As Qantas' Oneworld alliance partner in Russia, S7 Airlines will be the go-to choice of many Australian travellers venturing to the world's largest country, with business class offered on most – but not all – of the airline's jets.
Here's what the S7 Airlines business class experience entails, as observed on a recent Boeing 737-800 flight on the popular Moscow-St. Petersburg route.
- Frequent flyer program: S7 Priority, but as a Oneworld alliance airline, Qantas Frequent Flyer members can earn and redeem Qantas Points, and earn status credits, on S7 Airlines flights.
- Checked baggage allowance: Passengers on Business Flex fares and on journeys booked using frequent flyer points (including Qantas Points) can bring 2x32kg bags, while those on the reduced-price Business Basic tickets get 1x32kg bag. Additionally, S7 Priority Classic Expert, Classic Top, Silver, Gold and Platinum members, and Oneworld Emerald frequent flyers (e.g. Qantas Platinum), can bring one additional checked bag, over and above the ticketed allowance.
- Carry-on baggage allowance: Two bags of up to 118cm at a combined total weight of 15kg, plus one personal item like a handbag, briefcase or backpack with dimensions of up to 75cm and a maximum weight of 5kg. (If the personal item is heavier, it'll count towards the main 'two bag' carry-on allowance.
- Airport fast-track: After locating the S7 Airlines check-in area at Domodedovo Airport – which is quite a hike from the airport's main entrance – priority check-in was swift with no queue at the dedicated business class counters, although there was no fast-track path at security screening, priority boarding was non-existent, and as the check-in agent didn't attach any priority baggage tags, my suitcases were far from the first to arrive.
Being a major hub for S7 Airlines, Moscow is home to one of the airline's flagship business class lounges – although the check-in agent made no mention of it, despite my ticket being eligible for access.
Fortunately, I'd done my research and knew that lounge facilities were available before this flight, and managed to find the S7 lounge along the terminal concourse:
Inside, I was pleasantly surprised – the space offered high ceilings, great views of the airport (and the snow, being winter), and I particularly enjoyed the savoury beef pancakes, ordered from the à la carte menu:
The buffet was far less impressive, but an Aperol Spritz from the bar was enjoyable.
Travellers have many options for getting between Moscow at St. Petersburg, with no fewer than 11 airlines offering non-stop flights between the cities, along with high-speed rail.
In fact, Moscow-St. Petersburg is the busiest air route in Europe outside of flights to/from London, and S7 Airlines alone offers between 9 and 11 return flights each day across a variety of aircraft types.
If you're intent on flying business class, the trick is to look for flights that aren't operated by Embraer 170 or Airbus A319 jets – which S7 Airlines runs in an all-economy layout – whereas the airline's Airbus A320, A320neo, A321, A321neo, Boeing 737-800 and Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft all offer business class.
Also, don't be afraid of booking flights "operated by Globus Airlines", as some booking systems indicate. These are still S7 flights, on an S7 aircraft with S7 crew and service: it's more of an accounting practice, in the same way that Australia's Qantas has Jetconnect for New Zealand flights, and Virgin Australia has "VA SE Asia" and many other offshoots on paper, that don't change the passenger experience.
This flight – S7 43, currently one of those 'Globus' services – departs Moscow at 5:30pm daily to reach St. Petersburg at 7:10pm, after a journey of 1hr 40min.
Business class on these birds comes in a cosy two-row cabin, with seats in a typical 2-2 layout.
There's a fixed bulkhead behind the second row, but it doesn't impact on your ability to recline, and there's a curtain as well, keeping the cabin private:
The seats are well-padded, offer a generous recline and have an adjustable headrest for added comfort, and even on the shortest of hops, each passenger receives a pillow and blanket...
... with a selection of reading material available in front of you, albeit in Russian, as you'd expect:
Between each pair of seats sits a shared cocktail table, but if you're having trouble finding room for all your beverages, an additional shelf folds out from within:
There's no leg rest, nor any AC or USB charging facilities, but the seat is perfectly comfortable and adequate for flights of this length, and I felt I'd have been comfortable with a longer flight time, too.
