in praise of Aeroflot

January 29, 2013 · 6 comments

in impractical advice, Kyrgyzstan

There are few options for flying into Bishkek from the US compared to many other destinations. For cities, your choices are essentially Moscow, Istanbul, or Dubai (you could fly to Almaty/Astana, Urumqi, or a few other cities, and then continue to Bishkek, but to me that seems more trouble than it’s worth).

Istanbul and Dubai have a few different airlines that fly to Bishkek, like Turkish Airlines and Fly Dubai. Dubai doesn’t have daily flights, in fact, most airlines that go to Bishkek only fly once or twice a week, making it (mildly) more difficult to plan a trip. Istanbul has daily flights, but (and maybe this is just me) I’m just not a fan of the city and I’m pretty close to despising Ataturk Airport and Turkish Airlines. The employees I’ve experienced have generally ranged from unpleasant to incredibly rude, and it seems like a proven fact that Turkish Airlines will lose your luggage.

(Hey, Kirstin, I flew Turkish Airlines and they didn’t lose my luggage.) Congrats to you! You are the 1%.

On top of all that, Turkish Airlines seems to have the most expensive ticket prices to get to Bishkek. All in all, I pass on flying through Istanbul.

So that leaves Moscow, serviced by Aeroflot. The thing with Aeroflot is that it’s a Russian airline, which seems to automatically give it a bad reputation. Images of outdated planes held together with duct tape, surly flight attendants, drunk pilots, a terrible airport where employees steal as much as they can from your luggage, etc.

The thing is, readers, Aeroflot does not suck as bad as you think it does. Maybe they used to, but they must have made a real effort to improve, because I don’t think I’ve had a particularly bad flying experience with them. Sheremetyevo Airport is recently renovated and packed full of shiny new stores and places to eat. I’ve never had anything stolen from my luggage. The flights are the cheapest for having a more direct route to Bishkek from the States (JFK-Moscow-Bishkek, though you may find a better deal if you’re willing to puddle jump across Europe/Asia), and they have twice daily flights to both places. My advice, if you’re planning to fly this route, make sure you book your flights so you have a short layover (less than two hours) in Moscow. It’s a nice airport, but no one wants to spend 10+ hours trapped in one terminal. Plus, if your flight coming into Moscow is delayed and you miss your connection, in my experience, Aeroflot puts you up in a hotel and upgrades you to business class to make up for the inconvenience. That is some sweet service, in my opinion.

I just arrived back in Bishkek after flying with Aeroflot again (this is probably the fourth time making the whole round trip) and I’m still a big fan. I flew with Farrell and my dad (and Win, of course), and even though we all booked our tickets separately, they made sure we were always seated together. They casually overlooked Farrell’s overweight luggage. Every single female employee cooed at Win. And, since it’s the middle of January and who in their right mind would travel to Moscow or Bishkek unless they absolutely had to, both flights were more than half empty! You can’t get that on flights to Dubai or Istanbul, cities that people actually want to travel to.

Plus, Aeroflot is an established global airline (despite it’s Russian-ness). I wouldn’t want to fly domestically in Russia on any airline (and I don’t enjoy doing it in Kyrgyzstan, either), but for international flights, especially big routes like the NY-Moscow flight, Aeroflot uses nice, new (safe) planes. And with my vast experience of flying, I can say that the entertainment options on the NY route are premium.

So if you happen to be planning your trip out to Bishkek any time soon, I highly recommend going with Aeroflot. Did I mention that my dad’s round-trip tickets were only $960? Yes, it’s because it’s the middle of a bleak Central Asian winter, but Turkish Airlines costs at least $1200 (in my experience).

All I am saying is give Aeroflot a chance.

(This post was partially inspired by flying on Aeroflot with my dad, who is currently staying with us in Bishkek for the week. Prior to making the trip, whenever we mentioned to anybody that we’d fly through Russia to get to Kyrgyzstan, there was inevitably a conversation about airplane crashes, vodka, or an article someone recently read about the most dangerous airlines in the world, giving me the impression that most people thought we’d be flying some beat-up prop plane or something. I swear, it’s not that bad! And I think I have my dad convinced of that now too.)

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