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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Even Aeroflot Now Minds if You Smoke

Long infamous for its smoke-filled cabins, Aeroflot - the national carrier for a country where 75 percent of all males smoke - has banned smoking on flights of two hours or less.

The ban, which covers 30 of the airline's destinations in Russia and Europe, is an attempt to bring the airline's service in line with international standards, company officials said.

"Many international airlines forbid smoking already. Our decision is part of a worldwide process that Aeroflot is following in an effort to improve its culture of service," said an airline spokesperson who declined to be identified.

But while the move will be a welcome relief for nonsmoking budget travelers, it has not found favor with all of the airline's clientele.

"Of course, many Russians don't like it at all," said Anna Kiryushina of Travel House, a Moscow travel agency.

And what does "many" mean?

"All of them, I think," she answered, adding that her Russian clients often choose Aeroflot over its international competitors because of its smoker-friendly reputation.

Apparently, a small but vocal minority of foreign Aeroflot customers also choose the airline for the same reason.

A Moscow Times query to the expat list, an e-mail forum for foreigners living in Russia to express their concerns, drew several responses.

"I always fly Aeroflot, principally because they allow smoking," wrote Peter Houlder. "Although they have gotten a lot better, if they were to become just another smoker-unfriendly carrier, they would lose my business - approximately 20 international flights per annum."

The Aeroflot spokesperson said that the airline has no plans to extend the smoking ban to its trans-continental flights.

In the West, smoking on international and domestic air flights has long been a thing of the past, thanks to a combination of consumer activism, legislation and the fear of litigation over passive smoking's capacity to damage people's health.

Asked if any marketing studies had been carried out to determine if a smoking ban would help or hurt business, she would only say that such a study "probably" existed.

In fact, Aeroflot introduced the no-smoking concept on several "experimental" flights last year.

According to Segodnya, a Russian daily, no "incidents" occurred, and so the program was expanded to all short-haul flights.

Rival Transaero airlines, which banned smoking on all flights of five hours or less in 1996, has also tread carefully where smokers' rights are concerned, despite its image as a Western-oriented, customer-friendly, airline.

It preceded its 1996 move with passenger questionnaires and free handouts of nicotine-laced chewing gum, said Galina Ponomaryova, an airline spokesperson.

"Even the passengers who smoked said it was a good idea," she added.

Indeed, it appears that despite protests of its smoking clientele, Aeroflot has little to worry about.

The reactions of passengers boarding Aeroflot flights last week at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport were decidedly muted, with most smokers resigned to quietly accepting the airline's decision.

"What can you do, after all?" sighed Vladimir Savin, a middle-aged coal miner and smoker, flying home to Vorkuta after visiting relatives in Tula.

A native of the city famous for sending a brigade of coal miners to Moscow to lead an ultimately fruitless protest over unpaid wages last year, he said that he and his comrades had little stomach left for protests of any sort.

"People will do what they're told," he added with a wistful shrug.

The only clear call for smokers to defend their rights came from Sergei Molodinsky, a British American Tobacco sales representative flying back to St. Petersburg - one of the destinations covered by the ban - after attending a Moscow conference on future of the tobacco industry in Russia.

Although he is not a smoker, he said that he believes it should be a choice for thinking adults to make.

"There should always be an alternative for people; that's why there are designated smoking rows," he said.

And is he worried this ban is the beginning of a wider anti-smoking campaign in Russia?

"Russia's the No. 4 tobacco market in the world," he said. "Believe me, there's a future for cigarettes here."