I had booked the short 268-mile segment on Azerbaijan Airlines about 10 months out for just $55 one-way. There is also a train that plies the route but I prefer to fly if I can.
The timing of the departure flight is rather ungodly at 1.30AM, due to the low landing fees at Tbilisi Airport at night (and the connections on Azerbaijan Airlines). The airline had regrouped its brand into low-cost AZALJet, which roughly took over 50% of the routes, and Azerbaijan Airlines, the international brand. My flight would be run by AZALJet (even though I had booked it differently).
AZALJet flights are now actually no longer on sale, as of today; the brand was recently liquidated in connection with the launch of low-cost airline Buta Airways ticket sales. If you already have tickets for AZALJet, though, your flights remain unaffected.
I tried checking in online with the reference code provided by Expedia (where I had booked). That worked rather well but likely due to the immigration policies no online boarding passes are issued by the website.
The counter opened at 10.30PM; we were pretty tired already and the agent wasn’t in the mood to help. She complained about our ‘big looking’ Rollaboards (10kg is the maximum carry-on weight) but we were right at the limit. She mentioned that she would be charging us for checked luggage now. I pushed back and explained that they were perfectly fine carry-ons inside the weight limits imposed by the airline. She gave up right away, handed us the hand luggage stickers without further talk and we were done. I found it interesting that Tbilisi Airport immigration wanted to see our visa to let us pass but the airline check-in did not check at all.
After immigration we could finally get into the Primeclass CIP airport lounge that’s used by all airlines. The lounge has a very decent food buffet now and lots of drinks options. I felt it had really improved much since my last visit a few years ago.
Boarding was right at 1AM and the gate agents seemed just as cold and stern. However, boarding was orderly and fast into a really old-looking jet that easily seemed 20 years old inside and out, without a lot of refurbishment.
The cabin was quite a bit unruly and with cranky kids (no surprise at this hour) but everyone calmed down a bit after take-off into the stormy skies over Tbilisi. After a long set of turns (due to the mountainous location and the weather) we got going east on our way to Baku. Just 50 minutes of flying and we would touch down in Azerbaijan’s capital.
The airport awaited us with gleaming night lights and nobody at immigration. It seemed 90% of the people on our flight were transferring and the dozen or so immigration officers looked sleepy, too. I had applied for an e-Visa beforehand and had brought the printout as requested. Once provided, they simply scanned it and after a quick photo of us, we were through.
This was a good ‘low-cost’ flight, though on aging equipment and with a terrible flight time. With better equipment and better flight times this could have been a pretty good flight.