After reading all the worried blogposts and scary forum entries about the hazards of flying in Myanmar, I thought it might be wise to write an update on it. We are visiting Myanmar now (July 2014) and flew in with Bangkok Airways. In Myanmar we take two flights: one from Yangon to Nyaung U and one back from Nyaung U to Yangon. We booked our flights months in advance via Santa Maria Travel en Tours in Yangon. They offered the cheapest tickets and replied very swiftly by e-mail. Once we confirmed our booking with them there were some changes in flight plan and carriers since the original flights were no longer available or had changed flight hours or routes. Originally we were to fly with Air Bagan, but we ended up booking flights with Air KBZ, because we wanted to fly direct, and I did not want a stopover in Mandalay. The price changed a little because of that, just a few euros per ticket, nothing spectacular.
Then came the time to pay. We asked for the payment details and were told that we could only use MasterCard as credit card. Since we only possess a Visa credit card, our only other option was to send money via Western Union, before the end of May. This really bothered us. I was VERY reluctant to pay via Western Union, and postponed the payment feeling uncomfortable about it. Finally May came and I had to pay my tickets. After wondering what to do, I decided to get a MasterCard at my bank, since the yearly cost for a MasterCard would about equal the cost of sending the money via Western Union. Coming home from the bank I sent Santa Maria an e-mail asking for the link to pay with MasterCard. I got an e-mail back saying that they now also accepted Visa credit cards next to MasterCard. I went to cancel the MasterCard at the bank the next day, and happy as a child asked for the link to pay with Visa! (the online payment via the provided link was flawless)
The flight hours of the return flight had in the mean time changed again, from a morning flight which was canceled to an evening flight so we decided to take the return flight to Yangon a day earlier. These changes were done promptly and without problems by the agency. Once paid I immediately received a document from KBZ with the electronic ticket numbers. This meant that we did not have to stop by the agency in Yangon to get the actual tickets since we got them electronically already.
The day before the flight I checked the KBZ airline website, but the online check-in was not active yet, neither was the online booking. I am sure that in just a few months you will be able to book your flights directly online and will not need to rely on a travel agency anymore! This is how fast things change here in Myanmar for the moment. Also the vintage written tickets and boarding passes are history already, and you get printed boarding passes now. They do still weigh your luggage on an old scale before check-inn.
Our flight was very early in the morning, getting up at half past four is hard on a holiday! The check-in went by the way very very smoothly, as did the security check. You get a sticker to put on your shirt when checking in. Looking around you see all passengers walking around with a sticker, the color of the sticker is linked to your flight and airline. That way you are easily spotted when a plane starts boarding, and missed the announcement of your flight. The announcement is easy to miss with all the background noise in the departure waiting hall. But airport staff walk around with a sign every time a flight starts boarding. They check if any passengers are still sitting down with a sticker of the designated flight. Boarding was well organized and the plane we boarded was brand new. Our plane was less than six months old, because although we booked with KBZ, we actually flew with Mann Yadanaporn airlines on the first haul to Bagan, an airline only launched in February 2014! The airplane looked and even smelled new.
During the flight there was a decent security demo, we received a cold drink, a breakfast and a hot drink, and of course a refreshment towel after boarding, and yes we had inflight magazines ( I read a blog about a tourist complaining there was no inflight magazines on board of his domestic flight in Myanmar….). The flight was smooth and uneventful, luckily! You even get a candy before landing, really sweet! We had good weather on arrival and could already see the temples of Bagan from the air as a wonderful welcome and the landing was smooth. Planes feel like busses, with passengers for the next destination just having to remain on board for the next stretch. We got goodbyes and welcomes in choir from the hostesses. Hopped on the bus, while the heat welcomed us, (it will be a warm stay in Bagan), it is only 8 AM in the morning, and the heat is on already! They bring your luggage on a cart to the arrival hall, there are toilets in the hall (clean with toilet paper).
Upon arrival in the airport all foreigners have to pay 15 dollars as entrance fee to the archeological site of Bagan. ( I think it increased, I remember reading in the LP it costed 10 dollar before). We wanted to pay in euro’s but since the price for the ticket was 15 euro, or 15 dollar ( the actual exchange rate really is not 1/1!), we decided to pay in kyat (pronounced as chat). In kyat it costed 15000 kyat per ticket. You can exchange dollars and euros at the airport, the rate is slightly lower than at the airport in Yangon (1308 compared to 1350 to the euro in Yangon). Once outside we took a taxi. Best decide on the rate before getting in, they asked 5000 kyat to Nyaung U, which was exactly the price they mentioned in LP, so we agreed immediately. The driver drove very carefully and was very friendly, like everyone in Myanmar and especially in Bagan by the way. Burmese are even more friendly than Thai, and really that is hard to beat! We were staying at the Zfreeti hotel in Nyaung U in Bagan, I will write about it in another post, because it was a very enjoyable stay!! So to all those complaining about Myanmar aviation, it was really a very good experience until now, I think they are getting their act together.
For our return flight the taxi from Nyaung U to the airport costed 8000 kyat, it was a hotel taxi, and bigger than the usual airport taxis.
We flew back to Yangon with KBZ. The check in went smoothly, we got our boarding passes and were told there was free seating, so no seats assigned. We received a sticker and about a small hour before take of we’re taken through the security check. We passed a man with a written list with our names who checked of all names of people passing. We were then seated in the departure air conditioned hall. Airport staff came to count the number of passengers to make sure everyone was there. A bus took us to the plane and after boarding we received a refreshment towel, that the man before me refused(?). The plane was almost full. Unfortunately we also had four drunk obnoxious British tourists on board. They had smuggled a whole 75 cl bottle local Jack Daniels on board, don’t ask me how it passed the security check… They kept bothering the flight staff, and asking for cokes (to drink with their whiskey of course). The staff just tried to ignore them as did the rest of the passengers, but they managed to down the bottle of whiskey during the flight. The plane left perfectly on time! We received a meal of a sausage bread, a fruit cake, water, soft drinks, tea or coffee. The BKZ planes are also new, though not as new as those of Mann Yadanaporn airlines, BKZ has been around for a few years already. Funny enough on both legs of the flight we had to pass an area of turbulence just after they served drinks, but that is not the airlines fault of course. The flight went very well, there was also an inflight magazine, and they gave newspapers, which were mainly in Burmese. The landing went smoothly, we took a bus to the arrivals hall, and a bit later received our luggage in exchange for our luggage tags. We took a taxi outside for 7000 kyat to downtown Yangon.
Flying in Myanmar felt safe, went smooth and was handled efficiently. Planes left and arrived on time, had good service, and are manned by very friendly staff. I really see no safety or other issues concerning air traffic in Myanmar, especially not in the light of the events of the week we travelled. We were in Myanmar when they shot the Malaysian Airlines flight out of the air in Ukraine. Our incoming Thai Airways to Bangkok followed the same route as the Malaysian Airlines flight…… Just saying…..