A Flight With Special Visa Privileges

Filed Under: Other Airlines

I’ve written about AZAL Azerbaijan’s flight between New York and Baku, which I find to be incredibly intriguing. It launched about two years ago, and operates 3x weekly using a Boeing 787.


In business class they seem to have pretty standard forward facing fully flat seats, much like in LOT Polish business class, for example.

Baku dec 2014

While I’m trying to review new airlines in general, my new obsession is airlines that fly to the US but are relatively unheard of, often with a single route. It’s the same reason I’m fascinated by Ukraine Airlines, which flies between New York and Kiev.

Anyway, for a while I’ve been toying with the idea of flying AZAL, and I’ve actually wanted to visit Azerbaijan as well. However, for US citizens Azerbaijan requires a visa to visit, so I was pushing it off for a bit.

I can potentially knock out AZAL and Ukraine on one trip, as they both have fairly reasonable business class fares between New York and Baku, as follows:



However, I noticed something really awesome, whichĀ I’ve never seen before. Those flying AZAL’s flight from New York to Baku don’t have to get a visa in advance. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen a visa in advance exemption for taking a specific flight.

Per the Consulate General of Azerbaijan:

Since September, 2014, the U.S. citizens traveling by the New York-Baku direct flight on Azerbaijan Airlines (AZAL) are also eligible to obtain short stay single entry (valid for 30 days) Azerbaijani visa upon arrival at the Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku.

The Azerbaijan Airlines introduced direct flights from New York’s JFK Airport to Baku’s Heydar Aliyev International Airport twice a week starting September 24, 2014. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan now provides special arrangements to facilitate the visa process for U.S. citizens.

The following documents are required to obtain a short stay single entry (up to 30 days) visa upon arrival:

1. Valid passport

2. Two passport size photos of the applicant

3. Visa fee: for US citizens- 20 US dollars

4. Completed visa application form filled out upon arrival*

5. Boarding pass from the AZAL flight

6 . Letter of invitation*

How cool is that? I have an open weekend in a couple of months where I’m now thinking of flying to Baku on the above itinerary. There’s a nice enough looking Hyatt Regency in Baku, which I’m planning on staying at.


Anyone know of any other flights that help you circumvent visa requirements? Has anyone been to Baku?

  1. I know that Chinese citizens taking a specific Myanmar Airways International flight from Guangzhou to Yangon can get visa on arrival tho.

  2. If flying to UAE on Emirates and/or Etihad could be like a sponsor and gives you a discounted fee on your visa.

  3. I remember reading an article on AZAL flight. It said whenever the author tried snap a picture of the cabin or the in-flight meal (she said she didn’t try to take a picture of flight attendants. the camera wasn’t even facing them), flight attendants would “order” her not to do it and demanded her to delete the picture. This doesn’t sound really awesome for you I guess
    While most of CIS airlines doesn’t care much about passengers snapping picture on board, AZAL seems to be quite strict about its no-photo policy.

  4. btw I would love to visit Baku some day… They hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012…

  5. @ SamFromQueens — Hmmm, did the Park Hyatt close, or something else? Can’t find it…

  6. @ Raccoon — Whoa, that could be a problem. Do you by chance remember where you read that? If I can’t take pictures then I’m definitely not taking the trip…

  7. The likes of EK, EY, QR, BG, RJ, UL, MH, BI all facilitate visas to their homes if you fly them. Of course it applies to people from certain countries, which you as an ignorant American would have no clue about.

  8. @Raccoon could you be thinking of Matthew Klint’s story of being removed from United Airlines for taking photos, since he was traveling to Baku on that trip?

    I see a few video trip reports on YouTube even and don’t see any references to folks having issues with this.

  9. I went to Baku couple of weekends ago flying on J2 from IST to GYD and had no problems taking photos of the meal, legroom etc.

