Sunday, 4 March 2007

The whole flying really sucks

I was only supposed to go to Kyiv for one morning; taking that last flight out the night before and flying back to Moscow Friday plans eh? Much though I love living in Moscow, genuinely, and fond as I am of my several times a month trips to our office in Kyiv, the getting there and back seems to be getting worse and not better and stresses me out totally.

Usually to Kyiv I fly AeroSvit, or in extemis Aeroflot (I am not keen on S7 - as Siberian Airlines is now called, that also flies this route as, frankly, I am not wholly confident of their safety). Flying with AeroSvit means using Sheremetyevo 1 airport. Now, with apologies to all Russians, but Sheremetyevo 1 is a third world slum of an airport. Actually Sheremetyevo 2 is pretty awful too, but still a huge improvement to Sherry 1. Badly designed, badly maintained and apparently run by a management team with no skill whatsoever, this primarily domestic airport is surely the worst in the world. I mean, I have used some pretty poor airports in my life. Aleppo 'International', in Syria, before its makeover comes to mind, or using Toussaint Louverture International in Port-au-Prince, was also pretty horrid at times. But, none of these compare to the feckless misery of Sheremetyevo 1 (which didn't look nearly so pretty as in this picture!)

Although 'primarily domestic'. Sherry 1 also covers flights to Russia's 'near abroad', as we all now quaintly refer to the bits of the USSR that have broken away. So, given my patch (Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and the other 'stans of Central Asia), I am condemned to use it. One would also use Sherry 1 for flights to St Petersburg, but I absolutely refuse to fly Pulkovo airlines (which serves this route) on safety grounds: my opinion only, natch.

Now a new terrminal building has been built (Sheremetyevo 1c!) which according to my travel agent and the airline would be the one we would be using that evening; for the first time! "Not yet commissioned" said the security guard,turning us away and pointing up the road to the grim spectre of terminal 1(a? b?). Only at Sheremetyevo could there be serious confusion as to which terminal you're taking off from...

So, anyway, 9.30pm at night and terminal 1 is stinky, damp and the 'restaurants' massively overcrowded, dirty and it's all just too grim. My flight on AeroSvit is turbulent and we land an hour late, so I don't get to my hotel until almost 1 in the morning. The next day, actually, was a rather successful one (I have written about it on our corporate blog) so I had to stay in Kyiv longer than expected, thinking 'oh well, I'll just catch the last AeroSvit back'....Not! Everything was fully booked, so I had an unscheduled extra night in Kyiv (missing a friend's birthday party in Moscow) and had to hit Hugo Boss for 'emergency' clothing supplies...but somehow managing to spend $500 in the process.

The next day and Borispol Airport - which benefits from a makeover but, if anything, is even less competently run than Sheremetyevo 1 - is chaos. Only a third of the immigration-exit booths are open and the queues (if that word can be applied to the jostling, sprawling mass of which I was a part) contained literally maybe a thousand people. To get through immigration - just to leave the country - and security took over an hour so I then had to run to the gate before it closed. (we then sat in the plane for 90 minutes waiting for transfer passengers - Arrgh!)

Borispol is just too small for the amount of traffic that now comes to Ukraine's capital city and its international terminal extension completely insufficient: the airport only has two air bridges, so everyone else has to board by bus, which is not only boring but, in winter, very chilly. I was flying Aeroflot back and this managed to be 90 minutes late landing: and the route is only 75 minutes long! So, allowing for time difference, I basically 'lost' Saturday flying back home.

Russians are splendidly fatalistic about flying - and with the current safety record of Russian airlines, who can blame them - which leads some of them to have a insouciant disregard for some basic safety procedures.

On my flight out, Thursday night, as we descend and the seat-belt signs go on (so I am guessing we're below 10,000 feet) the woman behind me jauntily turns on her mobile phone and calls her husband "we'll be on the ground in 10 minutes honey!"). Amazing, actually that it worked, but yes it did. We'll be on the ground faster than that, I think, if you don't turn your bloody phone off: we're flying in a 25 year old Boeing. I know this thanks to, which I use compulsively every time I fly, to check the plane I am flying (using its registration code on the fuselage). So, while I doubt using a mobile phone would hassle a new Boeing or an Airbus, on a 25 year old Boeing, who knows?

On the way back, with Aeroflot, we're on an even older Tupolev 154 - oh joy! - and on this flight the man in front of me uses his lap-top and watches his DVD throughout, including during take-off and landing.

Actually, I am less worried on a Tupi: these planes are mechanical rather than electronic and, strangely, I have a lot of faith in them. Mostly they were built in an age when Soviet engineering was at its finest. The engines being at the back of the plane (giving take-off more of a lift-off feel actually) means, if you're in business class, it's an amazingly quiet ride. True, it has a long, bone-jarring taxi-run and, seriously, one wonders if it'll fall apart before the pilot goes for 'rotate'. Also, when you're descending (hurtling might be a more accurate term in a Tupolev), there is the most God Almighty BANG! as the landing gear doors sort of explode open. First timers - whose faces at this point are always a picture to treasure - always think we're all about to be sucked down and out, which, nastily once happened in one of the more ghoulish air disasters I know, whose 33rd anniversary - spookily - was yesterday. Not, you know, that I am obsessive in my fear of flying or anything...

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