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A Russian Plane Orgy (1/5)  
User currently onlineHAM From Germany, joined Jul 2005, 287 posts, RR: 1
Posted (2 years 10 months 2 weeks 5 days 14 hours ago) and read 9294 times:

Preface

This TR covers my recent travels to and within Russia. The main purpose of taking this trip was to fly on some Russian aircraft types which are soon going to be retired. The journey took me from HAM to Moscow (all three major airports – DME, VKO, SVO), MRV (Mineralnye Vody), LED, CEE (Cherepovets), SCW (Syktyvkar) and ARH (Arkhangelsk); the return trip sort of completed a circumnavigation of the Baltic Sea: I flew from ARH via HEL to CPH and then took the train back to Hamburg. The last leg also drastically increased the multimodality of this trip as the ICE train was loaded onto a ferry to cross the Fehmarnbelt between Denmark and Germany. I will not include the bog-standard Air Berlin flights from ZRH, my current home base, to HAM, my city of origin, and back. There was nothing worth reporting. I chose to begin the trip in HAM as I wanted to combine it with some family visits.

All in all, this was a memorable trip. The flights were great and practically all perfectly on time and operated by the expected equipment, the only exception being the Superjet which was replaced by an A320. But the SSJ will be around for a while. I also met two fellow aviation enthusiasts: Local enthusiast V. from St. Petersburg joined me on the LED-CEE-LED trip with Severstal Aircompany's Yak-40, and a.net user S. (MEA-707) came along on the outbound leg of my excursion to SCW with UTair Express' Tu-134.

In order to keep this TR structured, it is divided into five parts:

  • 1. This chapter including the Preface, some notes on the booking process and the flight from HAM to DME on a Lufthansa A320
  • 2. The daytrip from VKO to MRV on Kuban Airlines' Yak-42D and back on KMV Avia's Tu-154M
  • 3. The flight from SVO to LED on Aeroflot's A320 and the daytrip from LED to CEE and back on Severstal Aircompany's Yak-40
  • 4. The overnight trip from LED to SCW and back on UTair Express' Tu-134 and the flight from LED to ARH on Rossiya's An-148
  • 5. The long return journey from ARH via HEL (on Nordavia's An-24) and CPH (on Blue1's B717) to HAM (by train and ferry)
Now, on with the story – here's how I booked the trip:

During the months of May and June, I was busy with completing my Master Thesis. As I found it impossible to just write on and on for hours and days, I began to develop the thought of realising a trip to Russia as a kind of reward for the time after the Thesis – whenever I didn't feel like working on my thesis for a moment, I browsed the web for options and began to develop a concrete plan. High on my wish list were in particular the Tu-134, the Yak-40 and the An-24. By the time I was working on my schedule, the website of the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPAC) still offered free access to a huge database with detailed and up-to-date flight schedules of airlines and airports all over the world, including the aircraft types.

So after browsing that database a bit, I came up with some options and combined those options with all the different schedule confinements to a 9-day trip. The HAM-DME flight was actually the frame around it all – I planned to only use the outbound leg, with the return flight serving as a backup in case something, or especially the return voyage via ARH and HEL, would go wrong. The Kuban Airlines, KMV Avia and Rossiya flights were booked through the Russian website agent.ru (it all worked very easily). The Nordavia, Aeroflot, Rossiya, Severstal Aircompany and Blue1 flights were booked on the respective websites because they offered the best fares. Especially Severstal was an interesting case: While the fares bookable through the standard booking channels such as agent.ru were ridiculously high (in the region of 300€ return), I found out that there was an early booking fare for LED-CEE-LED below 100€.

This was only bookable on the Severstal Aircompany website, and while there are western credit card logos on their website, payment was only possible through some Russian money transfer systems. I worked on this issue for some hours of both frustration and fascination, and after some Google translations of Russian texts and browsing lots of websites of those money transfer systems, I found out that it is possible to make transfers below 100€ onto a system called Webmoney through a company based in Dortmund, Germany. So I transferred 95€ to that company in good hope that it would appear on my newly-created account in the Webmoney system, and indeed, it worked out as promised (I think I received 90€ in Webmoney currency after the company's deduction for their efforts). This Webmoney credit could then be transferred to the payment system, and from there, I could pay directly on Severstal Aircompany's website. In the end, it all worked out perfectly!

