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 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?


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about Rachel

Hi, I’m Rachel!

Rachel’s Ruminations is a travel blog focused on independent travel with an emphasis on cultural and historical sites/sights. I also occasionally write about life as an expatriate. I hope you enjoy what I post here; feel free to leave comments!  Read more…
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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.

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.

Have to admit I still have my preconceptions. Well done Rachel

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!

I never flew Aeroflot but always feel anxious about flying a new-to-me airline.Not that the ones I know are much to rave about:-)

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 :-).

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.

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!

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.

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.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I saw the title of your post and thought,”OMG, someone I know is flying Aeroflot!!!” Yes, old notions are difficult to leave behind!

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

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.

Thanks for your first-person report on Aeroflot. Like you, I would have done a lot to avoid flying that airline, but now, like you, I won’t should the “opportunity” arise.

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.