As I stood right before the jetway, I started sweating. So far, I'd found the customer service fiasco stories of budget airlines to be largely myths. That, or I'd just gotten lucky on the few short-hops I'd made.
This would be different, as 14 hours isn't a small hop. And the issue wasn't just bad customer service. I heard some absolute horror stories about Aeroflot, Russia's "official" airline, so I felt my sweats were justified.
Gulp. I'm not afraid of flying, but I do have a healthy fear of plummeting to the earth from 33,000 feet. Was I really about to travel halfway around the world on a Cold War relic held together with rope and twist-ties?
No, I wasn't. Not at all, in fact.
The planes used by Aeroflot -- at least the two I flew on -- are immaculate. The Airbus 330 that took us from Moscow to Bangkok still had that New Plane smell. And I had more legroom on the A320 during the Milan to Moscow leg than I've had in first class sections of other airlines. On both, even back in the cheap seats, we were treated to outstanding -- and free -- entertainment options and meals from a professional, friendly crew of flight attendants clearly descendants of Kreskin, as the telepathically knew -- and were completely fluent in -- every language of ever person on the plan.
(Yeah, I know Kreskin was born in New Jersey. But his name sounds Russian. Roll with it.)
So what gives with the shitty reputation that's clearly undeserved? It goes back to the breakup of the Soviet Union, as it turns out. Here's how Patrick Smith from AskThePilot.com characterizes Aeroflot's tarnished reputation:
"Once upon a time, measured in raw crash totals, Aeroflot had a comparatively poor record. On the face of it, anyway. Several asterisks were required, not the least of which was Aeroflot, in its heydays, was a gigantic entity roughly the size of all U.S. airlines put together, and it engaged in all manner of far-flung operations to outposts as remote as Antarctica. During the 1990s, Aeroflot was splintered into dozens of independent carriers, one of which—still the largest, but nowhere near the heft of the original—inherited the Aeroflot name and identity. Based in Moscow, the Aeroflot that exists today operates about 120 aircraft and transports 14 million passengers annually. Since 1994, it has had only two serious accidents, one of them at the hands of a subsidiary."
Other than caviar and vodka (and maybe fur coats and some spiffy hats), Russia simply isn't known for quality products. (Thanks, Stalin!) But if Aeroflot is any indication, we may want to re-evaluate our assumptions and ditch the historical baggage of other Russian brands. (Not that I'm ready to take a trans-Siberian flight on a Ekranoplan just yet, but I don't think Aeroflot has any of those in the skies.)
So how do you get over your fear of flying Aeroflot? Just get on the godsdammed plane already!