Cruising over the vast Russian landscape, reclining in my huge business class seat with a glass of Champagne in hand, I ask myself, ‘Can I really be flying Aeroflot?’
After all, historically, this Russian airline has a terrible safety record and hasn’t exactly been a byword for mile-high luxury.
But its reputation was forged during the Soviet era. Times have changed – and so has Aeroflot.
The business class seats on Aeroflot’s Airbus A330, upholstered in the airline’s rusty orange and navy blue colour scheme
Although Jennifer doesn’t find it an issue, in terms of privacy, some might be disappointed that the only thing that separates passengers from their neighbour is a short divider in the armrest, left. Pictured right is Jennifer stretching her legs wearing the slippers that were handed out to business class passengers . The size of the TV screen is 15.4 inches
The seats in Aeroflot’s A330 business class cabin recline into fully flat 6ft 3in beds at the touch of a button
Jennifer opts for a pre-take-off sparkling wine, served in a glass tumbler
It now appears to be a much slicker operation with a modern fleet mainly made up of state-of-the-art Boeing and Airbus aircraft and it’s even the official airline sponsor of Manchester United.
So can high-flyers now take the Russian airline more seriously? This is what I set out to discover after an invite to try its top-tier cabin.
My Aeroflot experience begins at Heathrow’s Terminal Four, where I’m booked to take the airline’s 13.25 flight to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport.
After a brief pit stop in the SkyTeam Lounge, I’m one of the first to board the Airbus A330-200-operated service.
At the door of the aircraft, I am met by a smiley flight attendant decked out in the carrier’s vibrant orange uniform, which includes elegant white gloves. All very HM Queen Elizabeth II.
She greets me in Russian and can obviously tell from the blank look on my face I’m not a native speaker so tries English instead, while checking my boarding pass.
After ushering me to my seat where a pillow and blanket are waiting, I stow my bags and another flight attendant approaches – yet again speaking Russian.
Seeing my confusion, she too quickly switches to English offering me a pre-take-off drink of juice or sparkling wine.
Naturally, I opt for the sparkling wine, which bizarrely comes in a glass tumbler rather than a flute. Maybe it’s a safety thing, but who doesn’t prefer fizz in a flute?
As I check out my surroundings, the same flight attendant is back, asking how I would like to be addressed, which I find very polite if a little odd.
She also hands over an amenity kit (non-branded), a pair of slippers and headphones for the in-flight entertainment.
The small kit comes in a cheap-looking bright blue bag – which almost looks like a gym bag – decorated with a picture of an Aeroflot flight attendant on the front.
It has everything you would expect inside – a pen, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a comb, a shoehorn and an eye mask.
Two surprises in the bag include a lip balm and hand cream made by high-end French beauty company L’Occitane en Provence – very swanky.
The slippers too are a surprise as I’ve never been offered these before on a flight.
The small, cheap-looking, bright blue business class amenity kit contains a pen, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a comb, a shoehorn and an eye mask. Two surprises in the bag are lip balm and hand cream by high-end French beauty company L’Occitane en Provence
The seat buttons in business class (left). Jennifer says that the sturdy Aeroflot-branded headphones are definitely the best she’s ever experienced on a commercial flight, with an almost pin-sharp sound (right)
Jennifer relaxing in her Aeroflot business class seat
But I thoroughly approve as it means I can pop off my shoes and start to really get comfortable in my seat – without worrying about what I’m stepping in or getting my socks dirty.
The seat itself is huge in comparison to a standard economy seat – with Aeroflot opting for a brave rusty orange and blue-trim colour scheme.
I consider donning my sunglasses to take the edge off the brightness, but after the initial shock, I don’t think about the hues again.
The seat reclines into a fully flat 6ft 3in bed at the touch of a button and even though I don’t sleep on the three-hour, 20-minute flight – it has plenty of comfy shut-eye potential.
Although I don’t exactly find it an issue, in terms of privacy, some might be disappointed that the only thing that separates you from your neighbour is a short divider in the armrest.
