If you read any of my other reviews, whether it be about another airline, a restaurant or a hotel you will come to realise that I really don’t complain too much about services. Even if things are a little off, I like to highlight the positives rather than write extensively about the negatives because a bad experience could be down to a plethora of factors that are outwith both you and the establishments control. In saying that, to say my first and only experience with Ukrainian International Airlines (UIA) was unpleasant would be a mild understatement.
Having never used the airline before, our minimal research on it showed what was to be expected from a budget airline. We booked our flight from London to Beijing with a stopover in Kiev with UIA on the premise that it was the cheapest airline on that route for the day and the days surrounding when we wanted to depart. At just less than £300 each one-way, it was value for money but not exactly cheap considering luxury airlines were flying the route for around £70 more.
When we arrived at London Gatwick to check our bags we discovered that, in fact, our names weren’t on the flight. The employee at the desk informed us that the flight time had changed and that unfortunately, our names had failed to be transferred. Despite our having a ticket, them having a log of us being booked on the previous flight and them being aware of the time change they refused to let us check onto the flight without purchasing new tickets. So, before we had even left the UK, after phone calls to and from Kiev and almost an hour of waiting at the ticket desk with no assistance or help from UIA staff, we were forced to pay £426 for the London to Kiev flight by Gatwick Airport. We had no idea whether or not we would be allowed to board the connecting flight to Beijing, and apparently neither did the staff either at London Gatwick or Kiev Borispol.
At the airport in Kiev we had a five hour layover and spent the first two not knowing, despite speaking to several UIA staff members, if we were eligible to check-in for the second flight – most connecting flights are null and void if the first flight ticket hasn’t been used, which in our case it hadn’t because we had to use the new tickets in order to board the plane. Thankfully we were given two seats on standby and were allowed to recheck our bags and board with our original tickets.
Once we had landed at Beijing Capital and embarked on our travels, I spent at least a few hours a week emailing back and forth with UIA about the scenario that had unfolded at London Gatwick. Not once did they apologise for the mix up and they continually asked for the same details. The conversation looped over itself countless times in what I can only assume was an attempt to get me to stop bothering. It took over six months for me to receive a refund with no offer of compensation and to this day I haven’t received an apology from UIA. Thankfully we took a credit card with us for emergencies which covered us before we had even left the UK but had we not taken the card with us a huge £426 would have been taken out of our budget for a 9 week trip. London Gatwick eventually refunded us but cited the airline failing to transfer our names on the flights and not simply adding us onto the rescheduled flight as the cause for our charge.
With all that being said, I understand that this could have happened with any airline and so I’m inclined to not judge UIA purely based on this technical hiccup, although I retain that their customer service team could and should have been at the very least responsive, if not of some help. When we booked budget we were prepared for the things you would expect with such an airline such as minimum legroom and unimpressive food, and that’s what we got. On the first flight we were upgraded to Business Class free of charge due to the distress caused, which we both greatly appreciated and I commend the UIA service desk at Gatwick for doing so. On the plane, however, business class seemed to differ only in terms of seat size and legroom. No complimentary drinks (soft or alcoholic) were offered during the four hour flight, nor was food or in flight entertainment. Although for some this may seem like lacklustre service, this is nothing out of the ordinary for European budget airlines.
Our second flight from Kiev to Beijing lasted just over eight hours and during the course of it we were given two meals. The first, served sometime between breakfast and lunch was a small continental breakfast. A bun with a small pack of cheese, jam and butter was served alongside a small fruit salad – which to be honest consisted of some apple slices and grapes. Water, fruit juices and tea or coffee were served with this sitting. The later meal service was the choice between chicken, rice and vegetables or beef stew. I opted for the former and Paul the latter. The food was pretty standard for an aircraft but certainly no worse than those I’ve had on many other flights, including with airlines that would be classed as luxury. Small prepackaged desserts also came with dinner and soft drinks were passed out twice (alcoholic drinks were charged). Although there was less legroom than I’ve had on other long haul flights, there was enough to be somewhat comfortable. The staff weren’t exactly the warmest I’ve ever encountered on a flight and despite various comments on this particular post citing “Soviet mentality” I do believe on an international airline amicability would go a long way in making customers feel more at ease. I have travelled with many other budget airlines and have only encountered friendly staff so nor do I feel the ticket price should be concurrent with their behaviour. Things that you might expect on a long haul flight such as eye masks, slippers, blankets and so on will need to be brought along as they are not supplied by the airline.
For some time I thought that perhaps I felt this way about the airline and their services because of what happened with our flights but upon reading other reviews I actually have come to realise that they simply lack the customer service that so many of us have become accustomed to in the air. In sum I would not recommend this airline and instead would encourage you to pay the little extra for a more comfortable and comforting airline. If you’re travelling on a strict budget, however, then UIA could perhaps be the pick for you.