February Guest Review: Moscow to Sochi on a Tupolev Tu-154

Background: Flying the Russian private “Diamond” airline to Sochi

Alrosa-Avia is a charter airline which is owned by diamond mining company “Alrosa”. The airline in its first name “Mirninskoye Aviapredpriyatie”  was founded few month later after Alrosa started mining expensive gems in 1992.

Alrosa’s Fleet

Now it operates a fleet consisting of 13 aircraft and thus can develop regular routes to such popular tourist destinations as Saint-Petersburg,  Krasnodar, Sochi, Tomsk, Ekaterinburg and Novosibirsk.

These flights are operated by Boeing 737-800s. But in the early ages, Alrosa faced a problem of transporting miners between home and work: Udachny and Mirny mines. Even until now it is the main function of the airline. As these airports are located literally in the middle of nowhere – the landing conditions there are awful – short runways with old, cracked concrete; essentially what could be described as the “Severe Russian north”. The only plane suitable for that kind of place is the Tupolev Tu-154 – the mighty “Tushka”…

These flights are closed for the mere mortals, but if you want to get on that hop anyway – be ready, the cost for that kind of ticket starts from 30.000 roubles, which is about £380 – and that’s only economy class. However, I was lucky when my flight from Moscow to Sochi was substituted for a Tupolev. The best part? The ticket was just £24.

Airport Experience: Domodedovo International

Domodedovo is one of three major Moscow airports. Modern, clean and following the 90 seconds experience rule. Most international flights depart from here. DME is also the base airport for Alrosa’s fleet. (apart from the 5 non-flying Tupolevs, which are stored at Mirny). Moscow Domodedovo would be where my journey began!

In-Flight: Moscow Domodedovo – Sochi

At 10:00 AM it was announced that the bus will take us from gate to the plane. The boarding was well organised and completed right in time, but it was rather easy as the plane was fulfilled for just one half. The bus has taken us to the faraway stand where the “Tushka” was parked. As bus doors opened, I realized that our plane for today’s flight is going to be the RA-85684  “The Hero of Izhma” – the famous Tupolev which was restored to the flying state after the emergency landing on the abandoned airfield of Izhma, caused by complete blackout during the flight.

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The plane is now painted in Alrosa’s fashionable livery and is still flying 7 years after the incident.

All of the aviation enthusiasts immediately start taking pictures of the great trijets exterior. Passengers got a little bit scared by the *klick-klick* sound of many cameras around. But they were about to find out, that this sound will follow them during the whole flight! As I enter the plane I’m met by the warm “Dobro pozhalovat na bort!” (welcome on board) from Elena Vladimirovna Razumova, who was awarded Order of Courage as the head flight attendant of the Izhma flight. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Order_of_Courage).

As she knows that the plane is going to be half empty, she offers me to choose any cabin to seat, but I decide to stay with my pre-checked-in place – 23F – as the best view on the wing is in the second cabin.

As I was the first to enter the plane I had some time to take a look on the cockpit and cabin interior. As you can see – one of the best features of old soviet seats is that the one in front of you can be easily folded if no one seats there! So, you can stretch your legs out in front of you; I took full advantage.

The boarding took us about 20 minutes, and after that our plane got towed to the starting position – I got my legs off the row in front and returned to the normal position.

We had a quick line up on the runway – and the engines of the trijet started “singing” in the take-off mode.

Finally, we are in the sky! And 30 minutes after takeoff the service has started! The food was simply amazing! Everything was packed into the sky blue lunch box – filled with different cold snacks or as we call them in Russia –  “zakuskas” (the sides for the vodka).

Alrosa’s Meal Service. I was very impressed!

In addition to the service above, you can have a second cup of any drink of your choice. A slightly odd exchange happened between me and the flight attendant!

FA: – What kind of juice do you want? The options are: apple, orange and tomato.

Me: – Apple juice, please!

FA: – OK. But you know, young man, You can easily drink apple juice at home, with comfort. People mostly choose tomato juice when flying on a plane. But no worries, I’ll give you the one you asked for…

After the meal, I began taking shots of those all important wing views. If you ever have the privilege to experience the Tu-154, the seats with the best views ever are 25A/F. Also, keep in mind, that rows 26/27/28… etc. aren’t suitable for any kind of photography – no windows there,  just a plain wall. I seized the opportunity to make a 360 degree inflight cabin tour of the rare Tupolev’s cabin.

The classic Tupolev wingview.

The flight to Sochi took us 2 hrs 02 minutes (too short a time on the Tu-154) and we arrived about 20 minutes ahead of the scheduled arrival time.

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This guest review was written by Innokenty Grigoriev. If you wish to apply for next month’s guest review, contact one of the team.