I don't know how many of you have flown good old Soviet-style Aeroflot, or been on flights with Aeroflot - Russian International Airliners. I want to share my experiences, and invite others to do the same!
I flew Aeroflot on and off for four and one-half years while I lived in Russia. The first time was Aeroflot's JKF - LED route, back in January of 1992, aboard one of their Ilyushin IL86 aircraft. I shared about this experience in a previous post. The aircraft was noisy and dirty, the cabin interior hideous, the cabin service poor, the food just this side of eatable, and there was no in-flight entertainment. The flight lasted 12 hours 30 minutes, including two 1-hour en route fueling stops (the IL86 has insufficient range to make a non-stop transatlantic flight). Though the seats were somewhat uncomfortable, they did recline much further than I was used to, and it was possible to fold the back of the seat in front of me down, thereby making a decent napping spot. And to its credit, the huge IL86 has 3-3-3 seating and tons of legroom. Departure and arrival were on-time, and my baggage arrived with me, intact.
My first domestic Aeroflot experience was in April of 1992. The flight was from Kiev, Ukraine to St. Petersburg, Russia. The flight lasted just over two hours. The aircraft was a Tupolev TU154B-2. No in-flight service to speak of, and one poor sap had to spend the entire flight in the lav as the plane was over-booked, and he wanted to get to St. Petersburg, so they let him on to sit back there. Ugh. To say the TU154 is cramped is an understatement; it has a lower cabin ceiling than I've seen on Western aircraft, and anyone over 5'11" is going to get their legs scrunched between the seats as there is not much legroom. Seating is as on a 727 - 3-3, and overhead bins are tiny. This flight included some acrobatics Aeroflot used to be infamous for - adventurous, shall we say, take-offs and landings. After rotation we had a gradual take-off climb, until suddenly the pilot got a wild hair and pulled back hard on the yoke, pushing the pax back into their seats until we levelled off at crusing altitude. When we went into our descent into St. Petersburg, the aircraft felt like a car in which the driver slammed on the brakes - it was as if we were stopping in mid-air, and dropping like a stone. It is no wonder Aeroflot passengers applaud upon landing!
My second domestic Aeroflot flight that year was from St. Petersburg, via Ufa to Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The aircraft was again a Tupolev TU154B-2, which is the workhorse of the Aeroflot fleet. This was a late-night flight; we flew out of St. Petersburg around midnight, landing in Ufa at 2:00 am, then continuing on to Samarkand. On this flight, we were actually fed, if one could call what we were given food at all. One of the girls in the tour group I was with got her piece of chicken with a lung still attached - though this is not considered remarkable by Russian standards. Also, the food was cold, and the slice of pastry we were given with tea would probably have broken our teeth if we hadn't dipped it in the tea. To make matters worse, though the cabin was figidly cold (the A/C was up very high), I had managed to doze off, when suddenly I was awakened by one of the flight attendants literally screeching over the P/A system that smoking was not permitted (someone obviously had lit up, though smoking is "forbidden on domestic flights."). Ahh, memories.
The flight home to New York was about the same as the flight to St. Petersburg nearly a year earlier, though this time I had more interesting traveling companions - people I had met in St. Petersburg. Again an IL86, again gruff service, uninteresting food, and I was quite glad to switch to an AA 767 from New York to San Diego!
Because their fares are so much less expensive than on other carriers flying to Russia, Aeroflot was again my airline of choice for my second trip back. This was in February of 1993. The flight was out of San Francisco via Anchorage to Moscow, with a change-over to a domestic flight on to St. Petersburg. The aircraft was the long-range flagship of Aeroflot, the Ilyushin IL62M. This flight was to exemplify the transition between Soviet Aeroflot and Aeroflot - Russian International Airlines. The aircraft was clean and there were pillows already in each passenger seat when we boarded. The cabin staff was attentive and courteous; a stewardess even came around to each passenger with a map to show the route the aircraft would fly. The food was good, served by a joint venture with Alaska Airlines, and there was plenty of wine. The flight lasted about 10 hours, with an hour stop in Anchorage to take on more passengers. Compared to the IL86, the IL62M was rather quiet, with its tail-mounted engines keeping the majority of the noise away from the passenger cabin. It was, however, a narrow-body, with 3-3 passenger seating, and not very good on passenger comfort. However, the service on the flight was very pleasant overall, compared to my earlier Aeroflot experiences.
