Friday, November 4, 2011

Travel mistake, Russian style.

What could possibly go wrong...?

The Bootsnall travel blogging challenge we ‘fess up to one of those travel moments we’d rather forget.

The prompt:

Everyone makes mistakes. We forget to ask for Coke without ice in Mexico and spend the rest of the trip in the bathroom. Or we arrive at the airport for a 7pm flight only to realize the flight left at 7am. Tell us the story of your worst travel mistake.

Getting to the flight on time....

Russia. May, a few years ago. After two absorbing days in St Petersburg and two exciting days in Moscow, departure time - a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. As you may know, Moscow has several airports, two of which share the same name. You already know where this is going, don’t you?

Sheremetyevo 1 and Sheremetyevo 2. Ah, yes. I remember them well. Both of them.

St Basil's, Red Square, Moscow
The international terminal is Sheremetyevo 2. There, Lufthansa had its jet all ready to take me to Frankfurt. Over at Sheremetyevo 1, domestic flights only. And yes, I ended up at No.1 when I #failed# to properly check my itinerary and #failed# to check with the taxi driver about where exactly he was taking me. Retrieving my bags and waving said driver a cheery good morning - it was early hours, about 7.30 am - I hauled them into the terminal of S1. There was not a scrap of English, or even the Latin alphabet, on any signage, but I scanned the boards for my flight number. Nope, no luck. I looked about a little anxiously, saw an information booth, joined the queue, and anxiously shoved my printed itinerary under the nose of the information person when my turn came. This produced a stream of Russian, lots of hand waving towards the exit, and the fateful words “Sheremetyevo 2” (at least, that’s what I later figured out). Somehow it dawned on me - some little piece of information about Moscow’s two airports, buried deep, managed to resurface at the crucial moment - and I decided I was at the wrong terminal.

Out to the cab rank, dragging the luggage, a hand-signal ‘conversation’ with the Russian taxi driver, the printed itinerary again coming into crucial play, and I was off again, only mildly hopeful that this was the right thing to be doing. But after a short ride I was debouched at another airport terminal.

Inside Sheremetyevo 2 it was as eerily quiet as Sheremetyevo 1 had been bustling. I stood looking rather forlornly at another bevy of signs in Russian, when a passing gentleman took a little pity on me. “Departures?”, he asked (I am translating now from Russian/intuition/hand signals towards a lift). I and my bag took the indicated lift, then a corridor, and arrived, completely alone, in what looked like a rather depressing departures area, with a few plastic seats in the middle and a row of closed and shuttered check-in counters. Above the counters, the electronic boards where a flight number (that precious identifier) might appear, were all blank. There was absolutely no-one there but me. It was 9 am. My flight was due out in about an hour.

Pushkin. No help at all.
It occurred to me that I was paying rather dearly for the tiny #fail# of not checking my departure terminal. With my luggage pulled up close to my feet, I sat upon one of the plastic chairs and waited to see what the rest of my day might hold.

Gradually other prospective passengers began to arrive and take the other seats. Still no life from the check-in counters. No flight numbers displayed. Time passed. Was I in the right place? No way of telling, and no one to ask. I just waited.

He's busy...
Then lo and behold a flight number blinked into life above one of the counters and people in uniforms appeared behind the desk. It was MY flight number! Hallelujah! My instinct, not always reliable, had indeed led me to the Holy Grail. I joined the small but surging throng that now pushed towards the check-in desk. As I was jostling my way amongst the people - all of whom seemed to be local - I must have looked a bit out of place, or perhaps just confused, because I was spotted by a grey-haired official-looking woman who appeared from behind the desks. She came over to me and spoke to me in - English! Yay for me! Never so grateful, etc. And her magic words? “Business class?” Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, and how extremely lucky that I’d splurged on that.

My Russian minder checked me in, took the bag, and steered me towards a security line up. Off I went, still a little confused about what gate I should head for, but clearly great progress had been made. Back from the brink.

All calmed down now...Alexander park, Moscow, in May.

No comments:

Post a Comment