Help on St. Pertersburg flights

Unless BA changes their prices, I've lost my son's best option for him to get to his semester in St. Petersburg from Philadelphia. I've some other options, but allinvolve some degree of problem. I'd like to hear from travelers here who can comment on the transfer issues I will present. Online reviews are not enough to go by, as people tend to post up only bad experiences. Option 1 involves Air France and partners. After leaving PHL, he'd have a 1'45" JFK connection, just under 2 hours in CDG. I could probably get this ticket without the PHL-JFK leg and drive him there directly. Presumably his luggage is checked through and he has boarding passes before he leaves. Other than an early AM departure on retrun, there is ample time at CDG to connect to his PHL flight (no JFK). I also have this by way of Detroit, 85 :, and 2'25" at CDG. Option 2 is Air Berlin from JFK, one change in Berlin, 5 hour layovers. Option 3 is Aeroflot, also from JFK, the change is in Sheremeteyevo, and requires retrieval of checked bag to go through customs, multiple lines, and so on. There is flexibility for the connector to LED, but then IT arrives in domestic terminal, requiring taxi to the Interantional terminal where group is picked up.. And I've heard bad things about SVO. Options 2 and 3 require tow car roundtrips to JFK. Airbelin has an even earlier home departure, Aeroflot has mid-AM times. KLM and LH flights arrive too late on the first day and can't be considered.
Any general feelings good or bad, that point to one option over the others, regarding problematic connection times? I do not want him to have to deal with problems he can't handle that could cause him to miss his next flight.

Posted by JerryG
winston salem, nc, usa
655 posts

Have you checked FinnAir into Helsinki? Believe they have a direct to Helsinki from either EWR or JFK and then(if he has a Russian Visa, he could take the train to St. Petersburg via the high speed train.

Posted by Larry
Elkins Park, PA
576 posts

I had looked at that, but cost is high, and the inconvenience is big. Program needs him to arrive by air, and he will be met and taken to lodging (and plane must arrive by 5PM). He will have a Russian Visa, but it will start only on the 1st day of the program, and expire on the final day (after it is extended to reach that point).

Posted by Elaine
Columbia, SC
755 posts

There are a couple of flights daily from Helsinki to St P that arrive before 5 pm......if you can get him into Helsinki by noonish? OR Have you considered an early morning flight from the US to someplace like Heathrow, he could spend the night there in the Yotel (or whatever it is called) right there in one of the terminals, and then he can catch a flight to StP the next morning. Might have a better chance of an arrival in StP by 5 pm.

Posted by Larry
Elkins Park, PA
576 posts

Yes, I could get him to LHR, that was the original plan. BA has an easy connection to LED without an overnight, from Philly. He would have to stay in London overnight on the way home, and we were going to give him this with a couple extra days in a school friend's apartment - until BA raised their fares by close to 40% last weekend, just prior to our having everything clear to make the arrangements. The flights I listed range from %830 to $895 (counting the cost of going to NYC twice for AB and Aeroflot), not the $1360 that BA now wants. Helsinki on Finnair is $1185 counting getting to NYC. Not only is that is approaching the BA number, but for close to $400 more is no improvement over the Berlin Air option.
The question as asked remains as shown in the last paragraph, especially the AIr France issues.

Posted by Claudia
Land of La
2014 posts

#2 seems to be the best option. 5 hour layovers are doable and a 4 hour rdtrip drive isn't that horrific. Consider it family time. Don't wish to cause a ruckus but have you also checked flights from Boston to Europe? Would flights to Munich and then from Munich to St. Petersburg be cheaper?

Posted by Laura
Drexel Hill, PA, USA
133 posts

Hey, Larry. I, too, would also pick the Air Berlin from JFK option. I think there is value in keeping everything as simple as possible, as long as the cost is comparable. Less chance for delays, lost luggage, etc. A five hour layover is good - (whichever) airport in Berlin will be a pleasant place to hang out for while, and that time frame allows ample wiggle room in case of a late arrival due to bad weather, etc. No need for an extra hotel charge. I have family members who have flown Air Berlin on this route several times, and it worked well for them. They then take Amtrack to/from JFK and I pick them up/drop them off @ 30th St. Station here in Philly. Works like a charm. Good luck, and hope to see you @ our next Phila. area meeting.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2852 posts

Yes, as you've discovered, flights to St. Petersburg are somewhat limited, and given your further restriction that he has to be met at the international terminal of LED and has to arrive before 5 PM, you really have limited options. Of the options you posted, the one to avoid is changing in SVO, for all the problems you mention. Either Air France or Air Berlin are fine. I just flew Air Berlin, and my positive review is at the end of this thread on the Helpline. Do be aware of their baggage restrictions; as I said, we weren't checked too carefully, but that's no guarantee. As for taking Amtrak to JFK, that's not possible. Amtrak goes to EWR and to Penn Station; from the latter, you can take a LIRR train to Jamiaca Station (leaves 4-8 times an hour and takes only 20 minutes), then the AirTrain monorail to JFK. If your son knows these stations and doesn't have too much luggage, it's doable; otherwise, it would not be easy, and I wouldn't recommend it. A taxi from Penn Station to JFK is a fixed $52 plus tolls and tip (figure about $70). Taking Amtrak to EWR is easy, but it sounds like you're not getting flights from there with your time and price constraints.

