Nyet Impressed: Aeroflot (777-300ER) Premium Economy From New York to Moscow
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With so many airlines now offering true premium-economy products on transatlantic flights, it's become quite a nice way to fly across the pond in comfort, but without having to break the bank (or drain your mileage accounts) for a business or first-class ticket. It's not just the big airlines that have premium economy, either. I've already reviewed LOT Polish Airlines in premium economy on a transatlantic and now it's time to try out another one — Aeroflot's Comfort Class on the airline's Boeing 777-300ER.
I needed to return to Europe after a quick visit to the US. I'd flown from Europe to the US on a British Airways award, so I only needed a one-way flight back to Europe. After some digging, I found a tempting one-way fare from New York-JFK to Berlin Schönefeld Airport (SXF) via Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport (SVO) in premium economy for just $779. Not a bad deal, especially considering we were booking this within a couple of weeks of departure.
I did a cursory check of award options, but — even at steep Aeroflot pricing — there was no award space. Instead, TPG purchased the flight for me using the Business Centurion Card from American Express. This way we could wipe out the cost of the flight for just 38,950 Membership Rewards points. If we didn't have the Centurion card in our toolbox, we'd have booked the flight with a Platinum Card® from American Express to earn 5x Membership Rewards points on the flight.
As both a oneworld Emerald and Star Alliance Gold member, I very rarely fly SkyTeam, so I was indifferent to which program to credit these flights to. While Aeroflot gave 150% of flight miles as credit for premium economy flights, I chose to credit these flights to Delta's SkyMiles program, which offered 100% of flight miles for both award miles and Medallion Qualification Miles. Aeroflot premium economy flights also earned an enticing 20% of flight miles as Medallion Qualification Dollars, meaning this one-way flight earned 932 MQDs — more than the flight's cost of $779.
Aeroflot operates out of JFK's Terminal 1 — the home for many non-US carriers. The curbside drop-off included helpful signage for each airline, and immediately inside the door was the Aeroflot check-in counter. There were three lines: one for connecting Delta/JetBlue passengers, a SkyPriority line and a line for economy class, which had a few dozen passengers waiting.
Unsure if my premium economy ticket qualified for SkyPriority, I checked with the agent at the entrance to the economy-class line and was directed to the nearly empty SkyPriority line. Once at the counter, the check-in agent clarified that I was continuing onward to Germany — probably to double check that I was just transiting Moscow instead of entering Russia — and checked my bag.
Unfortunately, Aeroflot doesn't participate in TSA PreCheck. While that's meant long security delays when I've flown out of T1 in the past, the security line around 1:00pm on a Saturday was virtually nonexistent. After walking the maze of ropes, I had a choice of three bored TSA agents to choose from for my document check. I was through security less than five minutes after checking in — a feat that's practically unheard of at Kennedy airport.
There were two lounges in JFK Terminal 1: the Air France lounge and KAL Business Lounge. Note that passengers departing midafternoon (e.g., on Aeroflot) need to be wary of the posted entrance times. The Air France lounge only allowed Priority Pass holders to be admitted until 1:30pm. Meanwhile, the KAL Business Lounge didn't admit Priority Pass guests until 2:00pm. When I tried to enter at 1:15pm, the agent turned me away.
Thankfully, I entered the Air France lounge before 1:30pm without trouble. It provided a decent selection of cold foods, hot soups and both alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks. While it was quite empty when I arrived, it filled in by the time the Aeroflot flight was to board.
At Aeroflot's Gate 2, there wasn't clear signage about where passengers should line up. When I got to the gate 15 minutes before boarding time, there were multiple lines dozens of passengers deep. I was unsure once again if premium economy-passengers got SkyPriority boarding, and the lack of signage didn't help me answer that question. I asked a gate agent and he confirmed that I got priority boarding by directing me to the SkyPriority lane.
Preboarding started two minutes before the stated boarding time, and boarding started exactly on time. Note for fellow boarding-pass collectors: Aeroflot gate agents tear off and keep a majority of your boarding pass, leaving you with just the stub. So you might want to "lose" your boarding pass and ask for a reprint before boarding.
Cabin and Seat
The Aeroflot Comfort Class cabin consisted of six rows of 2-4-2 seating for a total of 48 total seats. That's a lot of seats for a premium economy cabin. Not surprisingly, Aeroflot wasn't able to fill up all of 48 these seats, though to its credit, the airline did a pretty decent job. Almost all of the aisle and window seats were taken, just leaving some of the middle seats in the center section of four seats empty. I'd selected an aisle in the middle section and was happy to end up with two empty middle seats for my flight.
The seats measured 19.5 inches between armrests. That's not terribly spacious for a premium economy product, but was necessitated by the eight-wide arrangement and five-inch-wide armrests.
Pitch was 37.5 inches between seats. Combined with thick, shell-like seatbacks, this didn't allow for much space. Passengers had to get up to allow someone in the same row out to use the bathroom.
Each seat had a leg rest; non-bulkhead seats had footrests as well.
These shell-backed seats were designed not to recline backward but rather to shift forward. This method was never quite comfortable for me, even when I was using pillows and blankets to support my back. And the seat certainly wasn't the lie-flat B/E Aerospace Diamond seating deceptively advertised on Aeroflot's website.
