In this review, we will take an Azerbaijan Airlines (AZAL) flight in business class from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Baku on the Airbus A320.
For some reasons I was immensely excited to fly Azerbaijan Airlines as the airline and country have both intrigued me for a few reasons.
First of all, it would be my first time visiting Azerbaijan. I had already visited the other two countries in the Southern Caucasus (Georgia and Armenia) on multiple occasions and loved the experience. Naturally, it made me wonder how Azerbaijan would compare.
As for Azerbaijan Airlines, the airline always intrigued me for some geeky aviation reasons. With Azerbaijan being an oil-rich country, I wondered how the service would be flying with the country’s flag carrier.
Previously branded as AZAL, Azerbaijan Airlines has an interesting, continuously evolving route network from its Baku hub. This does not only reflect industry interests (AZAL once had non-stop flights to Aberdeen of all places, which must have been a route solely added for the oil and gas industry), but also Azerbaijan’s cultural Turkic background as they also have flights to such places like Urumqi in China.
Many of such interesting destinations have since been terminated, although the airline has since added other places to its route network, such as operating flights to New York on its Boeing 787!
Seeing the Azerbaijan Airlines Airbus A320 parked at the gate at Charles de Gaulle, I really couldn’t wait to hop on the plane and fly to Baku.
I went it with zero expectations, as there wasn’t much which I could find online about Azerbaijan Airline’s business class on their narrow-body aircraft such as the Airbus A320. How good would Azerbaijan’s Airlines medium-haul business class product really be? Let’s find out!
Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) to Baku (GYD) on Azerbaijan Airlines
Flight J2 74 (booked as AF8176) – Airbus A320-200 – Business class, seat 2F
Departure: 10.20am – Arrival: 6.30pm
Flight time: 5h10m – Distance: 2,369 miles
Costs: 800 EUR, as part of a ticket including 12 flights in business class
From the mediocre Sheltair Business Lounge I slowly made my way to Gate D68 where after a short five minute wait boarding commenced. The gate agents neatly observed priority boarding, with business class passengers being asked to come forward first.
There were barely any people at the gate area and it would turn out that today’s flight would indeed have a light load only. Business class was actually pretty full with around 60 percent of the seats occupied, although back in economy the load was only a quarter at best in my own estimation
Azerbaijan Airlines A320 business class cabin
Alas, back to reviewing the actual Azerbaijan Airlines business class product!
Azerbaijan Airlines has proper leather recliner seats on its short and mid-haul planes. On the Airbus A320, the business class cabin exists out of five rows in a 2-2 seating layout, bringing the total seats in the business class cabin to 20.
Azerbaijan Airlines A320 business class seat
The seats on the Azerbaijan Airlines Airbus A320 are certainly quite comfortable for any day-time short to mid-haul flight. They are certainly miles better than the European-style business class seats which you get on Air France on the same type of plane, but that is perhaps a flawed comparison.
When for example compared head-to-head with a similar product, like for example the leather recliner seats Aeroflot has in business class on the A320, you can definitely see a few shortcomings.
It is quite noticeable that the Azerbaijan Airlines seats are of an older generation. They have some wear and tear and are definitely not as well-padded as those you can find on other airlines in their A320 business class cabin. Legroom and shoulder room were definitely adequate, however.
Note that these seats do not have in-built power outlets or USB ports and that there is no WiFi on the plane. Overall I think it is a solid seat for a day-time flight.
At the moment I took my seat, a friendly flight attendant came over to introduce herself. She asked if she could hang up my coat on a proper rack instead of stowing it in the overhead compartment, which is certainly always a nice touch.
After hanging the coat, she immediately came back to hand the menu for today’s flight. Shortly afterwards, another flight attendant came by with a tray containing several non-alcoholic pre-departure beverages. I settled for a fresh orange juice, which was beautifully presented and came with some candied fruits.
The flight attendants also distributed amenity kits to all business class passengers, which I thought was another nice touch for a mid-haul flight as there are plenty of airlines which only distribute them on long-haul flights.
Apart from the usual stuff such as a small toothbrush and some eye-shades, it contained a pair of dark blue Azerbaijan Airlines branded socks.
A small pillow and a good quality blanket with a nice Azerbaijan Airlines logo were already pre-distributed at each seat.
