Russia (USSR) Trans Siberian Start-up, by Brian Burgess (1969-1972)
When I was BEA Station Superintendent in Moscow, we operated three and later four flights a week to London, in reciprocal agreement with Aeroflot, who also flew the route.
By the end of 1969 BOAC and Aeroflot had begun talks about operating services between London and Tokyo via Moscow. This routing, overflying Siberia, would save a considerable amount of flying time compared with the existing service via Anchorage, Alaska.
I always remember the day the BOAC delegation arrived at Sheremetievo airport on board a BEA Trident. It was very cold and as they stepped outside the aircraft they were all dressed in heavy coats and wearing fur hats, obviously all hired from Moss Bros! The top brass from Aeroflot were there to meet and greet them.
This was the start of protracted discussions between London and Moscow. Nothing happened quickly in those days in the Soviet Union, and we were to see the BOAC delegation several times during the coming months.
The bilateral agreement was finally signed with due pomp and ceremony in Moscow in the spring of 1970. BOAC were to operate a twice-weekly service London-Moscow-Tokyo using a Boeing 707 aircraft. Aeroflot could also operate twice weekly with their Ilyushin-62. BEA would do the airport handling on behalf of BOAC. Aeroflot were the monopoly handling agent for all foreign carriers, but each airline had its own local representative to supervise matters. I went to London to do a weight and balance course, so that I could train our local staff to calculate the load sheet and other BOAC flight documents.
It was very tedious and frustrating dealing with the Soviet authorities, Aeroflot and the protocol department that looked after foreigners! We shared the town office in the Hotel National near Red Square and BOAC were finally allocated a small office at the airport. A new Land Rover was imported, resplendent in their logo. In those times any vehicle from the west and painted in the airline colours was very conspicuous and subject to vandalism - the windscreen wipers being particularly vulnerable!
The routing from Moscow to Tokyo across Siberia required meticulous flight planning as the navigation aids were extremely basic. BOAC posted a station officer to Moscow to prepare the flight plan. Due to the length of the flight it was necessary to change crews in Moscow, for which hotel accommodation and crew transport needed to be arranged not an easy job.
The catering provided by Aeroflot at that time was not up to the standards we required. BEA carried catering for the return flight in the hold and changed it over during the turn-round, but this was not possible on the 707. All the dry stores were carried on board for the complete flight but our own catering was uplifted in Moscow. Regular shipments of frozen meals were sent from London and kept in our own freezer located in the stores. The usual last minute requests for changes from the cabin crew were not easy to accommodate!
Aeroflot were not able to provide engineering services, except for refuelling. BEA had its own engineer travelling with each flight, but this was not practical for a long haul service. Air India operated to Moscow with a 707 so their engineers were appointed to service the BOAC flights. All airlines had to uplift fuel at Sheremetievo and were very careful to monitor the quality of the aviation fuel provided, often with high water content. The Air India engineers did a very good job and worked closely with us.
The date for the inaugural flight was finally fixed for 2nd June 1970. Naturally, BOAC wanted to make a big impression in Moscow. In conjunction with the Embassy a formal reception was planned to launch the new service. Special food and catering staff were flown in from London. The reception was held in the National Hotel and many of the top Soviet officials were invited and greeted by the British Ambassador and BOAC delegation, together with journalists, the British business community and various embassies.
Champagne flowed, large quantities of caviar and smoked salmon were consumed and, many speeches made, which all had to be translated in accordance with strict protocol. A very glamorous occasion, which helped to brighten up the rather dreary Moscow in those days. There was enough smoked salmon left over to brighten up our own parties for several weeks to come.
The inaugural flight from London arrived on time amid much meeting and greeting. Although BOAC had negotiated traffic rights Moscow-Tokyo, there were no joining passengers. Our transit passengers were in the lounge stretching their legs before the long sector to Tokyo and at the same time being carefully watched by the border guards to make sure none strayed to prohibited areas. Aeroflot removed the steps, Air India did the start-up routine and off went the B707 on the first trans-Siberia flight. We all gave ourselves a pat on the back and waited an hour to make sure the aircraft was on its way and was not going to return with a technical fault.
There were few, if any, diversion points on this routing so we had to be sure that the flight was proceeding safely before standing down and closing the office. The only diversion airfield was at Novosibirsk and BOAC had a spares pack positioned there just in case of an emergency.
In time the operation became more routine, but there were always unexpected incidents.
Catering shortages were common, so that our catering officer had to use all his ingenuity to make up extra meals.
