Sunday, November 01, 2015

The Aeroflot Experience: Part II

The morning sky at Sheremetyevo 
Moscow Sheremetyevo to New York Kennedy, SU 100, October 30, 2015 

[This post is the next installment of "The Aeroflot Experience: Part I"]

Most of the 100 or so folks onboard SU 2401 from Rome turned towards the signs for baggage claim and passport control. I followed the sign to international transfers. There is a passport inspection station, then a security check. Despite the early hour, the duty free shops were open.  (I strolled through the alcohol section. There was, of course, a bewilderingly wide selection of vodka brands. I couldn't find Stolichnaya, however!) My next flight was in the same terminal (D). There are two lounges, close to each other: the Jazz and the Blue lounge. I chose the Jazz lounge for my 4h50m layover. It was relatively empty, with a decent selection of drinks, but fairly limited food options. I found a spot with two adjacent swivel chairs, where I could stretch out. After some rehydration and juices, and plugging my phone in to charge, I slept for a solid two hours. When I awoke, the place was very crowded. The WiFi couldn't keep up, and I kept getting booted off the network. At about 9:00 am, they called for the boarding of SU 100 to JFK. (In my haste and sleepiness in departing, I left my phone charger behind. Could've been my phone!) There was a long line in the general boarding section. I cut ahead to the SkyPriority lane, and was soon heading down the jetway to the gleaming Airbus A330. The layover experience at SVO was painless. The airport appeared to be like any other major international airport in Europe, and nothing at all like the few memories of my 1989 visit to the USSR!

As I explained in the previous post, I had been upgraded to Business Class on this leg. Seat 2A was a standard angle-flat business class shell seat (i.e. it folded down flat, but at an angle), a window seat in a 2-2-2 configuration. My companion in 2B was a Russian-speaking lady, who pretty much kept to herself during the flight. The IFE (in-flight entertainment) screen was decently sized, and of course, there was more than ample legroom. A bright blue Aeroflot amenity kit with the expected accoutrements (comb, toothpaste, toothbrush, lotions, eye-mask, and slippers) was waiting in the footwear alcove. As soon as I settled in, one of the flight attendants brought a tray with juices and champagne. I sipped on a glass of bubbly as boarding continued. The flight seemed fairly full. Business was completely full. Just a few minutes after 9:50 am, the door was closed, and we pushed back for the 9h50m flight across the Atlantic to New York. The IFE screen was automatically set to a front cam view, seemingly on or near the front landing gear (which changed to a ground view after take off). Soon we were hurtling down the runway (I didn't pay attention to figure out which one) on our way to New York!

Hello legroom! 
After take off, noise cancelling headphones and menus were dropped off -- beverage service then a main meal first (appetizer, salad, soup, main course with three choices, dessert), and a smaller meal before arrival at JFK. A wine list with a variety of wines with detailed reviews from various sommeliers, a selection of distilled spirits and other beverages. (The menus were collected at the end of the flight, and I didn't take pictures, so I really don't recall the details of the various choices and selections offered.) One of the flight attendants came around and introduced herself, and thanked us for our business. She was truly friendly, with a winning smile, and attentive service throughout the flight.

I decided a cocktail would be acceptable on this leg, and asked the FA to suggest one. She pointed to a selection called "Aeroflot" -- which turned out to be a light and refreshing apple flavored drink that I quite enjoyed. The rest of the flight I stuck to water, juices, and tea. For the main course, I chose the lamb entreé, which was really quite good. The IFE selection was more than adequate, with a wide range of English movies and TV shows, and quite easy to navigate. I watched "Ocean's Thirteen" over lunch, after which I adjusted the seat to sleeping position, got under the comfortable blanket and dozed off.

Another SU A321

And the lone Russian made aircraft in the SU fleet: the Sukhoi Superjet 100
When I woke up, we were over northern Canada, about three hours from landing. I had slept for a good four hours! While getting the seat back up to a sitting position, my phone had somehow slipped and fallen into the shell case. It took a fair amount of trial-and-error and contortion to get to the right angle where I could reach behind and retrieve it! Phew! I prayed Matins and Lauds, then more beverages, and a snack, followed by a light meal. I put "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" on the IFE, as we continued across northern New York State and entered into the approach pattern for Kennedy. There were beautiful views of Queens, LaGuardia and Kennedy airports. We went out across the water before looping back to the airport to land at Runway 31R. A short taxi later, we pulled up to a gate at Terminal 1.

Take off! 
The "Aeroflot" cocktail. The rose was a nice touch! 
Over the Labrador Peninsula.
Small meal before landing.
Immigration was a breeze -- it literally took less than 2 minutes to use the Global Entry kiosk (Global Entry has saved me tons of time, every single time I've been back from a trip overseas. Totally worth it). The bags starting rolling on conveyor #5 about 10 minutes later, and my suitcase appeared fairly quickly. From deplaning to clearing customs, it took me less than 30 minutes, and this, at JFK!

Queens: you can see LaGuardia to the left, and JFK to the right 
Great view of JFK! 
I've had occasion to travel business class internationally only a few times. It's normally outside my budget to purchase a J ticket outright. There's been the occasional operational upgrade on Delta, or a last-minute, reasonable paid upgrade offer on AF or KL (BOM-CDG, AMS- DEL). Once, I spotted a great Skymiles deal for a round trip from IAD to FCO, with the outbound leg on an AF A380. I'd put Aeroflot's business product on par with the other SkyTeam majors. Korean is definitely superior and Air India (yes, Star Alliance, not SkyTeam) definitely inferior. (Oh yes, China Eastern -- the on board product was quite good, and in the same league. However, the flight operations were terrible -- a 12 hour delay, IIRC!)  I've never been in the legendary premium cabins of the Gulf or Southeast Asian airlines. Frankly, I've not found that much difference between an angle-flat and a 180° lie-flat bed. In all cases, I'm just a little too tall for the bed, and despite the fact that a premium-priced business class fold-out seat always feels like one is sleeping on a couch at a friend's place, I always manage to sleep several hours. The friendliness and attentiveness of Aeroflot's flight attendants is a huge plus (why is this so difficult for US carriers to emulate?). [One minor complaint: the wire on the IFE control was loose, and the seal broken, so that if one pulled hard, it would actually separate and the unit would stop working. I did mention it to the FA, who made a note of it.]

From what I've gathered, SU's business fares tend to be cheaper, generally, than the near competition. It's definitely a good product, and I'd recommend them quite readily. However, being Atlanta based, SU is really not that convenient for transatlantic travel -- this trip from Rome, took nearly 24 hours (I'd booked a separate itinerary on Delta to get me from JFK to ATL). Delta's nonstop takes 10 hours;  13-16, if one goes via CDG or AMS. However, SU does fly to Delhi, and it may end up being worthwhile to use them for travel to the Subcontinent, especially if Comfort Class is available (currently only on 777s). Though the Coach product is, from what I hear, quite decent, I really don't get enough status qualifying miles on Delta to make coach travel on SU worthwhile (50% on most fares, as opposed to 75% in Comfort or Business, and, of course, 100% at least on DL or the SkyTeam majors). If I could be guaranteed an upgrade to J when purchasing a Comfort Class fare, I'd definitely be back on board Aeroflot, however! :)

An AF B777 next to us at the gate at JFK.

Bye-bye, seat 2A! 

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