Azerbaijan Airlines decided to start direct flights to Baku from different cities of Saudi Arabia in the month of June, 2018 via their Airbus A320. The time was so apt as it coincided with the Eid ul Fitr period which meant attracting a lot of tourists to travel to Baku for their Eid holidays.
Flynas, also started their direct flights to Baku at pretty much the same time thus giving stiff competition to Azerbaijan Airlines.
Thinking of a good country to visit for this Eid, Azerbaijan happened to spark my interest for the following main reasons:
- A mix of Russian, Turkish and European culture
- Interesting combination of food to try from the blend of cultures
- Muslim predominant majority
- Experiencing Eid in another country which has a lot of Shi’a Muslims and knowing their cultures and traditions
- Part of the Caucasus region, making it great for a quick stopover before moving on to the other neighboring countries
- Not a country that is usually explored by those living in Saudi Arabia which made it less commercial and more exciting
- Just trying something new! Haha.
So, after finalizing Azerbaijan as the first country to visit, I began searching for flight options. The ticket prices (one way) ranged from 1300 SAR until 1700 SAR. What was more discouraging were the long layovers of 12-24 hours in Sharjah and Dubai if Airarabia and FlyDubai were chosen.
Flynas tickets sold out quick leaving me with an expensive option of 1900+ SAR ticket one way which was never going to happen!
Then, one of the ticketing agents told me about a deal with Azerbaijan Airlines which was only 1040 SAR direct to Baku! From Dammam though. It didn’t matter because it was easier to drive to Dammam from Riyadh than having to wait forever in a transit.
And that’s how I flew with Azerbaijan Airlines’ first ever flight from Saudi Arabia to Baku.
The flight was to depart at 9:35 am on the 15th of June. Anticipating Eid rush, I hurried to take an Uber and reach the airport by 6:30 am. I saw a huge line of passengers queueing with their luggage at the check in counter and my heart jumped a beat. They weren’t moving though. And I realized that it was because there were no employees to process luggage dropping service and issuing boarding passes.
The board said that the counter was open. Indeed, it was open. And empty. I stood there waiting patiently like all the other passengers who too must have come early to avoid Eid rush. Exactly, an hour later at 7:30 am, the employees took their seats and began their job.
I was second in line on one of the counters with only three counters open. Yet, it took them 35-40 minutes to process the passenger ahead of me. It was their first experience too. Delays and confusion should have been expected.
When my turn finally came, I handed over my passport and the print out of the ticket that another employee had given me earlier. I had printed my ticket already but he still insisted to use the one given by the airlines.
Azerbaijan has E-Visa policy for many countries so I had already applied and got my visa approved in advance. I was asked to produce a print out of the online visa. It was stamped, and a few minutes later, the boarding pass was in my hand.
Passing through the immigration, I went and took my seat at the terminal gate. And the wait started. Endless waiting. It was past 9:35 am (scheduled time of departure) and everyone was still anxiously waiting to board.
At 10am, we were finally in the flight. The flight was a small Airbus A320 three-three seats, with no LCD, but just a little screen at the front of the aircraft which played instructions in the beginning and a movie later to watch.
20 minutes later, after a lot of discussions and confirmations amongst the crew and ground staff about topics I have no idea about, the flight finally took off!
Almost an hour late. But, they made it! We all made it! Alhamdulillah.
I was just happy that I’m finally going to see and explore a new country.
But, would I fly with them again? Depends. I’d just have to wait and see if their services will improve in the coming few weeks. For now, I’ll excuse them as it was their first flight from the Kingdom. And 2 hours, 20 minutes isn’t much to reach Baku.