At any one time we had two crews in Moscow who expected to find the same level of accommodation and facilities as they would in any other BOAC station. This was definitely not the case in Moscow! We were the only western airline to operate a transit long-haul flight, so the authorities were not used to airline crews staying in hotels.
Rooms were very basic and restaurants hard to find. All crew members who came to Moscow needed visas and the protocol department restricted the number. This meant only a limited number of crew flew on the route. We came to know them quite well and eventually they came to know us and understand the difficulties of living in Moscow and experiencing the hard winter climate. The crew always included two Japanese stewardesses, who found it particularly difficult so we made a point of offering them all the assistance possible.
Generally the crew brought food off the aircraft and usually entertained themselves in their rooms. This was frowned upon by the hotel. There was a female attendant on duty on each floor; these were semi-affectionately known as dragon ladies. It was the job of the dragon ladies to make sure that only those staying on her floor used the rooms. As is normal with airline crews there was a certain amount of visiting from room to room. The dragon ladies eventually became more accustomed to our crews and with the help of a few goodies, like a bottle of brandy or jar of coffee, they learned to turn a blind eye!
With the start of the BOAC flights to Moscow our work pattern changed enormously. We now had a six-day a week operation at the airport and crews requiring assistance. Fortunately, the British Embassy were very helpful and sorted out any protocol difficulties if crew upset the system and they also provided the services of a British doctor should one be required.
London used to send over a weekly food parcel to supplement our very limited local supplies, as well as what could be obtained from the aircraft when it arrived from Tokyo. These were hard times in Moscow living under a very strict regime. We were all constantly watched and treated with caution. Sadly, we were not able to make close Russian friends, but the foreign community stuck together and made the best of life.
BETTER ON A CAMEL
BOAC and BEA reminiscences, memorabilia and history
About the charity 'Practical Action'
Foreword by Sir Ross Stainton, former Chairman of BOAC
Review of background to airline experiences and recollections
CHAPTER ONE - THE FAR EAST AND INDIAN OCEAN
airport and airline memoirs about the far east - from India and the Seychelles to Japan
Bangladesh - All Together Now! by John Anderson (1973)
Bangladesh - Memories of Dhaka, by Simon Watts (1981-1985)
Life and Work in Bangladesh
Burma - Lighting Up Time, by Gerry Catling (1954)
an airport story - cigars as insect repellent
Burma - The Day of the Dear Departed (1954), by Gerry Catling
memories of a delicate diplomatic exercise with BOAC in Burma
Burma, etc. - Britannias, by Alan Douglas
recollections of the Bristol Britannia in service with BOAC
Burma -The Sound Barrier, by Tony Russell (1972)
Dealings with the civil aviation authorities in Rangoon
Burma - The Fertiliser Factory, by David McCormack (1972)
memoirs of an airline manager - going the extra mile in customer service...
Burma - Cigars, Religion and Superstition, by Peter Jones (1975)
Meeting the Burmese People
Burma - Special Adviser to the Manager, by Peter Jones (1975)
attending a funeral in Rangoon
Burma - Burmese Days, by Peter Jones (1975)
a visit to Mandalay and the temples of Pagan
China - Learning Chinese by Ralph Glazer (1983)
China - Scotland the Brave by Ralph Glazer (1985)
India - Holy Cow, by Ralph Glazer (1964)
Obstruction on the runway...
India - Delhi (Not) Singing in the Rain, by Ralph Glazer (1964)
Monsoon (and its Cargo) Close airport
India - The Morning Commuter, by Peter Fieldhouse (1970)
Getting to the office in Calcutta
Japan - The Mount Fuji Disaster, by James Wilson (1966)
a retrospective view of the management of the aftermath of a major air crash
Pakistan - Yaqoob and Musaleem, by Peter Liver (1987)
fond memories of two aged retainers
Philippines - Cutting it Fine, by David Hogg (1970)
memoir of the chaos to civil aviation caused by a typhoon in Manila
Philippines - Being British, by David Hogg (1969)
reactions to an earthquake
Sri Lanka (Ceylon) - The Day my Number (almost) Came up, by Gerry Catling (1960)
memories of a BOAC Comet 4 landing on a wet runway..
