Airline cancels passenger’s elite membership over ‘insulting’ tweet

A leading Russian photo-journalist and charity activist has had his platinum frequent-flyer status with Aeroflot revoked for criticising the airline’s chief executive.

Mitya Aleshkovsky, a familiar figure to many Russians, has almost 100,000 followers on Twitter – and at least that number of frequent-flyer miles with Aeroflot. He made four flights on the Russian airline in the first 10 days of November, and enjoyed platinum status in the carrier’s Bonus programme.

But earlier this month Mr Aleshkovsky learnt of new rules at Aeroflot’s head office in Moscow barring the airline’s employees from using smartphones at work – a move apparently intended to prevent staff making unauthorised videos.

The rules were signed by the airline’s chief executive, Vitaly Savelyev.

Mr Aleshkovsky promptly tweeted a copy of the rules with the comment: “Savelyev has lost his mind.”

Three days later, the passenger found out that the platinum status of he and his wife had been revoked, which meant that he could no longer enjoy the frills and free flights that are provided to Aeroflot’s most frequent flyers.

In new rules introduced for Aeroflot’s frequent-flyer scheme this year, the airline has the right to block accounts, cancel miles accrued and withdraw elite status of a passenger who “denigrates the honour and dignity of a person” working for Aeroflot through “feedbacks and publications in the internet”.

By questioning Mr Savelyev’s mental state, Mr Aleshkovsky made what the airline calls a “negative assessment of the person’s personality”. He was duly thrown out of the Bonus programme.

The Aeroflot boss later said: “People who are insulting on social media should understand they have to be held accountable.”

The argument went viral, with many people coming to the support of Mr Aleshkovsky – including Aeroflot frequent flyers who said they would send back their cards in a gesture of solidarity.

Bill Browder, a long-standing opponent of the Kremlin who has promoted laws to punish Russian human rights violators, tweeted: “This kinda says everything you need to know about Russia: Aeroflot, the Russian national airline, will now cancel your frequent flyer miles if you publicly criticize the airline.”

A rival of Aeroflot, the Russian airline Utair, has awarded Mr Aleshkovsky gold card status – though the carrier is only one quarter of the size of Aeroflot so it does not offer the same range of flights.

Social media has rebounded on travellers previously; in 2014, a couple who stayed at the Broadway Hotel in Blackpool criticised the property on TripAdvisor, calling it a “filthy, dirty rotten stinking hovel”.

The hotel’s terms and conditions said that unfavourable reviews would result in a £100 penalty. 

In the days of the Soviet Union, Aeroflot was the biggest airline in the world, with a terrible reputation for customer service. It is now regarded as a high-quality carrier, but continues to impose some unusual rules.

Journalists can be thrown out of the Bonus programme for publishing “information discrediting the business reputation of Aeroflot” and anyone who violates the “Rules of Passenger Conduct” on the airline’s flights can also have their membership revoked. 

But the original regulation at the centre of this dispute, banning smartphones at work, was perhaps understandable after what happened at Europe’s biggest budget airline, Ryanair.

Some Portuguese cabin crew who had been caught up in a storm and were stuck overnight in Spain staged a photo where they claimed to be sleeping on an airport floor.

After CCTV footage of the stunt was published, the staff involved were sacked.

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