Russia‘s national carrier, Aeroflot, has made a lot of progress in the last few years. Once abhorred by the general public as a “dangerous” carrier (although their record is no more tarnished than any domestic airline), a few new Airbus aircraft, superjets and an international advertising campaign have surged the company into the present. Now you too can enjoy the paltry legroom in coach, paper-thin seats and an indifferent, completely hostile ground crew.
But Aeroflot has one juicy perk that most other carriers don’t have: a delightful communist past. And though most of the crew and staff are tight lipped about the Soviet days, some of their aircraft ooze it.
Enter the Tupolev Tu-154.
The first time you see a Tu-154, your first thought is that you’re getting onto a Russian bomber. Perhaps because its got that glass nose cone, slightly reminiscent of the B-17 (think Memphis Belle) or the tri-engine superjet configuration– something about the design makes you think that you’re going to be flying through some heavy flak over the English Channel, need to strap your double seatbelt across your chest and put on your aviator goggles.
On the inside of the plane you’ll initially think that you’re on any old domestic carrier. Closer inspection to the finer details reveals the beauty though: tarnished metal air vents, operational ash trays that aren’t screwed shut and old worn upholstery make one wonder how long its been since this bird has had an overhaul.
Why does this make you want to fly Aeroflot? Because its a living piece of history. As you hear the three engines rev up on Pulkovo’s 10R runway and the aluminum starts to strain as the Tupolev gains speed, you think of how this ancient piece of machinery was once built. Through the cold war, through the end of the Gorbachev and the demise of the USSR, Russia was not too long ago a forlorn and desolate place. How much change in the communist landscape has this aircraft seen? How has the political climate matured as flight 54 flew back and forth between St. Petersburg and Moscow?
Landing in Sheremetyevo outside of Moscow, you see the IKEA just outside of the airport grounds and will soon be among the oil tycoons, their 7 dollar espressos and their sports cars now common in this cosmopolitan city. In the society that’s quickly leaving the dark days of Communism behind, its nice to have a brief look into what Russia once was. Strange that it’s from 30,000 feet.