Something that has been on my mind for a while, and that has been inspired by my own personal experiences, is how to maneuver the collective black hole that are Moscow’s three* main airports. I know Russian aviation gets a bad rap, but hopefully this post can help to clear up any issues visitors may have.
First of all, the three airports in Moscow are Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo, and Vnukovo. Personally, I often fly out of Sheremetyevo the most, as I find more flexible times as well as more airlines departing from it, but the other two aren’t shabby either. Vnukovo seems smaller, but I’m told that it is the third busiest airport in all of Russia. It does have a homelier feel, for what it’s worth. Finally, Domodedovo. I’ll be honest here, I’ve only flown out of there once, so my experience is pretty minimal when it comes to it. One thing that’s a bit jarring, if you can call it that, is the fact that the check in process is pretty relaxed. It’s actually alarmingly relaxed, as the gates for check in don’t open up until two hours before the flight departs (unlike international flights back home), and security is a lot less oppressive as well. I think I’ve been able to get to my gate within 20 minutes, which gives me a lot more time to dwell on what will go wrong in my travels. (Yes, I’m paranoid. My Czech Republic trip has scarred me.) So, that’s it for my brief introduction to them.
The Aeroexpress, aka the reliable airport rail link, connects all of these airports to Moscow. So, you can get from Belorusskaya station to Sheremetyevo, Kievskaya to Vnukovo, and Paveletskaya to Domodedovo in about 30-35 minutes, and the train runs every half hour. You’d spend about 470 rubles, which at the time of this post is worth about $7.58, so it’s not too shabby at all. If you’re trying to kill some time, all Aeroexpress trains have free wifi, and it lasts pretty much for the entire duration of the trip. The only downside is that you do have to factor in that time it takes to get from your place to the metro, and the metro to the airport. Otherwise, it’s a pretty sweet bargain!
If you’ve just landed, prepare for an obnoxious time in customs. It’s actually not scary, apart from the longer, slightly more suspicious glance I get from officials as they check my passport and visa, but the sheer congestion is what does it. Maybe I’m just inept at timing my returns, but it seems like I’ve run into far too many Russians returning from vacation. Once you get past that, it’s pretty much smooth running, but you’ll have to wait for your luggage longer than normal. So, unlike home, you have to wait for the scheduled arrival for your precious luggage, which gets annoying. If you’re trying to make it to the aforementioned Aeroexpress, it definitely is a hassle; coming back from Romania saw me miss it by a mere two minutes. Thankfully, the airport authorities had the blessed foresight to place plenty of kiosks around these areas, which absolutely come in handy in cutting down lines to buy tickets. However, in case you didn’t have time or were lucky and got your luggage in a speedy fashion, you can buy them by the platform to take you into the city. Oh yeah, here’s another thing: don’t toss your tickets away once you arrive (both to and from the airport), as you need them to exit. With Vnukovo and Sheremetyevo, the exit to the Aeroexpress is within the terminal, but with Domodedovo, you’d need to walk outside to find the platform. When all’s said and done, it’s a clean, efficient way to get to/from the city!
Alternatively, if you don’t want to wait for the Aeroexpress, you can get a taxi. If you’re wondering “I don’t know what company to go with,” fear not-you’ll likely be accosted by a horde of drivers hanging about in the arrivals lounge. Depending on how tired you are and/or the time of day you arrive at, you may be inclined to follow the first guy. Don’t. Trust me when I say the prices are jacked up threefold, and I can personally vouch for that. To set the stage, I use the app YandexTaxi, and their prices to each airport, irregardless of where you live, is between 900-1,000 rubles. The guys at the airport? I paid 3,000, and I’m sure that hasn’t changed. Don’t be afraid to say ‘nyet’ and move on, and more importantly, look like you know what you’re doing. Other apps that help you are Uber and Gett Taxi, and they’ll definitely be handy in avoiding hemorrhaging money the moment you land.
In conclusion, I hope this post helps future and potential travelers to Moscow. Don’t let an intimidating first impression ruin the fun that Russia’s capital has to offer!
*Okay, there’s technically four, as Zhukovsky just opened 5 months ago. However, as of October, there haven’t been many international flights, and the ones that do exist only fly to former Soviet countries. Therefore I can reasonably exclude it from review for now.