It’s hot. It’s sweaty. It’s raining. I’m hungry and the rucksack straps are digging into my shoulder. Everyone and their mother are flying away or back home for the holidays, and each of them have nine suitcases wrapped in blue cling film, which means everyone has a luggage trolley. No-one can steer their luggage trolley.
Welcome to the Land Of Domodedovo, also known as Domodedovo Airport in Moscow, Russia.
It’s half past eight on a Monday evening and all notions of a quiet, civilized return from our Russian trip are scattered on the floor at our feet. My friend who I’m travelling with, S, mutters, “I’ve flown from Thailand and it was much easier than this.”
To start with, the departure board is huge and confusing. Mostly because 98% of the flights are airlines and parts Russia I had hitherto never heard of. And there is something missing.
“It doesn’t tell us which gate to go to.”
Like any savvy budget airline travelers, we didn’t have luggage to check in. We expected to be directed straight to a gate. No such luck.
Unfortunately at this point I was feeling the effects of the mass of people and heat. S left me propped against the departures board and she went to ask what on earth we were supposed to do with no gate to go to.
I didn’t think it was a particularly good omen when the roof shook suddenly with the force of a thunder clap. It faded, only to replaced with the roar of rain falling like a sheet of bullets.
I was right about the omen. S returned looking confused. Unlike pretty much every airport in the world, at Domodedovo you still have to queue at the check in desk even if you don’t have any luggage and have checked in online. It’s so they can check you are allowed to exit the country (your visa being to both exit and enter Russia) and add another pointless stamp to a piece of paper. That’s…illogical.
I’m not sure what my opinion on X-ray scanners in airports are. I can see their uses. On the other hand, I’m not sure every country or company can be relied upon to use any material they gain in an honest and transparent fashion. It’s another step in a world where you’re considered guilty until proven innocent.
Still, there’s no point in arguing the use of them when you are faced with one. Especially not when a terrifying Russian woman is sat high above in a booth barking commands in Russian at you. Especially when you are flustered already because you had to fight a group of Iranian tourists wanting to fly back to Tel-Aviv for the last of the plastic grey trays so you can put your possessions through security.
Anyway, the x-ray is a flashing, whirring behemoth in front of you and you can’t really argue the morality of its existence. You have to suck it up, get in there, raise your hands – trying not to feel like you are part of a firing squad line up – and let the machine do its thing.
The Russian woman barks something down the crackly microphone. She doesn’t sound quite as angry as she could, so I take it as a good sign. I’m not rugby tackled as I shuffle away to collect my possessions, so I clearly passed.
Despite its rather frightening demeanor, you can’t really blame them for being safety conscious. Not only is this a big international airport – so it’s just doing what every other airport in the world does – but it’s one that suffered a very recent terrorist attack.
In January 2011, a young man walked through departures where we had just been milling around confused, right through the crowds and into the arrivals hall. Weirdly at Domodedovo there is nothing stopping you walking from departures straight to baggage reclaim. Once there – authorities later guessed it was to maximize chances of hitting incoming passengers – he detonated his bomb, killing just under 40 people of various nationalities. As often happens with these random and terrifying acts of violence, Russia felt shocked and vulnerable. Security was ramped up at airports and other transport hubs. Even before entering Domodedovo airport your bags go through an x-ray machine and you file through a metal detector.
After all of that, the x-ray machines weren’t much of a surprise.
“Oh. Well that’s why there were no trays left at security.”
We’ve cleared the x-ray machine, got our possessions back, had one more document check, and we’re now standing next to a duty free shop. A flood of biblical proportions is pouring through the ceiling, rushing through the light fittings and onto the shop floor below. We watch as desperate shop assistants try and save the make up and perfumes on display. A cleaner half-heartedly pushes at the water with a brush, but it just spreads it further. The floor is a sea of grey plastic trays that were supposed to be carrying our watches, laptops and keys through security. They now have the role of make shift buckets as the storm drops hell over Domodedovo.
I was suddenly very glad that I had fought for the last of those grey trays. The group of Iranian tourists were still on the other side of security trying to find some . . .
So we’ve fought angry Russian security officials, a packed departures hall, mind-bending Russian logic, swam through a tsunami and made our way to the gate. The Land of Domodedovo has many trials that a young adventurer must face.
Except now my very thin tolerance for heat, lack of food and water, and travelling was starting to break. I thought maybe if I kept saying ‘I just need to sit down and eat something, I just need to sit down and eat something’ over and over again then it would all magically happen. S was about ready to kill me.
Just as our bums touched the seats at Gate 1, the screen above the Gate changed.
‘Attention; Gate change for EasyJet flight to London. Now departing from Gate 22.’
Fantastic. We sweep up our coats, bags and snacks up into our arms and head to the other end of our Sector (oh yes, I said ‘Sector’. Once we had our boarding passes vigorously covered in stamps at the check-in desk we were told to go to Sector A, Gate 1. I’m guessing Domodedovo airport was set out by the same guy who designed secret KGB military bases).
Here we are, the end of our journey. I tuck into a celebratory packet of mini salted pretzels and we settle in to wait patiently for a quick and simple transit onto the plane. “Home James and don’t spare the horses.”
Except we’re in Russia, this is Domodedovo airport, and nothing is that simple.
Keep an eye out for Part 2 of Adventures of Two Tourists in Domodedovo (Airport), coming very soon.
Yes, I have managed to make a simple flight home into a two-part blog.