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Air

Getting around by air

Major Russian airlines, including Aeroflot, Rossiya, S7 Airlines, Ural Airlines (www.uralairlines.com), UTAir (www.utair.ru) and budget carrier Pobeda (www.pobeda.aero), have online booking, with the usual discounts for advance purchases. Otherwise, it’s no problem buying a ticket at ubiquitous aviakassa (ticket offices), which may be able to tell you about flights that you can't easily find out about online overseas. Online agencies specialising in Russian air tickets with English interfaces include Anywayanyday, Pososhok.ru, One Two Trip! (www.onetwotrip.ru) and TicketsRU (www.tickets.ru).

Whenever you book airline tickets in Russia you’ll need to show your passport and visa. Tickets can also be purchased at the airport right up to the departure of the flight and sometimes even if the city centre office says that the plane is full. Return fares are usually double the one-way fares.

It’s a good idea to check in online as early as possible and sign up for notifications about delays and cancellations. Most airlines have handy telephone apps, which you can use for both booking and online check-in.

Airlines may bump you if you don’t check in at least an hour before departure and can be very strict about charging for checked bags that are overweight, which generally means anything over 20kg. Pobeda is notoriously strict (as well as unpredictable and arbitrary) about baggage allowances and carry-on luggage.

Have your passport and ticket handy throughout the various security and ticket checks that can occur, right up until you find a seat. Some flights have assigned seats, others don't. On the latter, seating is a free-for-all.

Many internal flights in Moscow use either Domodedovo or Vnukovo airports; if you’re connecting to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo international airport, allow a few hours to cross town (at least three hours if you need to go by taxi, rather than train and metro).

Big city airports are gradually being revamped and modernised, but in small towns airports offer facilities similar to the average bus shelter.

Airline Safety in Russia

Deadly lapses in Russian airline safety are frighteningly common. Hardly a year passes without a massive civil-aviation disaster. If you’re worried about airline safety, the good news is that for many destinations in Russia, getting there by train or bus is practical and often preferable (if you have the time). But in some cases – where you’re short of time or where your intended destination doesn’t have reliable rail or road connections – you will have no choice but to take a flight.

Industry experts recommend taking the following factors into account when deciding whether an airline is safe to fly with in Russia:

  • If there's a choice, stick to major airlines that are members of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) – these include Aeroflot, S7 and UTAir.
  • A Class 1 Russian airport, which hosts more than seven million passengers per year, is much more likely to be safe to fly in and out of than a Class 5 airport, which serves less than 100,000 passengers a year.
  • Fly with an airline that has regularly scheduled flights, not a charter. The accident rate for charter flights is about three times higher than for regular flights.
  • Check https://aviation-safety.net or www.airlines-inform.com to see the number of accidents and incidents at an airport and to read traveller reviews.