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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Aeroflot's Last Gasp For Smokers




With the announcement that all of its flights of under two hours will be non-smoking, Aeroflot has entered the sphere of health consciousness, which will doubtless be applauded by many who have previously discounted the airline for its surly papiroska puffing Soviet personality.


But you will also hear a nearly unanimous, if not somewhat raspy, groan of protest emanating from Aeroflot's primary customers - Russians.


The airline is introducing the ban as part of an effort to polish the old state monolith's image as a battered fleet of smoke-filled airborne kitchen appliances and bring it into conformity with its sleek, health conscious Western counterparts. International carriers such as British Airways, Finnair and Lufthansa all long ago canceled their smoking flights, and Aeroflot seems to want a piece of the action. Other recent Westernizations at the airline include a frequent flyer program.


Fair enough. But by taking the anti-smoking tack, the airline is bound to alienate the majority of its faithful customers who are grateful for the choice - however unhealthy it may be - of smoking flights. Aeroflot remains, even with this ban, one of a handful of trans-Atlantic airlines allowing smoking.


When asked how many of her customers had been irritated by the smoking ban on even two-hour flights, local travel agent Anna Kiryushina said, "All of them, I think."


And that is a lot of people, especially when taking into account that 75 percent of Russian males smoke.


Obviously, it is only with tongue-in-cheek that one can crusade for smoking. It is a deadly addiction that, along with alcoholism, causes the early deaths of thousands of Russians every year. But an airborne anti-smoking campaign is a silly place to start finally looking after the health of a nation as sick as Russia.


The point that Aeroflot seems to be missing when it speaks of Westernizing is what Westernizing means, beyond a few nods to bonus mileage programs and no-smoking policies.


Among other things, it means improving the technology of its air traffic control systems, codifying and adopting safety guidelines so that passengers and semi-domesticated animals aren't wandering the aisles during takeoff and landing, and replacing those planes that look like they are held together by nothing more than paint and string.


More than non-smoking flights, these are things that attract a solid customer base.


These are changes that take money - money the airline risks losing by turning its back on its steadily-puffing clientele. Given that most of its customers probably won't be quitting anytime soon, Aeroflot may have chosen the wrong decade to quit smoking.