Posted by Larry
Elkins Park, PA
576 posts

Thanks all for your replies on this. For some reason (as in my AAA magazine came today) I decided to check AAA's Travel site. To my amazement, when I put in the multi-city BA combo that we had really wanted, as long as the AA codeshare of the flights between here and LHR was ed, and not the actual BA flight (it is a BA flight) it came up with that $990 price ($1300+ with all-BA coding), and it has been put through. To sum it up - only one actual airport transfer (with 3 hours, and we've done LHR T-5 before), airport is 18 miles away not 115, and he doesn't have to get up at 3AM to go home. I cannot figure out why I was able to get this price, as there was otherwise nothing markedly different from AAA, and it does not come up/ on either AA or BA's sites.
The weirdness of airfares never ceases to amaze me. @Harold -I had already looked up getting from Penn Station to JFK - it was not going to happen. If we had to take the Air Berlin, I'd have done the driving.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2852 posts

Larry: I'm glad you were able to make things work out! To everyone else, this is an important reminder that: a) Airfares are not rational. b) Different websites can find different prices, on the same route. c) Although "codeshare" means that the same flight carries different numbers, it can also mean different prices (yet still the same flights). I remember about 10 years ago, when Continental and Alitalia started code sharing service from EWR to Italy, using Alitalia "flights" was consistently several hundred dollars cheaper than using Continental ones - even though it was the exact same plane, just a different number.
d) Persistence can pay off!

Posted by Larry
Elkins Park, PA
576 posts

Harold, right about the crazy codeshares. We are looking ourselves to do UK this summer. So far found Virgin Atlantic from Phila best of $1274, this is actually using the USAir flight - which USAir wants $1465 for!
And by the way, you can fly USAir from Newark to London for about $1210 with 1 stop each way in - you got it -Philadelphia - and get on that same flight above! Incidentally, same son will get to experience JFK to Penn Station (with way less luggage), he decided this year at Thanksgiving to come home via JetBlue cheap from Burlington VT to JFK, and get a Bolt bus outside Penn Station. I am going nuts here trying to figure out exactly where and how he purchases the NYC fare. The various websites don't give enough clear info. It looks like he actually has to find some kind of vending machine to sell a combined ticket in order to LEAVE the Skytrain.

Posted by Larry
Elkins Park, PA
576 posts

Thanks, Harold, and I am sure you know what you are talking about (between the level of detail and your address)
Just one question on this. The A or E trains would be under 8th, and the bus "terminal" is at the corner of 8th and 34th. Wouldn't it be easier for him to get from the subway exit to his bus, carrying backpack and duffle bag, then to have to find his way out from somewhere deep in Penn Station? This is not that dumb a question, it's been a long time since I was in Penn Station, as in before 1980, he's never been there, and I am trying to make this simple for him. I realize that either subway is a longer slog.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2852 posts

Larry: To get from JFK to Penn Station via the AirTrain: 1. At JFK, follow signs to AirTrain. 2. At the AirTrain station, get on a "Jamaica Train." Do not get on a "Howard Beach" train, or one serving the airport terminals only. There are uniformed staff at each station - don't be afraid to ask for help, as it is confusing. 3. Take the train to the Jamaica station, and exit there. 4. At Jamaica station, you need to pay a fare to pass through the turnstiles. You buy this fare from vending machines right there (last time I did it, it was $5). Again, there are staff to help. The machines take cash, credit, and debit cards. 5. Once through the turnstiles, follow signs to LIRR (Long Island Rail Road). You do not have to go up or down - this transfer is level. 6. Buy a ticket for the Long Island Rail Road from Jamaica Station to Penn Station. Again, the machines (which are a bit hidden on these platforms, so you may have to ask a fellow rider for locations) take cash, credit, and debit cards. The trick is knowing whether you need a "peak" or an "off-peak" ticket. All rides on weekends are off-peak. Weekday trains that will arrive at Penn Station between 6 AM and 10 AM are peak; all others are off-peak.
7. Go down the stairs (or use the elevator) to track 2. Note that their are two platforms to track 2 (the doors open on both sides). All trains on track 2 go to Penn Station. See - it's easy! <g> Some one is bound to say that you can take the subway to Penn Station and save a few dollars compared with taking the LIRR. You can, but it takes more than twice as long, and is a big hassle; the LIRR is much easier, particularly with any luggage.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2852 posts

"Wouldn't it be easier for him to get from the subway exit to his bus, carrying backpack and duffle bag, then to have to find his way out from somewhere deep in Penn Station?" I'd say it's equal, except that coming out of Penn Station, there are escalators for at last part of the way, while coming out of the subway, there aren't. As for finding one's way out of Penn Station, the key things to remember are to keep going up (street level is the "top" because everything else is below ground) and to follow signs toward (or ask for) the 34th Street and 8th Avenue exit. If he gets to street level from another exit (and it's very easy to do, whether you want to or not), he should IMMEDIATELY ask for directions to 34th Street and 8th Avenue, rather than wander around in the wrong direction. Again, it's important to tell him that if he's lost or flummoxed, to ask anyone who looks like a regular commuter for help. Part of the problem is that most people who travel on the LIRR or through Penn Station are "regulars," so there's not sufficient signage and help for the "newbies." But you can turn this to your advantage, if you're willing to not be afraid to ask (I've seen people near tears with desperation because they were lost and overwhelmed, yet still not asking anyone for help, because they were desperate to maintain the pose of "I know where I'm going and I'll be fine").