One week into our three weeks in Russia the seven of us sat in the lobby of our hotel filled with trepidation about the plane transfer from St. Petersburg to Moscow. I had gone back and forth multiple times with my U.S. travel agent about our options for this part of the voyage. I was dead set against flying on a Russian-owned airline. Western press coverage leads one to believe that Russian planes fall out of the sky with the same frequency as pelicans but with far less grace. Unfortunately train travel between St. Petersburg and Moscow is reportedly not much better. According to the articles I’d read, Russian trains were crowded, hot, and full of bandits happy to relieve non-Russian tourists of their luggage if not their vital organs (at least those with any amount of resale value). What was a plane crash and train bandit avoiding American girl to do? Answer in this circumstance: suck it up, or stay home.
Given our experience that hot July morning, a modest amount of worry was actually warranted. A driver pulled up in front of our hotel and loaded us into a tired looking minibus that not only did not have air conditioning, it was low on functioning windows, seatbelts, tires, brakes, door locks, you name it. It was a hot hour to the airport breathing the heavy fumes on the car-choked roads. We were deposited with no explanation or assistance at the end of a l-o-n-g driveway that reached up to the departure portion of the airport. It was not clear to us why we were left there, but left we were. We were clearly NOT in the passenger loading and unloading zone (where is Howard Jarvis when you need him?). There were no sidewalks and our only option was to walk in the middle of the street, dragging our luggage behind us. Had I had an ounce of spare energy or any remaining sense of humor I would have paused to photograph the seven of us struggling to pull our three weeks worth of luggage uphill, in the center of the road. Unfortunately my sense of humor had wandered off earlier in the morning with the increase in my blood pressure and the explosion of my anxiety.
It was a stifling wait to check in for the flight followed by a toasty, smoky half hour in the certifiably antique departure lounge followed by an even hotter ride on the dilapidated airport bus to the side of the plane. However, none of this mild discomfort prepared us for what lay ahead. We boarded the plane to find ourselves inside a 100-degree flying TOMB. There was absolutely no ventilation and the surly (yes, we were back to surly) flight staff cared not a wit that we were in serious discomfort. A Soviet-era Tupolov, there was barely enough room between rows for the children to get inside, let alone the adults. The seatbelts were oddly too big for everyone (particularly the universally skinny Russians) and had no adjustment mechanism what so ever. No safety concerns were expressed about the fact that our luggage was too big for the bins above, and too big for the space below the seats and consequently was completely blocking the floor and the aisles. My sister theorized that functioning seatbelts were unnecessary when passengers are wedged in like sausages. In the case of turbulence she felt that the odds that she might break free of her moorings were in fact, quite low. My older son, then seven, declared in a loud voice a number of times that Russian airlines “suck,” and he was right. I sat, allowing ice cubes to melt on my hot thighs in a vain attempt to reduce my surging body temperature. I poured water on my children’s steaming heads and I wrestled with my anxiety-ridden stomach. As well traveled as we were, this was by far our worst flight experience, EVER. It was horrendous, hateful, and heinous (have you ever noticed how many vile words start with “H”?). Whose horrible “vacation” idea was this anyway? Oh wait. It was mine.
Really, the only positive thing one could say about our flight from St. Petersburg to Moscow is that we survived. Given how many Soviet-era Tupolovs take off and fly straight into the hot or cold, hard ground – we should count ourselves lucky and put a positive spin on the experience. Truthfully, if it had turned out otherwise we’d have no story to tell at all.Print This Post