Aeroflot Business Class
The old and the not so
old. An Il-18B dating back to the 1960s in the top image; a
current Il-96 in the bottom image.
However, all Aeroflot
flights between the US and Russia are on modern Boeing 767
and 777 (or sometimes Airbus) planes.
Aeroflot today is a profitable
international airline, operating a fleet of modern Boeing and
Airbus planes to a range of destinations in the US, Europe, and
Contrary to popular belief,
they have an excellent safety record, and if your travels take
you somewhere Aeroflot flies, they are also most likely your
lowest cost option.
Welcome (?) to Aeroflot
Although the winged hammer
and sickle logo has been preserved as a dubious reminder of its
Soviet past, today's Aeroflot is struggling - with varying
degrees of success - to reinvent itself along western lines.
Replacing old Russian planes
with modern western planes was easy. Replacing old staff
attitudes with new customer-friendly ones is not so easy.
Whereas too many staff at US airlines now seem to greet their
customers with open hostility, the Aeroflot staff simply greet
customers with complete neutral apathy - or perhaps, they just
ignore them completely!
I was checking in at Seattle
for a flight last year, and there were three Aeroflot agents
working the counters. One was taking customers, one was reading
a magazine, and the third was ignoring everyone. The line of
waiting customers continued to grow, with only one of the three
staff members struggling to serve the passengers. And on a
recent Aeroflot flight, the flight attendants scolded passengers
for not closing overhead bins and refused to help passengers to
put their carry-on items into the bins.
Aeroflot also has a very
lackadaisical approach to on time performance. What I find
particularly inexcusable is being told that a flight is expect
to arrive in Seattle shortly when it hasn't even taken off from
San Francisco, two hours flying time away! Most flights have at
least a one hour delay, with 2 - 4 hour delays being sadly more
common than on-time departures and arrivals.
The staff in the local
Aeroflot office always urge passengers to phone them on the day
of the flight to try and get an updated understanding of when
the flight might actually depart.
Checking in for a flight
from Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport is a nightmarish undertaking
in an ugly and inadequate building. Interminably long lines for
everything are made worse by aggressive queue jumping. In the US
we typically have two lines - one to check in and one for
security. At Moscow, you have five - customs, baggage x-ray,
checkin counters, immigration, and lastly security - and it can
easily take a full two hours or more to slowly make your way
through all of these.
Some of the disorder and
chaos infects the Seattle checkin procedures, too, with no clear
separate lines for business and coach class checkin, and people
suddenly appearing in line in front of you and daring you to
complain about it, and/or offering elaborate justifications why
they should cut in front. Of course, if you do complain, they
suddenly become 'very Russian' and pretend not to understand
what you're saying.
Although in theory business
class buys you a shorter checkin line, this doesn't always work
reliably, and on my flight in August 03, there was no separate
checkin line or counter for business class in Seattle. On the
return flight from Moscow, there was a priority line for First
Class, but no priority line for Business Class.
There is no priority baggage
service offered to business class passengers.
In Seattle (and in Los
Angeles) there is also no lounge. I've been told that Aeroflot
tried to negotiate a deal with BA to rent their lounge, but
refused to pay the fee that BA asked. This was rumored to be $50
per person - certainly not inexpensive, but in the context of
Aeroflot earning an extra $1000 and up per business or first
class passenger, surely it is something that Aeroflot can afford
to pay. (BA is not the only airline with a nearby lounge,
either.) Not offering a lounge is a serious omission by today's
international business class travel standards.
There was no priority
boarding offered for business or first class passengers, but it
was a lightly loaded flight and perhaps they didn't feel the
need for this. So the pre-flight experiences were all
indistinguishable for a business class passenger as for a coach
Seat and Amenities
On board the 777, there was
a small first class cabin, with not very special looking seats
in a 2 - 2 - 2 configuration with lots of legroom. The business
class cabin was next, with seats in a 2 - 3 - 2 configuration,
and the coach class cabin was behind that with its 2 - 5 - 2
The business class seat was
reminiscent of those on other airlines, twenty years ago. The
few seat adjustments that were present were all manually
operated, nothing was electric/electronic. One could recline the
seat, swing the leg rest up and out, and there was a mystery
third button that might have perhaps been lumbar support, but
which did not appear to do anything at all.
I'd guess the seats to have
about a 48" pitch, with a moderate amount of seat recline, and
good seat width. Tray tables come out of the side of the seats,
and each seat has its own video monitor. There is one overhead
light per seat, and (as is increasingly common) no personal air
There was no computer power
supply at the seat, although using the computer (on the tray
table) was comfortable and convenient, even when the seat in
front was reclined. A very small blanket and a small airline
sized pillow were provided, along with cheap headphones and a
typical amenities kit, notable only for an unusually sturdy pair
Aeroflot now operates all
its flights as entirely non-smoking flights. An occasional
suspicious odor from the toilets makes one suspect that not all
passengers completely observe this edict, but before too long,
the toilets usually mask any smoke odors with much stronger (and
nastier) odors of their own.