Besides the seatback pocket packed with Aeroflot literature, each seat had three smaller storage areas and, between the seatback in-flight entertainment screens, an undivided shelf for two seats to share. Below that, there was a smaller, divided shelf large enough to hold a small water bottle or the amenity bag.
Around our elbows was a third storage area that didn't serve any practical storage needs but contained the headphone plugs.
There was only one bathroom, toward the front and on the starboard side of the cabin. This one bathroom served the entire 48-seat cabin, leading to long lines at popular times.
At boarding, premium economy seats were stocked with a plastic-wrapped blanket and a small pillow with a nice Aeroflot-branded pillowcase.
Before pushback, flight attendants handed out small and cheap-feeling amenity bags. Inside were a folded pair of disposable slippers and an eye mask, the same two amenities I received when I flew Aeroflot economy last year. The only difference was the plasticky Moscow-themed bag.
After takeoff, the flight attendants stocked the bathroom with wet wipes, a "grape water" body spray, a fragrance spray and moisturizing cream.
Food and Beverage
Near the end of the boarding process, flight attendants switched from welcoming passengers at the boarding door to a service with welcome drinks of orange juice or water. The crew passed through shortly after with menus.
Once we reached cruising altitude, flight attendants passed through with drink carts and bags of nuts. Premium economy passengers had a choice of soda, juice, water, beer or wine, but no hard liquor was available.
I chose the chicken breast instead of the lamb. It was served skin-on and stuffed with a minced apricot-flavored breading. The chicken was cooked well and was still juicy — likely aided by the light brown sauce — with a side of asparagus and roasted veggies.
A meat-and-cheese plate, a creatively presented salad and a cheesecake rounded out the meal. Each dish was nicely presented, but the bulky and sticky tray detracted from that.
After lunch, we each got a small bottle of water. Between meals, passengers could pick from a basket of snacks in the galley that included muesli bars, crackers, chocolates, fig bars and Russian-labeled items that I couldn't decipher. Flight attendants also handed out ice-cream bars 2.5 hours after lunch.
Six hours after departure but still three hours before arrival (9:30pm Eastern, 4:30am Moscow time), dinner was served. I was eyeing the salmon option on the menu, but I was only offered "beef or potato."
I chose the beef option and was pleasantly surprised. While cooked beyond what I normally prefer, the filet was a good piece of meat. Rice is a hard item to reheat onboard, though, and this rice varied between soft and crunchy. As you might be able to tell from the photo, dinner was served in a very dark cabin.
One interesting aspect of the drinks served on this flight: The welcome drink was served in a small Aeroflot-branded glass, but — besides tea and coffee — all other drinks were served in cheap paper cups, which I found strange.
Each seat had a 10.5-inch-wide touchscreen built into the seatback except bulkhead rows, which had extendable arms. The touchscreens required a firm touch to navigate, and the touchscreen sensor wasn't accurate. I ended up using the remote control.
Once were in the air, we were handed cheap, two-prong earbuds, meaning that passengers were on their own for audio needs before that. Thankfully, I had my own pair of headphones nearby, although I only got sound in one ear until I dug out my two-to-one-prong adapter.
During my Aeroflot economy flight review of May 2017, I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the Aeroflot entertainment system. The trouble is, I noticed much of the same programming still on the system almost a year later.
Wi-Fi was available on this flight. There were two pricing options: 30 MB for $15 or 100 MB for $40. You could choose to renew once your time ran out at a cost of around $1 per megabyte.
When I tried to run a speed test on Ookla, I received a latency test error. The Google-run speed test confirmed just how bad the connection was, clocking in at 0.16 MB per second before also failing. Suffice it to say, the Wi-Fi speeds were very slow. Indeed, I wasn't even able to spend the whole 100 MB data package I purchased.
The flight attendants were warm but not overly friendly. Still, they passed through the cabin often.
However, there were notably peculiar service aspects. After lunch, the crew turned the lights off just over three hours after departure time — reasonable, since it was 1:30am in Moscow. Passengers settled in for the night and some started dozing off. But 15 minutes later, they were awoken by a loud announcement about duty-free shopping. The timing of the dinner service was also strange — in the middle of the flight, still three hours from arrival. To allow passengers to get as much uninterrupted sleep as possible, it ought to have been served much closer to arrival.
And, while Aeroflot flight attendants certainly aren't alone in being wary of having their photos taken, I felt especially uncomfortable taking photos on this flight. No flight attendant ever asked me to stop taking photos, but I received especially concerned looks from crew and passengers whenever I did.
After being pleasantly surprised by Aeroflot economy last year, I had high hopes for Aeroflot premium economy. It failed to meet my expectations. The seat wasn't spacious for premium economy, and the recline wasn't comfortable. The IFE selection was decent, but the provided earbuds were poor in quality and you needed to bring an adapter to use your own. The food tasted and looked good, but aspects of the food and drink service fell flat — including paper cups and a surprisingly limited alcohol selection. Service was sufficient but didn't make up for failings elsewhere.
While it wasn't a bad experience, per se, I'd skip flying Aeroflot premium economy again, particularly for flights to or from Europe. There are better premium economy options to fly across the pond. And it's certainly not worth the extra time that it takes to connect through Moscow to Western and Central Europe.
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