It's not just talking to customers that's a problem, apparently, although it's a pretty critical first step to interfacing with other people. Aeroloft's classes also including "compelling candidates to memorize dialogues of pleasantries and reinforcing rules on smiling."
The program has been objectively successful: a British company that surveys passengers last year ranked Aeroflot the top airline servicing Eastern Europe. More broadly, it's being used as a model across Russia. Other companies are taking the idea of a full-blown classroom and adding more elements. Even the internal training used by McDonald's, which is set at a global level, pays particular attention to "communication skills" and "emotional leadership."
So there you have it. Aeroflot: tawdry, sketchy, but a national leader in making people friendly.
Make sure you click through to the picture gallery that the New York Times posted with the story. The picture of the flight attendant lessons are actually kind of surreal.
[Photo: Kristof Csemniczky / Wiki Commons]