The government in order to combat the COVID-19 epidemic banned all international passenger flights on March 27, since then only export charters are allowed: the planes of Russian airlines fly abroad empty and return with the Russians. For each such flight, you must obtain permission from the Federal Air Transport Agency and the aviation authorities of the host country. But Aeroflot continues to somehow carry passengers abroad, employees of three airlines told Vedomosti.
At least since the beginning of June, Aeroflot has flown from Moscow to Frankfurt, Paris, London, New York, Seoul and Tel Aviv. First, the national carrier operated flights to these cities once a week, it follows from the information in its reservation system. From the second week of summer, flights to all these cities, except the capitals of Israel and South Korea, began to be operated twice a week, and a weekly flight to Nice and two to Barcelona were added to the schedule. There were two flights to Rome last week.
All these flights are not charter, but are operated under regular flight numbers and in temporary slots that Aeroflot had before the epidemic. But flights are exclusive: sales on them open in less than a week. For example, tickets for the next week cannot be reserved on the airline’s website. Although Aeroflot, like many of the largest airlines in the world, usually sells sales a year in advance. Flights are not advertised, many learn about them through word of mouth. But this does not affect demand - it is very good, said an employee of a Russian airline, whose friends flew to Europe in the summer.
Since Europe has not yet opened the borders, only EU citizens, as well as Russians with citizenship or a residence permit in one of the European countries, are allowed to go there, employees of two airlines remind. Tickets for these flights can only be bought by a person who has the right to enter these countries, an Aeroflot employee confirms. Russia is also closed to citizens of other countries: Aeroflot has not sold and does not sell tickets for return flights from these cities to Moscow, it follows from the information in its reservation system.
Tickets for these exclusive flights are many times more expensive than flights of the same duration in Russia, where Aeroflot competes fiercely with S7 Airlines and its own low-cost airline Victory. Thus, the cheapest baggage-free ticket to Rome (4 hours to fly) costs 17,000–35,000 rubles depending on the day of departure, 25,500 rubles to Nice (4 hours), and 18,000 to Barcelona (4.5 hours). rub. A day or two before departure, the minimum price can increase at times - this means the system sold more affordable tickets and only expensive ones remained on sale. For comparison: tickets to Novosibirsk (4 hours) and Krasnoyarsk (4.5 hours) cost Aeroflot between 6100 and 6600 rubles. respectively. The high price is partially due to the fact that the planes fly back without passengers, explains an Aeroflot employee.
“Since tickets are not sold back to Moscow, these are not purely commercial, but special flights. The high demand for them is not surprising: people are trying to leave the third country in the world in terms of COVID-19 cases, ”says Boris Rybak, general director of Infomost consulting company. Why are they carried out only by Aeroflot? “His lobbying resource is much stronger than that of the rest of the airline industry,” the expert adds.
On flights to Europe and Tel Aviv, Aeroflot puts the largest medium-haul airliners in its fleet - Airbus 321, accommodating from 170 to 183 passengers. Sometimes even the long-range wide-body aircraft Airbus 330-300 (300 seats) and Boeing 777 (402 seats) fly to Europe. The latest super-comfortable Airbus 350-900 (312 seats), which Aeroflot has so far in a single copy, flies mainly to Europe throughout June - to Rome, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Paris and London, according to flightradar24. Before the epidemic, neither Aeroflot nor European carriers used such capacious aircraft on flights to Europe from Moscow, since even in the high summer season they could not be filled. For many of these flights, the booking system reports that there are several tickets left in the economy class (which means hundreds have already been sold) and even that there are several seats left in the business class. The choice of a liner is determined by the application for the carriage of goods, says a source at Aeroflot.
Due to the epidemic, world and Russian civil aviation fell into the worst crisis in history. In April, the flights of all Russian airlines fell 12.5 times, in May - 11 times compared with the same months last year. In June, the restoration began - the fall to last June, according to preliminary data, is 75–80%.
It is unclear how such flights are legally possible now and how Aeroflot gets permissions for them, employees of two airlines say. “All animals are equal, but some are more equal,” one of the interlocutors quotes Orwell with a sigh. “International freight flights are allowed. These flights are registered as cargo, but tickets are sold for them with the permission of the Federal Air Transport Agency, ”two Aeroflot employees explain. Representatives of Aeroflot and the Federal Air Transport Agency did not respond to requests from Vedomosti.