Flight test: Drukair, Royal Bhutan Airlines

Drukair's home base of Paro International Airport is mediocre inside, but the traditional architecture is beautiful.
Drukair's home base of Paro International Airport is mediocre inside, but the traditional architecture is beautiful. Photo: Belinda Jackson

THE ROUTE

Paro (Bhutan) to Bangkok via Guwahati (India).

THE PLANE

Airbus A319.

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

None.

UP THE BACK OR POINTY END?

Business class, seat 4F. It costs about $80 to upgrade from economy class.

TIME IN THE AIR

Four hours, including a 45-minute stop at Guwahati in India. The flight connects to Melbourne through Thai Airways, with a grinding eight-hour stopover.

THE SEAT STUFF

38 inches (96 centimetres) pitch in business, 32 inches (81 centimetres) pitch in economy. It's a 2-2 layout for business class and 3-3 in economy.

BAGGAGE

One checked bag up to 30 kilograms; economy is one checked bag up to 20 kilograms, with five kilograms hand luggage.

COMFORT FACTOR

A pillow and blanket in business class. The seats recline slightly, with the footrest coming forward.

THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT

There are no TV screens on the plane. Entertainment is out the window: on a clear day, the flight down Paro Valley gives spectacular views of the Himalayas. Paro is at 2225 metres, with "hills" either side of up to 4875 metres and the approach is by visuals only. Some say you can see Mount Everest when coming inbound on this route, but it's best seen on the Paro-Kathmandu (Nepal) flight. When flying into Guwahati, the captain points out the broad, sacred Brahmaputra River, which flows 3000 kilometres down from the Tibetan Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal. For best views, request a left-hand-side window on the way up from Bangkok and a right-hand window on the return.

THE SERVICE

Extremely polite, a little reserved. The women wear Bhutan's colourful national uniform, a silk crossover jacket (tego) and a long, straight skirt (kira). Men usually wear a gho, cut the same as a mid-thigh shave coat with long socks, but for comfort and practicality, they're wearing trousers and tie inflight. The friendly captain likes a good chat on the intercom.

FEEDING TIME

The Bangkok flight departs mid-morning, so we get a cup of sugar-sweet orange juice with roasted peanuts after take-off - the same in both classes. Lunch is served after our stop in Guwahati. I go the vegetarian option (which I didn't pre-book), which is shamu datse, a Bhutanese dish of mushrooms cooked in a white cheese sauce with rice. There are condiments galore, including Bhutan's national dish, ema datse (long green chillies in cheese sauce) and etsy (smoking-hot fresh chilli relish) with a lacklustre pasta salad on the side. The wine is Lindeman's Premier Selection Shiraz Cabernet 2011 or Semillon Chardonnay 2001.

ONE MORE THING

Paro International Airport (and Drukair's business lounge) is extremely mediocre inside, but its traditional architecture is beautiful. Airport staff expect you to jump off the plane and start snapping photos on the tarmac. No security goons here.

THE VERDICT

How to put this politely: like it or lump it. Drukair has a monopoly on this route, so there's no other way to fly in to Bhutan's only international airport. It's a short, pleasant flight.

THE FREQUENCY

Drukair flies Paro-Bangkok daily with extra flights in Bhutan's high seasons (March-May and September-November). All flights are indirect except the 4.45am departure on Monday mornings during high seasons.

Tested by Belinda Jackson, who was a guest of Bhutan & Beyond.

Comments