The frantic action in the forward cabin did not stop there as yet again a flight attendant came by a short moment later to hand out vouchers for fast track passport control and baggage pick-up at Baku’s Heydar Aliyev International Airport.
As there would turn out to be no queues at all on arrival in Baku – and not having any checked luggage – I didn’t end up using it.
Waiting for departure
Due to the light load of today’s flight, boarding was quickly finished. We however remained stationary at the gate for a while longer as bags and cargo were still being loaded on the plane.
The passengers in business class (all French – at least by their looks and languages spoken) were quite an interesting mix of people. The lady seated directly opposite of me in 2A seemed to be pretty well-known, as almost every other passenger in business class walked up to her during boarding or shortly after take-off to say hi and have a short chat in French.
It felt like she was perhaps the French ambassador to Azerbaijan or someone in a similar function? With civil servants and French businessmen catching up with her?
After a while the captain made an announcement that we had permission to depart and told that he expected the flight time to Baku to be around five hours.
When we finally pushed back from the gate we still had to complete a long taxi ride through the vast premises of Charles de Gaulle Airport. At least major hub airports never fail to disappoint when it comes to planespotting out of the window, with the highlights this time being the Air France Concorde on display and a French government plane.
With our light passenger load, take-off was fast and smooth and within minutes we were into the clouds.
The in-flight service kicked off some five minutes after the fasten seatbelt sign went off, with a flight attendant handing out piping hot refreshment towels.
She also inquired what I would like to drink and asked about my meal preferences as well. As an aperitif, I went for a glass of champagne. Azerbaijan Airlines serves Nicolas Feuillate, which is a fine choice for a business class champagne and the same which other airlines such as KLM serve.
Before my glass of champagne was brought to my seat, the flight attendant already put a tablecloth on my tray table for the lunch service.
One thing you can’t complain about when flying Azerbaijan Airlines in business class is the extensive menu, which counts for both its massive drinks list as well as choices for food.
The wine menu of Azerbaijan Airlines was huge, and had plenty of interesting local varieties. I like it when airlines promote their own cuisine and wines on board, and I was definitely looking forward to try out a few of the Azerbaijani wines.
Interestingly, the business class drinks list of Azerbaijan Airlines actually has three sparkling wines, as besides the Nicolas Feuillate champagne, the airline also serves Mumm champagne and a sparkling red from Azerbaijan. The menu also lists three whites as well as four reds – count me impressed! There are airlines which do not even have such an extensive wine list in business class on long-haul flights.
The food menu was certainly quite extensive as well, as for the mains there was a choice out of four dishes. I liked the fact that two distinctive local Azerbaijani dishes were listed on the menu.
I planned to opt for the cold mezze as a starter, but unfortunately the flight attendant told me that they were already out of that option and that the only available starter was the assorted meat platter. For my main dish, I opted for the exotic-sounding “Murkutush chicken”.
I don’t often order chicken on planes as it tends to be dry and flavourless, although airlines from the Near East and the Indian subcontinent are usually the exception to the rule as they infuse the chicken into fragrant rice dishes. With Azerbaijan being located on the crossroads between Europe and Iran, I figured that Azerbaijan Airlines would be on of these airlines.
After I finished my champagne and nuts, the flight attendant returned to my seat with the starter. Unfortunately, the cold meal platter wasn’t particular tasty at all. I ended up washing most of it away with the highly drinkable Chablis.
The salad was however fresh and tasty, and I can’t fault the gorgeous presentation of the meal at all. I especially liked the fact that a tiny flower was put on the tray table as decoration.
Fortunately, the chicken main was much better, with the chicken being succulently grilled and the rice dish packing a lot of flavour. I paired the main with the Savalan viognier from Azerbaijan, which was pretty decent.
After I finished the main I told the flight attendant to wait for a while with the dessert as I wanted to enjoy the cheese first. I paired the cheese course with the semisweet Shah Shamakha wine from Azerbaijan, which was drinkable.
For dessert, a sweet honey cake was served, which was tasty enough but not very memorable. As Azerbaijan Airlines does not have a proper espresso machine on board the Airbus A320 (it does have them on the Boeing 787 for example), I decided to have some tea instead of coffee after the meal. Tea was served with another portion of delicious candied fruits.
