Trip Report and photos from Airways Magazine, December 2017.
Aeroflot is a Group 3 carrier for Delta SkyMiles. Most of Aeroflot’s Economy Class fares earn no more than 75% base miles with Delta, but its Premium Economy fares booked in W, S, and A class earn 100% miles, along with 75% Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) and 20% Medallion Qualifying Dollars (based on distance flown). Subsequently, for a 4,661-mile journey, I would earn 3,496 MQMs, 4,661 base miles, and $932 MQDs.
I thought that this would be a great deal, generous enough for a one-way Premium Economy ticket priced at $690. It is rare to find a Premium Economy fare that cheap.
Furthermore, this would be my first time flying Aeroflot, an airline I wanted to try because I had heard that it had come a long way in upgrading its product. I was also excited because the Sukhoi SuperJet SSJ 100 was supposed to be my operating aircraft on the Moscow to Vilnius leg of my journey. Unfortunately, roughly a week before departure, there was a schedule revision, and the aircraft was to be an Airbus A320. Oh, well.
My grandmother’s first flight ever, from Delhi to London via Moscow in 1985, had also been on Aeroflot. Since she had passed away roughly a week before my travel, making the journey on the same Russian carrier felt somewhat nostalgic, and I dedicated this trip to her. Aeroflot’s website was easy to use and intuitive. The user interface wasn’t the most modern, but it had all that was needed to complete the booking in one smooth process. Satisfied with the purchase, I looked forward to my flight, which was to be several months later.
The Day of Departure
At New York’s JFK, Aeroflot departs from Terminal 1. Two Aeroflot flights per day link New York and Moscow, both operated with Boeing 777-300(ER)s.
Besides Business Class and Economy, Aeroflot only offers its Comfort Class product in its 777-300(ER)s on selected routes, including Moscow to Hong Kong, Seoul, New York, Khabarovsk, Los Angeles, Petropavlovsk, Shanghai, Bangkok, Vladivostok, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, and Tel Aviv.
Aeroflot has 16 777-300(ER)s in service, with six more on order. That day, my ship would be VP-BGB, (MSN 41679 · LN 1068), built on December 15, 2012, and powered by two GE90-115B engines. This aircraft had been the first 777-300(ER) delivered to Aeroflot on January 2, 2013, a few weeks after its maiden flight. Aeroflot’s 777-300(ER)s offer 30 seats in Business Class, 48 in Comfort, and 324 in Economy.
I had selected the first New York JFK to Sheremetyevo (SVO) service, which leaves at 14:25 and arrives in Moscow after 8.5 hours of flying time, just before midnight New York time. The second flight leaves around 19:00. During the high season, between June and October, Aeroflot adds a third daily service that leaves JFK at 01:00 local time.
I arrived at JFK slightly after noon and found that the check-in lines were already fairly long for the Aeroflot flight. It was a relatively busy time at JFK that early afternoon, as there was a bank of Asian flights leaving (Japan Airlines, Korean Air, Air China, EVA Air, and China Eastern), so I had taken the precaution of arriving relatively early.
There was no signage for Comfort Class check-in, but I proceeded to the SkyTeam elite and Business Class line and the queue manager happily obliged me. No check-in kiosks were available for Aeroflot passengers; I presumed that this was because most travelers needed to have their documents verified by an agent before traveling from the US to Russia. Regardless, I had been right to allow myself plenty of time.
The security lines were somewhat long, and the timesaving TSA PreCheck was not available (Aeroflot does not participate in it). There was no priority lane, either, as they all appeared to conjoin into the same area.
After passing through security, I proceeded to the Korean Airlines (KAL) lounge, which is available for Priority Pass (PP) holders. Unfortunately, due to crowding, the lounge only allowed Priority Pass guests in from 14:00 and it was only around 12:45. So I went to the Air France lounge, which was accepting all Priority Pass members until 13:30 (boarding for my Aeroflot flight was scheduled to begin at 13:45). Although on the one hand, I can understand the rationale for wanting to avoid overcrowding, I feel that access to the two lounges should at least have been better coordinated and that a notification should also have been posted on the PP website.
The Air France lounge wasn’t too crowded, and I enjoyed some snacks and Champagne while catching up on some reading. The lounge also had excellent views of JFK’s tarmac.
At exactly 13:45, I proceeded to the gate, which was conveniently adjacent to the Air France lounge, and queued up for boarding. The flight seemed to be very full, although there were a few open seats in Comfort Class. Boarding was fairly smooth and uneventful overall, and the Flight Attendants who greeted us on board were very warm and hospitable.
The Comfort Class product turns around two things: the seat and the meal service. On Aeroflot’s 777-300(ER) flights, Economy Class seating is 10 abreast in a standard 3-4-3 configuration. In Comfort, however, it is eight abreast (2-4-2), which makes for increased width and pitch. Each seat comes with a footrest, leg rest, a ‘slide-forward’ recline (thanks to Shell technology), electrical outlets, and USB ports. The meal service features the hot menu that is served in Business Class—a nice perk. However, the beverage selection is limited, with only complimentary wine and beer.
Finally, each seat comes with a 10.6-inch Audio Video on Demand (AVOD) screen, an individual reading lamp, and a coat hook. Comfort Class passengers also enjoy increased baggage allowance (two pieces of checked luggage weighing up to 50lb each, and one piece of hand luggage weighing up to 22lb). No noise canceling or noise-reducing headsets are available, a standard amenity in other airlines’ Premium Economy classes. This flight would be my first ever in an Enhanced Economy Class; as this was something in which a lot of global airlines had been investing, I was thrilled to try it out.
We were offered pre-departure beverages in real glassware, including orange juice or water. I found it interesting, however, that, during the flight, all drinks were served in paper cups.
