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Why You Shouldn't Fly Biman Air

BANGLADESH | Friday, 20 December 2013 | Views [466]

We needed proof of onward travel from Nepal so we booked our flight to Burma through OneTravel. I read reviews for Biman Air and, as usual, found mixed reviews. When we arrived to Kathmandu's small and run down airport we found that our booking window had closed early, leaving us without a boarding pass. With still an hour before boarding time we tried to locate a Biman official, even leaving the airport to knock on headquarter doors, but to no avail. As the clock ticked down we kept being told by people with badges and walkie talkies (seals of power in airports without computers) to 'just wait, just wait'. We were finally put on the phone with the head official of Biman in Kathmandu, who told us that the flight was full. But we had purchased our tickets over a month in advance? So surely it must have been a translation error. The clock ticked some more and we were told we would be helped shortly. Then our flight left. Then we were told no one was coming and the offices were closed. Then we were told to come back tomorrow in an unpromising manner. Great.
     With a 22 hour layover in Dhaka, Bangladesh we knew we still had a chance of making our second leg and not eating our entire ticket if we hopped on another flight. United Bangladesh Air was helpful and gracious, but potentially in cahoots with Biram's Kathmandu branch, and got us on a flight to Dhaka for 180 USD, a blow to our budget. They had on sit away from the desk, approaching us to whisper, acting like they were doing us a serious favor. "We have one seat, but you both have to go right? I can talk to the Captain about getting one of you in the jump seat, but i'm not sure," the official said. Five minutes before the flight was to leave he hurried us along. We had seats. On the walk out to the plane we saw that man, the man we paid in cash. I put my hands together and bowed in thank you, then gave him a hug and told him how grateful I was that he went above and beyond to help us. He looked at the ground and flashed a fake smile. That was when I knew he hadn't done any favors, rather he was responsible for keeping our original boarding passes out of our hands, playing off of how desperate we were to pocket some under the table cash.      
         When we arrived to Dhaka we went straight to the Biman transit desk to file our complaints. They graciously offered us tea and a complimentary dinner while they 'figured things out'.  On the flight manifesto it said that our seats were confirmed, that we were confirmed as having boarded the plane, aka there was some sketchy business going on. The officials were adamant that it was not them who we would need to discuss a refund with, but with OneTravel. We were upset about the dent in our budget and wanted to leave the stress behind, so we gathered our stuff and set out to take a taxi to my friend's mothers' house, who was anticipating our arrival with Bengali home cooking I'd been dreaming about (literally I woke up dreaming of prawn masala). Two days before our flight we contacted Biman to confirm that there were indeed free transit visas and that it was safe to travel amidst rising political tensions. They even told us we would have free transportation and hotel room because of the length of our layover. Now here we were, being told that there was no such thing as a free transit visa, complimentary hotel or transport, and that it wasn't safe for us to leave the airport, that there were car bombings and kidnappings. We would be spending the next 20 hours in the mosquito infested airport, but our meals would be free! While the gentleman were kind and tried to get more information as to why we were denied our seats, it seemed they would do little for us besides a complimentary dinner of cold chicken curry. I consider myself a savvy and rough traveler who can get through most difficult situations with my chin up, but the overwhelming swarms of mosquitoes and invalid Biman email contacts (yes plural) had me fired up. Would this situation have been avoidable if I showed up well in advance to my flight? Yes, but that doesn't change the lack of, or absent, customer service and sketchy business behind the scenes.    
The bug zapper we were given by Biman Air 
Our complimentary cold dinner
         While roaming the airport for a place to sleep where we wouldn't be starred at, we met two Bangladeshi business owners of a food stand that serves spices wrapped in a banana leaf, some sort of dessert with hints of mint and tamarind. They bought us beers, tried to pull some strings to get us into the upscale lounge, and slyly ordered a piece of cake for Kendra's birthday. We told them our story and they weren't surprised, referring to Biman as the worst of the worst. That night we tossed and turned, swatting away the mosquitoes that were biting us through our clothes and trying to avoid prolonged gazes from curious men. We were the only women in the airport and were a spectacle, men standing next to us as we tried to sleep, just to stare. I found it entertaining, but most would find it disturbing.  
          What had me more upset than having to pay for that flight was not being able to eat the Bengali home cooking that my friend's mother had waiting for us. As much as I never want to see that airport again, I will return to Bangladesh to try the pantua, chutneys, kumro bhaja, prawn masala, and curries. For now i'll just have to keep dreaming of my first bites of prawn masala. 
    Then, just when we thought we were out of the weeds, sitting on our connecting flight to Burma, it got worse.   

Tags: airports, bangladesh, biman air, layover

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