Give It a Chance: Aeroflot's A330-300 in Economy From Moscow to New York
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Aeroflot is a curious option for many US flyers, particularly Delta elites starved for decent SkyMiles redemptions. The Russian flag carrier is a SkyTeam member that typically offers good award availability in both economy and business class, though fuel surcharges sting a bit. Similarly, the airline often has tantalizingly low cash fares to (and from) European destinations.
Still, it’s difficult to get American flyers to consider a connection in Moscow. Diplomatic tensions aside, images of Soviet-era clunkers and Siberia-cold service inaccurately taint the carrier. (The airline boasts that it has the youngest fleet in the business, with an average aircraft age of less than five years.)
Russia’s national airline has the distinction of being the oldest continually operating passenger airline in the world. (KLM was grounded during World War II, and Qantas lost the title in 2011 when it grounded its entire flight over union disputes.) National investment in the airline has contributed to steadily improving quality and customer satisfaction ratings in recent years.
On a recent trip from Berlin to New York, I was able to score a cheap $450 one-way economy ticket on Aeroflot via its hub at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport (SVO). I’d never flown the airline before, so I jumped at the chance. As TPG Points and Miles Writer JT Genter discovered on his first flight with the airline, Aeroflot at least deserves a chance — especially when the price is right.
I booked and paid for my $450 flight directly through Aeroflot with my Chase Ink Business Preferred card, as I was working towards hitting the minimum spend requirement. The card earns 3x Ultimate Rewards points on the first $150,000 spent on travel, shipping, internet and more, so I ended up earning 1,350 UR points from my purchase.
I credited this flight to my Delta SkyMiles account, but it was a deep discount economy fare class, so my earnings were pretty dismal (the rates were 25% base miles, 25% redeemable miles, 25% MQMs and 5% MQDs — all of these figures are based on distance flown). This meant that I earned a paltry 1,415 base miles, 1,415 MQMs and $283 MQDs for this trip, even though I'm a Platinum Medallion member.
Check-in and Boarding
Overall, my connection experience in Moscow was above average. However, not one, but both, of my international flights included bus-to-terminal transfers from remote stands. It was a bit irksome, and felt distinctly last century. Note that the photo below is of an Aeroflot A320 — the aircraft I flew on the beginning of my journey from Berlin to Moscow.
In all the transferring between planes and the terminal, I probably lost about 30 minutes — time I would've been able to use to visit one of the airline’s four lounges in the new Terminal D. Otherwise, transiting Moscow was not significantly more difficult than other major airports. There was a SkyPriority desk conveniently located inside the terminal, preceding a small passport control station that only had a short line. An additional security checkpoint followed — these transit checkpoints are among the biggest wastes of time in my regular travel routine.
Overall, the process was relatively painless, but it did involve another jam-packed bus ride from the terminal that seemed to last for way too long. Finally, though, I made it to the remote stand, climbed up the steep metal staircase and found my way to my seat on board the Airbus A330.
Cabin and Seat
Aeroflot has a few different configurations on its A330-300. The particular one I flew featured 34 angle-flat business-class seats arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration and 272 economy seats, each of which was 18 inches wide and offered 32 inches of pitch in a 2-4-2 configuration — the standard coach configuration on A330 and A340 aircraft. This arrangement, especially if you score a seat in the paired seats along the windows, is far more preferable than the 3-4-3 arrangement that most carriers are squeezing into their Boeing 777s.
I was seated in 41D — an aisle seat in the center section of four seats — just four rows from the rear of the aircraft. This normally wouldn't be my first pick, but I had issues checking in online and thus only had the choice of this seat or a bulkhead middle seat. The bulkhead seat was actually reserved as a preferred seat, which Aeroflot called "the comfort zone." Delta and other SkyTeam elites could choose these seats in advance or request them at the airport, but I preferred the aisle, as I like to stretch often.
Each seat included a small but denser-than-usual pillow, thick blanket and amenity kit containing a pair of slippers and an eye mask. Before this flight, I'd never received a pair of slippers in economy on a European airline... life never ceases to surprise.
I lucked out on this flight and actually had two empty middle seats to enjoy. Plus, there was a particularly wide aisle behind me, because I was seated in the area where the aircraft's fuselage tapers. Because of this, the center section shrinks from four to three seats — perfect for stretching on this long-haul flight.
Just before departure, flight attendants passed out some pretty terrible earbuds. I couldn't hear much with them, so I used my Apple earbuds, even though there was a two-pronged jack in the seatback in front of me, meaning I only got sound out of one side of my earbuds.
