Sunday, December 18, 2016

Добро пожаловать на борт Аэрофлот! Welcome Aboard Aeroflot!

Have you ever had someone come back after flying on an airline simply ranting and raving about their experience, making you salivate at the thought of trying it out yourself?  Well, that happened to me, my parents having flown Aeroflot on several roundtrips between the United States and Greece.  I asked them to compare to flying on fellow SkyTeam member MEA, and they said it was better, by several levels of magnitude.  Well, I am very protective of MEA, so I had to put Aeroflot down on the list as another airline to fly, and quick.  So here it is, I finally made it on Aeroflot, from Athens, Greece, to Los Angeles, CA via Moscow, Russia.

So here I am, back at my home office just North of Salt Lake City, a few weeks after my grand trip that took me and the family from Utah to New York City for a night, a 7-day Trans-Atlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2, a few days in London, an overnight stay in Athens, Greece; Moscow, Russia; and Los Angeles, CA.  Our flights back from Athens were originally supposed to be just an overnight stay in Istanbul, flying on Turkish Airlines, but with the recent attempted coup d'etat and the ban of all flights to and from the United States and Turkey, we had the chance to cancel our tickets and fly another way home, and that's where this begins.  We had found a reasonable alternative out of Athens on the same date as originally planned, this time via Aeroflot through Moscow and Los Angeles, both overnight stays.  Granted, the hotel stays ended up being more than the next lowest fare, but, this was something I had to do, I had to try Aeroflot.

We woke up that morning at the Sofitel Athens Airport, across the street from the main terminal entrance.  Mom and I were running on maybe 3 hours of sleep, but that was OK, we spent the night at the hotel bar with the family from the village, and it was epic.  So there we were, after breakfast, bleary eyed, but hyped up.  Ground services for Aeroflot in Athens is handled by Goldair, and they did a fantastic job of checking us in, even gave us a few extra allotments for carryons due to my parents needing wheelchair assistance.  We were directed to a sitting area to wait for our wheelchair pushers to meet us.  Well, the waiting took forever, and they never showed up, and boarding time was getting close, so we hoofed it to the security queue and went to the gate.  Well, we made it to the gate and the staff there was wondering where we were as the wheelchair pushers had called about 30 seconds prior to say we were not where we were supposed to be, so we simply told them they were late, and it was no big deal, the gate was close by anyways.  That being said, they scanned our boarding passes and let us board first.

Boarding went by fairly quickly, despite more than three quarters of the passengers having oversize carryons and a LOT of fur coats and wraps.  Where we were going, they would need them anyways.  Luckily, for me, there was only one other person sitting in my block of three seats, and she was in the aisle seat whilst I had the window (yay me!).  With everyone seated and the more gorgeous than normal Russian flight attendants doing their safety demo, we were pushed back out onto Athens' not so busy ramp.  The only other planes in our portion of the terminal were a Turkish Airlines 737-800 that just pulled in, an Emirates Boeing 777-300 and an unmarked Airbus A319.

Our aircraft was a brand new one in the Aeroflot fleet, a Boeing 737-800 (registered VQ-BWC, named after Russian historian Sergey Soloviev) new build delivered to Aeroflot in June 2015, the 41,210th Boeing 737 off the line in Renton, WA.  She still had that new plane smell to her and a very new cabin.  Normally, I loathe Boeing 737 flights of longer than an hour or two, as I just cant get comfortable on them due to my height and size, always requiring a seat belt extension, but this ride to Moscow was shaping up and promising to be a good one, seat belt extender notwithstanding.  We rolled out to the departure runway and with hardly a second to wait were at full power and blasted off out of the Cradle of Civilization for the high Russian plains that Moscow is situated on.

