Trip Report - 8/ 98
USA - Russia via Lufthansa
I got some nice responses from my posting of ÒRussia via SRÓ , so IÕll use my video tape and journal to try to reconstruct my 1998 trip over. IÕll get as many details as possible, but I am sure it wonÕt be as rich as the 2000 report.
JFK - FRA
Day 1 - August 9, 1998
The car picked up myself and my father in northern New Jersey at about 12:30pm, to make our 4:30pm flight out of JFK. The weather was clear, but hot and humid. To top things off the air conditioning in the limo did not work, so it was windows down. On approach to the George Washington bridge we got stuck in heavy traffic as fans were headed from NJ to Yankee Stadium for a double header. Our limo driver took some back roads and we went through the Lincoln Tunnel and made our way to JFK by 2pm. As the flight did not leave until 4:30pm we were not in a big line to check in at the great Terminal 1 at JFK. The terminal was very impressive; silver with lots of glass. It was very open and the walk to the waiting area of our gate was very short ( this made the use of Terminal 4 this year so shocking). So, my father and I went through the metal detectors with no problem after we checked in and dropped off our three luggage bags. We went down to our gate ( I forget the number) on the left side of T1. There I saw our nice 747-200 of Lufthansa waiting for us to board. Super day out to spot, so I was happy. Dad sat down to relax ( hey, heÕs an old guy)and I went to walk around a bit. Right next to us was a 747-400 of SQ. It looked great, I have to say. I went down to the end of the terminal and watched AC taxi and take off. There is no glass at the very end so I missed the middle of the rotation. Still, I could watch 80% of each take off. I watched an El Al 747-400 go out, and my favorite AC of the day an Aeroflot 777 also go. I walked down the far side of my leg of T1 and saw a Turkish AC ( an A310 I think), an AF 747-400, a Korean Air 747-400 drove by, and a 747 of cargoLux was moving about in the background. There was a big group waiting for an Air Afrique flight that was very delayed. After heading back to our gate I sat and read a magazine I picked up. We were finally allowed to board at 4:05pm. As we were at the very end of the 747, where the seat configuration is 2 - 5 - 2 we went in pretty near the beginning. The AC was hot! It was uncomfortable to sit and wait for about 30 minutes until the Captain started to run AC through the AC. The flight was about 2/3 full , the back was even less. So my father moved to the set of seats in front of me and I got two to myself. Some guy in the middle just stretched out and went right to sleep on all 5 seats. The flight took off about 15 minutes late, but the take off was smooth on a sunny afternoon. We went right out over Long Island and then turned north towards the Massachusetts coast. As I was on the right side of the AC I could see Nantucket and the Massachusetts hook. The stewardesses were nice, if all a bit on the older side. They served dinner, I had the Ravioli with bread and small cake, while my father had the roast chicken. We did not have PTVÕs of course, but the moving map was up for the first 2 hours of the flight. The film shown was ÒPaulieÓ about a talking parrot! I passed and read my book for most of the flight. After dozing off for about an hour I noticed the moving map was back on the screen. It was still dark out but the map said we were just south of Ireland, heading towards southern England. I pulled up the little window shade and about 20 minutes later I could see some lights below us; the English coast. We went over London and the far tip of the island before banking and heading over Belgium and France. As we crossed into Germany the light started to really penetrate the mist. We were give a light breakfast of croissants and jelly with OJ before we landed at 5:55am, at FRA main.
Day 2 - We got off the 747 after about 30 minutes, mostly due to the fact we were at the very end. The AP was dead, not one person as far as the eye could see. We found one help desk open and found that our connection to St.Petersburg would be at gate 48(?) downstairs. We headed down the stairs to a rather lonely and desolate area with about five gates. There were no windows and the time difference really started to sink in as we sat on the leather couches waiting for the 9am flight. Finally other people came down to this room for other flights. Next to us was a flight going to Lubjana and one going to Warsaw. We were told we could board about 8:30am so we all got on line about 8:20. We went through with no problem an got on to a little bus that took us above ground to the open blue sky of FRA. I have to say the moment I saw the bright sunshine I fleet alive again! We drove over to a 737 and boarded. We were in row 15, and I had the window. The flight was about 3 hours, most of them with clouds below once we reached the Baltic Sea. We went right over Rugen, then over Estonia,and landed in the then desolate Pulkovo AP, Russia. Due to the lack of other ACÕs at Pulkovo getting through customs did not take long at all.