We also have to share a middle armrest that acts as a small table when the main tray table is stowed and I can see everything my seatmate is watching on his in-flight entertainment screen (and vice versa).
The screen itself measures an okayish-for-business-class 15.4 inches and luckily shows in-flight entertainment in English, as well as Russian and Mandarin.
The sturdy, Aeroflot-branded headphones are definitely the best I’ve ever experienced on a commercial flight, with an almost pin-sharp sound.
But forget the in-flight movies. One of the best things I watch on my screen is the pilot’s-eye-view of both the take-off at Heathrow and landing at Sheremetyevo, which comes on automatically.
This goes some way to compensate for not being able to look out of the window, an activity I’d especially been hoping would be an option, as it’s my first trip to Russia.
As Jennifer flew from London to Moscow on an afternoon flight, menus were handed out for lunch (left). While perusing the menu, she was given a glass of Bollinger champagne along with a tray of nuts
The cold starter Jennifer opts for – scallops with cucumber and greens served with a ‘Japanese sauce’. She describes it as extremely tasty
The main course Jennifer goes for is described on the menu as chicken with eggplants and broccoli in chicken sauce – or as Brits would call it, gravy
On flights that last longer than six hours, Aeroflot offers cocktails (list pictured)
Aeroflot serves classy Bollinger Champagne in business class (left). Pictured right is the white wine list
The red wine list: Aeroflot serves two reds, one from France and one from Spain
Dessert is lemon cake with a dash of custard and a berry topping. All of the food is served on Aeroflot-branded crockery that comes with slim metal cutlery
INSIDE AEROFLOT’S LOUNGES IN LONDON AND MOSCOW
On my journey to Moscow, my business class ticket grants me entry into the SkyTeam Lounge at Heathrow’s Terminal 4.
Aeroflot doesn’t have its own lounge in the London hub so instead it shares a vast space with its partner airlines, which include KLM, Air France, Alitalia and Korean Air.
As I’m heading to Russia on an afternoon departure, the lounge is extremely quiet.
Inside the SkyTeam Lounge at Heathrow’s Terminal 4. Aeroflot doesn’t have its own lounge in the London hub so instead it shares a vast space with its partner airlines, which include KLM, Air France, Alitalia and Korean Air
Jennifer says she can’t fault the food in the SkyTeam Heathrow lounge, which includes chicken curry, rice and green beans
In fact, if the TVs weren’t switched on, it would be deathly quiet – but maybe that’s the perfect way to relax before a flight?
The SkyTeam Lounge is set over two floors with a cold buffet of light snacks and drinks on the ground floor while upstairs, there is a hot buffet and a full help-yourself bar.
I can’t fault the food – I go for chicken curry, rice and green beans, which is excellent, followed by tasty lemon drizzle cake. A friendly member of staff even offers me and everybody else eating a small pot of ice-cream, which frustratingly I have to decline as I am just too full.
After finishing my lunch, I decide to check out the bathroom, which is extremely spacious with plenty of space for reapplying make-up or a general freshen-up.
As I wash my hands, another helpful member of staff starts chatting to me as she tidies the areas around the sinks, asking where I’m travelling to, insisting I take some of the complimentary magazines to keep myself occupied on the flight.
But if the SkyTeam Lounge is an oasis of calm, on my return journey, the Aeroflot lounge in Sheremetyevo’s Terminal D is the complete opposite.
A mid-morning flight back to London means it is heaving when I visit and I just about manage to squeeze into one of the few small tables that are free.
As I sit and enjoy a coffee and some breakfast pastries, more and more passengers flood in and I share my table with a Russian family, who are also heading to London.
But despite the busyness, the food is extremely good – the breakfast buffet is fairly vast and the coffee is smooth yet punchy.
I try to log into the WiFi but I have to give up – for me, the process takes too long, maybe due to the sheer amount of people packed into the terminal, who are all desperate to use it.
