This post will address the international terminals, because domestic air travel in Russia is hit or miss – usually terrifying.
Not even Vnukovo-3, the private air terminal, is safe from crowds during the Russian holidays, which occur several times a year. Nor is it safe for urgent matters. Last year, I saw ground staff at the private terminal deny an ambulance permission to approach the tarmac to meet a patient in critical condition.
As far as first impressions go, if your first landing in Moscow is at Domodedovo (DME), you might very well think that you are in the third world or in the 3rd-5th circles of hell. Cheap construction, constantly under ramshackle construction, a narrow, dark international arrivals corridor, extremely aggressive and questionably licensed taxi drivers trying to pick you up, quacking “tak-see, tak-see, tak-see,” in your face. This is at all hours of the night. The other night, the border patrol guy fell asleep holding my passport at 1:30 in the morning as I blinked awkwardly. Lastly, DME is the furthest from the city center.
Sheremetyevo, SVO, known for it’s gross mis-spellings on signage, — is this the line for diplomates? — has undergone serious renovations in recent years. However, the shiny new handrails and faux-wood paneling only taped over the Soviet specter of which it still reeks. Areas of SVO still smell of cigarette smoke that used to curl through the departure terminals. The business lounges are atrocious. Often, passengers are bussed out to their planes. However, it is only 35 minutes by train to the city center, perhaps one of its only redeeming qualities. Don’t even think of driving to or from SVO – it’s past a chronically traffic-clogged stretch of highway.
Vnukovo, VKO, (the commercial side this time) is the least busy of all three, also 35 minutes by train. Driving there is usually not bad, either. I especially enjoy their welcoming Soviet plane perched at the entrance. Inside, the terminal is spacious and while duty free options, libations, and refreshments could be wider, the interior feels airy. Complaints- very limited electric sockets, there is only one moving walkway towards the gates. Since the worst thing about travel is other people, VKO wins for me in terms of relatively low traffic.