Greeting passengers on boarding was a choice between orange juice and still water...
... and before I could take my first sip, the crew member returned to offer me more water (which is where the fold-out shelf came in handy), along with a menu, and an amenity kit. Yes, printed menus and international-grade amenity kits on a flight shorter than Sydney-Melbourne!
Being a dinnertime flight, the right-hand side of the menu provided three meal choices – veal tenderloin, halibut fillet, or a ricotta and pumpkin paccheri pasta – preceded by a salad, accompanied by bread, and followed by dessert, chocolate and coffee.
[You can click or tap on the menu above to enlarge it.]
The bar menu offered beer, wine and spirits...
... with soft drinks, juices, water, tea and coffee also available:
I began with a glass of Prosecco, accompanied by warmed nuts...
... continued with a cucumber-based salad, with a bread roll and cream-like butter on the side, and being New Year's Day, another celebratory Prosecco...
... and for the main course, went for the veal tenderloin with porto sauce on the side. I wouldn't award any extra marks for presentation, given it looks like something I'd cooked at home, but the flavours were there:
To conclude, an interesting blue cheese mousse, with Russian and Swiss chocolate on the side...
... and more to follow – which were handy to take onwards to the hotel – plus an energiser drink. I chose (and liked) the blueberry, although my seatmate selected the lemongrass and was done after the smallest of sips:
All things considered, I'd expect this kind of service on a trans-Tasman flight or perhaps a cross-country voyage in Australia – where you spend twice as long or more on the plane – but for a 1hr 40min journey, where 20 minutes of that is given to de-icing on the ground, leaving you with 80 minutes from take-off to arrival, I really couldn't have asked for (or wanted) more.
Just imagine fitting in a pre-departure drink, bottle of water, bowl of nuts, an aperitif, a salad, another glass of wine, a bread roll, a main course, a dessert mousse, a chocolate bar, Lindt chocolate balls, an energiser drink – oh, and a coffee or tea, which was offered but declined – on a quick hop from Sydney to Melbourne, all served directly from the galley without the crew even pushing a trolley through the cabin...
S7 could certainly teach other airlines a few things about meals on short flights, that's for sure!
Entertainment & Service
While S7 may excel on the dining front, it certainly has some catching up to do in the entertainment stakes, given there was no inflight entertainment offered on this journey at all, beyond anything brought with you (and those Russian-language magazines).
On some aircraft, S7 offers a streaming entertainment service to your own device via the S7 Inflight Entertainment app for iPhone and Android – which I'd downloaded ahead of time in case it proved useful – but this particular aircraft didn't have a WiFi network, let alone a media server to connect to.
Instead, and just before the meal arrived, I decided to unpack the amenity kit, where there was everything from slippers and a shoe horn through to an eye mask, shoe polish, moisturiser, ear plugs, a dental set and more, again, for what was 80 minutes in the air:
S7 also allows the use of Bluetooth throughout all stages of the flight, so I simply fired up my wireless headphones and put some music on to pass the time – because even if I'd whipped out a tablet or been supplied one by the airline, there wouldn't have been anywhere to put it anyway, given the tray table was occupied with food for most of the journey!
Despite being a Russian domestic flight, the cabin crew spoke enough English to get me by, and the dual-language menus for food and drink were also useful, as if all else fails, you can simply point to the item you would like, where the same thing is written in Russian right beside it.
Overall, I struggle to think of another short domestic flight that was more enjoyable than this one (at least, once on board), and I was glad not to have eaten much in the lounge before departure, as I certainly wasn't hungry on arrival.
That said, the on-ground priority benefits for S7 business class passengers need improving: there's no excuse for forgetting to apply priority baggage tags and failing to mention anything about business class lounge access from staff who work at the dedicated business class check-in zone, and making no attempt whatsoever at calling or enforcing priority boarding was also less than pleasing, when there were two clear (signed) lanes at the boarding gate.
After all, if uniformed airport staff can't be bothered following procedure, nor will passengers, as was seen at the boarding gate.
Chris Chamberlin travelled at his own expense using frequent flyer points.