Russia (USSR) - Red Faces in Red Square, By Bernard Garvie (1970)

I was a cabin crew member on the third BOAC flight into Moscow, having set out some ten days earlier from London, flying over the Polar route via Anchorage and Tokyo. I remember eventually arriving into Moscow in the depths of winter and having to present my passport at the bottom of the steps to a rather surly border guard brandishing an AK 47. He certainly took some time to let us through. Remember, we were in the middle of the politically sensitive 'cold war' period and mutual suspicions of 'the other side' were rife.

The Russians were very suspicious of foreign crews - their own Aeroflot crews always included a KGB officer and they always tried to decide which one of us was their counterpart. Laughable now, but quite stressful in those days. Once we had been cleared by the border guard, we then had a half-mile walk to the terminal. I don't think I have ever been so cold as that first night with the bitter, damp wind blowing across the icy and slippery tarmac. The temperature was around -25 degrees Centigrade.

As we neared the terminal building, we met the outbound crew, who appeared very happy and decidedly relieved to see us. They had been the second BOAC crew into Moscow. I remember them saying, "Don't try that game called hunt the bug". To put things into perspective, at that time the first James Bond movie 'Dr. No' had just been released, and it was all the rage and a definite hit with everyone. Incidentally, one of our flight numbers was 007.

They went on to explain that when they arrived at the hotel they decided to meet in the captain's room for something to eat. The Bond movie had encouraged them to look for hidden listening devices, which they thought must be secreted somewhere. Having nearly exhausted their search, one bright spark suggested it was under the carpet, so they shifted some furniture and pulled the carpet back. This revealed a suspicious looking large bolt hidden under a grille. The grille and bolt were duly investigated and removed. Simultaneously a bright shaft of light shone up through the bolthole. A crew member then looked down through the hole and in consternation exclaimed that there were lots of people looking up at the ceiling and in particular at the hole. Apparently this bolt had been the main fixing for a large, glass chandelier that had been hanging from the main dining room ceiling. The latter had just crashed over twenty feet to the floor, thankfully missing everyone in the dining room.

I recall the outbound crew's comments about the hotel's reaction. They said the staff initially thought it had been some sort of unfortunate accident and were rushing around to ascertain what exactly had happened. When the truth suddenly dawned, security staff were dispatched to the offending hotel room. All the poor crew could do was wait and hope that a suitable explanation would be acceptable. Security duly listened, at first displaying incredulity, then consternation followed by anger and then started to berate them in Russian. The crew, as has sometimes been suggested, was not ejected from the hotel; they just received a severe 'ticking off'.

However, the next day, the atmosphere had calmed down and the funny side of the story was evident to both sides. As far as I am aware, there were no official complaints, no official reaction from either side and as per 'cold war' era, a healthy respect developed on both sides. It could have turned into a political hot potato, but was regarded more as a bit of good humour. Following a report by Reuters, it drew cheerful publicity on the worldwide networks in the midst of a rather drab cold war scene.

After a long drive on a decidedly rickety bus, we, as the third BOAC crew, duly arrived at the hotel, whose management lined us up and collected our passports saying, "You British don't trust us Russians, do you?" We all looked at each other and then back at them and waved our heads left to right acknowledging the correctness of their sentiments. They warned us to refrain from removing any hotel fixtures and assured us there were no microphones in the rooms. We desperately tried to keep straight faces and started to smile. They too began to smile and then started to laugh loudly; they just couldn't contain themselves any longer and thought it very funny.

Thankfully, the incident was dismissed with good humour and no hard feelings. They understood the irony of the situation. Because of Reuters' involvement, the story did become quite well known and was repeated over the years.

Russian visas were required for this route. In those days they were exceedingly difficult to obtain and cost the company a small fortune at about 800 per visa, so there were only 70 of us flying in and out of Moscow on a regular basis. We did get to know our long suffering Moscow Station colleagues very well. How they managed to keep their composure under such trying working conditions in such an era is beyond me. We were often asked for, and it was a pleasure to bring them, a couple of pounds of Walls' bacon from home. They were all super colleagues and that was the genuine spirit of BOAC and BEA. It was true teamwork.

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