When an airline that was once a legend for mismanagement, bad service, and poor safety decides to create a low-cost subsidiary, passengers might well choose to steer clear. But Aeroflot, whose budget subsidiary Dobrolet (pronounced “do-bra-lyot“) yesterday launched its inaugural flight, has come a long way since the Soviet days. And there’s little reason to think that Dobrolet won’t be on a par with similar airlines such as EasyJet, RyanAir, or Spirit Airways—which is to say cramped, skimpy on service, and inclined to add extra charges to everything it can, but nothing worse.
The new airline will fly Boeing 737-800s, and charge prices 20% to 40% lower than traditional carriers. Its inaugural flight was, appropriately enough, to Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, which Russia annexed earlier this year (though the airline was planned before the conflict there began).
Airline ranking site Skytrax gives Aeroflot three out of five stars based on service. That’s behind elite and luxury airlines, but it’s on par with American giants like US Airways and United. On objective measures of quality, like how often its flights depart and land on time, Aeroflot is by no means spectacular, according to Flightstats.com. But it’s level with, or even ahead of, many large international operators.
On the safety side, which used to be the source of a lot of the company’s bad press, it’s made substantial strides. Airlineratings.com, a site that ranks the world’s airlines on their safety records and international accreditation, gives it the highest possible rating. The most recent deadly crash was six years ago (admittedly, for the not-very-reassuring reason that the pilot was drunk), and crashes and fatalities are significantly down overall.
Generally, Aeroflot’s reputation seems to be a relic of the time before the Soviet Union collapsed. Before 1991, it was vastly larger and used far more Russian-made planes. After that, many regions split off into private carriers, and a smaller, safer Aeroflot.
Meanwhile, Dobrolet, Russia’s first low-cost carrier, is going down a well trod and very successful path of offering minimal service for low prices. The seating will be highly dense, and passengers will pay for extra baggage, food, and drinks. Flying it won’t be luxurious, but it’s definitely going to be cheap. On Dobrolet’s site today, a return ticket Moscow-Simferopol for July 14-21 was being priced at 6,861 rubles ($200); Aeroflot’s own site quoted 7,500 rubles, and the nearest competitor on travel site Skyscanner was twice as expensive.