World’s Most Intriguing Fifth Freedom Flight Being Cut

Filed Under: Turkish

Turkish Airlines has just revealed that they’re launching nonstop flights from Istanbul to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, and in the process they’re cutting what I consider to be the world’s most intriguing fifth freedom flight.

What Is A Fifth Freedom Flight?

For those of you not familiar with fifth freedom flights, it’s when an airline flies between two countries they’re not based in, and they have pick-up rights.

These kinds of flights are operated for a variety of reasons, including:

  • it may not be possible to fly a route nonstop due to the distance, so a stop is required
  • It may be that there’s not enough demand to operate a flight nonstop, so by adding a stop they can increase demand

There are dozens of fifth freedom flights out there, ranging from Singapore Airlines’ New York to Frankfurt flight (continuing to Singapore), to South African Airways’ Washington Dulles to Accra flight (continuing to Johannesburg), to Emirates’ New York to Milan flight (continuing to Dubai).

Singapore Airlines flies from New York to Frankfurt

However, none of those compare to the intrigue of what I consider to be the world’s coolest fifth freedom flight, which is soon being cut (and no, I’m not talking about Cathay Pacific’s New York to Vancouver flight, or Air New Zealand’s Los Angeles to London flight, both of which are being cut as well.

Turkish Airlines’ Bishkek To Ulaanbaatar Flight

Turkish Airlines operates to more countries than any other airline in the world, and one of those countries is Mongolia. However, they don’t exactly go direct, unless you’re coming from Kyrgyzstan.

Turkish Airlines flies from Istanbul to Bishkek to Ulaanbaatar, and I maintain that the second portion of that trip is the world’s most intriguing fifth freedom flight.

Now, this does seem like a rather unpleasant flight — if you take the whole thing then it’s nearly 4,000 miles on a 737-800.

For anyone who is curious, the airline operates the route 3x weekly with the following schedule:

TK342 Istanbul to Bishkek departing 2:55PM arriving 11:05PM
TK342 Bishkek to Ulaanbaatar departing 12:05AM arriving 6:00AM
TK343 Ulaanbaatar to Bishkek departing 7:00AM arriving 9:25AM
TK343 Bishkek to Istanbul departing 10:25AM arriving 1:30PM

Turkish Airlines Cuts Fifth Freedom Flight, Adds Nonstop Mongolia Flights

Well, if you’re like me and have been intrigued by this route, there’s some bad news.

As of the end of 2019, Turkish Airlines will be cutting flights between Bishkek and Ulaanbaatar. Now, this is terrible news for the probably six people who desire to fly that route specifically.

However, the airline is maintaining flights between Istanbul and Bishkek, and on top of that, Turkish Airlines is launching nonstop flights between Istanbul and Ulaanbaatar.

As noted by @airlineroute, as of January 1, 2020, Turkish Airlines will introduce 3x weekly nonstop flights between Istanbul and Ulaanbaatar. The airline will operate the route with the following schedule:

TK362 Istanbul to Ulaanbaatar departing 7:55PM arriving 9:20AM (+1 day)
TK363 Ulaanbaatar to Istanbul departing 10:50AM arriving 2:30PM

The ~3,800 mile route will be operated by an A330-200, and is blocked at 8hr25min eastbound and 8hr40min westbound.

It appears that the flight will be operated by one of Turkish Airlines’ high density A330-200s, featuring angled seats in business class (which is still an upgrade over their 737 business class).

Bottom Line

Turkish Airlines will be adding nonstop flights between Istanbul and Ulaanbaatar as of early 2020, which is awesome. At the same time, the airline will be cutting their fifth freedom flight from Bishkek to Ulaanbaatar.

It’s pretty cool to see this service expansion on Turkish Airlines’ part, as sad as I am to see the end of this quirky fifth freedom flight.

  1. The nonstop flight is much more useful. I’m going to Mongolia next summer and I will be looking for that route for sure. Much better than what I can get now.

  2. TP ACC-TMS is also intriguing. And also a pretty awful flight if you’re going all the way from LIS to TMS.

  3. Thats all of a sudden a lot of extra capacity to Ulaanbaatar.

    the 737 will park overnight at Bishkek or will they change that schedule too?

  4. I had reason to be in Kyrghystan in 2017 and nearly took this flight afterwards (would have been one of the six I suppose)! Unfortunately it didn’t work out that time, but intriguing indeed!

  5. TK’s Istanbul – Cotonou – Abidjan (TK561) remains as does Kigali – Entebbe – Istanbul (TK569).

  6. Shame this was a nice little route linking central Asia and Mongolia. Bishkek also lost flights to Dehli. Hope Kyrgyzstan’s ok.

  7. This is rather unfortunate. I fly to Bishkek 4-5 times a year from the US and am actually on my way there now. Almost took the Mongolia to Bishkek flight on TK except the dates were just off by a day for me to make it work. Hard to find ideal routes to/from Bishkek so any extra option is useful, as presently Bishkek has direct flights from/to Mongolia, Almaty, Moscow and some other Russian cities on S7 and Aeroflot for Moscow, Istanbul, Tashkent, and Dubai (might be missing another but these are off the top of my head). But it really couldn’t have made much sense for TK to operate this flight. They fly direct to Bishkek from IST and in adding Ulaanbaatar as a direct flight, definitely more convenient for most. I just happen to be one of the 6 people impacted so it’s a bummer.

  8. Guess it means the demand for traveling to Ulaanbaatar has increased quite a bit, otherwise the change from a fifth-freedom by 737 to a non-stop by 330 with same frequency is really bold.

