Flight Review: Rossiya Airlines Economy Class (A319)
Although I am a frequent flyer on Aeroflot, my opportunities to fly the Russian flag carrier's St.Petersburg-based subsidiary, Rossiya Airlines, are a lot more sparse.
This time the opportunity presented itself when I had to book a weekend flight at the very last moment between Moscow and Barcelona and I realized that the only option not to pay an exorbitant fare and still fly at a convenient time was to make use of my Flying Blue miles.
As you know, last minute economy class availability on flights booked through frequent flyer programmes can not be taken for granted. In this case the most viable option for me was to take the suggested Moscow Vnukovo-St.Petersburg Pulkovo-Barcelona itinerary fully operated by Rossiya. Less convenient than a direct flight, but compensated by the chance to experience first hand Rossiya's product and Pulkovo airport brand new terminal (that we already commented about when it was inaugurated!)
The following Rossiya Airlines flight report is a mix of not one, but actually two consecutive flights, but both on the same class service and same aircraft type, Airbus A319, that I hope it gives an overall impression of the experience.
Flight #: SU6701
From: Saint Petersburg Pulkovo (LED)
To: Barcelona (BCN)
Flight time: 4h 15min
Aircraft: Airbus A319
Flight #: SU6012
From: Moscow Vnukovo (VKO)
To: Saint Petersburg Pulkovo (LED)
Flight time: 1h 30min
Aircraft: Airbus A319
A few words about Rossiya Airlines
Although it operates under its own brand, Rossiya Airlines is a fully-owned subsidiary of Aeroflot, that is also responsible for most (if not all) its marketing and operational management.
As per Aeroflot's strategic plan, Rossiya is supposed to cover a sort of middle ground between Aeroflot's more "premium" positioning and the ULCC model practiced by its other fully-owned subsidiary Pobeda.
Rossiya was traditionally been based in Saint Petersburg, Russia's second largest city, and it also plays a role of "home" carrier there, offering flights to Russia's major cities and a handful of European destinations.
After the bankruptcy of Transaero, until 2014 Russia's second largest airline, Aeroflot took over and subsequently assigned to Rossiya, some of the bankrupted airline aircraft, namely its long haul Boeing 747 and Boeing 777s. This enabled Rossiya to develop a long haul operation of its own, mostly flying to Russia's Far East and South East Asia leisure destinations.
In Moscow Rossiya operates primarily out of Vnukovo Airport.
Although Vnukovo is overshadowed by its largest peers, Sheremetyevo (Aeroflot's main base) and Domodedovo (where most non-SkyTeam airlines fly to), I would say VKO is perhaps my favourite of the three.
Vnukovo is an underrated airport in many ways.
Its brand new terminal is shiny, clean, efficient and much less crowded than the other Moscow airports. It is also not further from the city center than the other two airports (although Aeroexpress trains run less frequently, hourly instead of every 30min).
I flew on two different A319s.
Both had a small (4 seat) business class section at the front with "proper" armchair-like business class seats (see the previous pic for reference).
When it comes to economy class, both had the same number of seats but of a rather different sort. You can see them in the following two pictures. The flight from VKO to LED sported this more old-style, but quite comfy and cushioned, blue seats in (faux) leather.
The flight from LED to BCN, instead, had these more modern, thin seats.
Although at first glance they look a bit more spartan than the older, more cushioned ones, these provided quite a good level of comfort too. I found the recline particularly generous (particularly when comparing with other airlines featuring new generation slim seats that in some cases do not even recline)
Seat pitch was another positive surprise.
I flew on the emergency door row on the flight from VKO to LED, so I would not count this one as representative, but on the longer LED to BCN leg I was on a regular economy class row and you can see in the picture below how there was ample space.
Pulkovo airport in Saint Petersburg, that acts as Rossiya's main base.
Similarly to VKO, Pulkovo airport has seen its main terminal thoroughly renovated. You can find a more in depth review of its architectural aspects here.
Overall it gives the impression of a rather neat and efficient airport with plenty of shops and cafés to keep passengers entertained. In fact it seems to be still far from its full capacity potential.
The transfer experience was very straightforward when it comes to the distance I had to walk between gates.
The only if is the way the international transfer desk is organized, as passengers that already have a boarding pass for their final destination mix with those passengers that are checking in for the second leg of their trip, the result is a queue.
As no other information is provided than "Transfer Desk" this results in some confusion among those waiting in the line, as no one seemed to be sure whether they were queueing in the right place. Thankfully a member of stuff went alongside the queue speeding up the passage of those passengers that were already checked in.
Granted, Pulkovo is not a major transfer hub and the whole thing just added some 10-15 minutes to the transfer, but still, having some better signaling or prioritization would help.
The Inflight Experience
But let's get back to the air.
Besides the rather positive seat-pitch and comfort, a few more aspects to comment about Rossiya's inflight experience.
No IFE. The inflight magazine was quite good, though.
Food and drinks are served on board.
My first flight was a very early (6.30am) and short one (1.5h), so we were served a light breakfast (or rather a "snack"): a couple of cream-filled cookies, a drink, coffee or tea.
Quite light, but the cookies were super tasty.
On the second flight, Saint PEtersburg to Barcelona, we had a hot meal plus a round of drink and the usual tea/coffee.
As it seems to become increasingly the norm, the meal is served in two containers, one for the "sides" and cutlery and a separate one with the hot main dish (a choice of chicken and fish in this case).
The chicken was not exactly of my taste in this case (but, again, I can be picky!). The contents of the other box, instead, where quite good.
No wine or other alcohol is served though, drinks are limited to water (still and sparkling) Coke, Sprite and orange juice.
Bread was better than the one usually served at Aeroflot (bread is always a bit of a weak point of Aeroflot's meals, though!) and I would to highlight the pastry in the middle of the picture, that was really tasty and of a very generous size. This alone can fill you up!
Children enjoyed an extra treat: ice-cream! Adults had to content themselves with the usual choice tea or coffee.
Last but not least, Rossiya Airlines went recently through a rebranding that saw it introduce new stylish uniforms for its crew.
I did not have a chance to take a picture, but those interested in the more sartorial aspects of aviation can find some good pictures here.
Our Take: much better than I expected
As Aeroflot's second brand I was expecting a more "low-costish" experience and, to be honest, it was rather the opposite.
Other than a slightly simpler inflight meal and more limited drink service, the other aspects of the experience, namely seat pitch and cabin comfort, were on a par with Aeroflot's main brand.
And the experience at both Vnukovo and Pulkovo airports also counts a plus, in my opinion.