I’ve spent the past 2 weeks having this conversation:
Someone: You’re flying Aeroflot? Are they safe? Aren’t they the worst airline in history? Don’t they fly old, rickety Russian airplanes?
Me: No. They’re pretty much the same as any mid-level airline anywhere. They’re pretty much what you’d get if you flew a US airline to Europe. I promise.
It was with that in mind that I arrived at my gate in advance of my first journey on Aeroflot – a Premium Economy ride on a new 777-300 from JFK to Moscow. I had stuck up repeatedly for this airline I had never flown, and I now I had an odd air of pride as I strode down the restaurant-free halls of JFK’s Terminal 1 toward my gate.
When I checked in, I was told our 7:10pm flight might depart a bit late, so I showed up at the gate area just before 6:30pm – the time my boarding pass said the flight would be boarding. Apparently the other 300 folks preparing to board the plane saw the same thing because, nearly in unison, at exactly 6:30pm, nearly all of them lined up at the gate.
And there they stood.
No grumbles, no complaints, no whining. They stood.
And at 7:30pm, a full hour after 300 people had been standing in line in front of the gate agents, who neither changed the boarding screens to reflect the now-obvious delay, nor made an announcement to tell the fine passengers of Aeroflot 103 that they need not stand up for 1 hour in advance of boarding, one of the gate agents began speaking to the line – not over the intercom, mind you, but rather directly at the line – in Russian, which caused about 125 of those people to scurry roach-like to an area on the other side of the gate. And there they stood.
I was perplexed at this point, as I speak no Russian, and the gate agent made no announcement in English. The security staff standing around spoke, from what I could tell, neither Russian nor any English. A young American woman approached one of the People Who Spoke No Language, asking, in a far more polite manner than I am saying right now, “What in God’s name is going on?” to which the Person Who Spoke No Langugage replied, “11to34.”
After some discussion among the handful of Americans I was standing near, it was determined that they had gone and divided the scrum of 300 into 3 groups: a group with young children, a group in rows 11 to 34, and the remaining people (I’m not certain the aircraft has more rows than 34, so I’m not sure exactly who comprised the remaining group.
A few minutes later, the giant mass of Russians, who had stood for more than an hour with unbelievable patience (due, I would assume, to the fact that they, themselves, or their parents had stood in lines for hours solely for a loaf of Russian bread, so how bad is it really to wait an hour and fifteen minutes to board a plane?), were told “CHILDREN!” by the gate agent, which I assume meant that families with children could now board. And so they did.
While at the same time, one of the People Who Spoke No Language starting allowing the not-11-to-34 group to board, forcing a confluence of families, babies, strollers and now-hurrying Russians to enter the aircraft, all while leaving those of us in 11-to-34 wondering what was happening, as we are now halfway through the boarding process, on a flight that is clearly going to be an hour late departing, and the sum total of the announcements we have heard in English is “CHILDREN!”
Following CHILDREN! and not-11-to-34 we uneventfully make it on to the plane. The Premium Economy section, which features 2-4-2 seating (rather than the 3-4-3 found in the back), ample legroom (maybe 38” pitch?). reclining shell seats, and a footrest, holds 48 passengers, but only 8 of us have shown up for this flight. (The business class seats are angled lie-flat, in case you were wondering). All cabins offer a really great IFE, with a TON of movies to choose from. Your fears about an Aeroflot flight’s comfort (at least in Premium Economy) were unfounded – the IFE is as good as I’ve seen on any US airline.
I sat down in my seat and started to get settled, and I found it strange that no announcements at all had been made in English (and now that I think about it, I’m not sure any were made in Russian either). I was getting settled, putting my stuff away, and suddenly we begin to pull back from the gate and head out to the taxiway. Passengers are walking around the cabin, storing their crap, while others, I later see, are still in the bathroom as we’re heading down the taxiway. Staff and passengers are completely unphased, so I decided I’ll just go with the flow and talk on the phone until we’re up in the air.
I did want to note one quirk about flying Premium Economy: Aeroflot is a SkyTeam airline, so I had originally given them my Delta Skymiles number to earn credit. But then I started thinking that it might be prudent to see how many miles Skymiles will credit me for my A-class Premium Economy ticket. The answer, as you probably have guessed by now, is Zero. Zero miles. It earns fewer miles than an economy ticket. Why? Because, that’s why. Air France/KLM Flying Blue allows for earning on a Premium Economy ticket, and I called Aeroflot to change my number so I could earn on this flight. I bring that up as a word of caution in case you’re ever flying Premium Economy – make sure you actually earn miles for the class of service.
Also, while that Premium Economy seat would be quite comfortable for the return trip where I’m just sitting and reading, it was quite awful for sleeping. You can’t lift up the armrests, so you can’t stretch out. You can’t lean your head on the side of the seat next to you because it’s a shell seat. I was up about 137 times during the night, and only partially because they kept the lights on for 3 hours, then woke us up with 2 hours left in the flight to serve some sort of snack. Like I said – in the beginning when I was reading and watching a movie, it was great. Sleeping? Not so much.