In the latest in a series of truly funny direct marketing shoots, the national carrier of Russia topped its own unchallenged record for silliness, dispatching an English-language e mail with a subject line announcing:
New service of Aeroflot - "Comfort+"
Since you don’t immediately notice the “+” part of the subject line, you can be forgiven for thinking that the airline is introducing comfort to their regular range of services. This would make a change – a radical and welcome one to many travelers. Sadly, when we open the e-mail, we discover that this is just another badly marketed attempt to make more money by charging extra for bulkhead and emergency exit seats. This is a tactic real airlines instigated a few months ago: equally outrageous, but with a far more sophisticated and diplomatic rollout.
Here is what the Russian carrier tells you:
“"Comfort +" – a new opportunity of Aeroflot.
The "Comfort +" service will ensure that you fly with the best comfort, in enhanced-comfort seats of an economy-class cabin.
We offer you to reserve seats with increased seat pitch and reclining back rests during you check-in at the Sheremetyevo airport.
The "Comfort +" service is available on long-haul routes from Moscow to Bangkok, Washington, Vladivostok, Habana, Hong Kong, Delhi, Luanda, Los Angeles, Magadan, New York, Beijing, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Seoul, Tokyo, Khabarovsk, Hanoi, Shanghai, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.
The "Comfort +" service fee is 700 rubles.”
I don’t know how well this is going to work for the carrier, since, as everyone knows, you only have to pay $100 USD in cash directly to an ambitious flight attendant to snag a seat in Business Class just after boarding is completed.
When I worked for the carrier, I was upgraded to business class on an overnight flight – not automatically at the check-in desk, but furtively slipped into seat 5F at the last minute, as the surly flight attendants were slamming the overhead compartments shut. After take-off, I asked for a whisky (the only drinkable beverage served on the carrier), only to be told that the whisky was for business class passengers only. I looked around the cabin, checked my seat number, and raised a quizzical eyebrow at “Liuba.” She shook her head, raised her plucked eyebrows heavenward, disappeared behind the flimsy curtain, yelled a little, and returned in 15 minutes later with a thimbleful of whisky, which she slammed down on my tray table, and categorically ignored me for the rest of the flight. It felt good to be part of a team.
Russia’s national carrier is, of course, beyond a joke, and because they owe me over $30,000 in unpaid salary, I don’t feel any compunction to be at all diplomatic about them. It is a disaster. It is managed by a large group of past-their-sell-by-date, 50-somethings with overgrown eyebrows who know absolutely nothing about the airline business. The nominal heads of the airline are a few young, outrageously compensated/switched on types at the top who let deeply silly 20-something representatives of multi-national consulting companies tell them what to do. At the “ground level,” the carrier employs a legion of unsmiling flight attendants who don’t have the remotest concept of service, pilots who lay it on a little thick with the pre-flight beverages, allowing their teen-aged children to fly Airbuses across large tracks of ocean water; and covens at the airports of people called “Olga” who sigh heavily when you hand them your ticket. The interiors of the aged Boeings stink of something I can’t put my finger on, the food is appalling, the service surly, and they always fly out of the the terminal with the worst Duty Free shops. Why in the world would you ever pay them five cents to take you anywhere?
Since he operates in “the formal economy,” and has to travel into the awful Russian “interior,” HRH travels on the carrier more than I do; as does his friend Vitya Komorovsky, who must be in the VIP category of customer of everything he does from grocery shopping, to airline travel, or die. Vitya proudly flashed his ELITE card from the carrier at me, explaining all the perks he and his Barbie Doll girlfriend enjoy: free upgrades, something that got lost in translation called “premium boarding,” he could not explain, and other benefits.
“Does it include a sober pilot?” I quipped and he smiled that ghostly, slightly critical, and vaguely menacing smile Russians do when a foreigner makes a joke at the expense of a major Russian institution.
HRH has floated the idea that it might be quicker and cheaper to fly from Moscow to the USA on the national carrier, which flies direct to New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco, rather than via London on BA, directly into Boston’s Logan airport.
“You do that darling,” I encourage him. “You blaze that trail: fly them in economy class into New York, then try to connect to something that gets you to Hartford. Then tell me how that is working for you.” I’m not giving up World Traveler Plus and the Jo Malone outlet for love or money.
The one thing I feel sincerely grateful to the carrier for are those side-splittingly funny English-language direct marketing e-mails. And I can tell you this: they don’t mean them to be funny -- they are just too arrogant, and too cheap to do the checking. You’d think the carrier -- publicly-traded company, national symbol of Russia’s prowess, proud member of a real-world airline alliance could -- and indeed should -- afford the (very reasonably priced) services of a native English speaker to run a critical eye over the translations, thus ensuring that they flow, contain plausible syntax, are devoid of double-entendre or veiled suggestions that businessmen bring their secretaries on the road with them, or, indeed bear a too-marked resemblance to Boris Badinov from Rocky and Bullwinkle.
Some examples of these pitches include:
“(the carrier)…appreciates your loyalty and will do their best not to disappoint you by open up the new interesting actions...”
“Dear ladies & gentlemen!
Summer - is such a desirable time when most of our passengers are planning their vacation. (Our) Bonus programme and its partners are ready to offer excellent opportunities to make the most of this pleasant time. As example if join the new…Bonus Prime programme , you get an exclusive opportunity not to worry about how to plan your vacation.”
Here is a new take on “Buy One, Get One (almost) Free:”
“If you buy a business-class ticket for a flight by (the carrier) or one of its subsidiaries…before November 12 2009, you can buy another ticket for the same flight for only 1% of its price. This means you can invite someone close to you for a flight and pay only for 1 business-class ticket. The cost of such two tickets will be calculated as 99% of the tariff (the cost of the 1st ticket) + 1% of the tariff (the cost of the second ticket) = 100% (two business-class tickets).
Make a travel for two and enjoy our extra quality personal service in the business class.”
Finally, on the carrier’s website, you can find detailed (very very very detailed) information on coping with the fear of flying.
“To person concerned can occur following symptoms: Sweaty hands
Palpitation of the heart
Absence of appetite
What can cause the fear People who fear flying mostly are suffering from other fears like claustrophobia, fear of heights or from a general fear of loss of control. These aggravate the fear of flying.
The sufferers have a feeling of being helpless in a strange environment at a high altitude.
But there are ways how you can handle and overcome your fear.
What you can do about it
Before flight try to respose as much as possible
Beg a person, who you trust to fly with you
Take your time at the airport to become acquainted with the ambience of the situation
Make yourself familiar with the technical data of the aircraft you are flying with, that may help to understand and gives you a sense of security.
Try to keep busy during the flight, for example by reading a book, listen to music or use our entertainment programme on board.
There are two simple exercises will that will help you:
Tense all muscles of your body at the same time and keep it for some seconds. Relax suddenly and let your muscles "hang loose". Enjoy the feeling of relaxation and repeat the exercise sometimes
Breathe controlled. Inhale through your nose and breathe out through your mouth as long as possible. Information service at (outdated phone number listed).”
Note: Quoted materials have retained original spelling (such as the capital of Cuba) and punctuation.