Instagram



Booking.com

Flying Aeroflot

If you’re an American of a certain age, as I am, the name Aeroflot will conjure certain images. Aeroflot was the airline of the “commies,” and it was considered one of the worst airlines in the world.

photo showing an Aeroflot A321 either taking off or landing.

photo courtesy of Mark Harkin on Flickr

We Americans didn’t fly Aeroflot. Partly because we didn’t, in general, visit the Soviet Union. They were the “evil empire.” But even if we did go there, the last thing we would want to do was fly Aeroflot.

Aeroflot’s reputation

Aeroflot had a reputation, and there was nothing good about it. The planes were decrepit Ilyushins and Tupolevs, prone to crashing in isolated places like Siberia. Even if they didn’t crash, they were in terrible shape, the story went: seatbelts that didn’t work, live chickens with the hand luggage, humorless, dour flight attendants, and so forth.

It’s odd that I have such a clear picture of this, given that I never flew Aeroflot before the break-up of the Soviet Union. It was just part of the lore that we, in the US, heard about the USSR. To check it, I consulted Wikipedia, the font of all knowledge, looking at the 1970’s only. I graduated high school in 1980, so the 70’s were when I would have formed this picture of the airline. Their page listing Aeroflot accidents and incidents certainly confirms the image, though most of the list happened on internal flights, not international.

I tried my best not to book Aeroflot for my trip to Hong Kong from Amsterdam, and then again for my trip back from Seoul to Amsterdam. The mere idea of flying with them pushed all my fear of flying buttons. It was, however, much cheaper than any other option, with the only disadvantage being the stop in Moscow.

Aeroflot? Really?

Even as I was planning the trip, people asked what airline I was flying, which is something it never occurs to me to ask other people. They were generally pretty skeptical and concerned about my choice of Aeroflot. A certain series of expressions would pass in quick succession across their faces.

  1. Shock. Aeroflot? Are you serious?
  2. Worry. Oh, no, it’ll crash!
  3. Indecision. No, I’m just being stupid. Should I say anything about it?
  4. An effort to wipe any negativity from their faces and react as if I’d just said I was flying KLM. No, better not say anything or let her know what I was just thinking.

All they would actually say was “Aeroflot? Really?”

Flying on Aeroflot

Given my knee-jerk reaction to the idea of flying Aeroflot, combined with their low prices, I did a bit of googling. It turned out that Aeroflot’s ratings these days are as good as any of the bigger reputable airlines, like KLM or United. I looked up recent reviews and the worst they reported was inedible food and surly flight attendants. I’ve had enough experience with inedible airplane food and surly attendants not to take that very seriously.

So I booked it. And, despite my preconceptions, it was fine. My first flight to Moscow was on an Airbus something-or-other: a 330, I think. It was relatively new and clean and everything worked. I wasn’t particularly happy that there was no seatback entertainment system for the three-hour flight, but that’s not such a big deal. And the food was edible, if not great.

view of the interior of the Aeroflot Boeing aircraft

on the second flight, from Moscow to Hong Kong

The second flight, from Moscow to Hong Kong, was fine too. This plane was bigger and newer, a Boeing 777, complete with in-flight entertainment including a wide variety of films. No surly flight attendants either, and the food was quite edible, as airplane food goes.

So my preconceptions have been dashed. Isn’t it interesting how tenacious and enduring our assumptions can be, long after the reasons for those assumptions are gone?

Have you flown Aeroflot, either in the Soviet era or more recently? How was your experience?

30 Comments

  • Shobha

    June 26, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    LOL. I remember the Aeroflot jokes too. They still are a byword for bad planes but clearly you have seen that it isn’t true. I think they sold their old planes to China. I used to know all this when I did airplane financing. But that sort of useless knowledge has been erased from my memory years ago.

    Reply
    • Rachel

      June 27, 2015 at 9:15 am

      The thing is: I don’t WANT to know. Only good, safe, reassuring information for me, please! Those jokes were never funny to me; they just made me jittery!

      Reply
  • Jeff Barrons

    June 26, 2015 at 11:17 pm

    Hey Rachel, hope you are enjoying Japan. Kelly and I flew Aeroflot from Nairobi to Athens in 1986 on our way home from Malawi. It was ridiculously cheap and we got a free night in Moscow and a tour of Moscow in the deal. I do remember sitting on the tarmac in Cairo when it must have been a million degrees outside as the plane was cleaned (never have been able to figure that out) and then another freezing hour standing on the tarmac in the middle of the night in Sebastopol when the terminal was all locked up. I probably knew about the airline’s reputation but price was the primary factor behind our choice and it all worked out well in the end.

    Reply
    • Rachel

      June 27, 2015 at 9:17 am

      That would have terrified me at the time. I actually preferred to take the 6-9 hour bus ride between Mzuzu and Lilongwe than to fly on that tincan of an airplane that did the trip in an hour. But how was that flight back in 1986? Was the plane in as bad a condition as its reputation had it?

      Reply
  • Victoria@ The British Berliner

    June 29, 2015 at 10:56 am

    Surprisingly, I have flown Aeroflot Rachel and I didn’t even know about their reputation at the time! I went to Vietnam in 2007 and Aeroflot was the cheapest airline and since their airline was near my office. I booked it. The staff were great. They even offered to get me a visa for Moscow. I foolishly said “no” ‘cos it was €50 and I had only planned to be there for a few hours.