The Russian Visa process is often described as annoying and complicated, but actually it all turned out to be rather easy. I decided to complete the whole process myself without any agency's help. All I needed to do was to order an invitation (can be done directly online at the responsible ministry for around 15€, I had my invitation as a PDF via e-mail a day later), get a travel insurance (below 10€ at a German insurance firm) and a proof that I intend to return to where I live (an enrolment confirmation of my university was ok) – and together with the application form and a passport photo, I handed everything in at the Russian consulate in Hamburg. Less than two weeks later, the Visa was ready and I could pick it up. Once in Russia, I never cared to register (which you are supposed to do after staying in one city for more than 1, 3 or 7 days depending on the source) and never ran into any trouble.

I booked hostel beds in Moscow (Godzilla Hostel) and St. Petersburg (Gogol Mogol Hostel), both very recommendable places, and hotel rooms in Syktyvkar (Hotel Syktyvkar) and Arkhangelsk (Pur Navolok Hotel), both the only ones to be booked easily online in each town.

When I booked the Blue1 ticket online, I was asked whether I want to buy the Optiontown upgrade option for 49€, which I did out of curiosity – I found that system very intriguing and innovative. So I had a chance that, given availability, I would fly in their Premium Class from HEL to CPH, including lounge access in HEL. A confirmation / refusal message was supposed to reach me some days prior to departure.

The German railway operator DB had some online deals available for my date of travel from Copenhagen to Hamburg: 39€ in second or 49€ in first class. I opted for the latter because some extra comfort and peace seemed worth the extra 10€. See part 5 of my report for the outcome of these two quests for extra luxury.

After these introducing words, the first leg – a rather standard continental Lufthansa flight on a standard A320 – opens this small TR series.

Monday, 22 August 2011
HAM-DME
LH 2996
Airbus A320-200
D-AIQU (delivered 12/2000)
Scheduled 10.40-15.20 (+2)
Actual 12.05-16.30 (+2)

After some weeks of anticipation, the departure day had come and I took the bus from my family's home in Hamburg to the airport. I wanted to travel light in order to have only hand baggage – that way I was independent in case of irregularities – and thus only took a small backpack along. So no need to check-in any luggage. I had already printed a boarding pass at home the evening before.



A first glance at the departures board revealed that my flight would be delayed by almost 1.5 hours, the reason was given later: technical problems and the resulting need to find a replacement aircraft – D-AIQU came from LHR before my flight and was somehow rescheduled to do the DME hop. No big deal, I was in vacation mood anyway and so I made my way to the visitors' terrace of the Marché restaurant in the Lufthansa terminal. The purchase of a cappuccino bought my way onto the terrace, from where I enjoyed some nice views.


.

.


Once I had enough of that, I went to the gate, where most passengers were already congregating and D-AIQU was already waiting at the aerobridge.


.


Boarding commenced soon, and I settled in my seat, 24A, with an older Russian couple next to me. The captain apologised elaborately about the delay, giving the above-mentioned explanation and wishing us a nice flight. Pushback, taxi, holding short before Runway 33. Takeoff seemed powerful, and the weather was nice, allowing for some great views onto Northern Germany.



Soon, the island of Fehmarn came into sight – I thought to myself that my trip would be concluded by the train journey across that island only eight days later.



My view then turned back into the cabin for the obligatory legroom shot. Legroom was just perfectly enough for the duration of this flight – the cabin was fitted with the new LH seats:



The flight attendants soon commenced their service. I wasn't sure what to expect, and I was positively surprised when I noticed the smell of some warm Asian meal. It turned out to be a Thai chicken curry with rice and vegetables – even though I don't really like poultry normally, this stuff was real good for a medium-haul economy meal! Even the vegetables were crisp, and the rice was nicely cooked as well. The biscuit was a nice dessert, and only the bread was kind of disappointing.



After some newspaper reading and a cabin shot...



...the flight was already nearing its end, with an interesting descent through Moscow's surroundings and a firm landing with full spoiler action in DME. Once the aircraft turned towards the taxiway, I could spot some Russian planes out there – many of them stored and one even being scrapped on the spot.