As I leave the lounge to head to the gate, the queue of passengers to get into the lounge is even longer than before – I just hope there are enough seats for them all.
Shortly after take-off, menus for lunch are handed out and having never tasted airline food that I would consider even remotely tasty, I am apprehensive.
Luckily, there are three options for a starter and a main course – already an improvement on the usual offering in economy.
After taking my order, the flight attendant decks my tray table in a white cloth and then brings me a glass of Bollinger Champagne – in a proper flute this time – as well as a little tray of warm almond and cashew nuts. So far, so good.
The cold starter I opt for is scallops with cucumber and greens served with a ‘Japanese sauce’, which I work out is soy sauce.
The scallops are extremely tasty and the vegetables are crunchy and fresh.
The main course I go for is described on the menu as chicken with eggplants and broccoli in chicken sauce – or as Brits would call it, gravy.
The chicken, still on the bone, is juicy but for me, the broccoli lacks the same freshness as the vegetables from the previous course.
After my tray is cleared, it is time for dessert – lemon cake with a dash of custard and a berry topping.
All of the food is served on Aeroflot-branded crockery that comes with slim metal cutlery.
On the early morning flight from Moscow to London, breakfast is served. Jennifer goes for the corn porridge, which is served on a tray alongside a huge croissant with butter and jam and a pot of yoghurt
Jennifer struggles to choose between frittata with vegetables, pancakes with turkey in a cheese sauce or corn porridge with pear for breakfast
I stick to Bollinger throughout my meal – mainly because my glass is topped up before I even finish – but I do have a good look at the wine list too.
The two whites on offer are Casa Albali Verdejo Sauvignon Blanc (on average £5.23 per bottle) and Serristori Vernaccia di San Gimignano (£13.92 per bottle), while the two reds are Mythique Languedoc (£9.86 per bottle) and Fortius Crianza Tempranillo (£28 per bottle).
The drinks list also includes Graham’s 10 Year Old Tawny port, Chivas Regal whisky and Frapin VIP cognac.
When it comes to the toilets on board Aeroflot’s business class, there are no surprises – they are just like any other airliner bathroom.
Near the end of the service, the flight attendants offer everybody in business class a small box of loose leaf green tea before settling in for landing.
After touch down, I can see the passengers in economy being held back to allow business class passengers to disembark first – straight on to a mini-bus that takes us to the terminal building celeb-style.
My business class Aeroflot experience doesn’t end there though – several days later I am back at Sheremetyevo Airport for my flight back to London.
The airport is massive and has to be one of the more chaotic I’ve been to.
They obviously take security very seriously, and I go through three security checks and two passport checks before getting airside.
Unfortunately, the chock-a-block waiting area around the gate means I am not one of the first passengers on the flight this time – but does it matter? Everybody leaves at the same time I suppose but is it not a perk of business class being first on the aircraft?
This time the plane is an A330-300 with an ever-so-slightly different set-up but more or less the same as the plane I fly out on.
However, the experience isn’t quite the same as at no point on the flight am I offered an amenity kit or slippers.
It isn’t a big deal, I still have my kit from the previous flight and maybe it is a genuine oversight by the cabin crew. But still, not the best start to the journey.
However, I must say the flight attendants are on the whole very friendly and their service is very professional.
AN EXPERT’S VIEW ON THE AEROFLOT WINE
I show the Aeroflot business class wine list to London-based wine consultant Emily Harman. And she loves the Champagne choice…
I have always had a bit of a soft spot for Bollinger. The house style is slightly richer style compared to most of the non-vintage grandes marques due to the wine being fremented in oak barrels and the extended lees ageing, which makes it a great option for a business class list. Most people will recognise it and hold it in esteem and it will also taste great at altitude due to being a bit richer.
It seems to be standard practice to offer a sauvignon, and the Verdejo keeps the price cheap and cheerful. It would be great to see a higher quality sauvignon in business class. The Vernaccia has likely been selected as a more interesting option to Pinot Grigio – it’s nice to see something from a lesser known grape and place.
