a stark contrast in color palette, but I guess it's cheaper to just re-use the IT cabin on a plane that likely has a limited life. The seat itself looks quite comfortable despite that blinding red color, and those foot rests look like the ones on OZ. This is probably one of the few, if only, commercial A340-500s still floating around in service. EY/EK/TG all pulled them from service long ago. J2's service protocol looks nice for a 3h flight. It is certainly not TK catering visually, but there are some nice touches (oshibori and hazelnuts). Combining this service with their modern fleet (B787 and A320neo), J2 looks to offer a solid product for the region.

    Beautiful aerials throughout, thanks again!
    • Comment 630763 by
      A321Lufthansa AUTHOR 11 Comments
      Thanks for your comment!

      You're right, AZAL's A345s are the only remaining in the world. Unfortunately, this particular frame (4K-AZ85) has not been in service since November 2022 while the second one's (4K-AZ86) last flight were the rescue ones to Adana in March. And currently there's no info at all if those will be back in service this summer.
      AZAL's product is surely a nice one but their A320neos are whitetails of Russian low-cost airline Citrus (belongs to S7 - it was planned to have a large fleet of A32Ns) with Y186 configuration. AnadoluJet also received 4 A32Ns with this cabin. So these frames are usually deployed on Buta Airways flights (it is a full analogue of AnadoluJet in Azerbaijan).
      The cabins on their A319/320s are quite outdated but quite comfortable as I know. I'm eager to try out one day their only remaining B757-200.
  • Comment 631275 by
    KévinDC TEAM SILVER 6823 Comments
    So cool to see a report on the AZAL A345. Such a beautiful aircraft--the best-looking of the A340s in my opinion. Too bad they're all gone.

    By the way, it is still unknown if AZAL is going to bring A340-500s back this summer as they are still absent in their schedule.

    Yes, no idea if they will come back--they still show as parked and haven't been in the schedule for a while so this may be the end :-(

    The pitch is also very generous:

    Indeed, not to mention footrests in Economy are very rare!

    Despite the hot dish didn't look that fine, it tasted very good! Though the baklava was quite hard.

    A hot meal on a 3h flight in Economy is amazing by Western European and North American standards.

    Great report! Thank you for sharing
    • Comment 631538 by
      A321Lufthansa AUTHOR 11 Comments
      Thank you for such a nice comment!

      I totally agree with you on the livery which is frankly amazing. Let's hope for the best to see them back in the air.
      A hot meal on a 3h flight was still a standard for LH/OS/AF etc. 3.5 years ago. It's very sad to see European airlines that downgraded after such a short period.

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