One thing I didn’t want to do was fly internally in Myanmar! The fledgling airline industry does not have a great safety record. After our long train trip from Mandalay to Bagan, we realised, however that a ten hour train trip from Bagan to Yangon would take too much time out of our schedule so I reluctantly agreed to fly!
Our first choice was Asian Wings because they are 49 per cent owned by Japan’s ANA. Unfortunately, the carrier advised us that they had cancelled the flight we wanted and their agent suggested flying KBZ instead.
Air KBZ have been flying for three years and is owned by one of five major private commercial banks in Burma: Kanbawza Bank Limited (KBZ). The bank also owns 80 per cent of Myanmar Airways International and is part of a mining company. KBZ has had two incidents with their six planes: one plane overshot a runway at Thandwe Airport, and another was evacuated on the tarmac in Yangon after its wheels overheated! I felt reassured…not.
For most of Myanmar’s airlines, you cannot book and pay online and have to use an agent instead. This is changing rapidly. Air KBZ now sells tickets on-line (interestingly Asian Wings does not). KBZ accepts Visa and Mastercard (many businesses in Myanmar do not accept any cards or only accept one type of card).
Check In: 6/10
Bagan- Nyaung-U (NYU) airport is named the administrative centre of the region: Nyaung-U. It serves that town and the communities of Old Bagan and New Bagan. Upon arriving at the airport, over an hour early for our flight, we saw a group of European business men conferring over computer print outs and what I could only describe as a mob at the AirKBZ Check in “desk”. The crowd parted as we approached and a young bespectacled gentleman smiled nervously at us: “flight cancelled. I try to get you on new flight. Sit down. wait”
Having been warned about the erratic flight schedules of airlines in Mayanmar, we sat down. Another gentleman from France could do no such thing. He refused to sit and followed the bespectacled gentleman for the next 45 minutes hounding him. The KBZ agent wandered from passenger to passenger, desk to desk and making and receiving multiple calls on his cell phone. We watched, unsure what he was doing and he seemed to read our minds for from time to time, he would say to us “sit sit wait”. We bought a drink at the cafe, settled back and chatted to a group of Australian passengers (there were five of us on this flight). There was free wifi at the airport, but after connecting, we all found that it did not load any webpages.
Soon, the European business men were hustled off to another flight leaving us wondering what would happen to us.
After 45 minutes, the check in counter was again mobbed. I walked over to find the agent trying to issue boarding passes for a new flight. There were hands grasping at him from all directions! Right in front of him was the French gentleman and his wife waving their passports and demanding boarding passes. Sure enough our French friend was the first to get a boarding pass. The bespectacled check in agent asked me if I had luggage to check in. When I nodded, two men grabbed our cases, weighed them on an ancient scale, tagged them, wrote my name on the tags and handed them to me. The check in process seemed to take seconds! They then gave me a sticker which said KBZ and two boarding passes and told us to “sit sit sit”. The stickers are designed to help ground crew recognise which plane you are waiting for!
We sat for a further 20 minutes with our stickers on our chest. Then we were hustled into an arrival lounge through the security screening process. There we sat for another 30 minutes. While in the lounge we realised that all of the people from Myanmar had been separated from us “foreigners” and had gone through another gate lounge. Two planes (Asia Wings and Golden Mynamar) came and went and we remained sitting there. I was still not convinced that we were actually on a plane.
An AirKBZ plane touched down and our check in agent came smiling to fetch us. He escorted us to a bus which took us to the aeroplane stairs. The plane (pictured below) was an ATR which has a rear entry. You can see our gate agent behind me and the airline’s sticker on the right side of my chest.
We were welcomed on board by a smiling flight attendant who carefully checked our boarding pass, directed us into the cabin and handed us a refreshing towelette.
That is when confusion reigned. The plane was almost full and the numbers on our boarding passes bore no resemblance to empty seats. As we stood confused, the flight attendants called: “Free Seating. Free Seating”.
In conversation, with the passengers sitting next to us, we discovered that the flight had been diverted from its Heho to Yangon flightpath, to come and collect us! Heho is 231 km (125 miles) away from Bagan.
Every domestic carrier in Myanmar seems to use the same type of plane: the The ATR-72, a 70 seat turboprop first launched in January 1986. Air KBZ have six of them and two in order. The one we were flying was brand new being a mere 1.3 years of age.
The ATR has a narrow aisle and a one class 2-2 layout. Lavatory and galley are at the rear of the plane which is also where passengers board. Seat pitch is 30 to 31″ with width being 17.5 inches. Cabin and seat colouring was fairly non descript. The flight attendants, however, wore vivid coloured dresses. One was in purple and the other in green.
Safety on Board: 7/10
The attendants provided a demonstration with a clear English and Burmese commentary. They did an inspection of the plane to check on luggage and seat belts but completely ignored the passengers using electronics. We had been told to turn them off but a passenger in the row in front of me, stayed on his cell phone talking in Thai to his girlfriend until we were well into take off. A couple behind me texted all the way down the runway and into the air!
I was also bemused to see that the plane still had stickers from their delivery on the seatbelts!
We took off very quickly into a stunning Mynamar sunset.
I did not expect the airline to have on board entertainment but was surprised they don’t even have an in-flight magazine!
The attendants served a snack-box with a croissant and piece of chocolate cake with a choice of hot and cold drink.
After a very smooth flight, we landed into Yangon International in the dark. We walked from the plane to the glass doors of terminal. There was a little chaos in the arrivals hall with staff everywhere. We were told that staff may demand money from us to collect our luggage but this was not our experience. T
he luggage was brought to the glass doors of the terminal on trolleys and unloaded by hand onto the terminal floor. Some of us helped ourselves to our bags. Luggage was screened through an Xray machine and our baggage tags on our boarding passes were matched with the numbers on our bag before we could leave. There was a taxi stand in the arrivals area where you can book a pre-paid taxi.
My Flight Rating: Overall 59% (3 out of 5).
Skytrax: AirKBZ does not have a Skytrax rating yet. A couple of other airlines in Myanmar have a three star rating. I would sayKBZ would be on par with them.
Negatives: Cancelled flight
Would I fly them again? Yes – but I still want to fly Asian Wings