Many Are Cold, but Few Are Frozen

David Lawrence's personal blog

Sheremetevo-2 Becomes Bearable

Sheremetevo-2, the main international airport in Moscow, is one of my least favorite airports in the world. Usually I am trapped here for hours between Ulaanbaatar and Kiev, with nowhere to sit, nothing to eat, nothing to do, and in constant fear of airport staff.

Moscow could be a very convenient transit location, but they do everything possible to make non-Russians feel unwelcome. Take a basic airport activity: shopping. There are plenty of duty-free shops, but they all sell the exact same thing: booze and perfume. There isn't a single shop that caters to the general needs of travelers. Reading material is all in Russian. The salesgirls don't even speak English; not a problem for me but unheard of in an international airport.

To make things even harder, you can only use Russian rubles. This must be the only airport in the world where you can't use dollars or euros. It must be Putin's way to make his sorry-assed currency seem important. But getting rubles - which a transit passenger is not likely to have in his wallet - is an ordeal in itself. 

There are no ATM machines or banks or currency exchange booths. Instead, there is a dodgy-looking machine that will change hard currency or suck cash out of your credit card. But I have never been able to make it work, and I'm afraid it will shoot my credit card details directly to Russian cyber criminals.

The transit process is painful and slow, with hundreds of people herded through a small space into a narrow corridor that leads to the security area. It consists of a single x-ray machine. There are no instructions on what you have to do. So of course you don't do things properly, which you realize when the hefty, snarling security ladies start barking at you in Russian. Since they still force you to take off your shoes (you have to run them through the x-ray machine in a green tray; heaven help you if you try to put them in the blue  tray), the entire area becomes a chaotic choke-point. Then you find that other passengers (let's just call them less considerate passengers) will take advantage of your confusion and heap hundreds of bags in front of yours on the x-ray conveyor, leaving you waiting, cold and shoeless, in hopes that your stuff will finally come out.

But today it's OK here in Sheremetevo 2. The usual problems are still here, but now there's free WiFi, which is a fundamental human right of all transit passengers. Another big change is that it's not crowded, so it's not a problem to find a place to sit. The passengers who I'd normally compete with for precious chair space have been sucked into a new terminal. I hear it's vast and modern, but has absolutely nothing in it except bored and confused passengers. But at least they're not here. I have a seat, I have WiFi, and possibly, I will have a beer.

So my endless waits for the Kiev flight will not be so bad going forward. Life improves slowly, even in Russia.