Air Astana is committed to “creating exceptional inflight experiences” and recently received a five-star rating in the major airline category from the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) – the ninth time the airline has received an APEX award. In this interview, Yelena Obukhova, Vice-President Inflight Services, shares insights into Air Astana’s focus on personalisation, inflight entertainment, sustainability and emerging technologies.
“We have always been focused on providing the best to our passengers and over 20 years we have developed our own approach to service and onboard product development, based on our traditional Kazakh hospitality,” Obukhova explains. “Everything from decorative mood lighting, onboard music, cabin comfort, and the smiles of cabin crew should set the passenger on a positive wave and give an unforgettable flight experience.”
When configuring the cabins of new aircraft, for example, Air Astana pays great attention to the comfort of the seats, choosing modern comfortable options – a prime example being its NEO fleet.
“At Air Astana, our commitment to creating exceptional inflight experiences is reflected in the thoughtful design of our products, meals and beverage menus,” says Obukhova. “We take pride in showcasing our heritage through product and through the food and beverages aboard Air Astana flights. Putting a spotlight on nomadic cuisine is a central part of our culinary approach.”
Indeed, to enhance the experience even more, the airline provides a unique touch with a new service implemented in 2023 called Nomad Tea trolley – a national tea service allowing passengers to “immerse themselves in a complete and genuine culinary journey”.
Ensuring the inflight experience “is nothing short of extraordinary”
At FTE APEX Asia Expo in November 2023, Air Astana was recognised in the ‘APEX 2024 Best In Airline Awards’ in two categories within the Central/Southern Asia group: Best Cabin Service and Best Entertainment. “We want to hear our customers and therefore our Customer Experience Team initiated several projects completed in 2023 with the aim to create a meaningful experience for our travellers,” Obukhova shares. “One of them was ‘Forum Voice of the Customer’, which was designed to conduct an in-depth study of our clients’ expectations, discuss their experience at every stage of the journey, and learn how they felt about our performance, products and services. In terms of cabin service, we invest a lot in cabin crew development.”
As part of this, a ‘Mystery Shopper’ project was initiated in 2023, helping the airline measure crew performance and ensure consistency in product and service delivery.
Inflight entertainment and connectivity is also a key focus area for Air Astana, with a vast array of entertainment options curated for travellers available on its KCTV platform. “From blockbuster movies to captivating TV series, chart-topping music to timeless Hollywood classics, KCTV has it all,” says Obukhova. “Keeping our young flyers entertained is also our top priority. We have a delightful selection of cartoons, travel kits, lullabies, fairy tales, games, and music to make their journey enjoyable and memorable.”
A separate section called ‘Accessibility’ has content specifically designed for customers with hearing impairment and visually impaired passengers. “At KCTV, we believe in creating unforgettable memories for our travellers,” Obukhova adds. “From exciting activities to captivating content, we ensure that their flight experience is nothing short of extraordinary.”
Recently, new premium quality headphones were introduced for passengers in Economy Class. The new headphones have an updated design, improved specifications, and are also sealed in disposable bio-decomposable packaging in line with the airline’s focus on eco initiatives.
“Substantial advancements toward a more sustainable and eco-friendly future”
Air Astana’s commitment to sustainability extends to an ongoing overhaul of service-ware, favouring lighter and reusable packaging materials. Aligning with global initiatives to reduce single-use plastics, the airline has replaced plastic with eco-friendly alternatives such as bamboo, craft paper, and reusable trays.
“Over the past few years, we have been gradually switching to more environmentally friendly travel kits,” Obukhova explains. “The material of the bags, as well as the internal components, is selected with maximum care for the environment and minimal damage. At Air Astana, we actively take on the responsibility of minimising waste generation during flights. Our future sustainability endeavours include leveraging innovative software solutions and fostering collaboration with catering service providers to make substantial advancements toward a more sustainable and eco-friendly future.”
Personalisation, Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality: making the customer journey “more seamless and hassle-free”
In October 2023, Air Astana received its eleventh Airbus A321LR, with five more to follow. These five new aircraft will feature the new “Airspace Cabin” with XL overhead bins allowing up to 60% more hand luggage than the previous cabin. Mood lighting in the cabin will aim to help reduce jetlag and enhance the customer experience. “Additionally, the in-seat inflight entertainment will have enlarged memory capacity of 512GB versus 256GB previously installed, which will improve content selection and include new sections for the passengers,” says Obukhova. “Moreover, due to ergonomic sidewalls, the cabin is now one foot wider at shoulder/head level, allowing more comfort.”
From 2025, the fleet will be further expanded with three Boeing 787 aircraft, which Obukhova explains will become Air Astana’s flagship. “This wide-body aircraft will feature doored suites in Business Class with fully flat beds that will allow for more privacy and a new Economy Class seat model by Recaro with six-foot recline and 32-inch seat pitch for better comfort. With increased demand to stay connected, the 787s will also be equipped with high-speed WiFi. New IFE will have larger high-definition screens with the possibility to use personal wireless headsets, and seats in Business Class will be equipped with wireless charging.
Looking ahead, Obukhova adds that Air Astana is exploring emerging technologies and how they might further enhance the passenger experience. “Personalisation is definitely the demand from passengers as it allows us to make the customer journey more seamless and hassle-free, creating the most enjoyable experience and proactively fulfilling traveller expectations. The aviation world is moving also towards Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality, which I am sure with wise usage can enhance the inflight experience as well.”