In flight: Rangon to Nyuang Oo on Air Mandalay


I knew that the flight was going to be an interesting one well before we got close to the trip. Booking domestic flights in Myanmar is a challenge, mostly because their airlines are not linked to any global booking systems. And credit card transactions are not yet possible. Plus, most airlines there don’t have a functional online presence, much less a booking engine on their websites (though it is getting better). We were fortunate that Air Mandalay was at least able to take a reservation request via email. Of course, they wanted us to pay in person 3 days prior to our flight; we weren’t going to be in the country until ~36 hours prior to the flight. Oy.

When we finally made it to Yangon we still had to pay for the flights. Crisp $100 bills were the only acceptable payment method and it involved a trip to their ticket office to complete the transaction. I asked about possibly changing the flights, desperately hoping there was an option other than the 6:30am flight we were booked on. That’s when the agent turned her computer screen so that I could see the options. Apparently they manage all their bookings in an Excel spreadsheet. Wow.

In flight: Rangon to Nyuang Oo on Air Mandalay

It got even better when we eventually made it to the airport the following morning. At check-in we received our boarding passes for the flight. They were hand-written, with stickers for the seat numbers. It was awesome.

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The gate area was packed wall-to-wall. Not an empty seat to be found and flights boarding out of the few doors at the far end of the terminal, but no announcements being made. Instead there were guys walking around carrying signs like these for each flight:

In flight: Rangon to Nyuang Oo on Air Mandalay

When you saw the sign for your flight you had to make your way through the scrum to the door, had over the boarding pass and walk out to the plane. One of the only advantages of the ridiculously early departure time was the sunrise happening behind the plane as we boarded.

In flight: Rangon to Nyuang Oo on Air Mandalay

Miss the party seats that used to be found on Southwest Airlines? You can sub in an Air Mandalay ATR for a similar experience if you want.

In flight: Rangon to Nyuang Oo on Air Mandalay

The flight itself was relatively uneventful. They served a small snack during the flight that was pretty bad.

In flight: Rangon to Nyuang Oo on Air Mandalay

And they handed out newspapers. This was really one of the stories:

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And then, about 45 minutes later we were descending over the plains of Bagan. The temples dotting the countryside were readily visible out the windows as we headed in for our landing.

In flight: Rangon to Nyuang Oo on Air Mandalay

Yeah, not your everyday travel experience. Far from it, really.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

18 Comments

  1. Great post.

    I recall similar seat stickers on Delta BPs back in the late 70s (and perhaps very early 80s).

    I’ve sat in the “party seats” on USAir and Swiss Air’s old regional affiliate Cross Air over the years. If you know the group at the seats…or if the people were “like-minded,” it really was enjoyable.

    It is also extremely rare to see a carrier use “safety” in their marketing tag-line. Certainly amongst OECD-domiciled carriers, I don’t believe any use the word…nor can I think of any other developing nation carrier that uses it. Probably the closest any OECD carrier or manufacturer came was the oblique reference on select A340s “four engines for long haul;” a knock on 777s.

    Was English used at all for the flight announcements?

  2. Thanks for sharing – enjoy Bagan. Was there in March 2012 and loved it. At least “back then” (with things changing so quickly in Myanmar, 16 months ago is essentially an eternity), Air Mandalay working with an agent in Bangkok who could sell their 4 flight air-passes with credit card payment.
    Be careful on flight times / actual airlines flown though if anyone ends up doing the airpass – rarely ended up on the actual Air Mandalay flights we booked. Times and airlines changed (we’d be handed off to whoever had the next flight).

  3. Northwest was still doing seat assignments with stickers in the 1980’s, maybe DL as well. At least you cannot have a seat dupe… so long as they only pull stickers from the board for your flight…

  4. Odd. Flew them in late June and it was “open seating”. I guess they ran out of stickers.

  5. My Air Mandalay ATR didn’t haz party seats. I feel cheated. Oh well, at least we got. RGN-NYU-MDL-HEH lines

  6. I’m trying to find the best way to bagan in December, and have been hearing horror stories about the Burmese airlines (safety record/old planes)?

    what was your experience like? I’ve been debating flying that route from RGN-Bagan, and also flying a newer airline/plane to mandalay, then making it to bagan by bus.

    1. Most of the airlines fly relatively recent vintage ATR 72’s. I flew several times on Air Bagan in late 2011 when I was there and never felt unsafe. Of course that was before the Fokker 100 crashed at Heho. But that was apparently pilot error. I think Asian Wings probably flies the newest fleet in the country.At least it did when I was there. I know Air KBZ has been adding new planes.

    2. I agree with Glenn that they’re basically mostly the same. You’ll likely fly the same planes to Mandalay that you would to Bagan anyways. I was originally going to book on Air Bagan but the crash the week before we got there soured me on that so we switched the return flight to Air KBZ instead. They actually have a frequent flyer program, though I don’t think I earned enough points to get anything for my trip.

  7. Brings back fond memories of flying airlines most have never heard of and some with just two or three jets. A nice tourist destination off the beaten path. For the full experience, in addtion to flying, you really need to take a river cruise.

  8. When I refresh this page I get a dialog that says “Element does not exist in DOM!”
    I am using IE9

    1. Is it wrong for me to be jealous of things like “my days flying Sudan Air from Khartoum to Juba??”

      Because if it is, I’m not sure I want to be right. 😉

  9. Took the same flight in February. Loved it. When I got in to RGN initially I walked over to the domestic terminal to pick up my tickets for my next few flights. Turns out it was a holiday and they were closed. I was able to get my tickets next day at their office in town.

    FAs on my flights spoke good English and were friendly.

    At least one of the planes I was on seemed to have come from some Spanish language speaking airline as you can make out some of the wording on the seats under the Burmese writing.

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