I have to admit, I was amazed at how attentive the inflight crew was and the level of service for a 4 hour flight.  In the United States, on a 4 hour flight, there is no meal service, hell you're lucky you can get a small cup of soda thrown at ya with a $7 mini can of Pringles.  On Aeroflot, we had a full beverage service 3 times, and a full dinner service as well about a quarter of the way into the flight.  In Coach Class, of all things!  I spent most of the flight writing in my travel journal and listening to music on my phone, while the flight attendants kept me stocked with Coca Cola and water.  I had left my window shade up and caught a few glimpses outside during the flight and snapped pictures of the winglet and sunset before it got dark the further north we got.

The flight went by pretty quickly, and before I knew it, we were starting our descent into Moscow, slowly, but surely, and took a winding pattern into Sheremetyevo Airport.  Despite the winding down and anticipation of getting off in a new airport that I have never been to before, we managed to arrive a few minutes early, but had to park on a remote stand away from the terminal due to no gate space.  Looking out on the ramp, I could tell it was a busy night.  Sukhoi Super Jet 100's, 737's, A320's, A330's, and 777's were in various stages of arrival or departure and we took a spot away from the terminal in between another 737 and the Skyteam Alliance branded Boeing 777-300 for Aeroflot.  She was on her way to Tokyo that night, and I thought to myself, it'd be nice to be on her, but...the prize bird for this journey was 14 hours away from boarding time.

Deboarding was via airstairs for the upwardly mobile passengers, not us.  We waited until everyone was off, then we were guided to the R1 forward entry door on the starboard side, usually where caterers do their thing.  We were guided onto the lift, then down to the ramp where we were loaded into a van that took us directly to the transit connections desk for our connecting flight to Los Angeles.  Amazingly, there were not that many people connecting off of our flight, and we were the only ones at the transit desk and therefor were processed and on our way in less than 5 minutes.  The wheelchair folks were fantastic as well, taking my parents to the V Express capsule hotel located within the sterile area of the terminal for our 12 hours of rest and relaxation, then those same folks meeting us again in the morning and taking us to our departure gate.  Amazing service, and they were tipped heavily.

After lounging around and grabbing an early morning breakfast at TGI Fridays (in Moscow of all places, who would of thought?), we picked up a few trinkets and then were gathered up for boarding.  Again, we were the first onboard, and were helped to our seats by the ever attentive, gorgeous, and capable flight attendants, who also helped us stow our carryons (even my duffel bag full of books).  Our stay in Moscow was pleasant, inviting, and downright incredible.  It's now on my list of places I must return to, but for now, time to get settled in for the long haul to sunny Los Angeles.

Our plane was the 7 year old Airbus A330-200 (registered VQ-BBF, named after Russian diplomat and poet Alexander Griboyedov) leased to Aeroflot.  In pristine condition after its flight that morning from St. Petersburg, we settled in and got comfortable for the 14 hour jaunt over the Arctic and down through central Canada.  I have to interject here, the A330-200 was specifically built for flights like these, during its design phase in the mid 1990's it was specified to have a range capable of doing Los Angeles-Moscow or Vancouver-Athens with ease.  Airbus also designed it in conjuction with the four engined Airbus A340, with a wider cabin than the Boeing widebodies, and let me tell you, on a 14 hour flight, that extra six inches of shoulder space per seat makes a world of difference. In fact, it was so comfortable, me and Dad sat through the entire flight, not getting up for any single reason, not even to stretch, as we normally do on shorter flights in the cramped Boeings.  My Mom on the other hand, due to her bad knees, had to get up and stretch every so often.  Susie, in her diminutive size, curled up on her seat like a cat and either watched movies, played games or passed out in total comfort.

Even on a plane as large as the A330, boarding did not take long at all, and before we knew it, we were being pushed back and on our way out.  Sheremetyevo is a big airport, and it took a few minutes to get out to the departure runway, luckily we were one of a few planes taking at that time, lining up between an Air Astana A320 and another Aeroflot Boeing 777.  Lined up on runway 24L, we throttled up to full power and the Rolls Royce Trent engines rocketed us up and out of Moscow, and with a few slight turns we were pointed north and on our way up to the Arctic crossings.  Plugging my phone into the seatback power unit and turning on the tunes while leaving the IFE pegged on the inflight moving map was my idea of a good ride, as well as catching up in my journal.