The domestic leg was on a small Tupolev TU134A-3, which does not have a Western counterpart. The seating on the aircraft is 2-2, and it has a very old-world feel to its cabin interior - probably because its design dates back to the late '60s and has changed little. Not much legroom, and always the feeling I was going to fall out of the seat into the aisle, which was lower than the seat (one had to climb up into the seat as on a bus). The only service in the cabin was the famous free drink on Aeroflot, penny-flavoured mineral water called Polostrovo. Nothing really to complain about, though, as it was only an hour flight to St. Petersburg.
By far the greatest leap in comfort, service and overall user-friendliness was shown in the Aeroflot - Russian International Airlines flight I took to Moscow from Chicago this past summer. The aircraft was a Boeing 767-300ER - the first Western aircraft I'd flown on with Aeroflot. Cabin attendants were friendly, even light-hearted, and were well-dressed and groomed. My Russian had got a bit rusty from three years of little practise, and when the cabin attendant explained to me where to put my bag in Russian, I thought surely she meant the floor, as before it was not permitted to place baggage in the overhead compartments. No, she meant the overhead compartment. So I was allowed to have the underseat space for my feet, rather than have it taken up by my bag. The 767's interior was done in tasteful dark blue carpeting with grey upholstery on the seats, not the horrid hodge-podge mixture of bright and dark colours so familiar on Soviet-era aircraft. And though we had a three-hour delay in departure due to a thunderstorm and a computer problem at O'Hare, we made good time to Moscow, and the delay shaved time off my layover. During the flight, the cabin attendants were attentive and quick to provide anything requested. The food was quite good for coach, I thought - a choice between chicken Cordon Bleu and a beef dish, both accompanied by potatoes and vegetables, a pastry for dessert, and wine to wash the food down. The meal was followed by Aeroflot's unique and fabulous tea and coffee service - even in coach, served from real tea and coffee pots directly to the passengers. Russian tea is very strong, as is the coffee - not like most airline fare, which I find better to skip. And of course, a bit later, the duty free cart appeared, offering passengers all manner of alcohol, cologne, chocolate and other items. I was seated directly behind the emergency exit, so I had quite a bit of legroom. And the seat reclined farther than on any other 767 I'd flown in. Of course, the one major drawback was that the inflight entertainment system was down, but it provided an opportunity to get to know the passenger seated next to me. We were served a second meal about three hours out of Moscow, which was a light lunch consisting of two different salads, various meats and cheeses, and once again, tea and coffee following. The captain came on over the P/A system several times during the flight to point out our location and to tell passengers what could be seen from which side of the plane. Once on the ground and cleared through customs, Aeroflot provided ground transportation to the domestic terminal of Sheremet'yevo, a great service. The domestic leg of the flight was fine by Aeroflot standards, although the "dinner" spoken of by the cabin attendants during their pre-flight announcment turned out to be tea, coffee and a muffin. The plane was a well-kept Tupolev 154M - still with rather cramped quarters, but much nicer than previous unkept Aeroflot TU5s I'd been on, and the flight was smooth and quick, putting me into St. Petersburg right on schedule.
All told, given the value for dollar Aeroflot currently offers, I will fly with them every time for trips to Russia. With the introduction of new aircraft into its fleet and resulting upgrages in service and comfort, Aeroflot - Russian International Airlines will only improve from here on out.
Any comments? Would love to read them!