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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Flying in Russia Seems Funny, After You Land

Aeroflot. The name never fails to send a shiver down my spine. The world's largest airline may have been broken up, stripped down, and generally overhauled, but its spirit persists. Over the years I have developed what may be termed a hate-hate relationship with the airline. I think it stems from the time I was flying to Bukhara and noticed frost forming on the inside of the emergency door, right next to where I was sitting. I pointed this interesting phenomenon out to the attendant, who told me to put my coat on if I was cold, and walked away. Seating arrangements are a pet peeve. I have been flying around this country for almost six years now, and I can proudly say that I have never sat in the seat that was on my "boarding pass." The little pieces of cardboard they give us in the Intourist hall are actually a joke, designed for the amusement of on-board personnel. I am sure the flight crew gets a huge charge out of watching hapless foreigners trying to eject Russians from their seats by waving a slip of paper at them. When they tire of the game, a stewardess comes up, yells at you to take any available seat, and that's that. I love to swap Aeroflot tales with friends over a few beers. My favorite one so far is from a woman who claims that during a particularly turbulent flight the attendant went around and wrote the passengers' names on their foreheads with a magic marker. You've got to admit, it's not a great confidence builder. I now laugh at the Western "seat belts fastened, trays up, seats backs in the upright position, hand baggage stored securely under the seat in front of you" routine. I barely survived a flight recently where at least 50 percent of the trays were not only down, but heavily laden with open vodka bottles and greasy sausage at the moment of takeoff. It was an overnight, eight-hour, eastbound flight, and partying was definitely the name of the game. Stewardesses tried vainly to cope with the unruly passengers, but it was a losing battle. I sat with a small group of Western journalists, nervously downing beers and wondering how to fend off the overenthusiastic advances of the drunken group behind us. Every so often an unsteady hand would come over the seat with a bottle, followed by a grinning face urging one or all of us to take a swig. My neighbor was soon drenched in spilt vodka, and nearly came to blows with his neighbor, who kept insisting on sticking his pork-fat sandwich in my friend's mouth. After a few hours the tumult died down -- most of the merrymakers passed out. One poor soul was dead to the world with his foot out in the aisle. When the attendants came around with the food cart, we all tried to budge him, but to no avail. They eventually just rolled the heavy trolley right over him, while he just snoozed peacefully on. Smoking is theoretically forbidden on these flights, which in effect means that the cramped loos become the designated areas for tobacco intake. I guess Russians don't like to smoke alone -- one time a loo door opened in front of me and two men and a woman tumbled out. I am firmly resolved never to fly Aeroflot again -- until I run out of stories, that is.