Tried & Tested

Flight review: Aeroflot B777-300ER economy class

25 Jan 2019 by Jackie Chen
Aeroflot SU212

Background

A number of airlines offer connecting flights between Moscow and Hong Kong, but Russia’s national carrier Aeroflot is the only one that operates non-stop flights between the two cities. This time, I was travelling with Aeroflot on its daily SU212 service, an overnight flight from Moscow to Hong Kong. Aeroflot’s flights between Moscow and Hong Kong operate from Sheremetyevo International Airport (SVO), one of the three major airports in Moscow.

Business Traveller previously conducted a review of the business class product and service on flight SU212 in 2017. 

Sheremetyevo Terminal F

Check-in

Flights to Hong Kong depart from Terminal F, which is quite a small terminal. Standing in the departure hall on Level 2, I soon realised that the entire terminal comprised only five or six restaurants and cafés, along with some money exchange booths and vending machines selling earphones, neck pillows and backpacks. It’s also a rather old terminal, having opened in 1980, and the interior is certainly showing its age.

Sheremetyevo bag-drop

Having checked-in online beforehand, I only needed to drop off my check-in luggage. The queue was reasonably short. About a dozen passengers were waiting in line for the three baggage drop counters, though there were a few more people in the regular check-in queue, served by four economy class check-in counters. I spent around 15 to 20 minutes waiting for my turn.

Sheremetyevo immigration

Immigration was the most time-consuming part of the pre-flight process. With only three passport control gates open for foreign travellers, I was in the queue for about 40 minutes before finally reaching the counter, and that was with only 15 or so people waiting in front of me. I was even in the queue specifically for “Passage for touristic [sic] groups from China” (I’m from mainland China), so it was surprising the queue didn’t move faster. Despite having access to this supposed priority queue, some of my travel companions who checked-in their baggage later than me and stood in a different queue actually managed to clear immigration before I did.

Fortunately, the subsequent preflight security check didn’t take nearly as long, and once I’d finished I arrived right at my boarding gate: Gate 44.

The lounge

Aeroflot has six lounges at Sheremetyevo International Airport. Two of them are in Terminal F: the Classic Lounge on Level 3 opposite Gate 42, and Zvezdny on Level 3 opposite Gate 52. If you’re travelling in economy but are an Aeroflot Bonus Gold or Platinum member – or an equivalent Skyteam Elite Plus member – you can access these lounges. Unfortunately, I didn’t have lounge access with my ticket.

Sheremetyevo boarding gate

Boarding

There are 17 boarding gates at Terminal F, mostly quite small. The whole area is filled with restaurants, duty-free stores and souvenir shops, so there are few seats available for passengers waiting to board – at least, this is the case for Gate 44, though I saw some other gates equipped with more seats.

It all felt pretty crowded with so many passengers waiting, walking around, buying things and eating – all within this small terminal. Of course, those with lounge access can go upstairs to Level 3 and escape the hustle and bustle downstairs. Time permitted, you may even walk to Terminals D and E through an interconnecting pedestrian gallery.

SU212 boarding

My flight was scheduled to depart at 1935, and boarding began at around 1855. I returned back to the gate early and was among the first batch of economy class passengers to board the plane. As mentioned previously, the gates are quite small and the adjacent Gate 45 was also used for boarding.

B777-300ER economy seat

The seat

The flight was operated by a three-class Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, which has 324 standard economy seats split across three cabins in a 3-4-3 configuration – the dreaded 10-across. Seats are equipped with 8.9 inch seatback video screens and a USB port. Passengers are provided with a blue blanket along with a small pillow at the start of the flight. I was sitting in seat 21E, a middle seat on the fifth row in the first economy class cabin.

Which seat to choose?

The best economy class seats on this flight are the four middle seats on the first row in the first economy class cabin, namely 17D-G. These are bulkhead seats with extra legroom and space. In addition, aisle seats 18C and 18H in the second row are also among the best choices, as there are no seats in front of them, granting additional legroom as well.

