Sunday, 31 August 2014

Visa Run Complete.

     Aeroflot has great service and connections in Russia and outside. However, I say this with one caveat. If you're looking to book one class and then gate upgrade, if available, don't. Aeroflot seems to not get this procedure done all over the world. I booked my flight to London in their Presidents class as I had a very short connection in Moscow and knew I might run into long lines due to the time of day. I had loads of time returning so I left that as a coach ticket figuring I'd gate upgrade the redeye flight out of London and if I could the flight back to Krasnodar if it wasn't too expensive. Anyone that travels a great deal knows these gate upgrades are usually very inexpensive compared to booking ahead of time and rarely available with North American carriers practice of overbooking flights.

Now I don't know if it was just the two agents I dealt with or if as I suspect Aeroflot isn't really onboard with this practice. When I checked in at London, I was told I'd have to go to the ticket desk to change my flight. So off I went and talked to an agent. She was very nice, spoke English very well and told me this upgrade would be around 450 pounds! To have originally booked this flight in Presidents class was cheaper than this upgrade cost. So I left my ticket as it was and checked the front of the plane during the flight. It was a two and two three and three configuration. There were three empty seats upfront.

Just for the sake of research I looked into doing the same from Moscow to Krasnodar and was given one number that was way too expensive for a two hour flight, over 500 USD, and while I was working out the exchange she said she had made a mistake and gave me another number higher than the original price for upgrading from London!! After I saw the planes I was sure glad I had booked in coach, as the last plane was four rows of two and two and then the back being three and three. However, it was a newer plane with very comfortable pitch seats so the three and three seating was fine.

 As an international traveler, I have done gate upgrades a great deal. They work for the airline and me as the airline gets to now put another passenger onto the plane and show the first customer what the added space and service is like upfront. The idea is, of course, that the customer chooses to book in that class for subsequent flights with them.  Often the meal selection is limited and it is harder to do with two people but I have found for solo travel asking for a gate upgrade is always a good idea. I have recommended this to travel clients in the past but best not to do it on Aeroflot.

If I hadn't just spent three months in Russia, I might have thought they were trying to cheat me. It certainly would appear that way to an outside observer. How can the last two-hour leg of a six-hour flight be more expensive, by leagues, than the whole flight? But having lived here for a while I know this isn't the case and has something to do with Aeroflot's pricing structure.

So that's the bad about Aeroflot and hopefully they change it because if they do they will be a world contender for air service. I say this having traveled quite a bit on budget and not so budget carriers. Some of which I will never use regardless at price. One carrier that flys between Bellingham and Las Vegas comes to mind. I have seen fifty dollar round trip prices yet I will fly Alaska Air instead at triple the cost each way.  Service and my piece of mind are worth it.

     Aeroflot's service in the sky is awesome in either class. The President's class full flat beds on my flight to London where comfortable and the staff were super attentive. I saw the attendant serving my section check a couple of times with the other attendant to figure out how to say something correctly in English. Even in coach the effort was obvious. Compare that to a Canadian carrier flying within Quebec! Food from North America, Europe, and within the Russian Federation was tasty, fresh and plentiful. It also didn't come with an additional charge and even a glass of wine was complimentary even in the back of the bus!

I also noticed that kids are still invited up to the flight deck, on flights within Russia, to have a quick look around! I remember doing this as a child and it being a highlight of a trip to Disney Land. A great practice that ended elsewhere in the world due to fears of terrorists and hijacking.  Now the sixty-kilogram flight attendant stands in the aisle, supposedly to thwart access whenever the flight deck door is opened. Really? All it does is remind people they live in fear.  A real terrorist would be through her and into that deck before she stopped bleeding out on the lighted "this way out" aisle.

      So I soon found myself in London and was hit by the multicultural of it. Living within Russia and in the resort city frequented, predominantly, by Russians being in London was a culture shock. It was great to speak English, but it felt odd too. I found myself quickly adapting and very aware I was doing so.

Being the high season in London, I stayed at a "budget" hotel. It was still expensive by North American standards, but it was perfectly located and had awesome service. The rooms are small, but the hotel itself is a perfect business class design. It was called the Rockwell and it is close to Earls Court. I had a bunch of paperwork and various things to do and the desk staff was awesome at helping out.

I had booked six nights, in advance, as I was unsure exactly how many days it would take to get all these hoops taken care of. The stars aligned and gave me a few days to do some sightseeing. I have been to London before. I went to the London Book Fair when I released Grey Redemption as it was being featured. However on that trip I was only in the country for forty-nine hours and had little time to do anything. Prior to that trip, I had done some tourist stuff in-between flights to Africa.

This time I had loads of time and while being budget conscious I did get to see some very cool parts of London. I got to Gordon Ramsey's restaurant at the Savoy and spent a few hours at the Tate. I also took advantage of the open deck tour buses. The ones with real commentators as the recorded versions are a sad replacement. It allowed me to relax and get a good bit of research done while being entertained at the same time. I got a London Pass and travel card and I am certain this saved me money on my tube travel alone, not to mention the convenience of it.

I took advantage of a walking tour that was advertised as a Ghost Tour. It was more correctly a pub tour with asides about ghosts. It was part of my Big Bus ticket and was hosted by a short and wholly entertaining man. Rich in history, details, and jocularity it was a great way to spend a couple of hours. It wasn't a hard walk and we had a varied group from the US, Europe, Australia, and me. It was by far one of the most informative tours I have ever taken and well worth your time if you are in London
I also had the pleasure of meeting a long time internet buddy Elliot Taylor, or Riz. He has just finished writing a book called Up The Hammers. It is Military Non-Fiction and written in a style that is pleasing and interesting. So much of this type of writing is dry and reads like the textbooks that made you hate history. This is not the case with Elliot's book. He gave me a copy while we shared a long-promised cigar and some beers in the Garden of the hotel until they turned off the lights. Then we moved to a local pub and continued till they closed as well. This was not too late as London has rather old fashion drinking laws. It was a great time and awesome visit with someone I knew to be intelligent and was glad to discover a great guy as well. Get this book, it is available in soft copy, has great pictures and really sheds light on the realities of WW1 trench warfare from a uniquely British perspective.

I did a great deal of traveling on the tube while I was in London and even more walking and six days was more than enough. I was tired and relieved that my one-year multiple entry and exit visa was approved by the Russian Consulate.  This gives me a great deal more freedom to come and go from Russia as I please. Regular visas have many more restrictions.

     My return journey to the Russian Federation began in the evening with a trip to Heathrow four. The previously mentioned Aeroflot issues aside it went without a hitch. One thing for smokers to note Heathrow four is the only terminal that has a smoking area past the security checkpoint. It is out by gate three, downstairs and was a nice surprise as this was my last cigarette. I had decided and promised Inga I would stop smoking when I returned to Anapa. My journey ended at about the same time I left for the airport the next day. Being in coach, I was unable to really sleep; however I think I passed out a couple of times on the flight to Krasnodar and then again on the three-hour bus ride home with Inga

This blog is being written a week or so after I returned and so far so good on the no smoking promise and my back is just starting to feel normal after the journey. Sitting for too long is proving to be more of a challenge with the missing discs in L2 and L3 than it was when I was younger. Oh well, at least I know I am not wasting money paying to sit upfront! LOL!

1 comment:

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