.

.

.


Once off the plane at the terminal parking position, I headed for the exit and passed by an exchange bureau. I looked at the exchange rates from Roubles to Euro and thought to myself that this must be some kind of tourist trap – who in the world would exchange money a few meters after getting off his plane? The rate was 30 RUB for 1 EUR. I walked on, went through passport control (a breeze) and discovered another exchange bureau, this time offering a rate of 34 RUB. Still not convinced, I skipped the baggage claim and when I exited the airside area, I found the next exchange bureau: 38 RUB. Through the surprisingly nice and airy check-in hall of DME...



...I made my way towards the Aeroexpress train to Moscow. In the middle of the check-in hall, I found an exchange bureau with the posted rate of 39.50 RUB and decided to change some money there for the train and some water and metro tickets etc. Later in the Russian cities, I found that the best rates were around 42 RUB for 1 EUR. How audacious is that – that first exchange bureau tries to rip off the passengers right after getting off the plane by offering a rate more than 25 % below the standard rate!

Well, I found the Aeroexpress station and it even had ticket machines, contrary to what I heard from some sources who stated that you have to line up at a counter.



With the ticket in my hand, I boarded the train which departed shortly thereafter.


.

.


The word "Aeroexpress" is a euphemism for a renovated local train that connects Moscow's airports to the city at an average speed of 40 km/h (unqualified judgement by looking out the window), but the train got me safely to Paveletsky station.



There, I boarded the amazing Moscow metro and went to my hostel which I found in a rather quiet neighbourhood, very conveniently located within a 20-minute walk from the Red Square.



I concluded the day with a dinner at some Russian restaurant nearby and a nice nightly walk in the area of the Red Square.


.


  Stay tuned for the upcoming four chapters!  

[Edited 2011-09-08 14:04:31]

14 replies: All unread, jump to last
 
User currently offlinedebonair From Germany, joined Jan 2004, 2399 posts, RR: 4
Reply 1, posted (2 years 10 months 2 weeks 5 days 4 hours ago) and read 8444 times:

Nice TR!

Quoting HAM (Thread starter):
The flights were great and practically all perfectly on time and operated by the expected equipment, the only exception being the Superjet which was replaced by an A320. But the SSJ will be around for a while.



And much more easier to fly, when MALEV and BLUE PANORAMA will take their deliveries!

Quoting HAM (Thread starter):
Stay tuned for the upcoming four chapters!



Can't wait to read more!   


User currently offlineSultanils From Belgium, joined Mar 2010, 1653 posts, RR: 30
Reply 2, posted (2 years 10 months 2 weeks 5 days 4 hours ago) and read 8423 times:
Support Airliners.net - become a First Class Member!

Hi HAM,

This first part looks already very promising. I like your planning story which shows it isn't that easy to get on these exotic carriers and flights, but good you managed in the end.
And you already showed that the stereotypes of the old Soviet Republic are no longer true, at least not for Moscow: DME is a modern airport and also the rest of your pics show a nice & modern city.
I'm looking out for the next parts,

   Sultanils



In thrust we trust.
User currently offlinenethkt From Thailand, joined Apr 2001, 1067 posts, RR: 3
Reply 3, posted (2 years 10 months 2 weeks 5 days 4 hours ago) and read 8405 times:

Love at first sight! As soon as I noticed 'Russian Orgy" oops :P
Will visit Moscow myself in November. Flying THAI from Phuket to Bangkok onto Moscow DME!  
Heard that MOW is the most expensive city in the world atm. Kinda not beleive it after been through all those Scandinavian cities. Maybe those tourists who said Moscow was trapped?

Also I will have a side trip to New York! Yeah, NYC with LH, so I can expect something like your HAM-DME flight!!
Can't wait to see the next part!

Cheers,
net-hkt



Let's just blame it on yields.
User currently offlineMEA-707 From Netherlands, joined Nov 1999, 4302 posts, RR: 36
Reply 4, posted (2 years 10 months 2 weeks 5 days 3 hours ago) and read 8331 times:

Great to see this part up, interesting read. Will try to have a report on my copycat trip up in the weekend. Was great to see you in St Petersburg and Syktyvkar.


nobody has ever died from hard work, but why take the risk?
User currently offlineburj From United States of America, joined Nov 2007, 901 posts, RR: 4
Reply 5, posted (2 years 10 months 2 weeks 5 days 2 hours ago) and read 8286 times:

Can't wait to read the rest of your reports!