  10. @lucky

    I just looked stuff up and it seems like AZAL has changed a lot. I believe the article I mentioned was from 2010 (it was on a Korean website, written in Korean) or sometime around that. It could be that particular team of cabin crew that were being super strict about photos… who knows

    sorry to trouble you with some out-dated information šŸ™

  11. I’ve been wanted to go to Baku for a while, but I’d definitely stay in the Fairmont. The Towers of Flame are so iconic, and I see nights for only $137.

  12. Lucky. Beware. I believe you need to book first class to get those lie flat seats. Business class is more like premium economy

  13. I seem to remember Sam Choi having written an AZAL DXB to GYD trip report that included lots of pics; so, the airline can’t be all that concerned about onboard photography these days.

    I hope Ben is able to make this trip happen. The trip report would make for some fascinating reading.

    It’s been mentioned before on other OMAAT posts, but Uzbekistan Airways would be another relatively unheard of carrier with a single route to the US (JFK to Tashkent via Riga). Riga is a great destination for a long weekend!

  14. Oh wow, that is great info. That is one of places I would like to see, but getting the visa ahead of time does not really work well since I am usually unsure of when exactly I will get off. Thanks for writing about it, even if you do not fly the route.

  15. @Ryan.

    If booking fare class J it will be the lie-flat seats called VIP club.
    The Eco+ with recliners is called Comfort Club and costs about 700$ o/w.

  16. baku is a boring destination and city– focus on flying into Iran and do a trip report. go to kish and fly an old f100.

  17. Yes I have been to Baku. I stayed at the Four Seasons. The drive in to town made me think I had landed in Italy perhaps! The area around the Four Seasons has a number of excellent historical sites worth visiting. The food, heavy on the meat and salads was good but somewhat repetitive. The Zoroastrian Towers also blew me away.

    In the early eighties I think it was when Ethiopian Airlines had the ability to give you a Chinese visa on arrival though I have never made use of that facility. Incidentally Baku is quite close to the Iranian border though articles in the press suggesting the Israeli Air Force might use Azerbaijan to land after bombing missions in Iran suggest the relationships might be testy.

    If you go to Kieve I would absolutely suggest visiting Odessa too. Both are Amazing cities!

  18. I haven’t checked recently but when I flew AZAL last year it is also listed on their website that visa upon arrival is possible for those flying AZAL’s nonstop flight from JFK.
    I’ve been to Baku and the nice parts are grand and clean. Caspian Sea is beautiful.

  19. I have been twice to Baku; in 2008 to monitor their elections and in 2015 for the 4th Global Baku Forum.

    I stayed at the JW Marriott in 2015 and can easily recommend it. There are terrific food buffets for breakfast and cocktails. Plus a nice pool and reasonably priced massages.

  20. I’m dying to go to Baku. Anyone know how to get this letter of invitation if you don’t know anyone or don’t want to go on a “tour”? I will be going in 2017. Please someone review this flight and let me know how Baku is. I’ve heard its amazing!

  21. @Lucky- Thank you! First time you wrote back to me! I’m happy!

    @ Anyone- I don’t seem to see any flights available in May 2017. I looked on their website and on expedia and don’t see anything. A 1 way booking in Y was about $542 and J about $1432 in August 2016. That is very good! I am ready to go!

  22. By the way, no visa whatsoever is needed for US citizens to visit Ukraine for up to 90 days.

  23. I was in Baku a few weekends ago for the Formula One race. The food is great, and some of the architecture is amazing. Fun place for a weekend. Its worth a couple days but not too much more. Knocked Georgia and Armenia off the list afterwards. Tbilisi is definitely worth a visit!

  24. I’d suggest the Four Seasons. Much better hotel than the Hyatt and usually pretty reasonably priced for a Four Seasons.

  25. Yes, been to Baku several times, but no recently. The visa on arrival for AZAL pax looks similar to the VOA they had in place for all pax – but which was discontinuted, unfortunately. Just make sure you have the two passport photos handy, otherwise you are paying a lot of money for two photos …

    The Baku Hyatt is nice, used to be the first address in town. I have not stayed there recently, but I know the Azeries are faster in building new hotels than in renovating existing ones …

    Re Baku itself: Visit the old town, which is a real gem!

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