Grigory Pasko: Russia Takes Flight, Toward the Past


Editor’s note: Readers who have ever had the pleasure of flying in Russia or the Near Abroad have likely experienced the phenomenon of the rolling two-hour rescheduling of flights. Soviet aviation rules, which have remained unchanged for decades, require an airline to provide passengers with a meal if a flight is delayed for more than two hours. The easiest way to get around this wholly unnecessary expense is to simply resechedule the flight every two hours, without providing passengers any information on the real state of affairs, so they have to anxiously sit in the airport, never knowing if the plane will actually take off this time or not. The reason this trick works is that theoretically, a rescheduling is not the same thing as a delay, it is an entirely new scheduled takeoff time that resets the clock to zero, so that when the plane finally does take off half a day or more after it was originally scheduled to do so, it is technically less than two hours delayed. Our Russia correspondent Grigory Pasko recently discovered that rolling two-hour rescheduling is still alive and well.

Russia is on its way towards accession into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Our statesmen do not tire of repeating to us that accession will give the country a most powerful impulse for raising investment attractiveness and the growth of the country’s economy.

However any businessman will tell you that for him the perception of every country begins with its airport. And in general, the ability of these airports to get you successfully and quickly transported to the desired destination within the country. All the more so, in the eyes of this foreign businessman, to successfully get him to the location where he has bravely decided to sink his capital.

Let us assume that the potential foreign businessman has taken a likingto the city of Saratov. The first thing the businessman will learn withannoyance and surprise: there’s only one flight to Saratov from Moscowon a very small and very uncomfortable Yak-42 airplane. I know this from personal experience on my last trip to this hamlet on the Volga.

As I headed to the airport, I recalled a recent conversation with a friend, who had mentioned in passing that the last time he had flown to Saratov, he got stuck waiting five hours in Domodedovo before flying out.  And this was in November, before the very worst of the season’s weather had come.

On themorning of my departure, I telephoned the airport and asked forthe latest news about my 9:20 Saratov flight.  “Everything’s normal,”they answered me, “there are no changes.”  I arrive at the airport andfind out that not only are there no changes, but even the gate number ishanging on the display board – №46. I go to the gate and discover asomehow excessively large quantity of those desiring to get to Saratov.  I am not an aeronautical specialist, but this crowd seemed much larger than could possibly fit on a single Yak-42.  Some passengers explained to me that many people had been sitting here since the day before, and asconcerned today – nobody knew if the flights would be running.

Around 9 in the morning, I telephoned the inquiry office(because after check-in there is nothing even resembling an informationbooth in the halls where the boarding gates are). What’s the latestnews with my Saratov flight, I ask, wistfully glancing at the peacefullysniffling herd of forlorn passengers. Check-in is taking place, theyreport to me. I am aware that check-in is taking place. You tell me,what about the boarding of the airplane? There will be information intwo hours , at 11:00. Wait …Wait…

A person from the crowd told me that he has been hearing this «in twohours» for a second day already.  Already I am thinking of the traffic jam in China which lasted for an entire week. And every time they say: there willbe information, wait, wait…

On the loudspeaker they announced that the flight to Saratov has beendelayed due to the weather in Saratov. Itelephoned Saratov, and my acquaintances said that everything was normalover there. Yes, there is a light rain. From this I made theconclusion that Yak-42 airplanes do not fly in the rain.

At 11:00 I telephoned inquiries. Response: telephone at 13:00. At13:00 they advised me to telephone at 15:00. Well, you get the rest…Theprospect of sitting a whole day in the airport did not pleased meone bit. I left the pre-flight waiting zone ( or whatever it is thatthey call it) and went to look for the Saratov airlines sales counter,in order to return my ticket.  (I can see that you’re laughing already). Well yes! This turned out tobe very unsimple. At first they sent me to the other end of theairport to put a mark that the flight did not take place. There theywrote cunningly: flight delayed until 13:00. With this mark to anotherwindow, in order to remove [myself] from check-in (to change status, asthey enigmatically express themselves). They changed and sent me tothe sales counters of all directions to return the ticket. There theylaughed and said: you will get your money back only there where youbought the ticket.
While we’re on the subject, they advised (and I quote word for word): «Fly by railroad!»

I went off to Moscow. Although it seems that in the morning I had beenplanning to go to Saratov. In the sales office where I had bought thetickets they said: well, they didn’t cancel the flight after all, theyhad merely delayed it. So we won’t return the money. And here thetranquillity that had not abandoned me since 6 in the morning betrayedme. It called to mind that Michael Douglas movie, when he flew off thehandle and shot everybody. In short, they did return the money to me.Not all of it, but still…

P.S. At 15:00, just out of sporting interest, I telephoned Domodedovoabout my dear flight to Saratov. Guess what they told me…

P.P.S. At 16:50 they reported that the plane was supposed to take offany moment now… Then I telephoned one more time: the plane had takenoff at nearly 18:00.

…What do you think, after such a «flight», will the potentialbusinessman still have any desire to invest money in projects inSaratov?