Both options offer quite a bit of concentration, with the Tempranillo being the oakier option. The Tempranillo is from Navarra, which can offer good value for the Rioja drinker depending where in the region it is coming from. It would be nice to see a more premium option available for the red wines.
Jennifer says that Aeroflot has everything you would expect in a business class cabin – fancy Champagne, a handy amenity kit (well, on one leg of the journey) and lie-flat seats
The toilets on board Aeroflot’s business class are just like any other airliner bathroom
Jennifer was a guest of Aeroflot Russian Airlines. Aeroflot flies from London Heathrow to Moscow Sheremetyevo up to six times per day.
Return business class tickets are around £1,825. To book visit www.aeroflot.ru.
Rating key: one star – poor; two stars – ok; three stars – good; four stars – very good; five stars – exceptional.
As it is a morning flight, breakfast is being served, and the menu throws up some bizarre choices.
I struggle to choose between frittata with vegetables, pancakes with turkey in a cheese sauce or corn porridge with pear – but maybe this is just standard Russian breakfast fare?
After much deliberation, I go for the corn porridge, which is served on a tray alongside a huge croissant with butter and jam and a pot of yoghurt.
It is certainly an interesting choice, with a totally different texture and taste to the porridge I’m used to but it is pleasant enough – as is the croissant and yoghurt.
The flight seems to pass quicker en-route back to London and once again I am given a small gift of green tea.
And although there is no minibus waiting for me on the tarmac at Heathrow, again I am first off the aircraft and even given a card that entitles me to breeze through the speedy passport control line.
Overall both of my flights with Aeroflot are among the most relaxing I have ever been on.
And everything you would expect in a business class cabin is provided – fancy Champagne, a handy amenity kit (well, on one leg of the journey) and lie-flat seats.
Does it compare with the likes of Qatar Airways and Emirates who win awards for their business class cabins? Maybe not.
But can you be assured of a modern cabin with comfortable seats, attentive staff offering a professional service as well as premium food and drinks? Absolutely.
FROM THE RED SQUARE TO THE BOLSHOI THEATRE: MOSCOW’S HIGHLIGHTS
Red Square – Located in the heart of Moscow, the cobblestoned Red Square is surrounded by some of Russia’s most famous buildings from the Kremlin to St Basil’s Cathedral.
Also in the vicinity is the State Historical Museum and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where you can see a changing of the guard ceremony at the top of each hour.
The Kremlin – To the west of Red Square is the Kremlin, a huge fortress with a massive wall surrounding it.
One of the highlights of visiting Moscow is wandering around Red Square. To the west of the Square is the Kremlin, the official residence of the Russian president, and on the south side of the square is the instantly recognisable St Basil’s Cathedral
Inside the walls are museums, cathedrals and the official residence of the Russian president.
St Basil’s Cathedral – Best known for its colourful, onion-shaped domes, St Basil’s Cathedral stands on the south side of Red Square.
It is probably the most instantly recognisable Russian building and is actually made up of nine churches.
Bolshoi Theatre – The historic Bolshoi Theatre opened in 1865 just a stone’s throw from Red Square and is the oldest theatre in Moscow.
The historic Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. It is best known for its ballet and opera performances and its beautiful, grand interior
It is best known for its ballet and opera performances and its beautiful, grand interior.
Moscow Metro – One of the biggest transport systems in the world, the Moscow Metro is also one of the most stunning as many of the stations are almost like art galleries.
They are decorated with breath-taking frescoes, marble columns and ornate chandeliers.
Sparrow Hills – Sparrow Hills is one of the highest points in Moscow and offers breathtaking views across the Russian capital.
The observation platform is located just above the famous Luzhniki Stadium.
The observation platform at Sparrow Hills is one of Moscow’s highest points. It offers views across Luzhniki Stadium to the city beyond