    I only I had known how difficult it usually is for British citizens to get a Russian visa, I would have grabbed the chance. AND I ended up being in Moscow for 10 hours afterall…! Having said that, the plane was spacious on the way out. Hardly anyone was on it LOL!

    I don’t remember the food ‘cos I caught a cold on the plane (‘cos of the aircon) and couldn’t shake it off for a month!

    Reply
    • Rachel

      June 29, 2015 at 11:42 am

      The fact that you weren’t aware of its reputation shows how much younger than me you are! I’ve actually been to Moscow (on a different airline). It’s definitely worth getting the visa and venturing out of the airport!

      Reply
    • Rachel

      November 30, 2015 at 12:58 pm

      Yes, we have this irrational feeling that if we flew on a particular airline before, and lived to tell the tale, it’s somehow safer than any ones we haven’t flown before!

      Reply
  • Sand In My Suitcase

    November 30, 2015 at 7:48 am

    Good to know that Aeroflot isn’t as bad as we may think :-).But we’d be worrying about its safety ratings too. You mention lack of inflight entertainment on one leg. Many of the American airlines don’t offer that. Not that American airlines are the epitome of luxury :-).

    Reply
    • Rachel

      November 30, 2015 at 1:00 pm

      I haven’t generally been impressed lately with any of the US airlines, though the European ones aren’t much better. Lately the best in-flight service seems to come from Middle Eastern and Asian airlines.

      Reply
  • Suzanne Fluhr

    November 30, 2015 at 7:53 am

    In less than 24 hours, we’ll be boarding an American Airlines flight to Madrid, Spain—blithely ignoring the US State Department’s useless general warning last week about global travel—as in travel to anywhere. I’ll be jittery, but the same amount of jittery anytime I defy the laws of physics and go winging across continents in a thin metal tube at 37,000 feet. We must have grown up in similar times because I had exactly the same opinion of Aeroflot as you described, a carryover from the Cold War era during which I was raised.

    Reply
    • Rachel

      November 30, 2015 at 1:01 pm

      Ah, you understand! It’s just unnatural for something that large to lift up off the ground!

      And, yes, it has to do with our age and our formative years in the Cold War era.

      Reply
  • Rebecca Hall (Bex)

    November 30, 2015 at 10:19 am

    I flew Aeroflot from Hong Kong via Moscow to London in 2013. I had sailed with a container ship from Athens to Hong Kong, taking the slow route – and coming back was by boring old plane.
    Yes, Aeroflot was the cheapest on offer – and actually had a huge array of movies on offer. I did experience the surly flight crew – but maybe that’s a cultural thing. I have actually experienced worse attitude with British Airways crew, and ask some American carriers. At least Aeroflot is consistent in that their crew seem stroppy!

    Reply
    • Rachel

      November 30, 2015 at 1:03 pm

      I’d be stroppy too if I had to deal with some of the people they have to deal with on a daily basis. Are people’s manners getting worse on planes? Or is it just that I’m more sensitive to it than I used to be?

      Reply
  • Janice Chung

    November 30, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    I was impressed that you even checked Wikipedia to see about the rate of accidents and incidents. I too, grew up in the era that Aeroflot had a bad name and I was really expecting your review to echo the same feelings from the 70’s. But sadly, I still don’t think I would take that airline! I love checking Skytrax to see the reviews of airlines I am considering.

    Reply
    • Rachel

      November 30, 2015 at 4:28 pm

      Part of dealing with my phobia is trying to be as rational and informed as possible. I looked it up to see if my fears were rational, and if my memories from the 70’s were accurate. With all the budget travel I do, bad service doesn’t put me off too much, but safety was my fear here!

      Reply
  • Howard @ Backroad Planet

    November 30, 2015 at 11:48 pm

    I was delighted to discover this post, Rachel, and even more delighted to learn that Aeroflot was up to par with other airlines these days. My preconceptions about Aeroflot were formed in the 1970s, as well, and now that you have disarmed my fears, I won’t be concerned with booking a flight with them in the future, especially if they have the most economical fare.

    Reply
  • noel

    December 1, 2015 at 8:23 pm

    I think the main thing that drives this type of business to survive is prices and decent service and it looks like Aeroflot has managed to quickly change impressions at least to many other nations outside of the US

    Reply
    • Rachel

      December 2, 2015 at 7:14 am

      Their service was fine, but nothing to write home about. The price, though, was significantly lower than any other airline on that route, and with no penalty for flying one-way, like some airlines do.

      Reply
  • The GypsyNesters

    December 2, 2015 at 1:22 am

    You perfectly described our image of Aeroflot. But lately we have seen their planes in many airports and were curious what it would be like to fly on them. Thanks for the report. We won’t be wary of taking them now.

    Reply
  • Denis Gagnon

    December 3, 2015 at 5:39 am

    I was very curious to read your ruminations about flying Aeroflot Airlines, since I have flown a lot of airlines in my life, including Aeroflot and try to stay up to date. I would have liked to know more precisely which planes were being used on the routes you flew since safety has been an issue for the airline.

    Reply

Leave a Reply