First it was the bread-eaters who faced price hikes, now it’s the travelers.
Over the weekend, state-owned Turkmenistan Airlines increased fares for international flights two- to threefold. The news comes at the height of the summer holiday season and not long before young people studying abroad prepare to return to their universities.
Prices for the famously cheap internal flights have also gone up, by $8.
The hot and airless Turkmenistan Airlines ticket offices in Ashgabat have been mobbed by prospective travelers distressed at the news of how much more they will have to spend on flights.
Under the new tariff system, an economy return flight to Moscow, commonly used by those studying or working in Russia, will go up from $280 to $670. The biggest spike is on the Beijing flight, where a return ticket has risen from $355 to $890. An Ashgabat-London return ticket now costs $485, up from $240, while the already relatively expensive Kiev round trip has edged up slightly to $660, from $545.
The last airfare hike in Turkmenistan was in 2008 and was linked to the introduction of a uniform exchange rate between the official and black markets and the redenomination of the national currency. (The old banknotes emblazoned with the face of the late President Saparmurat Niyazov were denominated in the 1000s and required the laborious counting routine still familiar to visitors to neighboring Uzbekistan, who often carry their cash in rolls.)
At that time, it was internal airfares that went up -- and not by as much. The cost of a flight from the capital to a provincial center rose from $7 to $10. With this week’s price hikes, a return flight spanning the country from east to west now costs approximately $60.
As with the bread situation, no government official has deigned to comment on these developments. “It has nothing to do with us. The new prices have been set by the Finance Ministry,” said one ticket-seller.
And as with food prices, people are clearly unhappy.
"I suppose the doubling of airfares is some kind of way of compensating for the expense of increasing government salaries by 10 percent next year,” said retiree Bayram as he waited in line.