Taxi and takeoff were smooth, and the latter afforded gorgeous views of New York. The wonderful thing about the 14:00 departure was that it avoided the JFK rush-hour mania common in late-afternoon evening banks. It was a perfect day for flying as our route took us straight over Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, with an excellent view of Boston from the right side of the aircraft.
I had chosen seat 12K, in the second row from the galley on the right side of the plane, facing forward. My seatmate had decided to move to an open seat on the aisle, which was nice because it enabled me to use the vacated personal TV screen to keep tabs on the moving map while, at the same time, perusing the entertainment options.
I settled in and created a music video playlist on the In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) system, which was super easy to use. Once we were at cruising altitude, the crew handed out headsets, which I found a bit odd as these are usually offered before takeoff. In any case, the sound quality was not great, so I used my own instead.
While I worked, I reclined my seat and listened to the videos I had created on my customized jukebox on the IFE screen.
The first thing that I noticed was how comfortable I felt. The footrest and the leg rest were excellent, and the legroom was just fantastic. Of course, having an empty seat next to me was a plus but, truthfully speaking, I could see why Economy Comfort was absolutely the way to go on an eastbound transatlantic flight.
The first beverage service commenced around 30 minutes into the flight. I had a red wine served with mixed nuts. I honestly had no idea of which wine had been served, as there were no details on the menu. The only other beverages available, as far as alcohol was concerned, were white wine and Zhiguli Barnoe beer. Non-alcoholic libations included apple, orange, and tomato juices, Coca-Cola, Coke-Zero, Sprite, coffee, tea, and water.
Menus had been distributed on the ground, and I realized that, unlike most transatlantic flights, which feature an evening meal and a continental breakfast before landing in Europe, there would be two full-meal services: lunch and dinner, I suppose these meals were scheduled around the body clocks of Americans.
In any case, the first meal service included an appetizer of roast beef with cheddar cheese, cherry tomatoes, and cucumber, and a romaine salad with cucumber and cherry tomatoes with Caesar dressing. For the main course, there was a choice between a beef fillet with truffle cream sauce and linguine, or roast chicken breast with creamy spinach, celeriac purée, and demi glacé sauce, and raspberry cheesecake for dessert.
I chose the beef fillet, which was a relatively small portion, along with the linguine and broccoli. The beef itself was a tad overcooked, but the pasta was delicious. I thought the salad was neatly presented in a nice Caesar wrap with all of the garnishes. And the dessert was fantastic.
Dinner was served roughly two and a half hours before landing in Moscow and included smoked salmon, shrimp, and cream cheese with caperberry as the appetizer, and a fresh lettuce salad with cherry tomatoes, feta, and an olive oil and vinegar dressing. The main course involved a choice between roasted lamb chop with rosemary and demi glacé, served with pecorino polenta and medley herb vegetables, and grilled red snapper with mashed pumpkin and mixed vegetables served with café de Paris. For dessert, a brownie with nuts.
My dinner choice was the red snapper, and I have to say that it was one of the best dishes I’ve ever had on an airplane. The fish, although well cooked and succulent, was a bit on the oily side, but the vegetables complemented the pumpkin purée just perfectly. The shrimp and salmon appetizer was delicious, and the salad was incredibly fresh. Interestingly, passengers in Business and Comfort were served dinner, while Economy was given a choice between eggs and pancakes for breakfast! The cabin crew was split about equally between men and women, and they were a fantastic group of people. They were prompt, courteous, and friendly—I chatted with a few of them in between trips to the galley to stretch my legs or use the lavatory. They would come by each hour with beverages and offered ice cream pops midway through the flight.
The restroom facilities were clean and well stocked, also providing toothbrush kits. Although Comfort Class does not come with amenity kits, passengers received eyeshades and slippers. Duty-free came by after the first meal, but I wasn’t too keen on the selection. Aeroflot doesn’t have much gear for AvGeeks to purchase! That is one area of improvement that I might recommend.
Since this was a day flight, I spent most of it catching up on movies. I watched Moonlight, Erin Brockovich, and Fight Club. The IFE selection was bountiful with quality films from past and present, across all age ranges and tastes.
I believe that Wi-Fi was available to purchase, but I had heard that the price was a bit steep and I was in vacation mode.
Our routing took us north over Labrador, the southern tip of Greenland, north of Iceland and over the Norwegian Sea before we hit landfall around Trondheim, Norway. Then, we headed straight across the Scandinavian countries before approaching Russia. As it was summertime, I was able to see the breathtaking scenery of Greenland’s glaciers and frozen rivers, as well as the coast of Iceland. I was not seated on the left side of the aircraft, so I did not get a chance to see the sun, but all in all, it was a relatively clear day for flying on both sides of the Atlantic.
TRANSFERRING AT SHEREMETYEVO
My transit experience at Moscow was fairly seamless. International flights arrive into Terminal D, and we were de-boarded via stairs and bussed to the transit center (which took about 10 minutes). The lines for immigration were extremely short at this hour, with separate ones for flights terminating at Moscow (or domestic transfers) and international transfers.
You need a visa to visit Russia but, if you’re transferring, you just go through the transfer passport check, an additional security screening, and you’re on your way. Short-haul flights leave from Terminals E and F and, while a 10 to 15-minute walk is involved, it is all relatively traveler-friendly. For those with Priority Pass access, several lounges are available in this area.
Aeroflot’s Comfort Class product is great value for the cost of the ticket. I was impressed by the comfort level of the seat, the quality, and quantity of the food, the in-flight entertainment, the attentiveness and service of the cabin crew, and the timing of the flight to Moscow.
This was my first true Premium Economy Class experience on an international long-haul flight, and I would highly recommend it to anyone.