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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

LETTER FROM VLADIVOSTOK: Illegal Airport Tax Sours Flight to Santa Barbara




Despite the title of my column, this is actually a letter from Santa Barbara, California, where my girlfriend Nonna, her kid and I are vacationing. Still, it seemed important to note how the Vladivostok airport tax touched our lives as we left for this land of functional water taps and potbellied 9-year-olds.


When we arrived at the airport, it looked like your typical Aeroflot flight with a passenger list that included three guys sharing a dried fish and a vodka bottle, 40 unwashed schoolgirls from Ussuriisk and one balding mastiff, lugged on board in a travel cage that later proved effective for blocking the aisle when a pregnant woman, deeply airsick, ran for the toilets.


But first we had to get past the airport tax. Earlier this year, the Artyom City Duma awoke to the fact that the Vladivostok airport is actually within Artyom city limits. The Duma levied a 100-ruble ($16.39) tax on each departing passenger, which brings the entire airport tax to 300 rubles. The city prosecutor called the new tax illegal, and newspapers urged some enterprising traveler to sue to overturn it. But who has time to slog through the courts over $16.39?


When Nonna bought our tickets three weeks ago, the Aeroflot ticketing agent asked if we would like to pay the airport tax right away and avoid the hassle at the airport. "Sure," Nonna said. "Why not?" The ticketing agent stepped into the other room to laugh uproariously. Then she returned and collected the 300 rubles.


You guessed it. When we got to the airport, a friendly Aeroflot employee examined our tickets, then flapped them in our faces. "You paid the tariff on the ticket, not the airport tax," she gloated.


"Can't you check your computers?" Nonna said.


"What computers? Go to wherever you bought your tickets."


"We bought them at your office, and besides, we're already boarding."


"Then you'll have to pay again."


I will spare readers a description of the shouting match that followed, of the Aeroflot employees who refused to call their supervisor to the counter, of our rush to change dollars back into rubles so we could pay the $49.17 once again. It is hardly worth detailing Nonna's frantic scramble across the airport because none of the cashier windows were authorized to collect the tax from children.


But I will say that if Nonna has her way, Artyom's cash cow will be turned into hamburger. She planning to sue -- at least if a couple weeks on a beach don't sufficiently mellow her sense of injustice. All I can say is, the Artyom Duma might be wise to pray for nice weather on a certain strip of sand just north of Los Angeles.


Russell Working is editor of the Vladivostok News.