The Good Old Days of Flying in Soviet Russia on Aeroflot

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    Jul 13, 2011 10:52 PM GMT
    I came across this amusing and very interesting thread on Aeroflot-Russian Airlines in the good 'ol days of the USSR.

    If any of our more 'seasoned' members have any interesting stories of how air travel used to be, i.e. being able to smoke on board and other such now unheard of things, please share.

    An interesting excerpt:

    I was a foreign correspondent in those days and my first Aeroflot flight was in 1971 from Montreal to Moscow on an Il-62. Talk about dark wood paneling, it was there in business, or first class -- can't remember which. Anyway, it was a wonderful way to fly because the wife of the AC station manager in Moscow were the only two people in it. The food was terrific and the drinks were unlimited. The so-called "stewardesses" were young and very pretty and were willing to attend to all your needs.

    I was actually going to Riga, Latvia, but had to stop over in Moscow. Once the Riga flight was ready, an Intourist car picked me up from my Intourist hotel downtown and drove me to Vulkovo (sp) airport with a pretty Intourist girl minder. That was a kick when I saw the Il-18 sitting on the tarmac. The authorities in charge of everything had ordered a yellow Ikarus bus to take us to the plane, while about 80 other passengers clung to a fence yet to be opened until I was safely aboard. My minder and I were shown to the very rear of the plane and quickly an attendant drew some curtains in front of us so that we could not be seen. At the same time, she gave us each a banana. Apparently a prize possession.

    After we were settled in, only then were the iron gates opened to allow the rest of the passengers to board. No transportation, so everyone ran as fast as they could to get to the plane. Men, women, children. Whoever could get onboard first could claim a seat for relatives, or friends. They also seemed to carry all of their household belongings with them.


    An image of a Tupolev Tu-104 used by Aeroflot while the USSR was in existence, taken at Stockholm Arlanda Airport in July 1968
  • offshore

    Posts: 1294

    Jul 13, 2011 11:17 PM GMT
    Very cool! I am an alirline (plane) geek, love reading stories like this, especially from teh former eastern block, because they did things oh so differently.

    I remember a piece from the late 80's about the (then) Air China (CAAC - who in their right mid would call an airline KAARK??), and they were served tea from kettles in first class. LOL
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    Jul 13, 2011 11:27 PM GMT
    Awesome. I have flown on old rackety Soviet planes in Azerbaijan and Georgia, scary take-offs and landings, but the flights were quite ok. I actually really like the large windows on the TU-134, you see so much more.

    As for the bananas - those were indeed a prized and rare commodity in the USSR, as they had limited imports of food and limited trade with countries that grew them. Maybe that's why nowadays bananas are so popular as a snack sold on street stands etc.
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    Jul 13, 2011 11:34 PM GMT
    My first flight was in January 1970 flying from NYC to SFO to check out college campuses. Sitting in coach, the meal was served with real linens and silverware. The meal was much better than when flying business class on inter-continental runs in the early and mid 90s. Males passengers in the early 70s were moderately well dressed with jackets and ties. The women wore hats and gloves. This continued for maybe two more years. By the time of deregulation, the quality of meals and service started going south. Currently the budgets like Air-Tran and Australia's Virgin Blue are somewhat like riding in an African mammy-wagon [bus], but not quite that bad.
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    Jul 14, 2011 12:54 AM GMT
    My first airline flight was in 1977 on a Lufthansa flight to visit relatives in (then) West Germany.

    I vaguely remember the (real) silverware, the unlimited drinks my mom enjoyed, the pilot wings the stewardess gave me, and the German language Disney comic book I got to keep when we deplaned in Frankfurt. I'm pretty certain that we were in coach.

    The flight back in 1980 was less memorable, but still very fun compared to the crap we have to go thru today to suffer a coach flight.

    Peanuts and a half can of soda for $5. Yay.
  • Descamisado

    Posts: 95

    Jul 14, 2011 1:33 AM GMT
    I flew Aeroflot from Dulles to Moscow in 1980, then to/from Leningrad (as it was when) and Riga. I don't remember it being any better or worse than any other airline, but I remember the cups they served soft drinks in were TINY - honestly, about 2 ounces. I kept two of those little cups with the Aeroflot name and emblem on the bottom. One I gave to the travel agent who arranged my trip (she wanted a swizzle stick), the other I kept in my toilet kit for rinsing out after brushing my teeth (in those days the places I stayed didn't always have glasses in the bathroom). I also remember steam coming out of the vents in the Aeroflot jet - perhaps an effort to introduce moisture into the cabin? I could practically see the headlines: "Planeload of American tourists gassed in Moscow."

    But in general, as other posters have noted, flying used to be a more pleasant experience. The airline personnel were polite and made you feel welcome. You got a paper ticket, you presented it to the agent, you got a boarding pass, you presented the boarding pass at the gate, you got on the plane. Eventually you had to go through a metal detector, but if somebody came to the airport with you, they could accompany you to the gate, and meet you at the gate when you arrived. If you bought a discounted ticket and couldn't use it, you could sell it to somebody else. (Airlines HATED this - which led to the requirement to present an ID and fees for changing your flights.) If you didn't use a flight, you turned in your unused ticket for a refund. You got a meal on every flight over a certain length - not a great meal (at least in coach class), but still. Some flights actually had live entertainment on board! I'm glad I was able to travel in those days!

