Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Aeroflot to Mongolia

I usually avoid departures from Heathrow, if I can. It seems to be on many people's 'most hated airports' list but Tim from my travel firm had worked out that the necessary change at Moscow would be easiest if I flew Aeroflot from Terminal 4 at Heathrow.

It's some time since I flew from Terminal 4 but check-in was painless and I was quite happy in the 'Sky Team' lounge. At the appointed time I made my way to Gate 14 and here the terminal is showing its age.

I sat down next to an abandoned luggage trolley which somehow seemed symptomatic of the malaise.

A luggage trolley - handle chipped, greasy dirt around the wheels and with a rusting frame.

The push handle was badly chipped, there was greasy dirt around the wheels and parts of the tubular frame were rusted. But rather than fix those details, what looks like a new poster has been stuck on featuring a Beefeater (Crawford Burton) saying 'Welcome' and there's the risible tag 'Heathrow - Making every journey better'.

The area around the gate seemed cramped and noisy and I didn't think the signage was very good. There were plenty of people waiting for my flight but the boarding gate was without staff so I anticipated a delayed departure. I looked through the window to see an Aeroflot arrival taxiing by which seemed likely to be our aircraft getting in late. Eventually a message over the public address apologised for our late departure "due to the late aircraft arrival".

Waiting is not my strong point but, eventually, passengers started to board. I waited for the 'scrum' to clear but, as soon as they opened a separate boarding pass check for Business Class, I took advantage of it and was on the aircraft in short order.

It was my first trip with Aeroflot, who now seem to trade as 'Aeroflot Russian Airlines'. The aircraft was a rather basic Airbus A320 with 2+2 seating in the front section, but the cabin crew were friendly and attentive. Of course, setting off late meant that we'd lost our 'slot' and the Captain announced a 20-minute delay as we worked our way up the queue of departing aircraft. We were to use Two Seven Right (arrivals were using 27 Left) and aircraft from three different taxiways (including one massive Airbus A380) were being fed to the take-off runway.

Part of the queue for 27R.

Eventually, our turn came and we were soon airborne and above the clouds. They served a decent Lunch (with proper napkins and knives of steel, not ridiculous plastic). They offered a portable DVD Player but I amused myself reading during the rest of the flight.

My First trip to Russia last year (posts are here) took me to Domodedevo, so arrival at Sheremetyevo Airport was a new experience. We didn't get to our stand at the modern Terminal 'D' until about 19:10 and, by the time I was walking through the terminal, I was starting to worry about my connection to Aeroflot flight SU330 to Ulaan Baatar. Fortunately, the signage was plentiful and in English and Russian so I found the Transfer Desk and was soon on my way, knowing the Gate number. I was slightly thrown by a Passport Check, but this was a friendly and cursory affair. A separate lady checked my boarding card again, and this merited another rubber stamp. It was a fair walk to the Departure Gate and there were lots of people milling around when I arrived. Boarding started after a few minutes and I was soon ensconced in my window seat on the starboard side. This time, the equipment was a 767 with lots of room and a seat 'almost flat' when reclined.

We took off close to the scheduled time of 20:00. I snatched a picture of one of a pair of aircraft I didn't know - two top-of-wing mounted engines and massive anhedral on the wings (the American 'Phantom' had anhedral on its tailplane).

The odd-looking aircraft.

Again, the staff were very friendly and they provided another excellent meal. This time, I accepted the offer of the 'Panasonic' A330 DVD Player. Because they run off a rechargeable battery, they're surprisingly heavy and they've a memory module with a wide range of programming. I watched 'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows' to the end but I wasn't that struck. I think there was more CGI than Live Action. I was puzzled by what appeared to be Didcot Railway Centre posing as a Munitions Factory. Then, I put the seat flat and tried to get a bit of sleep. When we arrived it would have been late evening London time, but it was six o'clock in the morning (the next day) when we landed at Ulaan Baatar.

My pictures of Heathrow are here.

Miscellaneous aircraft pictures (like the one above) are in the set Up, Up and Away.