The entire meal service had a good pace and lasted a bit over an hour. Overall, I thought the quality and service was pretty good. One thing is however abundantly clear: you won’t go hungry in business class on Azerbaijan Airlines.
As you might have already noticed on the above pictures, the seats on the Azerbaijan Airlines Airbus A320 do not feature in-seat entertainment. All you have are some screens placed above the seats on which the route map and one film was shown throughout the journey.
In business class, Azerbaijan Airlines also hands out tablets and headphones to its passengers. The moment when this was done – right in the middle of the meal service – did however puzzle me. Shouldn’t it be done straight away right after departure? Or did the crew simply forget about it?
Even then I would probably have waited until the moment when meal service had finished as not to disturb the passengers during their meals by suddenly placing a tablet and headphones in their hands.
Although it is a nice touch of Azerbaijan Airlines to hand out tablets on planes which do not feature in-seat entertainment screens, the content was disappointing as not many films and TV show episodes were loaded on the devices. The few films which were loaded onto it were mostly old, rather average movies.
The only thing interesting I could find was a bizarre TV documentary in which Vinnie Jones (of all people!) explores far-flung corners of Russia. With Vinnie being a larger than life bad-ass figure, and having a weird fascination for remote places of the former Soviet Union myself, it made for a fun watch.
A better form of entertainment was the plane window, as by the time we crossed the Black Sea and flew over the Caucasus Mountains the views were terrific.
After the meal service, the flight attendants completely disappeared from the cabin. At not a single point of the rest of the journey did they pro-actively check on any of the passengers if they might want another drink. To their credit, they did however respond immediately when the overhead call button was pushed.
The flight went by rather quickly. I watched two episodes of Vinnie Jones: Russia’s Toughest, read a bit from my book and watched the scenery from the plane window while sipping a wee bit more of red wine.
Shortly before arrival, the flight attendants cleared our trays and took away the tablets, headphones and blankets from the business class cabin.
Descending into Baku is always a rather bleak affair. I still remember flying once took from Tbilisi, Georgia to Doha, Qatar – a flight which back then made an intermediate stop in Baku. There was just something dreary to the entire landscape on the Absheron Peninsula on which Baku Airport is located, like it is a sort of Mad Max apocalyptic wasteland.
With the weather being grey, cloudy and drizzly, this time was no different.
Baku Airport arrival
After a short taxi ride on the tarmac of Baku Airport, we arrived at our jet bridge. The flight attendants brought everyone’s jackets back from the wardrobe and made sure that we could disembark in all quietness before opening the curtains to economy class.
Baku has a gleaming new airport and it was enormously straightforward to navigate. It was a short walk to passport control, where there were no queues whatsoever.
Note that most nationalities need a visa for Azerbaijan, although most European nationals can nowadays apply for an Azerbaijan e-visa, which is a straightforward process. Just make sure you apply at the official government website (called ASAN Viza) as there are a lot of tourist agencies masquerading as official websites.
Although these might be legit, they will for sure be more expensive than the official government service as basically they will process the documents for you on the real website!
A few days after I applied for the e-visa I received a confirmation. You need to print this out and bring it with you to Azerbaijan, where you will be officially stamped into the country.
Having no luggage to collect, I just took some money from an ATM and went on to look for a cab, ready to explore a completely new city and country!
I enjoyed my business class flight with Azerbaijan Airlines, which did meet most of my expectations. The recliner seats were comfortable and had good pitch and shoulder room. The soft product was quite good too, with some tasty meals and drinks available.
What impressed me most was how extensive the food and beverage service was. You don’t often see 3 different champagne and sparkling wines, 3 whites and 4 red wines being offered on a narrow-body plane flying short and mid-haul routes. The food served comes in big quantities as well – you will certainly not get hungry or thirsty while flying Azerbaijan Airlines.
The business class cabin does however show its age, as there is a bit of wear and tear and its overall a bit outdated. There are no power sockets or USB ports, nor is the Azerbaijan Airlines Airbus A320 equipped with WiFi. Even though tablets were handed out to make up for the lack of in-flight entertainment screens, the content on it disappointed.