Leveling off to cruise at 31,000 feet (FL310), the flights attendants got down to the service.  As with the flight from Athens the day before, the crew made their round up and down the aisles looking after us passengers and there were hourly drink services.  Eventually, I did wonder why I didnt have to get up and relieve myself, but, I didnt so I stayed put and enjoyed the ride.  The first meal service was a lunch service, served about 2 hours into the flight, somewhere around Murmansk, Russia.  Since it was lunchtime, I was thinking it would be a sandwich and salad kind of serving, but no.  On the tray was a starter of mussels with celery and grilled sweet peppers on a salad, A bread plate (yes, a bread plate in Coach) with a roll and rye bread with Butter and a wedge of Brie, a berry cheesecake, and for the main we had a choice of either Chicken breast with oyster sauce, or lamb with buckwheat and broccoli.  Being low on my gout medication, I passed on the lamb and went with the chicken.  To my shock and surprise, it was tasty.  I haven't had a meal service like this or attention to detail from the flight attendants since the days of TWA.  In fact, my parents and friends were absolutely spot on right about Aeroflot.  They really are that amazing.  They are now in my top 3 airlines for North America to Europe.

Up past the coast of Northern Russia and over the Barents Sea, we turned to the West and the Norwegian Sea we crossed into the part of the Northern Hemisphere of perpetual twilight, with a thin band of sunlight that never faded the entire trip over Greenland and the earliest part of our turn down into Canada.  During most of this stage of the flight, the flight attendants still roamed the cabin every hour or so, but the cabin lights dimmed, allowing folks to sleep or watch the IFE in comfort.  I had my window shade up and kept the TV pegged on the inflight map while reading my new book or writing in my journal.  After my hand had cramped up, I stowed the journal and unfolded my laptop to watch some movies (the IFE had a huge selection to watch from, just nothing much that interested me enough to watch, or stuff that I have already seen).  My dad on the other hand, cranked his way through 5 movies (asleep through one of them), and was just chilling in his little cocoon of comfort.

We made landfall in Canada over Rankin Inlet, on the West coast of Hudson Bay, and continued our path down to the lower parts of the hemisphere.  The second meal service began while overflying Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and this service was just as large as the first, this time with mains consisting of either Chicken in carrot and tomato sauce with bulgur wheat and broccoli, or beef in black pepper sauce.  Seriously good stuff, and again, I was stuffed.  45 minutes later the trays were cleared and almost as soon as they were, we hit some rough air on the US/Canadian border into Montana, as if to welcome us to the United States.  Taking a glance on the geography below, it looked like there was a massive snowstorm that covered Montana, Idaho and Northern Nevada just a day or so before we flew over.  Gorgeous landscape, going from snow covered plateaus to desert over the West portion of the Great Basin National Park, then to the fertile coastline of Southern California and its palm trees, suntans, and gridlock traffic.

Once over Death Valley we turned West over the coast at Pismo Beach, and then another turn to the East  over the Santa Monica Mountains, Topanga State Park, Beverly Hills, Hollywood and Alhambra (I can see our hotel for the night, the Langham Huntington Pasadena, on its hillside in the distance),  and our last turn onto final approach to the North runways at LAX.  We glided onto runway 24R and taxied around to our gate at the Tom Bradley International Terminal.  We have arrived, and in style!

In my opinion:  Aeroflot is a damn good airline, with service levels that eclipse most other airlines plying the skies between North America and Europe.  It is on par with the likes of MEA, Royal Jordanian, and British Airways.  The fares are also something else, right on par with Turkish Airlines as being the lowest fares across the pond, plus having the SkyTeam benefits we all know and recommend.  Definitely give them a try!

1 comment:

  1. You wrote a great report. I flew on Aeroflot back in 1988. I wish I could say I received as good a service as you did.