The flight

We waited at our seats until the scheduled 1935 departure time, but that came and went and the plane still hadn’t pushed back from the gate. An announcement soon came on saying that the plane was being de-iced and still needed some time before it was ready to take off. The announcement was broadcast in Russian, English and Mandarin, though not Cantonese – surprising on a flight to Hong Kong. The plane remained at the gate for some time and finally pushed back after 2000. We took off at around 2009, half an hour later than scheduled.

SU212 economy dinner

Slippers and earphones were distributed not long after the takeoff, followed by the dinner meal service at around 2100. There were two choices: chicken or fish. Discouraged by the overcooked, tough-tasting fish I had on my previous flight with Aeroflot to Moscow, I chose the chicken this time. Besides the main course, the meal consisted of a cold starter of salad greens, tuna, celery, lemon and black olives; a honey cake; and a roll and a rye bread with butter, cheese spread and olive oil. Tea or coffee was served, along with water.

Compared to my last flight, the meal wasn’t bad. I was a bit surprised to see it featured fried rice instead of the ordinary steamed rice in the main course. What’s more, the honey cake looked incredibly appetising, and though some might find it too sweet, it was my favourite part of the meal.

After dinner, I planned to take a nap. The local time in Hong Kong by this point was around 0300, and this having been a short trip I hadn’t managed to fully adjust to the Moscow time zone by that point. Frustratingly, the aircraft was a little hot and dry, which made sleeping difficult. Trying to get more comfortable, I took off my boots and put on the slippers during the flight; however, my boots ended up occupying much of the already limited legroom, restricting my ability to comfortably stretch my legs. In the end, I wasn’t able to get a whole lot of sleep and so resorted to taking a look through the in-flight entertainment system. There were a variety of movies, TV series and other programmes. I watched Bad Times at the El Royale and a bit of Ocean’s 8. However, the sound quality of the earphones was so poor that sometimes I could barely hear what was being said in the movies. The touch screen was also temperamental, so I ended up using the separate control panel instead.

SU212 economy breakfast

Breakfast was served about two hours before arrival. There were also two choices, oatmeal or pancakes. I chose the oatmeal, which was served with apple jam and cinnamon. Without the jam, I found the oatmeal tasteless and unappetising. We were also served a small plate of salad, a packet of cookies, a fruit and berry bar, and a roll and rye bread with butter. After my first bite of one of the cookies, I found a small piece of paper hidden inside with the words “you will enjoy good health” written on it – a fortune of questionable veracity as I felt pretty groggy and lethargic from my inability to catch some shuteye.

The flight finally landed the next day at Hong Kong International Airport at 1017, a minor delay of 12 minutes.

Verdict

Comfort is the first priority for most passengers travelling on a long-haul flight and the overall experience Aeroflot offers in its economy class was mediocre. Basic amenities were provided on the flight, but the quality of in-flight equipment and meals could definitely be improved. What’s more, some of my other travel companions noted that the cabin crew rarely smiled when they asked them for assistance, which made them feel unwelcome. While this doesn’t mean cabin crew aren’t helpful, a smile goes a long way to presenting a positive image and providing a good passenger experience.

Doubtless, had I been in business class, I would have been a lot more comfortable. When Business Traveller editorial director Tom Otley reviewed this same flight in business class in 2017, he described it as “excellent”. Many airlines these days say they strive to provide a comfortable experience for passengers across all classes, so I think Aeroflot could do a bit more for those stuck in the rear of the cabin – service with a smile doesn’t cost anything.

Fact file

  • Price A return economy class fare in late February starts at HK$3,364 (US$429), including tax and surcharges
  • Configuration 3-4-3
  • Seat width 18 inches
  • Seat pitch 30-32 inches
  • Departure 1935
  • Flight duration 9 hours 30 minutes
  • Contact aeroflot.ru/xx-en
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