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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FACES & VOICES: An Unusual Distraction at Sheremetyevo

This will take just a few minutes of your time."

I looked at the woman who had approached me in the departure lounge at Sheremetyevo 2. I was immediately suspicious. I was loaded down with baggage f a heavy trunk, a big suitcase, my laptop, a carry-on bag and the cat f and I didn't think I had a few minutes to spare, what with getting the cat's exit documentation, getting all that luggage through customs and checking in at the Delta counter.

"We're conducting a survey," said the woman, Nadezhda, nattily dressed and perfectly coiffured. She showed me a questionnaire developed by VisitCard International, a discount credit card service, to canvas passengers' opinions on the operation and service at Moscow's international airport. (At least she's not with the Unification Church, I thought.)

Nadezhda said that for the past two weeks three shifts of six people each have canvassed airport passengers about the pluses and minuses of Sheremetyevo's operations. And they've gotten an earful.

"We come up to the passengers with a smile, and they say such things," she said. "They unload on us. Sometimes they ruin my mood."

Did I have any thoughts on this issue? Any suggestions on what needed to be changed? "Passport control," I answered. Too few booths for too many exhausted, sweaty passengers jockeying for positions in herds (not lines) after a 13-hour direct flight from Los Angeles. Ditto for the paucity of customs officers, those checking both incoming and outgoing passengers. Then there's the taxi mafia, a gantlet of piranhas waiting for the innocent goldfish coming out of customs. (Because I had a flight to catch, I didn't tell Nadezhda about my objection to the exorbitantly priced pizza, costing the equivalent of some $5 per slice, nor about my abhorrence of the dark, coffee can-like decorations on the ceiling.) "But do you notice any improvements?" Nadezhda asked.

Actually, yes, I said. The baggage often comes out more quickly than it used to 10 years ago, and the customs officers, once you elbow your way into their field of view, don't care so much about whether or not you have a couple thousand in cash coming in. And then there's that relatively new addition to Sheremetyevo, the sine qua non of any civilized society: the green, "nothing to declare" customs line.

I was interested to know what other passengers had to say about Sheremetyevo. In general, Nadezhda said, passengers find the airport is cleaner than it used to be. But they too object to the long lines at passport control and customs.

Nadezhda listened to my comments for at least 10 minutes, annotating a questionnaire. She is paid by the volume of forms completed, so that the more quickly she works, the more she makes. But Nadezhda said she's a people person, so she often sticks around to listen to longer monologues.

One woman, heading for a wedding in Los Angeles, talked her ear off for half an hour.

Nadezhda said some passengers raise the issue of a disease that plagues much of Russia's bureaucratic fabric. Many people she's interviewed have suggested that the airport staff be rotated more regularly.

"People say they're rude," Nadezhda said with a sigh. "They wish they'd be more courteous."

Helen Womack is on vacation.