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    Jul 14, 2011 1:37 AM GMT
    Great replies so far all.

    Here are some pictures from from the early 1970's when 747's were REGULARLY used for domestic flights, i.e. SEA-ORD.

    United Airlines
    August 1972


    I love the comment the photographer made about this shot:
    "Honey, if you don't do something about that hair, learn to relax your shoulders, cross your legs and dress like me, you're going to still be doing this 35 years from now!"
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    Jul 14, 2011 1:50 AM GMT
    Brings back memories flying during the cold war. I saved and am looking at a copy of Clipper, the Pan Am Magazin, that I got on a flight from Frankfurt to West Berlin. There were three corridors from West Germany through East Germany to West Berlin. The three allied countries each had an airline that flew the corridors: Air France, British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), and Pan Am.

    We took off from Frankfurt and climbed to 30,000 ft until approaching the corridor when we had to descend to our corridor assigned altitude of 12,500 feet. These altitudes made better sense for turboprops when the corridors were established, but it was not an efficient altitude for jets. The East Germans did not want to allow higher altitudes, most likely for security reasons. The East German countryside was bleak. Our approach to Berlin-Tegel Airport looped over East Berlin, and on short final we passed over the wall, the watchtowers, and the death strip between the two walls.

    Just to digress a bit from air travel -

    I was there around the time the wall came down and have a few pieces. There was a period when the DDR (East Germany) still existed but border controls were eliminated. Compared to before, it was surreal. I approached 3 East German Vopos (border guards), handed my camera to one of them and he took my picture standing in front of the wall between the other two guards. Later on, the border agents from the east had a barbecue at their facility on the east side of Checkpoint Charlie, as a fair-well because their jobs were over. One evening I was by myself at dinner and seated at a table with others, as is the European custom. I was with two families whose parents knew each other before the wall went up. That evening was the first time the families were reunited. What an experience. When the wall was opened, people streamed across from east to west to look at the stores. The contrast between W and E was stark. Stores placed signs in their windows welcoming people from the DDR. They could only look, they had no money to speak of. The OstMarks weren't worth much. Also reminds me of those who died trying to cross. I still remember some of their names.
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    Jul 14, 2011 1:53 AM GMT
    Dad's a pilot. Back in the day, pilots got passes for all airlines, for wife and kids, as well as his parents. (yes - wife - HIS parents... most pilots were and still are men).

    It was about $15 a head to fly anywhere.
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    Jul 14, 2011 2:01 AM GMT
    Interesting post socal.

    My parents lived in West Germany and The Netherlands for quite some time in the 1970's and they traveled to East Germany a few times. They were, like you said, so surprised and somewhat humbled by how drab and dreary it was in East Berlin; they remember shades of gray and tons of concrete. The dreariness and grayness of the city really stuck out for them. Not only that, but they were able to shop at a store that catered to the higher-ups in the government and foreigners with all sorts of interesting 'foreign' food regular citizens of the DDR could not get. And then there was the Trabi!

    This reminds me of the former state airline of East Germany, Interflug! As would be expected, Interflug provided service throughout the Eastern Bloc, China, North Korea, Vietnam, USSR-friendly African countries, Cuba, as well as a smattering of non-Communist places like Singapore and Bangkok (which is still immensely popular with Europeans!).

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    Jul 14, 2011 2:27 AM GMT
    Columbusite777 saidInteresting post socal.

    Does bring back memories, especially the victims who were killed trying to cross the border. I used to think about that a lot.

    Interflug flew out of Schönefeld Airport. That airport is being transformed and will be the major Berlin international airport. Tegel is in the city and in addition to noise concerns, does not have long enough runways for long haul international routes. Templehof was a neat airport, and played a major role in the Berlin Airlift of 1948. That airport closed a few years ago.

    It was quite drab, and many of the buildings had scaffolding, as if renovating was started and stopped. The city is so different now, and the stark contrasts have been eliminated. I have some mixed, complex feelings about it. I will never forget the effects of state control, stifling individual initiative. Those contrasts were a reminder of what the free enterprise system is all about. After unification, I was with some friends in Berlin who grew up on the eastern side, including two brothers who on separate occasions successfully escaped to West Berlin. Paid truck driver to let them hide under rags in the back of the truck. The younger one told me he figured he had a 60% chance at success, so he decided it was worth it. Couldn't tell his parents, because after his escape he knew the Stasi would interrogate them, and if they knew, they would be imprisoned. So separately, they left home figuring they would never see their parents again and couldn't say good bye. For them the freedom in the west was worth it.
  • offshore

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    Jul 14, 2011 5:03 AM GMT
    Gah I just remembered, my first ever flight was on an Aeroflot Il-62. We were served caviar on board.

    Those old soviet rockets were quite something!