Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Aeroflot Experience: Part I

An Aeroflot A321 flying as SU2401, FCO-SVO, Oct. 29, 2015
Rome to Moscow, SU 2401, Thursday, October 29, 2015.

Months ago, I was looking for an affordable one-way trip from Italy to the US in late October. The SkyTeam majors: Delta, KLM, Air France and Alitalia, like so many other major carriers, tend to have exorbitant one way fares. However SkyTeam member Aeroflot, the Russian airline, offered a very affordable one-way fare, and that too in their new Comfort Class (a separate Premium Economy product, such as the cabins onboard Alitalia and Air France). Aeroflot has decent reviews, and is a far cry from its Soviet days, and it seemed like a fun new aviation experience, so I booked the ticket.

[I actually have flown Aeroflot once before, in fact precisely during the Soviet era, back when I was in high school (1989, to be precise). That has to be a blog for another day, however. Also, I need to find the few photos I have from that trip for a TBT post!]

A few weeks out, I went online to reconfirm seat selections, and found a notice that there had been a schedule change, and would I please call their call center? It turns out that there had been an equipment change on the SVO-JFK sector: the B777 was replaced by an A330, which has only a two-class configuration. So, the airline had bumped me up to Business class for this leg. Would I please accept and confirm the change? Well, that was a tough decision!

On the evening of the flight, I got to the Aeroflot counter at a fairly deserted Terminal 3 at Leonardo da Vinci International Airport around 9:30 pm, about two hours prior to the scheduled departure time. There was no one in line, and only ticket agents working the desk. Since I was in coach on the first leg, I asked if an emergency exit seat was available. "Only for payment," said one TA. I showed my Delta Platinum Medallion card, and they conferred amongst each other. "Sono alto," I added in Italian (I'm tall!"). "We can see that!" And I was given a seat 10A, no charge.

At this hour, there was no need for a separate SkyPriority security lane. I was through security and immigration in about 10 minutes, and then onto the train to the G gates.

The Alitalia lounge near gate G11 was also fairly deserted. I got a few snacks, browsed social media, and before I knew it, they were announcing boarding.

The flight seemed to be relatively empty. By the time I got to gate G10, there was only a small line of folks. Passport checked, boarding pass scanned, I walked downstairs, into a shuttle bus, which soon filled up and took us to the parking spot of an Aeroflot A321. I was greeted with a friendly smile and a rapid-fire Russian greeting (I caught "zdreastvytse" and that's about it). The emergency exit row had ample leg room. No one sat next to me, so I could stretch out across three seats.

The deserted Alitalia/SkyTeam lounge near gate G11

Pre-flight snack
Boarding was completed well before departure time, and we pulled back a few minutes early. A slow taxi to runway 25, and we were off to Moscow: flying time, 3h30m.

Several minutes after take off, a passenger a couple of rows ahead asked if I would mind if he sat in my row. Before I could answer, an FA shooed him off, somewhat curtly. From what I could gather, she explained that this was a special section (called "Space" by Aeroflot) and one had to pay extra to sit in these rows. Whoops!

About 15 minutes into the flight, the flight attendants started a beverage service. I rarely drink alcohol, especially on long transcontinental journeys, so I opted for a Diet Coke. After the beverage service, one of the FAs came up to me with a flight manifest in hand, and thanked me by name for flying Aeroflot. I told her that it was my first time, and she hoped it wouldn't be my last! This was a nice touch. I guess it's not very common that Delta Medallions end up on SU?

Enough room for 6'3" me! 

Row 10, emergency exit row.

"Space" (Premium seats)
I finished praying Matins and Compline, and then a dinner service began. The choice was chicken over rice or beef. I opted for the latter. As far as airline food goes, especially in Economy, it wasn't bad at all. A tea or coffee service followed. After dinner, I stretched out, and woke up just as the announcement was made about our descent to into Sheremyetevo. We landed right around 5 a.m. local time (3 a.m. in Rome). "Welcome to Sheremyetevo airport. Weather is good. The temperature is zero degrees Celsius." This was actually how the FA put it. I guess in Moscow, freezing temperatures are good weather!

We pulled up to a jetbridge, and disembarkation began. I'd give Aeroflot a solid B+ for this leg. Good check-in and gate experience. Comfortable seats, ample leg room, courteous service, comparable to any major European carrier in Economy. Add an IFE (and/or WiFi), and that would be an A.

SU's intra-Europe Business cabin is actually very decent:
comparable to US First Class, and quite unlike the awful excuse of a Business Class
that major European carriers provide (AZ, AF, KL etc).
Video of landing at SVO


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