So far looks like a good start! Again I'm amazed you got such a nice looking meal on such a short flight!


User currently onlineHAM From Germany, joined Jul 2005, 287 posts, RR: 1
Reply 6, posted (2 years 10 months 2 weeks 4 days 23 hours ago) and read 7996 times:

Thanks for your replies!

Quoting debonair (Reply 1):
And much more easier to fly, when MALEV and BLUE PANORAMA will take their deliveries!

Right!

Quoting debonair (Reply 1):
Can't wait to read more!

See below...

Quoting Sultanils (Reply 2):
This first part looks already very promising. I like your planning story which shows it isn't that easy to get on these exotic carriers and flights, but good you managed in the end.

It's easy actually, but just quite a lot of research to work out a schedule that allows lots of flights on different aircraft in a few days.

Quoting Sultanils (Reply 2):
And you already showed that the stereotypes of the old Soviet Republic are no longer true,

Absolutely: Most prejudices turned out to be antiquated - except for lots of staff who weren't really service-minded, travelling in Russia was absolutely pleasant and easy.

Quoting nethkt (Reply 3):
Love at first sight! As soon as I noticed 'Russian Orgy" oops :P

Sex sells!

Quoting nethkt (Reply 3):
Will visit Moscow myself in November

Thought about doing some extra flights, too?

Quoting nethkt (Reply 3):
Heard that MOW is the most expensive city in the world atm.

Yes, it is shockingly expensive. St. Petersburg is a bit better value for money, but also quite pricey.

Quoting MEA-707 (Reply 4):
Will try to have a report on my copycat trip up in the weekend

Looking forward to it!

Quoting MEA-707 (Reply 4):
Was great to see you in St Petersburg and Syktyvkar.

Thanks, I also enjoyed it.

Quoting burj (Reply 5):
So far looks like a good start!

Thx

Quoting burj (Reply 5):
Again I'm amazed you got such a nice looking meal on such a short flight!

I was really surprised!

In the meantime, part 2 is finished: Read it here!


User currently offlineYirina77 From Czech Republic, joined Aug 2006, 632 posts, RR: 32
Reply 7, posted (2 years 10 months 2 weeks 4 days 16 hours ago) and read 7450 times:

Excellent report! I love Russia and her aviation so much! Thank you for sharing!
Yirina



One day can make your life; one day can ruin your life. All life is four or five big days that change everything...
User currently offlineIL62Mdakar From United Kingdom, joined Apr 2010, 85 posts, RR: 0
Reply 8, posted (2 years 10 months 2 weeks 4 days 15 hours ago) and read 7362 times:

Hi HAM,

I was looking forward to your trip report since I red your plans in the forum a while ago. Flying in Russia is simply great.

Quoting HAM" class="quote" target="_blank">HAM (Thread starter):
1. This chapter including the Preface, some notes on the booking process and the flight from HAM to DME on a Lufthansa A320
2. The daytrip from VKO to MRV on Kuban Airlines' Yak-42D and back on KMV Avia's Tu-154M
3. The flight from SVO to LED on Aeroflot's A320 and the daytrip from LED to CEE and back on Severstal Aircompany's Yak-40
4. The overnight trip from LED to SCW and back on UTair Express' Tu-134 and the flight from LED to ARH on Rossiya's An-148
5. The long return journey from ARH via HEL (on Nordavia's An-24) and CPH (on Blue1's B717) to HAM (by train and ferry)

Cool itinery. Apart from the AN-24 and the AN-148 which in my case was changed to a B737-500 so similar story like your SSJ, I flew on all the same types and airlines last year. Great to read another report about them.

Quoting HAM" class="quote" target="_blank">HAM (Thread starter):
many of them stored and one even being scrapped on the spot.

Sad to see that scrapping has started in DME's graveyard.

Quoting HAM" class="quote" target="_blank">HAM (Thread starter):
The word "Aeroexpress" is a euphemism for a renovated local train that connects Moscow's airports to the city at an average speed of 40 km/h (unqualified judgement by looking out the window), but the train got me safely to Paveletsky station.

