How to survive Aeroflot

This post is part of my Russia travel series: Travel stories | Photo gallery

Aeroflot, the Russian airline, is infamous for many reasons ranging from customer service to flight safety. Here are some of my thoughts about it.

Screenshot from Aeroflot’s Website

One of the triggers for going to Russia last year was the cheap Toronto-Moscow-Mumbai flight. I’m glad I chose Aeroflot, the semi-privatised, profitable, one of the oldest and largest in the world, Russian national airline. The cultural acclimatization started soon after I bought the ticket. I had to call Aeroflot’s Customer service to request a one-day rescheduling. Usually airlines will do it as a courtesy although they are not required to. But I was asked to pay €250 even though the flight was half-empty.

Aeroflot’s reputation

Aeroflot is known to be one of the most unfriendly airlines in the world. Although I didn’t have any problems personally, I could easily see why it has such a reputation.

  • People have also told me that the flight attendants are rude. While that might be true when viewing from an external perspective, I think its simply cultural. The Russian flight crew doesn’t have the fake ear-to-ear smiling ladies on board, and that might be seen as being rude.
  • People are still stuck in Soviet era of customer service. If you ask something they don’t have, you’ll simply be told ‘Nyet’ (No) without a smile or a hint of apology. If you are going to Russia, better get used to this! Again, I think this is simply cultural.
  • I’ve heard from lots of Indians that Aeroflot refuses to serve them water. The thing is, Russians (from my experience) seldom drink normal water, definitely not on the scale as Indians do. They drink juices, teas, colas etc. Refusing someone a glass of water is blasphemous in Indian context.
  • Another caveat is that Aeroflot’s flights are always delayed. After studying Aeroflot’s schedule for a month or so on the Toronto-Moscow-Mumbai routes, I couldn’t agree more. My flight was delayed by 5 hours twice, and what’s worse, the online system kept showing ‘on time’ until departure.
  • Aeroflot’s flight safety record has significantly improved, but is still worse than many international airlines. Some friends teased me, ‘I hope the pilot finds the runway!’
  • Other factors such as crappy airline food, unhelpful service desk, etc. are not unique to Aeroflot.

What pissed me off

Beef served in a Hindu Meal

You might know that I am pretty new to meat eating. The last thing I wanted was to have meat in the flight food. Aerofloat not only dishonored my preference for a ‘Hindu Vegetarian Meal’ but made it worse by adding beef to it.

Serving Beef to Hindus would be as ‘unholy’ as serving pork to Muslims or Jews. I innocently ate some of it and immediately felt a sharp taste that I had never tasted before (until then I had tried only Chicken, Pork, Alpaca and Llama).

Me: Извините, вы знаете, что это? (Excuse me, do you know what this is?)
Stewardess: Да, Это говядина. (Yes, its beef.)
Me: Но я хотел Hindu meal. (But I wanted Hindu Meal.) You serve beef in a Hindu meal?
Stewardess: [shrugging] не знаете. (I don’t know.) [and she left]

The matter ended there. I sent an email and a postal letter to Aeroflot’s office in Moscow. I haven’t heard from them except an email auto reply.

Survival tips

Problems exist everywhere but perhaps the following tips might help you survive Aeroflot.

  • Aeroflot is one of the oldest airlines in the world and among the largest today. Thousands of people fly everyday. Keeping the bigger picture in mind will reduce your hesitation.
  • Russians are NOT Americans. They are neither Western Europeans, nor Indians, nor Chinese,… etc. It’s a different culture, and it comes with different cultural norms. Embrace this experience as a new discovery, and if you’d rather not have it, simply choose an airline that you are comfortable with.
  • Russians don’t speak English (generally) and even if they do, they’ll be shy using it. This is fairly common in most non-English speaking countries. Having a dictionary or a list of, say, 50 frequent airline words, will be useful.
  • Russians, for a long time, have lived under imposed Soviet values where individualism, rights, customer service, etc. are alien and unheard. While this is rapidly changing, a little awareness of the history of the people will help.
  • Plan in advance for delays and lack of information so that it doesn’t frustrate you when you actually face it.

Would I fly Aeroflot again?

Yes!

  • I can practise my Russian further.
  • The prices are cheap. At this point, that’s the most important thing for me!
  • Their online-booking system is cool. Only a few airlines will allow you to book a multiple-stop flight (without going to a travel agent).
  • They are as bad or as good as any other comparable airline.
  • Having traveled once, the element of ‘surprise’ is lower.

Coffee, bread and a sugar stick

Finally, if you are wondering about the significance of the picture above, lemme tell you that it’s simply to highlight one of the many words that are common in Russian and Marathi. Word of the day is сахар-साखर (sugar). 🙂

This post is part of my Russia travel series: Travel stories | Photo gallery