Seychelles Days, by Mike McDonald (1974-1977)
An island idyll..civil aviation (and British Airways) arrive in the Seychelles
CHAPTER TWO - THE MIDDLE EAST
airport and airline reminiscences and memorabilia in the Middle East
Abu Dhabi - Ice Cold in Abu Dhabi, by Graham Moss (1970)
keeping VC-10 passengers cool on the ground
Abu Dhabi - Sand Trap, by David Hogg (1972)
hazards of driving in the desert
Dubai - a Training Posting, by Peter Liver (1970)
Bahrain - The Traffic Manual Expert, by David Meyrick (1962)
an air cargo problem - loading a BOAC DC7F
Bahrain - The Thunderstorm, by Ron Colnbrook (1968)
a scary flying story
Iran - The Nosewheel Incident, by Alan Hillman (1965)
a problem on the runway in Tehran
Iran - Hold Five, by Brian Cannadine (1972)
Teheran Airport - animal alert!
Israel - Cultural Differences, Mike McDonald (1972)
airline tales from Tel Aviv
Kuwait in the Fifties by Jamil Wafa (1955)
Kuwait - a 'Fifth Pod' Operation, by Jack Wesson (1965)
a BOAC flight planner's nightmare
Kuwait - the Oil Drillers, by John Cogger (1970)
a BOAC Sales Manager at work - life in the fast lane
Kuwait - Out of the Fog, by Peter Richards (1991)
Return to Kuwait after the Gulf War
Yemen - Sana'a Memories, by David Hogg (1973)
a testimony of everyday life in the Yemen
Saudi Arabia - Abdul and the Bacon, by David Hogg (1973)
a treat goes missing
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia - Rats! An Unwelcome Customer, by John Anderson (1978)
An Unwelcome Passenger
CHAPTER THREE - AFRICA
recollections and tales of life with BOAC and British Airways in Africa
Ghana - the Watchman, by Anthony Farnfield (1966)
a letter in the files
Kano, Nigeria - Willie on the Rampage, by Pat Noujaim (1959)
The randiest dachshund in Northern Nigeria nearly causes a delay
Nigeria - Bush Telegraph, by David Hogg (1965)
bad news travels fast in West Africa
Nigeria - Things Other than the World Cup, by Don Ford (1966)
BOAC involved in events in Lagos before the Biafran War
Nigeria - Boom Times, by Peter Jones (1975-1979)
the oil boom in Nigeria in the seventies
Nigeria - an Attempted Coup, by Peter Jones (1976)
violent regime change in Nigeria
Nigeria - Living and Working in Lagos, by Peter Jones (1975-1979)
stories of expatriate life in Nigeria
Nigeria and Concorde, by Peter Jones (1976-1979)
How Nigerians took to Concorde
Nigeria - Never Knowingly Undersold, by Peter Jones (1979)
Travails with the Lagos Telephone Company
Nigeria - Student Travel, by Peter Jones (1981)
a student goes to the wrong destination
Nigeria - Lagos Airport Again! by Nick Robertson (1989-90)
Wild West (Africa)
Ethiopia - Petrol Rationing, by Doug Tester (1975)
Michael to the rescue
Uganda - The Road to Kampala, by Peter Liver (1972)
a moment in history - BOAC in Uganda in the days of Idi Amin
Uganda - Exodus of the Ugandan Asians, by Mike Wickings (1972)
Organising the departure of Asians from Uganda
Uganda - Kenneth's Mortars, by John Anderson (1972)
Diplomatic Incident in East Africa
Zambia - Jottings from the Copperbelt, by Peter Jones (1969-1972)
Malawi - The President's Plane, by Peter Woodrow (1977)
VIP Travel to the Commonwealth Conference...
Kenya - Nairobi 1956 etc., By Maurice Flanagan
early memories of BOAC in Nairobi
Kenya - The Frustrations of the Comet 4, by Don Ford (circa 1962)
recollections of ingenious improvisation to make best use of space in the BOAC Comet 4
Kenya - Customer Recovery, Kenya Style, By Simon Watts (1988)
Going the extra mile...
Kenya - Concorde and other big beasts, by Simon Watts (1986-90)
Concorde and other big beasts
Kenya - Nanyuki Wedding, by Steve Sturton-Davies (1992)
a wedding in the bush
Egypt - The Six Day War, By Ron Colnbrook (1967)
memories of a war zone
Libya, Sudan and Iraq - The Personal and Confidential File, by Roddy Wilson (1955-1960)
more camel stories...
Libya - Monkeys in a Hangar, by Ralph Glazer (1954)
Wildlife in Tripoli
Libya - The spirit of Christmas Past, by Gerry Catling (1958)
hijinks in the Tripoli transit lounge
Libya (and Ceylon) Unaccompanied Minors by Gerry Catling (1959)
The difficulties that younger passengers sometime cause...