  9. AJO says TAP Portugal from Lisbon to Sao Tome via Accra is bizarre. Sao Tomé and Principe is a tiny two-island country with a small population and was a former Portuguese colony and the language spoken is Portuguese. There’s probably enough business connections and expats living in Portugal to make a direct connection viable, but not enough for non-stop flights (they used to fly a wet leased old 767 once a week nonstop from Lisbon to Sao Tomé).

    As for Australia, I wonder if a Qantas non-stop flight to Cairns would be viable, perhaps continuing on to Perth. Cairns is a small town but a hugely popular tourist destination to access the Great Barrier Reef and tropical north Queensland, so it would be almost all tourists and few business travelers so continuing to Perth could get enough business travelers to make the route viable (and Perth is a base for 787s used on PER-LHR). Cairns is almost directly on the great circle route from LAX-PER and it’s airport doesn’t have a curfew like Sydney or Melbourne. Most north American flights to OZ leave LAX/SFO late at night (10pm-midnight, which is 1-3am Eastern Time) and arrive at Sydney or Melbourne just after opening at 6am. For connections from the east coast of the US to avoid a long layover in LAX/SFO you leave late in the afternoon, wasting much of the day. If a LAX-CNS-PER flight left in late afternoon or early evening, pax could leave the east coast in the morning while still avoiding a long layover in LAX. It would arrive in Cairns in the very early morning (3-5am) and after a brief time embarking/disembarking (30-45min) be on its way to Perth, arriving hours earlier than a connection via Sydney or Melbourne and saving hours in duration compared to connections via East Asia or on the Gulf Carriers…an attractive proposition for business travelers to Perth. I think it would be good to try at least a 3x weekly during the northern hemisphere summer (May-September).

  10. Sad to see FRU-ULN go before I could fly on it. But the route itself was weird enough from the beginning. The only reason they chose to stop at Bishkek instead of other more populous and prosperous regional destinations like Nur-Sultan, Almaty and Tashkent was only because that they have a regional cargo and maintenance base at FRU.

  11. @Andrew: LIS-TMS is not bizarre at all, and I didn’t claim that it is. Just dreadful on a narrowbody. And I can’t imagine there being demand for ACC-TMS-ACC in itself.

  12. @Z they wanted to fly a widebody for a long time now and recently air service agreements on both sides have been renewed allowing TK to fly an A332 directly 🙂 Might be interesting to Lucky and all the others too 😀

  13. Turkey-Mongolia signed new air service agreement last month which raised allowable seat capacity paving way for nonstop service using the A330.
    For the record the route will see further upgage to A330-300 in March 2020.

  14. @Andrew,

    Melbourne doesn’t have a curfew. I’ve caught many flights to Europe between 2 and 3 in the morning via Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur, or between 5 and 6 in the morning via Manila. These connections mean you get into Europe for a late lunch or mid afternoon. Which also means you can check into your hotel, rather than having to book the night before, or occupy yourself until you can. It also reduces the effect of jet-lag, as you aren’t forcing yourself to stay awake after landing at 6am when flying from Sydney.

    It also allows you to utilise a full work day in Sydney when flying to Europe via Melbourne. You can catch any flight up until the Sydney curfew, rather than leaving mid-afternoon (one of the many reasons I rarely fly Qantas internationally any more – I used to like QF9 leaving between 11pm and midnight before routing it via Perth).

    With regards to your suggestion of using transpac flights using Cairns as a stop to Perth – if it was such an attractive proposition, then Cathay wouldn’t be pulling out of stopping at Cairns on the way to Brisbane on one of their daily routes. Those transpac flights need the pointy end to be fully booked, so maybe a Deathstar flight going LAX / SFO to HNL or Nadi and then onto CNS may be more viable. Given Deathstar already fly between CNS and Perth, then they could possibly move that flight from the Cairns Domestic terminal to the International one? Not sure on whether the block times would allow it, but it would make for an interesting milk run.

  15. I took the flight in 2014. I didn’t see any other passengers checking in at FRU for the flight. I had to check a bag, and it got lost in ULN. I don’t imagine they see too much connecting *A traffic.

    I was in J and the flight was pleasant enough as you’d expect on TK with a nice breakfast, but the brutally early departure and the lack of decent seats up front make a nonstop from IST much more pleasant.

  16. I’m one of those people who travels between ULN and FRU, and this news is disappointing to say the least. It leaves few options to get to Central Asia from Mongolia. SU via Moscow with a long layover in SVO. Or Air China via PEK with a long layover, connecting to Air Astana PEK to Almaty, then a 4 hr drive ALA to FRU. SCAT Air has started service ULN to Nursultan (Astana) 3x/week. Not looking forward to any of those options come Jan. I was one of the 5 people getting on in FRU to ULN or getting off in FRU while everyone else was waiting for the next 6 hrs leg to IST. Mongolia needs to allow flights by Air Astana betw ULN and ALA to serve Central Asia.

  17. Thought I had another one to add to the list until I realized it was a cargo flight. ‍♂️
    The routes they fly and places they serve might deserve an article of its own.

    EK9745 goes DWC > EDL > NBO > AMS. Eldoret (EDL) is a tiny regional airport in Kenya with ~10 arrivals a day, and yet every few days it gets a visit from an Emirates 777. Strange.

  18. @Andrew – I’ve taken this flight from ACC to TMS several times. About half the traffic is local and half to/from LIS.

    TP has not operated a nonstop TMSLIS, however. You are thinking of STP Airways which still does operate a once weekly wet leased 767 on this route.

  19. That’s a shame it sure was a convenient nice flight that gave me the chance to visit Central Asia last year. I did ULN to FRU and that TK 737 flight was packed only a few people deplaned. I sure like 5th freedom flights, and I am now looking forward to SQ’s A350 flight from MAN-IAH!

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