Many people seem to think that Aeroflot is the same beastly monolith that it was before, and immediately after, the collapse of the Soviet Union. Aeroflot is still the butt of jokes the world over. Regardless of the ill-informed jabs, what’s so bad about the Aeroflot?
I get it; Aeroflot had a very bad reputation within the past few decades (let’s say about 1983-1995), but that was over 20 years ago. Aeroflot is by far playing in the big leagues now, in terms of safety, comfort, service, and median fleet age.
See, I never understood all of that either nationalist chauvinism or cultural cringe. I’ve wanted to fly Aeroflot since I was a child.
Having flown several of Aeroflot’s old departments now operating as their own airlines, I realized that I had never, actually, flown Aeroflot. There was a reason for this. Aeroflot got rid of its last short-to-medium-haul Russian plane in 2010. Why was I going to go all that way to fly Aeroflot if they didn’t have anything beyond 737s and A320s in their short-haul fleet?
That changed in May of 2013 when their first Sukhoi Superjet SSJ-100-95LR arrived at Sheremetyevo International Airport (SVO).
Since then, I’ve wanted to fly on a Superjet. It’s a truly twenty-first-century Russian aircraft. It sticks to the heritage of their design philosophy, but also represents a Russian aerospace industry that is willing to take on international partners to reach truly amazing heights.
My original plan was to fly on an SSJ with Mexico’s Interjet. Despite having been to scores of countries, I still have not been to Mexico and this could have gotten me two firsts at the same time. Maybe one day.
I was, however, in Russia to cover the Moscow Air and Space Salon. I even left some time after the show ended to get some proper flying done. Taking advantage of the low Ruble, I booked a round-trip to Voronezh (about a fifty-minute flight) in business class.
Getting to SVO is easy if you are smart enough to take the train. Apparently it only costs about seven U.S. dollars round-trip. I didn’t take the train, and therefore got up way too early to take a taxi. The taxi itself was cheap, but not seven dollars cheap. Thing is, they encourage you to leave for the airport at Zero Dark Stupid to beat the traffic. The train is 35 minutes: guaranteed. My advice: take the train, especially if you have no bags!
I finally arrived at Sheremetyevo’s newest terminal: D. It is a stunning and modern display of steel and glass. Point of interest: all airports in Russia require you to clear security before you get to the check in desks.
Check-in was seamless; I just used the self-check and printed my boarding pass and lounge invitation. Did I need the lounge invite? No. Even on domestic tickets, Aeroflot passengers in business class gain lounge access. I believe the machine printed me one because of my Delta Air Lines status.
Security felt like precheck. Russia, which has a much larger domestic threat issue that has been going on since the early 1990s, seems to understand how the world actually works. No suspicions over my camera gear, no shoe removal; I had to take out my laptop, but even then not everyone was. Also, every x-ray was open and there was no discernible evidence a line had ever existed. This puts it head and shoulders above every airport in Europe (except Vnukovo and Domodedovo). Way to go, SVO!
The lounge was a solid meh. I wasn’t expecting greatness, and meh is what I was given. The chairs were comfortable, the food was still better than anything you can find in an American lounge (again not saying much), and it felt relatively private. Thing is, the “Klassika” lounge is a-mazing, but in the sense that it is labyrinthine. Yes, there are signs, but still — you can get disoriented easily if you are not a regular patron.
It feels more like a “sort of quiet place to sit with a few potato chips and croissants” as opposed to something opulent. To peeve me further our SSJ, RA-89045, was parked at one of the few gates at SVO’s shiny terminal D with no window.
Thankfully, that is where the “average” ended and the exceptional began.
Do I know how normal boarding would have worked? No. I arranged early boarding to take that picture, but it seemed pretty fast for everyone else. To my understanding, they board exactly within the standards of the Skyteam alliance.
What excited me the most: this wasn’t your EuroBusiness Class (ie economy with an empty middle seat). There was even is no movable cabin divider. This is a real airline that offers proper business class service, even on flights under one hour. Thank you!
It was quite comfortable, and even featured seat-belt buckles unique to the SSJ in the Aeroflot fleet. Oddly, the pillows and blankets were also completely different than the remainder of Aeroflot. No one has been able to provide a good answer as to why. Either way, it was time for a pre-departure beverage; something sorely missing from my usual airlines of late.
Seriously — the Aeroflot logo, the flag, and the name are on everything. The pens, the blankets, the glassware, even the cutlery — it’s classy and consistent. Also, my glass of orange juice that I was served was most certainly not plastic.
Soon, menus were distributed, but wait a second, isn’t this just a fifty-minute flight? Yes — awesome!
While the beverage selection vastly outpaced the actual food in scope, the pen was to be used to select our choice of options and beverages for faster service later. It also avoids some unpleasant language barriers for passengers that lack true Russian fluency.
Oh, I forgot to show you the impressive economy cabin. I got a bit distracted with everything up front. The seats were not slimline — what is this sorcery?
Pushback was pushback. The APU was not as loud as a Tu-154 or other Russian planes I have flown. No one sounded like they were torturing a slide whistle and a telephone whilst simultaneously vacuuming. Honestly, a little disappointing. Ever heard a 737NG start up? Imagine that with a bit more of an electric-razor grinding to it. After that, it is painfully quiet. Embraers, CRJs, and even older CFM-powered aircraft have nothing on this thing.
On taxi, we passed a pair of Air Koryo Il-62Ms (P-885 and P-881). They were in town bringing a group of performers for some event in Moscow, I wish I had been able to get a photo.
Takeoff was clearly de-rated and very quiet. During our 31.8-second roll, we were so centered on the runway and I could hear us hitting the cat’s eyes in the pavement — great airmanship. We held a shallow climb for a few thousand feet, then the engines really spooled up. As I saw at MAKS a few days prior, the SSJ can be a rocket sled when it needs to. It almost feels as if it has a surplus of power. We were at our cruising altitude of ~26,000 feet quite quickly.
Now, it was time for “breakfast” – I say breakfast in quotation marks because it seems like the flight was mis-catered. Maybe it was actually intentional? We were delayed into the “lunch corridor,” and this was clearly not an omelette nor salami. A lot of people, especially in Russia, love cold seafood plates, with seemingly every meal. I do not. The remainder of the meal was a beef “thing” with some sort of flat pasta, and a pretty fine tiramisu. I’d say best airline Tiramisu I’ve ever had (and no, it is not the only one).
Seriously, though. While the seafood enraged me; the rest was spectacular. Aeromar, Aeroflot’s caterer at SVO, did a fantastic job. With how fast I ate, there was even time for another cup of tea.
Shortly after, descent commenced. Through some pretty big convective activity, too. Unlike some of the sportier Russian aircraft, this thing is a tank — I barely felt a thing. Approach into Voronezh also took us past VASO, home of the Il-96 and other interesting aircraft projects. Oh, if only we could have landed there.
Overall, Aeroflot really impressed me. I’d say they about tie with my other favorite European airline, Air Serbia. In some ways, they are a tiny bit ahead (printed menus, Russian planes, orange uniforms) but in others they lag ever so slightly. I’d call it dead even.
If you need to go to around Russia, Aeroflot is definitely the one to beat — and, if you can, try to get on the Superjet