Flight Review: Ukraine International Airlines Flight 232
I recently traveled from JFK-KBP-DME on Ukraine International Airlines. I am going to share my thoughts and experiences on the New York (JFK) to Kiev (KBP) segment in this trip report.
This was my first time flying out of New York – JFK, as my usual airport for flights to Europe is Newark – EWR.
This was also my first time flying on Ukraine International Airlines, and with limited reviews and experiences being shared on the internet, I really had no idea what to expect from this unique journey that I was about to embark upon.
Here are some basic facts:
Departure City: New York City (JFK)
Arrival City: Kiev, Ukraine (KBP)
Aircraft Type: Boeing 767-300ER
Seat Number: 13D (Coach)
Departure Date: December 2014
I arrived at JFK Airport (Terminal 7) around 9pm in preparation for my 1:30am departure. This was my first experience at JFK, and I really dislike the terminals all being separated so far apart. As I entered the building for Terminal 7, I walked around and could not find the check in desks for Ukraine International Airlines. After a few minutes, I kindly asked an employee, who pointed me to this area in the back far off corner of the building. It was here that I found the check in desks.
There was no wait to check in for the flight, and I walked right up to the counter. I considered asking for a seat change, but based on my assumption that 13D was an aisle seat, I decided to just leave it be and enjoy the leg room. Boy was I ever wrong!
After checking in for the flight, I now realized that I had many hours to kill, and all of the shops/food were closed (except for duty free and McDonalds). This waiting so late at night was painful. I still don’t understand why the flight needed to depart at so late in the evening!
Around 12:30am, I started to make my way to the gate hoping for early boarding so I could relax and get some sleep on the flight. I normally cannot sleep on planes, but since this flight time was so late in the evening, I was hoping it would be the first time for extended sleep.
Around 12:45am-1:00am, we began the boarding process. It was pure chaos. There was no call for first class passengers, or preferred frequent flyer members. Instead, it was one big general boarding announcement. Everyone ran to the roped off area to board the aircraft, where lots of pushing and shoving took place.
Upon boarding the aircraft, I was greeted by two blonde Ukrainian flight attendants both named Olga. As I walked through the First Class cabin, I thought it was odd that there was no one seated in this section, and proceeded to the next cabin (Premium Economy). The Premium Economy Class section appeared nice and I was impressed with the ample seating, leg room, and overall comfort.
Ukraine International Airlines has a special deal where you can upgrade from a regular Economy Class seat to Premium for only $250 each way from JFK-KBP. I had considered this since it was such a long 8-9 hour flight, but decided that money was best spent on my trip with my soon to be fiancé.
There was a long line of passengers in the aisles while fellow passengers put bags in the overhead bins, stowed heavy winter coats, and got situated into their seats for this long journey.
Up to this point, I thought much of Ukraine International Airlines and the great value that I had received. Keep in mind, I booked my ticket less than one month before departure, and received total price of $499.70 round trip with taxes from JFK-KBP-DME and return. I can’t even get to the West Coast for that cheap, let alone half way around the world!
So, honestly, my expectations were fairly low…
Upon entering the normal Economy Class section, reality began to set in as to why this ticket was so cheap.
The entire Economy Section was completely booked, with no chance of moving seats. The aircraft was setup in a very cramped 2-4-2 configuration, with my seat being in the middle, not the aisle as I had hoped for.
The aircraft also lacked personal in flight entertainment, with the only movie options being viewed on the main big screen, and a few small monitors every few rows.
As I got situated in my seat, I realized that the next 8-9 hours of my life would be the longest ever.
The aircraft had quite a few crying babies, and arguments over items not fitting into the already overflowing overhead bins.
The Boeing 767 is one of my favorite aircraft, but this trip reminded me as to why I usually opt for Lufthansa or United Airlines when flying overseas to Europe.
Once I sat down, I was amazed at how cramped the seating was. I am a tall and skinny guy, but these seats were slim even for myself.
I made a comment to the older Russian man sitting next to me about the seat size, and he gave me this slight smile, raised his hands a bit, and in broken English said “Is Ukrainian Airlines, what do you expect”. I smiled and chuckled on the inside.
The one nice thing about Ukraine International Airlines was that each seat came with a pillow, blanket, socks, eye mask, earplugs, and a headset. Nice touch since most airlines have done away with these.
Our flight was scheduled to depart at 1:30am, but we did not push back and depart until 2:01am.
After takeoff, I waited in line to use the lavatory, and was shocked that there was no one seated in the First Class or Premium Economy cabins. Both cabins were completely dark, which meant that this entire flight was being operated with only regular Economy Class fares as their income.
I guess that is what happens when you have a state owned airline.
Around 3am (one hour after takeoff) the drink service began, followed by our first meal.
The meal was pretty decent, however, I was very hungry so anything looked good at that point. We were served some vegetables, slices of turkey, rice, a roll, and dessert.
After meal service was completed, they started the showing of a movie, but I instantly fell asleep along with the rest of the dark cabin.
Hours later I awoke to us having just crossed into European airspace.
Drinks were served, and another meal service began. It was lasagna, a tiny salad, roll, and dessert.
Another move began and this one was Invictus staring Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman.
Our flight was scheduled to arrive into Ukraine at 3:48pm local time, but due to the delay leaving JFK, we arrived into Kiev at 4:10pm local time.
Once the aircraft parked at the gate, we exited and were greeted by a line of armed military personnel on the jetway, along with a few dogs. Remember, Ukraine is in a state of war at the moment.
Upon entering the airport, it was a pretty seamless transition to the transit area for my next flight to Moscow, Russia (Domodedovo – DME).
After walking through the bottom of the airport, it splits into two areas. Immigration for those terminating their trip in Kiev, and security for those who are transiting. There was no wait for the security line, and I breezed right through the 1 of 2 lanes that exist.
Kiev Borispol International Airport does not have much to offer passengers awaiting their next flight.
There are 3-4 smoking lounges, a few cafes, and duty free stores.
I visited the one store to buy a magnet for myself, and collectors spoon for my mother. However, I neglected to tell my credit card about stopping in the Ukraine, so my card was declined. Luckily, the girl working the store realized I was American, and asked “American Dollar?”. I said “Yes”, and she glady accepted that as payment, but the only change she had was a very very old $5 US bill. I smiled and took the change, even though it was far less than I was owed. Call it a cost of doing business I guess.
Overall, I had a positive experience with Ukraine International Airlines for the value. Remember, I did this whole trip for only $499.70 with taxes/fees. Yes, the seating is cramped. Yes, the in-flight entertainment is awful, but we arrived safely, were well fed and hydrated, and the price was 1/3 that of any other airline from New York City.
I would fly on Ukraine International Airlines again if I really needed to depending on my budget.