I've sometimes used a toilet
shortly after getting on board in Seattle, before the plane
takes off, and alas, even then, the toilet is often noticeably
malodorous. By the time the ten hour flight to Moscow concludes,
the toilets are usually awful. Happily, this flight was an
exception (probably due to the light passenger load) and the
spacious toilet remained clean throughout.
Most of the cabin staff are
bilingual and speak English as well as Russian. But the language
they'll use to address you is sometimes whimsical. On one
flight, they spoke exclusively in English to the Russian
gentleman seated next to me (he didn't understand English) while
preferring to communicate with me in Russian (my Russian is very
limited)! All announcements are in both Russian and English.
Food and Drink
The service started
pleasantly enough with a choice of water or orange juice being
offered prior to takeoff, and a hot moist towel (cotton, not
paper) being given immediately after takeoff.
The food was acceptable, as
it has been on other flights in the past. However, a colleague
blames an attack of food poisoning on the business class food he
ate during a Moscow to London Aeroflot flight (earlier this
year), and also recounts with considerable emotion another
flight where his hot chicken stew was still frozen in the middle
In coach class, Aeroflot
ration passengers to only two free drinks. They are slightly
more generous in business class, but you wouldn't think that
Russia is a country noted for its love of drink, based on the
miserly drinks offered onboard.
Perhaps that is why some
passengers conspicuously bring their own bottles of spirits on
board (especially in coach class)!
I was pleasantly surprised
to see them serving (non-vintage) Veuve Clicquot champagne, and
so asked for a glass. Alas, the champagne was warm. In addition
to the champagne, there was a generic bottle of red wine and a
generic bottle of (also warm) white wine - I couldn't see the
labels and they were not described in any way. Beer, juices,
sodas, and spirits (in miniature bottles) were also available.
For the main meal, shortly
after takeoff, we had an appetizer, entree, dessert, and then
cheese and grapes. There were no printed menus, and we were
offered a choice of two entree choices, described solely (and in
typical Russian fashion) as either 'fish' or 'chicken' with no
additional information on type of fish or style of cooking.
We were given metal cutlery,
but only one each knife, fork, and spoon, meaning we had to
re-use the knife and fork for the appetizer and entree. It used
to be (on other airlines) that one would be given a dazzling
profusion of cutlery and more than one could ever use, or, in
some cases, one would be carefully given exactly the cutlery
needed to reflect the food one had ordered, but not with
One loses one's sensitivity
to tastes at higher altitudes, and for this reason I tend to
heavily pepper (and lightly salt) my food. But the little paper
sachet of pepper contained less than 1/100th of an ounce of
pepper - hardly enough to generate any excitement on a single
slice of tomato, let alone an entire meal!
A light 'breakfast' was also
served shortly before arrival in Moscow, with a choice of either
pancakes or omelet. I didn't want any hot food, and so the
flight attendant decided not to provide me with any food at all,
and also did not offer me any tea, coffee or juice!
Basically the business class
service was reminiscent of other airlines' international coach
class service a couple of decades ago, and a pale shadow of
business class service on a premium international airline today.
Aeroflot publish a massive
350 page in-flight magazine, but almost 90% of this is in
Russian. There was also tantalizing reference to a second
publication that would have movie details and a duty-free
catalog, but none of the seven seats that I looked at had a copy
of these elusive references.
I subsequently secured from
a flight attendant a copy of the duty free guide (very little on
offer and not particularly good pricing), and perhaps I
misunderstood about the movie guide, because there was not
exactly a bewildering assortment of movies to choose from.
Although blessed with
individual seat video screens, which in theory suggested a
capability for nine video channels, for most of the flight all
they offered was an excellent version of the 'moving map'
display, showing where the plane was and details of its speed,
arrival time, etc. One movie was screened early in the 10.5 hour
flight on a second channel, but for the rest of the flight,
there was no additional in-flight entertainment offered.
Official Financial Issues
Aeroflot claims to operate a
three class service between Seattle and Moscow, and there are
indeed three cabins on the 777s and 767s that fly between the
two cities for First, Business and Coach class passengers. There
are always people to be found seated in all three classes.
But, strangely enough,
neither Expedia, Orbitz nor Travelocity show any first class
fares; just business and coach class fares! Aeroflot tell me
that they do offer first class fares (ranging in price from
$4080 up to $5252 roundtrip) and couldn't explain why they
didn't appear on these websites, but said that travel agents
would know about them.
