Flight Review: SCAT Airlines – Tbilisi to Almaty

Some airlines just spark an instant fascination, and a desire to find out just what they’re all about.  For me, this is the case with SCAT Airlines.  I first saw one of their aircraft at Tbilisi a few years ago. Their terrible name caught my attention, and the airline absolutely intrigued me.  I discovered they’re a Kazakh low cost airline, with hubs at Aktau, Shymkent and Almaty and Nur-Sultan in Kazakhstan.  They operate a fleet of Bombardier CRJ200s and classic Boeing 737s, and even have 737-MAX on order.

SCAT were blacklisted from flying in the EU for many years, and have recently had the ban lifted – however they still don’t fly to Europe.  Instead they have a route network spanning Kazakhstan, with some international short haul flights across Central and Southern Asia.

SCAT stands for ‘Special Cargo Air Transport’, and started operations in 1997.

I made it my ambition to head to Kazakhstan and see just what domestic flights are like in this relatively unvisited part of the world.

My itinerary this evening started at Tbilisi in Georgia.  From there I’d head across to Astana, with a connection at SCAT’s hub at Aktau.  In typical fashion for this part of the world, flights leave at a very uncivil time in the morning.

My flight left Tbilisi at 2am so I headed to the Prime Class Lounge at Tbilisi for a few hours.

 

Eventually it was time to board and we took a bus out to the ramp, where my ride to Aktau was waiting.  It was a 15-year old Bombardier CRJ200, originally delivered to the German airline Eurowings in 2004.

Inside the aircraft wasn’t in a bad condition, the aircraft still featured its original interior from Eurowings.

As I was seated in an exit row, the flight attendant made sure I was able to open the exit should I need to.

We eventually fired up our engines and taxied out to the runway at Tbilisi, making a departure to the east across the Caspian Sea towards Aktau.

There was just a drinks service on this short flight, and we were at cruising altitude for no time at all before we commenced our descent and landing down into Aktau, on Kazakhstan’s Caspian Sea coast.

 

After a pretty firm landing, we taxied in and headed for the international arrivals area.

I got told off for taking a photo of the aircraft (the guy hadn’t noticed I’d filmed the entire thing on my GoPro anyway though).

Immigration was quite a lengthy process, the border guard didn’t seem to have got the message that Kazakhstan had gone visa-free for EU citizens a week earlier, but eventually all was OK and I was granted entry into Kazakhstan.

Despite being a hub for SCAT, Aktau is a small airport and has no airside connection facility. I entered the check in hall and hoped that I’d be able to head airside to wait for my connection, which left 5 hours later.

Fortunately, I was allowed through security to airside – not that it made much difference to my comfort.  There’s no airside lounge here, just a few uncomfortable seats.  There were quite a few Westerners sleeping overnight, many heading to work at the various oil and gas fields in Kazakhstan.

I managed to get a few hours sleep, and woke up to a myriad of announcements announcing the delay of every single departure out of Aktau.  Most were called simply as ‘delayed’ with no indication of when they would depart.

The flight information displays were not updated, and no announcements were made in English.  I relied on hearsay from fellow English speakers to find out about the delay.  Eventually, my flight was called for boarding from gate 202.  I headed down to this gate, only to be turned away as the flight was heading somewhere else.

Back in the departure lounge, the flight now showed as departing from gate 102.  Once again, I headed to the gate – to find out the flight was instead going to Atyrau.  I asked where we had to go, and was told ‘Wait’.

A few minutes later, the flight was closed, and soon after that some passengers had been incorrectly boarded to the wrong flight and came back.

Then, the next flight was called for boarding – once again I queued but once again it was the incorrect flight.  Once again, a few passengers ended up boarding the wrong flight.  This wasn’t made easier by the fact that the gate agents were simply taking the boarding passes and scanning them when the flight had departed – so any errors were only discovered at this stage!

Finally, the flight to Almaty was called for boarding – and I made sure my boarding pass was scanned before I headed to the bus.

This time it was the correct flight, and the bus took us out to my ride – a 21 year old Boeing 737-300 originally delivered to Garuda Indonesia in 1998.  It’s since operated with a variety of airlines from New Zealand to Brazil, until SCAT took delivery of her in 2017.

The interior was a lovely green colour, and in quite a poor state.

We started our engines and began to taxi, but the fun at Aktau wasn’t over yet.  We had to wait while the airport ground crew chased a stray dog across the runway.  I have to admit it was pretty humourous watching them chase the dog with two vehicles and still failing!

We eventually got airborne and commenced our flight towards Almaty.

The inflight service today consisted of this monstrosity.

It looks just as bad as it tasted – in case you’re wondering it’s a sweet pancake with a slice of cheese, a cake ominously called ‘Boom’ and a watered down orange juice, of the consistency usually found at childrens’ birthday parties.

 

I decided to go hungry until I arrived in Almaty, and watched the scenery change to snow out of the window as we headed towards Almaty.

We commenced an approach and landing into Almaty where we landed around two hours late.  I’d just missed my onward connection, and had to quickly find an alternate way to get back to the UK.

SCAT are definitely an interesting airline to fly with. It’s great to get a slice of Kazakh life onboard these smaller carriers, and it’s certainly an experience to try when you’re in that part of the world.  That said – remember to go in better prepared than me. Expect delays, lots of them – and make sure you’ve eaten before the flight!

 

1 comment
  1. Scat Airlines is not an LCC. In fact there is only one, called FlyArystan (made by Air Astana). Scat Airlines is viewed as a low-cost because of their old planes, but it isn’t as it provides complimentary meals and baggage allowance.

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