After a few days in St.Pete we took the overnight train to Moscow ( a story in itself) an spent about 5 days there. We then had to fly down to Stalingrad / Volgograd from MoscowÕs Domedevo AP. We arrived at Domedevo at about 1pm from the Cosmos Hotel and found our check in booth. This is not like at western APs. There is a line of about 8 check in windows, each with a flight posted above it. Our was the first one, on the left side. We dropped off the groups luggage and I was tasked with guarding the bags. We waited as a flight to Kazan was boarding before us from that gate. About 30 minutes after arriving we were allowed to start loading the luggage on to a giant scale. After that we were each checked in by the lady behind the desk. The tickets said Aeroflot, but I had a feeling thats not what we would be flying. We walked down the long narrow hall of the building, through the metal detector, and off to our gate ( or bus station). There was not a big crowd and within about 20 minutes the bus came and we loaded aboard to head out to our Tu-134 of Volga Airlines. We got off the bus and walked up the stairs into what looked like a converted light bomber! The seats were bolted to the floor and there was no carpeting, jut floor mats under each seat that had been cut from some leftover hotel carpet. Real cheesy! I sat at my window set ( I donÕt remember the number, but it was the seat with extra legroom at the emergency exit). I started to play with one of the bolts near the door and it came right out! I put it back, but started to worry a bit. we all loaded on, with the AC being 2/3 full. W took off on time and the pilot climbed way, way, up. When we were about 20 minutes into the flight I went to use the restroom at the rear of the AC. I went in, and was surprised how small it was. I looked up and there was a sunroof! There was a bubble to look outside. I guess this is a military feature. I went back to my seat an as soon as I sat down they began to hand out our boxed lunch. It was a real mix of foods. Russian bread, Latvian butter, Vietnamese snack, etc. Was not bad, but I did not feel all that well as the pilot was still climbing somewhat. We cruised for a good 3 minutes before we started our long decent into Volgograd AP, in Russias hot southeast. The landing was a bit fast, but uneventful. Volgograd AP was small and dusty!
After 4 days seeing the WWII battlefields, museums, and monuments, it was time to head back to Moscow on that same Volga Airlines Tu-134. The local security guy went through all our bags, at least a little. I guess he does not get much action down there. We were each given a seat number, but as we entered the Tu-134 we could see most of our seats were taken; it would be a full flight of people going back to Moscow on this Sunday afternoon. The guide yelled out to us just to find a seat, so we did. I was able to find a window seat, so I was OK. We sat on the runway for about 15 minutes before beginning the takeoff roll. We took along time to get off the runway, and then bash, right back down on to , only to go right back up, and then bash, right back down, to go right back up. We did not go down again, but did not go up either. we sort of cruised for a minute or so straight. For someone who knows what flying commercially should feel like, this felt real odd. The Russians did not seem to mind this brush with disaster, but the rest of us did not speak until we made an uneventful landing back in Moscow.
2 days after being back in Moscow it was time to head back to the west. My father and I got to Shermetyevo - 2 AP for out 3pm Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. They changed the gate on us 4 times, but customs was no problem. We showed the front of our American passports and we were waived right through. The line to check in at the Lufthansa desk was long, an it was a good hour before we got through it, and another 30 minutes before we got through the passport control line. Dad and I went up to a little cafe and had some snacks and soda before we headed to our gate to board. We went through the metal detector with no problem an saw our 737 waiting. I also noticed an Airbus of Vietnam, in the nice green,leaving before us going to Ho Chi Minh City.The flight to Frankfurt was fine, with no incidents. Lunch was chicken or beef.I had the chicken in tomato sauce. Not bad,actually quite large for a 3 hour flight. We landed in FRA an headed to our gate to wait for our 747. However, when we got to boarding we saw it was an A340. I was very happy to see this as I had never flown one. The flight was packed, so father and I sat next to each other in the back rear of the AC, I think row 33. The take off was very smooth and I enjoyed the entire flight. Dinner was chicken again, but this time with rice. Europe was cloudy, but we got a view of Normandy as we headed out. The film was ÒThe Wedding SingerÓ; maybe the worst film I ever saw! We came in over Long Island after the 8 our flight and landed at JFK in the dark. Customs was fast an I was soon on my way home.