Business class fares start
at $2500, and coach class fares range in price depending on the
time of year. Lowest coach fares can be as little as $500, and
sometimes as much as $1100.
Now for the trick that few
people know about. The Aeroflot business class cabin is usually
fairly empty (and coach class is sometimes very full). You can
purchase one way upgrades when checking in for your flight at
the airport. If there is space in business class, they'll
immediately upgrade you into the business class cabin, in return
for a $500 fee (each way).
The flight is about ten
hours, and so the extra $500 translates to a not ridiculously
expensive $50/hour for greater comfort, privacy, better food and
The extra $1000 for the
roundtrip upgrade, when added to the $500-1100 coach class fare,
comes to very much less than the starting cost of $2500 for a
regular business class ticket. I always buy business class this
Amazingly, neither Russia
nor Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport charge any type of taxes or
fees. That meant that in addition to the fare, there was 'only'
the staggering $46 in US taxes to be added (not all that long
ago, taxes on an international ticket were less than $10 - what
extra are we getting in the way of airport services or
convenience in return for the massive increase in air travel
Unofficial Financial Issues
The Russian counter agent in
Seattle recognized me when I was checking in for the flight, and
when I asked to buy a $500 upgrade to business class and showed
her my Visa, she asked me a curious question - 'Do you have
cash?' I said I didn't, so she took my Visa card and made a big
show of laboriously and reluctantly charging it, and I wondered
if perhaps I was missing an opportunity to get a 'cash
discount', but didn't test the issue any further.
However, after boarding the
plane, I noticed and listened to a fellow passenger 'working his
charm' to get upgraded from coach to business class. He asked to
be upgraded, and cited vague medical reasons. More convincing
was his indicating that he had cash and was prepared to spend it
to move into business class. A short while later he was seated
in the largely empty business class!
We spoke and he is
apparently an old hand at this game. He told me that he paid
$100 in cash to get his business class upgrade 'under the
table', and interestingly said normally he does a similar
transaction when checking in, but, alas, he wasn't able to check
in with the agent who he knows is most receptive to cash offers
(not the same agent I checked in with).
So, it would seem, for the
more adventurous, there are opportunities for unofficial cash
upgrades. I resolved to try for myself on my return flight.
At the counter, I had an
unexpected result. The ticket agent refused to accept any amount
of cash, and refused to upgrade me officially, either. Although
the fare rules specifically state that the upgrades can only be
purchased when checking in, she refused to sell me an upgrade
any which way!
Undaunted, I tried on the
plane. I was quickly and conspiratorially hustled into a galley,
where two women stared at me and said, flatly, 'the price is
$200'. I protested, and said 'the normal price that I paid on
the way over is only $100'.
Upon hearing this, one of
the women fixed me with the most hateful stare I have ever
experienced, and told me to get lost. I realized that they had
made themselves vulnerable to me - by exposing their dishonesty,
and not having me buy into it as a co-conspirator, they felt
vulnerable and hated me for 'tricking' them. I have truly never
seen such a malevolent stare on anyone's face ever before, and
hope I'll never see it again in the future.
Aeroflot Website(s) and
Frequent Flier Program
Aeroflot have an
extraordinary number of different websites. The one with the
main US focus is
www.Aeroflot.com and in addition to this they have a Russian
www.Aeroflot.ru that is available in both Russian and
English. This second site has a completely different 'look and
feel' and has different content. And then, various other
regional offices also have their own independent sites - there
is a list of them here (this list surprising doesn't include the
Aeroflot also has a separate
site for its Frequent Flier program, 'Aeroflot Bonus', in both
Russian and English.
Their frequent flier program
is probably only of value to you if you plan on becoming a
regular visitor to Russia. The program is not particularly
generous, and awards are essentially limited to flights on
Aeroflot itself. Similarly, you can't earn credit for flights on
other airlines. Worst of all, miles you earn quickly expire
(between 2 and 3 years after each flight), making it difficult
for occasional travelers to ever be able to cash in their miles.
On the positive side of the
ledger, they give a 100% bonus for business class travel (and
200% bonus for first class travel). On my Seattle-Moscow flight
I earned 8341 points (one per kilometer) plus another 8341 bonus
points, a total of 16,682 points. 80,000 points are required for
a roundtrip coach class ticket and 120,000 points for business
class. In other words, five paid roundtrip coach class fares get
you one free; and four paid roundtrip business class fares get
you one free.
The good news : The cost of
Aeroflot's business class fare is less than one third of that
charged by other airlines between Seattle and Moscow.
The bad news : Aeroflot's
business class service is barely tolerable. It is lacking in
amenities and extras before, during, and after the flight.
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22 Aug 2003, last update
28 Nov 2012
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.