- 1. The introductory chapter including the Preface, some notes on the booking process and the flight from HAM to DME on a Lufthansa A320
- 2. The daytrip from VKO to MRV on Kuban Airlines' Yak-42D and back on KMV Avia's Tu-154M (this chapter)
- 3. The flight from SVO to LED on Aeroflot's A320 and the daytrip from LED to CEE and back on Severstal Aircompany's Yak-40
- 4. The overnight trip from LED to SCW and back on UTair Express' Tu-134 and the flight from LED to ARH on Rossiya's An-148
- 5. The long return journey from ARH via HEL (on Nordavia's An-24) and CPH (on Blue1's B717) to HAM (by train and ferry)
Having arrived safely and without any complications to Russia the day before, it was time to catch the first Russian birds of this trip.
Tuesday, 23 August 2011
RA-42375 (delivered in 1990)
My alarm went off at 6:00 in the morning, which annoyed not only me, but also the fellow occupants of my youth hostel room. I got up, took a shower, grabbed my stuff and headed towards Kievskaya station – for some reason, the whole process took too long and I missed the 7:00 Aeroexpress train to Vnukovo airport. The trains to VKO only run once per hour, so waiting for the next one was no option. Instead, I arranged a taxi whose driver agreed, after some negotiations with the respective bids being scribbled onto some paper, to take me to VKO for 1500 RUB (probably a tourist rip-off, but at first he asked for 2000 RUB). Well, this was still better than missing the booked daytrip. As the guy understood that I was in a kind of hurry, he provided an express service with speeds up to 100 km/h in the city and much more on the highway in his worn-out VW T4 minibus.
I arrived at VKO well on-time and made my way through the nice-looking check-in hall...
...to the dedicated counter for Kuban Airlines' (or Air Lines of Kuban – they seem to use both names) morning flight to Mineralnye Vody. The city's name translates to "mineral waters" and refers to the sources found in the region. It is located in the northern Caucasus region and despite its only about 75000 inhabitants serves as an important transport hub for the region's industry and population.
Check-in was a breeze and my request for a window seat in the back was at least somewhat granted in the form of seat 14A, which is in an exit row. I proceeded through security and walked around in the apparently not yet fully completed departure area, where I intended to have breakfast at one of the cafés. However, after being ignored by the indifferent staff for 20 minutes, I decided to go to the gate and hope for some snack on board.
Through the window, I spotted a Kuban Yak-42D on the apron which I hoped to be my ride...
...and walked towards the gate, which seemed to be downstairs but a lot of people were sitting around. A desk was manned, but no action was going on about 45 minutes before scheduled departure so I sat down, too. After having observed the scene for some minutes, a strange gut feeling urged me to ask the girl at the desk whether boarding for the flight to MRV might have actually started already, and she answered, with a relieved expression because the last passenger had finally arrived, that they were only waiting for me. So downstairs I went to the waiting bus which was packed to the brim with passengers who gave me an evil stare for being "late". I returned a stare just as evil which reflected the facts that I had to get up early, missed my train, was not served at the café and almost missed this flight due to a weird boarding procedure.
The bus then took me and my fellow passengers across the apron, past these two untitled beauties...
...towards RA-42375, the scheduled Yak-42D. I took this picture...
...from the open door of the bus due to the large number of airport / airline employees around – I didn't feel like running into trouble for photography on the sacred grounds of a Russian airport today.
I entered the cabin which had the nice old-school smell, open hat racks and a weird atmosphere of silence. Once settled in my seat, I had a glance out of the window:
When everyone had boarded and taken their seats, the cabin crew handed out some candy, performed a safety demo in Russian only and verified that everyone was buckled up. Soon later, the engines were fired up (a great sound) and a long taxi commenced towards the active runway. Lots of parked aircraft were visible:
The long and noisy take-off roll took us past a large part of Russia's governmental fleet:
As expected, the Yak climbed only gradually (my only other experience on a Russian jet was on Air Koryo's Tu-154B in 2009, which also performed a rather powerless climb). We flew over a forest almost without gaining any altitude...
...and then continued towards the south.
Soon, the flight attendants sprung into action and came through the cabin with their awesome old-fashioned, shaky and squeaking trolleys with juice, water and some kind of lemonade on offer.
Meals were also handed out – I would rate this on-board meal a one out of ten:
Thereafter, the cabin crew came through the cabin again with the most stylish tea and coffee service I have ever seen:
When the entire crew disappeared behind the forward curtain, I went to the back of the plane to take a cabin shot:
I also looked out of the window in the aft door and saw that the retracted stairs didn't quite close tightly, offering a glimpse at the sky below (sorry for the crappy picture quality):
I returned to my seat and took the obligatory legroom shot – thanks to the exit row, I had plenty of space; the other rows were a lot more cramped.