CHAPTER FOUR - THE CARIBBEAN, AMERICAS AND ATLANTIC OCEAN
Jamaica - Dr No by Mike McDonald (1964/1974)
a James Bond memory
St. Lucia - Hurricane Allen, by Peter Jones (1980)
surviving a major hurricane
St.Lucia - The Wrong Taxiway, by Peter Jones (1983)
consequences of miscommunication
St. Lucia - The Red Lady, by Peter Jones (1983)
voodoo and the Boeing 747 - an unsolved mystery
St. Lucia - The Collector, by Peter Jones (1983)
An Illegal 'Collector' of Rare Species is seen off
St. Lucia - There's a Hole in the Runway, by Peter Jones (1984)
suspension of operations in St Lucia
Trinidad - Management Skills, by Bill Smith (1965)
learning the ropes, the hard way
Bahamas - Cabin bags and Elephants, by Tony Russell (1966)
Canada - Gander, Crossroads of the World, by Gerry Catling (1956)
Transatlantic travel as it used to be
Mexico - A Day in Mexico City, by Ralph Glazer (1975)
Concorde, a Road Accident and the Mexican Police
Panama - Don't Stop! by David Hogg (1975-1980)
what about the snakes?
Panama - Flying Positive, by David Hogg (1975-1980)
BAC-111 pilots in Central America
Chile - Chile-Chile-Bang-Bang, by Howell Green (1994)
Frustrations in the queue for take-off
Uruguay - Jet Flight Arrives in South America, by Alan Douglas (1959)
introducing the Comet 4 in South America
USA - I Was There That Day, by Jonathan Martin (1963)
Dallas 1963, the day of President Kennedy's assassination
USA - The Cricket Team, by Peter Jones (1964)
cricket in New York with BOAC?
USA - The New World, by Don Ford (1967-1969)
An expatriate airport manager comes to Chicago
Ascension and Falkland Islands - Encounters of the Third Kind, by Bruce Fry (1985-1987)
a BOAC station engineer goes on secondment to the RAF in the Falklands
CHAPTER FIVE - EUROPE
UK - A Shetland Story, by Anthony McLauchlan (1972)
Bulgaria - Fog in London, by Mike Lewin (1976)
BEA schedules affected by fog in London
Cyprus - Suez and the Rocky path of True Love, by Gerry Catling (1956-57)
effect of Suez on BA schedules and social life..
Cyprus - the Hijack, by Bruce Fry (1970)
when a hijacked BOAC VC-10 diverted all flights to Nicosia
Cyprus - The Turkish Invasion, by Taff Lark (1974)
Evacuation of tourists when Cyprus invaded by Turkish forces
Germany - from BSAA to the Berlin Airlift, by Charlie Item Smith (1948-49)
Following the BSAA disasters, the Avro Tudor fleet is assigned to the Berlin Airlift as fuel tankers
Germany - Learning German, by Larry Gorton (1966)
recollections of a BEA manager having problems learning German
Italy - The Secret of Fiumicino, by Bill Smith (1967)
airport customer service staff get a morale boost and valuable lessons for motivation are learned
Romania - Heidi's Haggis, by Mike Lewin (1971)
a bit of BEA memorabilia - ingenuity in the kitchen saves Burns Night in Bucharest
Poland - The Stand-off, by Roy Burnham (1978)
an encounter with American presidential security guards
Russia (USSR) Trans Siberian Start-up, by Brian Burgess (1969-1972)
planning for an historic moment - BOAC's trans Siberian route to Japan
Russia(USSR) - The Omelette Factory, by Peter Richards (1970s)
Navigating over Siberia
Russia (USSR) - Red Faces in Red Square, By Bernard Garvie (1970)
Diplomatic Incident with Chandelier
Russia (USSR) The Security Guard, by Peter Richards (1976)
How to scare a Russian Security Officer
Russia(USSR) the Golf Lesson, by Peter Richards (1976)
In a Moscow Hotel Room..
Russia (USSR) -The Stewardess, by Taff Lark (1980)
shades of 007
Russia (USSR) - Domodedovo Airport, 'the House of my Grandfather' by Mike McDonald (1989)
a memoir of early days at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport
Spain - Dictatorship and Honour, by Gerry Catling (1960)
a recollection of Franco's Spain - negotiating the 'personal honour' code at Madrid Airport
Spain - A Soft Touch, by Ralph Glazer (1971)
A Meeting with Franco
Switzerland - The Precision of the Swiss, by Gerry Catling (1968)
recollections of how we proved to the airport authority that the Super VC-10 was not a noisy aircraft
Further reading and watching for addicts....
Some miscellaneous photos that don't have a story to go with them
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