Tajikistan’s Somon Air has scheduled a flight to Uzbekistan for February 10 — the first such commercial flight between the two nations since 1992.
Regular flights are expected every Monday from February 20 onward.
Somon Air has said in an official statement that it will fly once weekly in the winter season, but that frequency could increase to twice a week in the summer.
“This new route and its frequency will gives the citizens of Tajikistan and Uzbekisan the opportunity to simplify their travels between the two nations,” the airline said.
Not so fast though. On the evening of the announcement on January 31, one-way tickets from Dushanbe to Tashkent were selling online at around $190 — a small fortune in local terms for a 45-minute flight. A ticket the other way cost $220.
By February 1, prices had dropped somewhat, to around $300 for a round trip. By way of comparison, a return flight between Tashkent and Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, which is twice as far away as Dushanbe, costs around $320.
The cheaper way to get between the two cities in by car. A taxi from the Tajik capital to the Uzbek border typically costs around $15. The cost of taking a car to Tashkent is about another $20. The cost obviously goes down for travelers willing to share their ride, so the whole trip can be for as little as $20.
Still, there is a premium on comfort and avoiding the nine hours of driving and the time it takes to negotiate the border crossing.
The high cost of tickets is down to airport taxes. Tashkent international airport levies $76 off each flier — flying out of Dushanbe incurs a $48 charge.
The price of an air ticket sparked a lively discussion on social media. People who had dreamed of making the trip since the imminent resumption of the route was announced last year have had to downgrade their expectation.
“With this kind of money you get all-inclusive holiday in Turkey,” moaned one Facebook user. “You fly for just 45 minutes, but with that kind of money, you might as well be going to Moscow,” grumbled another. “We should have expected this — for that amount you go there and back three times in a car,” complained yet another.
A source in the Transportation Ministry told EurasiaNet.org that under an agreement between the governments Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, Somon Air was given preference to begin flights in February. If the route proves profitable, Uzbekistan Airlines will follow suit.
Then again, if there is no profit to speak of, the route may be unceremoniously scrapped. Somon Air has already had that experience with routes to Baku, Lahore and Sochi.
Another complicating factor that could undermine the profit margin is the visa regime that still exists between the two countries. If the cold war is truly winding down, talks may soon follow for the visas to get the chop.