Descent started soon and took us along some hills and what I assume to be Mineralnye Vody's suburbs:
Landing was gentle and was followed by a long taxi back towards the apron.
Disembarkation was again performed through the aft stairs and the bus was waiting – again, I took a picture from the safe haven that was the bus:
On the apron, I saw a bunch of Tu-154s of the local airline KMV Avia, all being painted in different liveries of their prior owners, as well as an Aeroflot A320 and an untitled An-30:
The bus stopped in front of a modern arrivals terminal which was, however, not really illuminated from the inside. I elbowed my way through the hordes of taxi drivers who really blocked the narrow exit door and even came running after me when they saw me walking away:
Of course, I didn't really need a taxi as I headed directly for the impressive newly-built departure terminal:
Tuesday, 23 August 2011
RA-85149 (delivered in 1989)
A glance at the FIDS...
...showed that my return flight to VKO on KMV Avia would depart on time. I waited for about an hour for check-in for my flight to begin and then made my way to the queue.
On my reservation print-out, a seat had apparently already been assigned for me: 17B. I asked the check-in lady whether she could change that to a window seat, to which she simply replied "no". So I made my way through security towards the gate area and sat down in front of the gate that was shown on my boarding pass and on the screens (Gate 1). Some looking out of the window followed, with insights into the local baggage transport procedure...
...and into the variety of liveries present in KMV Avia's fleet.
I was wondering which would be my plane – I hoped for the one in the original KMV livery. As there was still plenty of time left until the supposed boarding time, I took out my book and read for a while. After half an hour, the same gut feeling that had struck me in the morning said hello again, and I checked what was going on at the other three gates. At Gate 4 on the other end of the hall, a furious employee was yelling "VNUKOVO" into the hall – oh. Again I boarded a waiting bus full of people – where did they get the information from?!
The bus then drove around the parked aircraft, all the way to the end of the apron, turned around and went back towards RA-85149, a Tu-154M in the livery of the former airline Donavia.
I decided to be more courageous than before and took some pics while walking towards the stairs – nobody objected.
I also took a photo at the top of the stairs...
...and one of the entrance door:
Not wanting to miss any views outside, I just sat down on seat 17A. Soon, a family appeared and caused some confusion as they all wanted to sit together, so I hoped that this confusion would result in nobody claiming 17A. Well, in the end some woman took my original seat 17B and I guess it all worked out fine.
Legroom was basically non-existent, as the obligatory legroom shot shows:
Taxi, takeoff roll and climb took place in grey weather – or was it just the dirtiness of my window? Anyway, takeoff was again loud and not that steep.
The flight attendants soon distributed a meal – thumbs up to KMV Avia, this was the best meal I would get on any of my flights in Russia. The vegetables were fresh, the cake surprisingly tasty and the cold cuts tasted ok although they looked like they were made of plastic:
Again, coffee and tea were distributed from these awesome pots:
When the crew was behind the curtain to relax in their galley, I took another cabin shot:
A nice and detailed safety card was attached to the wall:
The flight was uneventful; I read a bit and soon descent started towards Moscow. Some new luxury villa community under construction:
A soft landing with heavy breaking action followed after flying over this highway:
During taxi, one of KMV Avia's newer Tu-204s came in sight:
A last glimpse at the cabin interior:
During disembarkation, I took more pictures – again, nobody objected:
A bus took all passengers to the arrivals hall and I went to the waiting Aeroexpress train back to Moscow, where I arrived at Kievskaya station where my train had left without me earlier that day.
That evening, I walked around Moscow's centre again for a while. The Kremlin:
A bridge over the Moskva and the Church of Christ the Saviour:
A WW2 memorial in front of the Kremlin walls:
Outside the Red Square:
In one of Moscow's amazing metro stations:
The day ended with a quick dinner near the hostel. I was looking forward to checking out St. Petersburg; Moscow had disappointed me a bit: The nice architecture and rich cultural heritage were somewhat superimposed by the omnipresent decadence in the form of extravagant stores, posh restaurants and crazy drivers of all kinds of luxurious vehicles.
Stay tuned for part 3 of my report, including a short flight from SVO to LED on Aeroflot's A320 and an interesting daytrip from LED to CEE and back on Severstal Aircompany's amazing Yak-40.