[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Saturday, 16 April, 2005, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Come fly with me... or not

By Steve Rosenberg
BBC News, Moscow

We hear tales of the horrors of some of the Soviet Union's archaic airports, but are they really true? Steve Rosenberg is stranded in Mineralnye Vody, his least favourite Russian airport.

Russian aeroplane
Airports in Russia have come a long way since the days of communism
As I passed through the departure gate, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Just minutes from now, I'd be taking off for Moscow and Mineralnye Vody Airport would be a distant, albeit unpleasant memory.

Nothing could stop me. I had a boarding card - stamped.

I'd cleared airport security without too much of a fuss. All I needed now was an airport babushka to unlock the final door and whisk me off to the runway.

Instead, a policeman appeared, and he hadn't come to wish me 'bon voyage!'

"Flight delayed!" he barked. "Return to the terminal building - now!"

He pointed to the window - in my excitement at being so close to leaving this, my least favourite airport - I'd failed to notice the snowstorm raging out on the runway.

All flights had suddenly been grounded. I felt like a prisoner who'd been promised his release, only to have the jail doors slammed back in my face. My worst nightmare was coming true. I was stranded at arguably Russia's worst airport.

Icy reception

You think I'm exaggerating, don't you. What could be so bad, you're thinking, about an airport? Where do I start?

Rather worryingly there's a man selling Caucasian swords and daggers in the departure lounge
At Mineralnye Vody airport it's so cold there is snow and ice INSIDE the terminal building. There are no trolleys, no porters - the check-in desks have been completely gutted - to register for your flight you have to lug your suitcases up steps, down corridors, and out into the airport's backyard.

Rather worryingly there's a man selling Caucasian swords and daggers in the departure lounge and opposite him, over on the wall, is a list of local criminals wanted for murder.

A security guard checks everyone who walks in. When I arrived he peered suspiciously at my British passport.

"You know," he said, "America's trying to destroy Russia," ramming home his point with an imaginative combination of gestures using his fingers and elbows. "

"Sorry," I replied meekly, "I'm British".

"British!" he responded raising his eyebrows. "Then you must go and drink some tea!"

Agonising

As it turned out, I could have drunk a whole plantation of the stuff. My flight to Moscow was delayed by 10 excruciating hours.

So, I followed the signs to the "VIP Restaurant". Up the stairs to the third floor, left at the poker hall, along the corridor with the ripped linoleum. On the way I passed the "Mother and Baby Room," a sign on the door ordered all mothers and babies to obtain a medical certificate from the airport doctor downstairs, if they wanted to use the facilities.

Domodedovo International airport
Domodedovo airport in Moscow is modern and contemporary
Eventually I located the VIP restaurant. Unfortunately, though, it didn't have any tea, or food. In fact, it didn't even have any table or chairs, just a picture of a bottle of water on the wall. And a rusty sink full of cigarette butts.

Now don't get me wrong. Civil aviation in Russia has come a long way since the uncomfortable days of communism when the Soviet idea of customer service was getting passengers from A to B, without worrying too much about the bit in between.

Today, Russian stewardesses are taught how to smile, airline food is much tastier, and in the Russian capital at least, airports are much more modern.

Fly in to Moscow's Domodedovo International, with its shiny new shops, cafes and lounges, and you might think you've landed somewhere in Western Europe.

Stuck in the past

Russian regional airports, though, tend to be stuck in the past. And Mineralny Vody airport seems quite happy there.

As I settled back and closed my eyes my airport experience finally caught up with me in the form of a sore throat and sneezes
On the wall of the departure lounge there's a giant metallic map displaying flight routes across the Soviet Union and the archaic phrase 'Aeroflot Soviet Airlines'.

After several hours spent pacing around the airport, I was growing desperate, and acting strange. I suddenly found myself buying the kind of reading matter I'd never done before. Like the latest edition of Doctor It Hurts Me, the title seemed rather appropriate at the time.

I was in no rush, so I read the newspaper from cover to cover.

There were articles about how to treat lip sores with ear wax. How to cure yourself of the flu by rubbing cottage cheese and onion into your feet. And how to stop smoking, by mixing tobacco with powdered crab and taking a quick puff.

By the time I'd got on to the story of a local bus conductor who'd bitten his passengers, the snowstorm was, thankfully, over, the aircraft finally ready for boarding. It was two o'clock in the morning and we were finally heading home.

It had been a very long 10 hours. And as I settled back and closed my eyes my airport experience finally caught up with me in the form of a sore throat and sneezes.

It's a good job I had that copy of 'Doctor it hurts me' on the plane.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 16 April, 2005 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.



SEE ALSO:
No more service with a scowl
29 Apr 03 |  Europe


RELATED BBC LINKS:

RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific