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.