Flight Review: Aeroflot (777-300ER) Economy From Moscow to New York
Last week, Iberia's surprise premium economy inaugural flight from New York (JFK) to Madrid (MAD) had left me in Europe needing to book a last-minute flight to get back home. Thankfully, Russian carrier Aeroflot, an airline I've been hoping to test out, had an appealing price point — and my experience was surprisingly good. Here's a review of the economy flight experience from Moscow (SVO) to New York (JFK).
When I say I booked this trip last-minute, I mean it. At the time my Iberia flight was ticketed, it was less than four hours until departure and I still needed to get from the TPG office to my hotel, pack and make my way to JFK — thankfully, TPG booking expert and Chief of Staff Adam Kotkin (and some of the edit team) were able to search options for my return flight while I was doing that. Cross-referencing award availability with airline products we wanted to review, there weren't any good options, so we started checking revenue flights.
At first, I was excited about the Royal Air Maroc option. While we'd already reviewed business class, I thought it would have been interesting to test out economy — especially during the electronics ban. However, my Iberia flight landed in Madrid at 10:15am and we figured leaving just an hour and 20 minutes between tickets would be unwise.
Although Google Flights showed $550 as the cheapest one-way flight from MAD to JFK, Adam soon found an even cheaper option through AmexTravel: $394 one-way on Aeroflot via Moscow (SVO). Not only were we able to save more than $300 on Google Flights' price for the same itinerary, but booking this way also made it eligible for the 50% Pay With Points rebate (which, sadly, is only available for non-Centurion cardholders through next month). Translation: this one-way last-minute international flight only ended up costing us 19,678 Membership Rewards points.
Also, as a revenue flight, I could credit the Aeroflot flights to Delta or Korean Air at a 50% rate or Aeroflot or Aeromexico at a 75% rate.
I checked-in at Madrid (MAD) before my overnight positioning flight from MAD to SVO. About 30 people were in a line ahead of me that crawled along for 20 minutes before it was my turn. Having learned from my fellow Iberia premium-economy passenger about asking for upgrades, I decided to try my luck and ask for one here. The agent said she couldn't help me, but pointed me over to the Aeroflot ticket counter across the terminal. Unfortunately, that agent said he couldn't help me with the upgrade from SVO-JFK, but noted that an upgrade from MAD-SVO was available for 40 euros (~$43). While the A321 only had recliner seats in first class, I was tempted by this reasonable rate, especially since it was a red-eye flight. The agent, however, quickly downplayed this option, instead moving me to an empty economy row and blocking the other empty seats out so I would have an entire row to myself, so I stuck with that.
In the madness of booking these back-to-back flights, I lost track of time and was on the other side of the terminal when boarding began — by the time I reached the gate, there was quite a line. While the SkyTeam Priority line had been cleared out by then, anyone flying in business class, as well as members of Aeroflot Bonus Elite Plus, Aeroflot Bonus Elite and SkyTeam Elite Plus could still board through it.
During boarding, there was a tray of what seemed to be mostly airline-branded reading materials available on the jet bridge — once aboard, there were more things to read in the seat-back pockets as well.
Cabin and Seat
The economy section of Aeroflot's 77W (777-300ER) is arranged in a 3-4-3 configuration, except for the last four rows, which are in a 2-4-2 layout. For some reason, seat selection wasn't available at booking, but at check in, one of the few remaining spots was an aisle seat in the middle section of the first row of 2-4-2. At departure, the two passengers in the middle seats still weren't there, so between the wide aisle and two empty seats next to me, I didn't struggle with the 17-inch wide seats — having experienced 10-wide economy seats before, I know how rough they can be though.
While the seats don't seem any wider in this back section of economy, they allowed for more space in the aisles and a less-cramped feeling overall. Pairs of seats are set next to the window — not that there isn't any storage space between the seat and the window.
The seat supports are another key thing to keep in mind for seat selection — G seats seem to have it the worst, with an equipment box and two sets of supports hindering storage space. Seats A/B and J/K, on the other hand, both have a wide gap between supports. The middle seats (D-G) have just three pockets of space for four seats, making legroom and storage especially awkward.
My D seat had two different supports blocking my feet. The space between them served as a good spot to store my shoes when I tried out the slippers (more on that in the Amenities section of this review).
That said, the amount of legroom was surprisingly decent. Although it's listed at "30-32" inches of pitch on SeatGuru, my seat (47D) somehow ended up with 33 inches of pitch according to my measurements, which gave my knees plenty of space. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to test out the other rows to see if they offered as much room.
The headrests were adjustable vertically and had wings that could be adjusted to cradle your head while sleeping — this was one of the best headrest options I've experienced in economy.
The tray table is folded in half when stored in the seat-back in front of you, which gives you the option of either using the half-table for a drink or extending it to table-size for meals or when working on a laptop.
The tray extends a few critical inches backwards, which is particularly useful for working on a laptop whenever the passenger in front of you reclines.
Each economy seat has a small touchscreen, which tilts slightly to allow you to see images clearly if the passenger in front of you is reclining. Aeroflot has an impressively large magazine just for its entertainment options, which provides a wide range of options in Russian and English, including entire seasons of TV series. After having only seen 1-2 episodes of Mr. Robot available at a time on various flights, I was happy to have the opportunity to finally finish Season 1.
