Aeroflot has been circumventing the Russian government’s ban on international passenger flights, according to media reports, by selling tickets to passengers on flights officially labeled as cargo-only.
Russia currently has the third-most officially confirmed cases of COVID-19, behind the United States and Brazil. They closed their borders in March, with a stated attempt to limit the spread of the virus. Certainly keeping people from leaving doesn’t do that, although those traveling abroad may want or need to come back (and repatriation flights have been permitted). With more cases per capita in Russia than in most of the world, though, bringing people in from abroad wouldn’t materially affect the rate of virus spread they face.
Currently the country’s borders are expected to open to flights August 1, and Aeroflot is publicly selling tickets for travel beginning on this date, although the flight ban could be pushed out further. The rate of new cases being reported is only about 25% off of a high reported in mid-May.
According to employees of three airlines, including Aeroflot itself, the company has been bypassing the ban by operating passenger flights as cargo.
“Aeroflot has been operating flights to New York, Paris, London, Frankfurt, Seoul and Tel Aviv since at least early June. These flights are officially registered as cargo, but tickets are sold with permission from Russian Federal Air Transport Agency,” Vedomosti cited two Aeroflot representatives.
It is noted that these exclusive flights are not publicized and passengers learn about ticket sales through the grapevine.
The U.S. continues to allow passenger arrivals from Russia, where virus spread is rampant, while officially banning non-residents who have recently traveled to Europe, China, or Brazil. Continued U.S. bans on travel from Europe and China make absolutely no sense.
Majority government-owned Aeroflot has long played a central role in Russian’s clandestine services and tickets have apparently been “sold with permission from Russian Federal Air Transport Agency.”
Aeroflot ad from 1970
The journalists in Russia who reported on these passenger flights could be risking their Aeroflot Bonus elite status as the airline has been reported to revoke status from those critical of the airline.