The seats themselves were visibly older than those on the 77W, but they were also noticeably wider — a compromise I was more than willing to make. The 8-inch entertainment screens were also smaller and I assume they were less responsive than those on the newer triple seven. My seat wasn't the most comfortable economy seat that I've experienced on a long-haul flight, but it was far from the worst. I also appreciated that the airline chose to outfit the seats with a separate cupholder, since I didn't have to use the tray for just a beverage.
The legroom was (barely) adequate for my six-foot frame. My knees grazed the seatback pocket in front of me, but, in fairness, it was somewhat overloaded. The seat reclined impressively, though, and it offered a good amount of padding. After 10 hours, my back was actually in pretty good shape. Unfortunately, there was no footrest, which was disappointing, especially considering the long duration of many Aeroflot flights.
Amenities and In-Flight Entertainment
Aeroflot’s entertainment system included a decent number of Russian- and English-language films, including about a dozen (mostly old) Oscar winners and some fairly recent releases. There were some appealing TV series to choose from as well.
All of Aeroflot’s long-haul aircraft are equipped with satellite Wi-Fi provided by Sita OnAir, but the airline charged based on data usage, making the service pointless after sending just a few emails. Connection speeds were decent enough to send and receive those emails, but not much else. With 10 megabytes to use, I couldn’t get past the go button on speedtest.net.
The seatback IFE screens on this aircraft didn’t show any sort of airshow or flight map. This data was instead displayed on LCD monitors at the front of each cabin.
After dinner, the lights were dimmed. Also, I appreciated the fact that the pilots proactively turned off the seatbelt sign, allowing passengers maximum time to stretch and stand.
The mid-cabin economy bathroom was notably spacious. It was stocked with both toothbrush kits and moisturizer. It was obvious the staff spent time cleaning the lavatory during the flight, as paper that had been on the floor was removed later.
Food and Beverage
Dinner service began about a half hour after takeoff. The menu featured graphics celebrating the airline's 95th anniversary.
I couldn’t figure out why the cart on my aisle seemed to be moving at half the speed of the other cart, until it arrived at my seat. The Russian flight attendant gave me water, then beer, then asked if I wanted juice.
“Orange juice, you will like,” he insisted.
Even with three full cups on my tray table, he then pulled out both bottles of wine he had available and offered them to me as well. I could later see that nearly every passenger he interacted with had several full drink cups on their tray table. Seems like Aeroflot must be facing a serious problem warehousing paper cups — and this flight attendant had certainly taken the problem to heart.
The food came somewhat quicker than the drinks, but not much. I was impressed by the size of the Aeroflot economy meal. There was an appetizer, large entree, two kinds of bread, olive oil, butter, cheese spread, a cake roll and a chocolate candy that tasted like a Twix bar.
The appetizer consisted of “beef,” though it didn’t quite taste like beef. It was accompanied by mushrooms, that also didn't really taste like mushrooms to me. I chose the chicken sausage with mashed potatoes option for my entree. It's pretty hard to screw up chicken sausage and mashed potatoes, and I'm happy to report that Aeroflot did not. The meal was heavier than I normally like, but the other option was beef stew — which arguably would have been even heavier. After dinner, attendants came by with coffee, tea, juice and water before collecting trays.
A self-service snack bar featuring muesli bars, cookies and crackers was set up in the rear galley, along with a selection of juices and water. With about four hours until landing, flight attendants offered vanilla ice cream.
The cabin lights came on about 2.5 hours before landing, and we were served a second full meal service. Pleasantly, the crew turned the lights on a dim setting, allowing adequate light while not shocking passengers awake. This is a technique that seems completely lost on American carriers.
While this dinner service wasn't as extensive as the first, it was definitely more than you'd get on any Western European or US airline. The appetizer consisted of cold cuts and semi-soft white cheese. For the main dish, the flight attendant asked if I wanted “pasta” or “ravioli.” I presumed she must have been joking, and that if I ordered the pasta, it was going to be the spinach ravioli I'd remembered seeing on the menu. However, this was not the case — it was farfalle noodles with processed chicken morsels... and it didn't taste great. Otherwise, though, I was happy with my meal service, which concluded with lemon tea.
All in all, color me impressed with my economy flight on Aeroflot. The flight crew was impeccably professional. As is the case in Eastern Europe, smiles were closely guarded, but warm, attentive service was abundant on this flight. Service levels match — or even exceed — most other European carriers I've traveled on, and Moscow can be a reasonable transit point if the price is right. While hopping from many European cities to Moscow is longer than other major European hubs, the long-haul segments to NYC and the West Coast of the US aren't that much longer. Plus, Aeroflot operates A320s and 737s with truly comfortable economy seating and real first-class cabins — making those longer intra-Europe hops much more manageable. So long as Aeroflot's service remains this good, I look forward to my next Moscow connection.
All images by the author except where noted otherwise.