A week ago, my girlfriend and I flew with Aeroflot from Tokyo to Vienna via Moscow to spend the holidays with my family in Slovakia.
While the two flights themselves (as well as the two flights of my girlfriend’s return trip) were perfectly fine, as the title of this post suggests, that cannot be said about the transfer experience at Moscow Sheremetyevo airport.
So, what happened?
A Freezing Welcome
Let’s start with – at least for me as an aviation enthusiast – the good part about the transfer.
We landed at Sheremetyevo airport from Tokyo around 5:30PM, and while we were taxiing to our parking spot, the captain mentioned that it was -12 degrees Celsius outside. I jokingly remarked that it would be fun if we disembarked via stairs…
And, sure enough, not long after that, we were walking down Aeroflot-branded stairs onto the icy apron.
While I loved seeing the A330 on the from up close, I’m sure many of the other passengers weren’t too excited about the freezing welcome!
On a side note, it seems like it wasn’t a one-time thing either, since my girlfriend’s flight back to Tokyo yesterday boarded using buses as well.
The Great Sheremetyevo Bottleneck
The above might have been a slight annoyance to some of the passengers, however, the worst part of the transfer was yet to come.
When the bus dropped us off near the terminal and we entered the transfer area, we found ourselves in a crowded area of the terminal with hundreds of people waiting to get through the transfer passport and security check.
There were three officers checking passports – two in “proper booths,” and one standing next to an open staff door and letting people through to (theoretically) speed up the process.
The problem was that those who got their passports checked were ushered into a big room which was completely packed. And, the only exit out of that room was a single door. A single door that lead to two security checkpoints.
While there were three officers checking passports, there were only two security checkpoints – both only accessible through a single door. This resulted in a huge bottleneck and a waiting area crowded like a Japanese train during the rush hour.
Given that people constantly kept cutting the line, the only way to get through was to cut through the line yourself at some point.
All in all, it took about forty minutes of waiting in the crowded and hot “pit” until we were able to get through security.
In that time, one lady fainted right in front of us, and so was dragged (quite literally) through the security. Luckily, by the time we got through, she was sitting on a bench just past the security, conscious, and recovering from the previous incident.
Waiting Area = Zero Sales per Square Meter
Once past the security check, we visited All Star Lounge – one of the several lounges at the airport – to wait for our connecting flight to Vienna. Since the lounge was just across from gate 51 where our flight was departing from, we left it five or so minutes before the boarding was scheduled to begin.
When we got to the gate, there was already a line of people formed in front of it. Of course, that would not have been an issue at all if there was enough space around the gate.
However, rather than there being a waiting area around the gate, there were two gates right next to each other (a flight to Ulaanbaatar was departing from gate 52) tucked between duty free stores and restaurants.
The only seating available near the two gates was a pair of benches, each with three seats.
But, at least they were announcing over the PA that passengers were “invited to relax in lounges” to which they can buy access starting from one hour…
As mentioned in the beginning of the article, I have nothing against Aeroflot itself – in fact, I enjoyed both of the flights (I will post full reviews later). However, Moscow Sheremetyevo airport offered one of the (if not the) worst transfers that I had a chance to experience to date.
I experienced overcrowded airports in the past where the airline based there had grown faster than the infrastructure (old Doha airport, Istanbul Ataturk airport, etc.), however, I never experienced anything as extreme as “Sheremetyevo’s great bottleneck.”
As such, I will avoid flying Aeroflot whenever possible (unless they are considerably cheaper than the alternatives or are the only option for some other reason) for now – I will be more than happy to fly with them once the Sheremetyevo airport transfer area is redesigned, though.