It feels indeed very very slow.

Since you uploaded the other parts so quickly I have more to read this evening.  


User currently offlineIL62Mdakar From United Kingdom, joined Apr 2010, 85 posts, RR: 0
Reply 9, posted (2 years 10 months 2 weeks 4 days 15 hours ago) and read 7328 times:

Quoting HAM (Thread starter):
I never cared to register (which you are supposed to do after staying in one city for more than 1, 3 or 7 days depending on the source) and never ran into any trouble.

I am surprised that you didn't get into trouble. My registration was checked by security at every airport. In Krasnodar and Sochi I even had to show my boarding passes to prove that I only arrived the day before or the same day and didn't need a registration. I actually had trouble registering my visa the first 2 hostels couldn't or didn't want to do the registration before I finally could get it done in another hostel in Moscow for my whole trip.


User currently offlineaflyingkiwi From New Zealand, joined Nov 2010, 514 posts, RR: 3
Reply 10, posted (2 years 10 months 2 weeks 4 days 8 hours ago) and read 6913 times:

Hi HAM,

Great Report, Your russian plane adventure sounds like a pretty damn cool thing to do. LH seemed to offer you a pretty good flight, nice meal as well. I'm quite surprised that they fly to DME from HAM as it's not one of their large hubs but I'm no expert on LH ops.

Thanks for sharing & I'll definitely read your other parts sometime.

Regards,
aflyingkiwi


User currently onlineba319-131 From United Kingdom, joined Jan 2001, 8484 posts, RR: 55
Reply 11, posted (2 years 10 months 2 weeks 4 days 4 hours ago) and read 6809 times:
Support Airliners.net - become a First Class Member!

Hi,

Nice start to the series, always wanted to visit Russian, more for the planes, but also to see some of the country.

Good start.

Rgds

Mark



111,732,3,4,5,7,8,BBJ,741,742,743,744,752,762,763,764,772,773,77W,L15,D10,30,40,AB3,AB6,A312.313,319,320,321,332,333,342
User currently offlineMSS658 From Belgium, joined Oct 2010, 2474 posts, RR: 15
Reply 12, posted (2 years 10 months 2 weeks 2 days 23 hours ago) and read 6340 times:

Hi HAM

Nice beginning of the trip report series! Always fun to have a decent meal on a shorthaul flight.
Looking forward to the next.


Greetings
Marc



Next trip report: Well worn A330s and Hassle free MUC transfer
User currently onlineHAM From Germany, joined Jul 2005, 287 posts, RR: 1
Reply 13, posted (2 years 10 months 2 weeks 2 days 18 hours ago) and read 6163 times:

Quoting IL62Mdakar (Reply 8):
Apart from the AN-24 and the AN-148 which in my case was changed to a B737-500 so similar story like your SSJ, I flew on all the same types and airlines last year.

Interesting that you did such a similar trip.

Quoting IL62Mdakar (Reply 9):
I am surprised that you didn't get into trouble. My registration was checked by security at every airport

Either I was lucky, or maybe the Russian authorities have relaxed a bit. Or maybe they're stricter with UK citizens? I heard from a local that UK visa are difficult to get for Russians.

Quoting aflyingkiwi (Reply 10):
I'm quite surprised that they fly to DME from HAM as it's not one of their large hubs but I'm no expert on LH ops.

Well, LH does some non-hub operations from HAM, DUS etc., and there are quite many Russians in Hamburg AFAIK.


User currently offlineIL62Mdakar From United Kingdom, joined Apr 2010, 85 posts, RR: 0
Reply 14, posted (2 years 10 months 1 week 6 days 20 hours ago) and read 5659 times:

Quoting HAM (Reply 13):
Either I was lucky, or maybe the Russian authorities have relaxed a bit. Or maybe they're stricter with UK citizens? I heard from a local that UK visa are difficult to get for Russians.

Maybe things have change since last year which would be nice as I got a bit paranoid of that whole registration thing flying up and down the country. Thank good nobody found out my full itinary to question why I flew in and out of Sochi 3 days in a row. Btw. I think I have the same passport as you, just based in London.


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