The flying minibus

September 10 2009

The mountains. Yesterday.

The mountains. Yesterday.

Just about the only thing I remember reading in a guidebook before coming here was that you shouldn’t, under any circumstances, use the local airlines. They can’t fly to the EU because they don’t have stringent enough safety regulations. Naturally I double checked that the connecting flight from Istanbul was with Turkish Airlines, but completely forgot to ask about the internal shuttle between Bishkek and Osh.

The locals call these planes ‘flying minibuses’, because they’re not entirely dissimilar to the beat up old people carriers used as buses in the towns. It’s anyone’s guess as to how old they are. Judging by the fact they don’t even have seatbelt warning lights, it’s probably a safe bet that the twin propellered machines are hangovers from the Soviet era.

On the plus side, that does mean there are cute retro fittings like curtains, instead of window blinds, and cushioned walls studded with bolts. On the downside, the seats flop around like a badly broken arm, the belts are twisted and trays fall down as soon as the person in front sits back.

Worse, Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful, mountainous country. Each of the three main cities has its unique character and landscape, but they all involve rolling foothills and snow capped peaks. The largest ranges cleave the country in two and form a border with Uzbekistan. Both of which our flying minibuses pass over on the journey between Bishkek and Osh.

That means turbulence. Which they don’t handle well. It also means a great view though.

Fortunately I’ve never been afraid of flying, and actually the planes don’t feel unsafe. I just know that if Tamsin saw them, she’d never let me out of her sight again.

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