The annoying thing about the IFE system was its use of a two-prong plug and Aeroflot's cheap earbuds, which means if you plug in your own headphones or earbuds without a two-prong converter, you're only going to get sound in one ear. If, however, you use the Aeroflot-provided earbuds, you're going to get poor-quality sound in both ears, so I'd recommend packing a two-prong adapter.
For charging, there's a USB port at each seat next to the IFE screen, which is a rather awkward spot, but that's all there is, so you're out of luck if you want to charge a laptop or other device you can't power via USB.
Each seat was stocked with a plastic-wrapped blanket, a pillow and a set of slippers with an eye mask inside. While flimsy, the pillow was wrapped in a real cotton pillowcase featuring Aeroflot branding.
The slippers provided no padding, but served their purpose in keeping our feet separated from the floor. Many passengers opted to wear them around the cabin. Likewise, the eye-mask was flimsy but practical for those who didn't bring their own.
Once at cruising altitude, flight attendants stocked small dental kits in the bathrooms. While the toilets had the standard push-button flush mechanism, the sinks were touch-less.
Food and Beverage
The crew handed out menus and packaged earbuds once we reached cruising altitude. Shortly after that, they passed through the cabin to offer the first round of drinks. Interestingly, service (for drinks and all following meals) started from the back of the rear economy cabin and worked its way forward. Soft drinks, juice, water (still and sparkling) and wines were on offer and cups were collected before meals were distributed.
When passing through the cabin with meals, flight attendants simply asked if we wanted chicken or lamb, leaving the details to the menu. I chose the "Lamb tagine served with rice and vegetables with Moroccan spices" over "Chicken schnitzel with pasta and broccoli served with mushroom sauce." The lamb dish was good, but not great, and seemed pretty middle-of-the-road for an economy meal.
Both meals were served with a packaged bread roll and a packaged slice of rye bread. Neither was particularly appealing, but they were made better with your choice of butter, soft cheese or "mayonnaise sauce." For dessert, there was a large two-layer "honey cake with chocolate cream" — I preferred the chocolate cream to the cake and thankfully, they were easily separated. The meal wasn't served with a beverage, but flight attendants came through after most of the passengers had finished eating to offer coffee, tea, juice and water.
For the second meal service, the flight attendants asked if we wanted "green sauce or white sauce" — which I guess meant our choice between "Fusilli pasta served with tomato sauce with bell peppers and cheese" and "Penne pasta with chicken breast and cream sauce with cheese," respectively. I wasn't sure what would have been "green" about the first one, so I chose the latter.
The pasta was a bit chewy and the cheese had seemingly re-hardened, so it was quite disappointing, but still edible. The "Chicken roll and Rossiyskiy cheese" appetizer tasted like a slice of cured ham with mozzarella balls. The same packaged bread options from the first meal made a reappearance, but for dessert, we got an apple fruit bar and an fortune cookie (the fortune was in English).
Wi-Fi services were available on this flight via OnAir and the pricing options varied whether you were connecting via laptop or phone. For laptop use, two packages are available: 30MB of data for $15 ($0.50/MB) or 100MB for $40 ($0.40/MB). You're also given the option to stay connected once your allotment is up, at a cost of $0.098/100KB ($0.98/MB).
If you choose to connect by cell phone, two different packages are available: 10MB of data for $5 ($0.50/MB) or 30MB for $15 ($0.50/MB). You are given the option of staying connected here, too, but the rate is slightly higher at $0.10/100KB ($1/MB).
I ended up purchasing the 100MB package for $40 through my laptop and was able to connect my phone as well. Trying to run a speed test failed on both devices and speeds were atrocious for much of the flight; even text-based communication failed to send-receive at times. Through as heavy use as I could muster, I only ended up using about 40MB of my package.
Judging from Aeroflot's safety video, which you can view below, you might expect service from the flight attendants to be especially epic:
While service was never friendly or welcoming on this flight (with the exception of boarding), that doesn't mean it was bad — from taking food and beverage orders to making requests before landing, interactions with the crew were merely straight-forward. The couple of FAs I tried to chat with seemed to struggle with conversational English, but the language barrier only made some parts of the service a little confusing (like being offered the "green" sauce for the second meal).
The only proactive service I saw was at the end of the flight. Working from a list, the head flight attendant approached a few passengers and seemed to thank them. I'm not sure if these were limited to Aeroflot frequent flyers or if other SkyTeam elites were thanked as well.
To be honest, I went into this flight with a "let's get this thing over with" attitude, but I was pleasantly surprised by my experience. The in-flight entertainment was extensive, food and drinks were adequate, the seats had enough pitch and Aeroflot provided some basic amenities, even in economy. I was disappointed with the slow, spotty and expensive Wi-Fi, and I wish there were better power plugs. The biggest issue for passengers might be the narrow seats, but nowadays, 10-wide in economy on 777s is becoming the rule more than the exception.
That being said, by no means would Aeroflot land on my "never again" list. Of the now 37 airlines I've flown in economy, Aeroflot is middle-of-the-pack. Having flown American Airlines extensively in economy on long-haul trips, I can say that this Aeroflot flight was actually better than the average AA flight, with more amenities but worse Wi-Fi. For the right price, I'd definitely consider flying Aeroflot again.
Have you ever flown in economy on Aeroflot — or would you? Sound off, below.