Russia (USSR) - Domodedovo Airport, 'the House of my Grandfather' by Mike McDonald (1989)

Russia provided its own challenges. I was concerned on my arrival that I might get lost. My escort smiled and said: “Mr McDonald, foreigners never get lost in the Soviet Union!”

In the latter part of the eighties Aeroflot was beginning to crumble and the generals who ran the company controlled all the airports and ‘owned’ the fleet and the pilots. They made a carpetbagger-type rush for the border to find western airlines with which they could negotiate.

Of the many potential partners we were introduced to a team of Russians who had had ‘international experience’. The plan was to re-create a hitherto restricted airport outside Moscow called Domodedovo into an international airfield.

Domodedovo translates as ‘the house of my grandfather’. It was most aptly named. As one drove down the dual carriage highway, either on one or other side, because the other side was always being dug up, one arrived at what from about five kilometres looked very much like Dulles International Airport in Washington. However, the closer you came to it, the worse it got. The place was a complete wreck.

The ‘baggage system’ was a hole in the floor through which the baggage was tossed and crashed down into large carts that were underneath, which eventually, one hoped, headed in the general direction of one of the aircraft parked on the tarmac. A fascinating procedure to observe.

I once asked my Russian escort, “Do you have standby fares?” “Yes,” he said, laughing, “We have many. We have people who stand by here for at least three days!” As I went to the aircraft, I noticed hundreds of faces pressed to the dirty glass of the departure lounge watching me intently. “Hurry,” said my escort, “There is not much time.” As we walked towards the aircraft I realized why. The doors opened and an enormous crowd of Russians charged towards the aeroplane, flinging babies and baggage out of the way in their desperation to board the aircraft.

The interiors were incredible and seemed to consist largely of mahogany. A single bottle of Pepsi Cola was shared out amongst the first class passengers by a waxen-faced stewardess. Customer service, as we knew it, had clearly not yet arrived in the Soviet Union.

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