It could certainly do with an overall refresh and some new, more modern seats. I thought the recliner seats on the Aeroflot Airbus A320 was more comfortable, and then there are of course airlines such as Saudia which even put lie-flat seats into their business class cabin on the A320.
That said, Azerbaijan Airlines’ business class product is still a decent product which makes for an enjoyable and comfortable flight. Although I wouldn’t go out of my way to fly them again, I certainly would be happy to step on board on one of their A320s to Baku again if the price is right!
Trip report index
This article is part of the ‘Siberian Shuffle – A Crazy Winter Trip Around Eurasia‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:
1. Review: Wizz Air Bucharest to Oslo Sandefjord Torp (Airbus A321)
2. A Day in the Norwegian Capital of Oslo
3. Review: Norwegian Railways Night Train Oslo-Stavanger in a Private Sleeper
4. Review: Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Stavanger
5. Stavanger – A Great Norwegian City Trip Surprise
6. Review: North Sea Lounge Stavanger Airport
7. Review: KLM Cityhopper Business Class Stavanger to Amsterdam (Embraer RJ-175)
8. Guide to the Carnival Celebrations in the Netherlands
9. Review: KLM Crown Lounge (Schengen) Amsterdam Airport
10. Review: Air France Business Class Amsterdam to Paris (Airbus A319)
11. Review: ‘Salon Paris’ Business Class Lounge Paris CDG Terminal 2C
12. Review: Aeroflot Business Class Paris to Moscow (Airbus A320)
13. Review: Aeroflot Domestic Business Class Lounge Moscow Sheremetyevo
14. Review: Aeroflot Domestic Business Class Moscow to Irkutsk (Boeing 737-800)
15. Review: Matreshka Hotel, Irkutsk
16. Irkutsk Trip Report: Exploring the ‘Paris of Siberia’ in Winter
17. Review: Mayak Hotel, Listvyanka (Lake Baikal)
18. A Winter Trip to the Frozen Wonderland of Lake Baikal
19. Review: Ibis Irkutsk Center Hotel, Irkutsk
20. Review: Domestic Business Class Lounge Irkutsk Airport
21. Review: Aeroflot Domestic Business Class Irkutsk to Moscow (Boeing 737-800)
22. Review: Pushkin Hotel, Moscow
23. A 24 Hour Stopover in the Russian Capital of Moscow
24. Review: ‘Moscow’ and ‘Jazz’ Business Lounges Moscow Sheremetyevo Terminal D
25. Review: Aeroflot Business Class Moscow to Paris (Airbus A320)
26. Review: TAROM Business Class Paris to Bucharest (Airbus A318)
27. Review: TAROM Business Lounge Bucharest Otopeni Airport
28. Review: Air France Business Class Bucharest to Paris (Airbus A320)
29. A Short Overnight Stopover in Paris
30. Review: Sheltair Business Lounge Paris CDG Terminal 2D
31. Review: Azerbaijan Airlines Business Class (Airbus A320) Paris to Baku (current chapter)
32. Review: Old City Hotel and Apartments, Baku, Azerbaijan
33. Destination Baku: An Intriguing Mix Between Old and New
34. Guide: Train Travel in Azerbaijan
35. Sheki: Azerbaijan’s Most Lovely Town and Springboard to the Caucasus
36. Must Be the Ganja! A Visit to the City of Ganja in Azerbaijan
37. Review: Shah Palace Hotel, Baku, Azerbaijan
38. Review: Azerbaijan Airlines Business Lounge Baku Airport
39. Review: Azerbaijan Airlines Business Class Baku to Paris (Airbus A320)
40. Review: Air France Business Lounge Paris CDG Terminal 2F
41. Review: KLM Business Class Paris to Amsterdam (Boeing 737)
42. Review: KLM Business Class Amsterdam to Bergen (Boeing 737)
43. Blissful Bergen – Is It Really Norway’s Most Beautiful City?
44. Review: Bergen to Oslo on a Norwegian Intercity Train (Bergensbanen Railway)
45. The Flamsbana Railway – From the Myrdal Mountains to the Fjord at Flam
46. Review: SAS Economy Class Oslo to Brussels (Boeing 737-600)
47. Review: Diamond Lounge Brussels Airport Pier B Non-Schengen
48. Review: TAROM Economy Class Brussels to Bucharest (Boeing 737-800)