Sheremetyevo Airport sucks balls…

So our initial impressions of Sheremetyevo Airport were not so favourable – I mentioned how we came off our flight and were ushered down two flights of stairs into a tiny ‘holding area’ for two plane loads of people, with no rope lines to ‘assist’ with queuing before getting processed through customs…? Well, I found this map:

The holding area is the dark grey parallelogram shape at the top (left one for us) of this diagram next to the little customs dude icon.  The unlinked circular squiggles are a baggage claim area that is roughly the size of a usual baggage claim area… meaning the holding area was stupidly fucking tiny for 700+ people to wait, cheek to jowl, for over an hour. No wonder people were getting restless and in each other’s faces.  And what a bloody fire hazard!

Our, now cemented, impressions are that this place, this particular airport, is a Traveller’s Special Circle of Hell.  What a nightmare.  We left our hotel this morning early, very early, given that our transfer from the airport TO the city took a full two hours instead of the 43 minutes that Google maps said it should.  I had tried to look for an airport map of Sheremetyevo Airport on the way to Moscow in the in-flight magazine, as is my habit, but the maps were all in Russian and I couldn’t make head nor hide of it.  Then I promptly forgot all about it until we went to fly out through here this morning.

With the benefit of high speed internet, I have found one and provided it here for illustration purposes… it is much more detailed and useful than the mud map I saw on the plane.
Our taxi driver dropped us off at Terminal D, as was indicated on our pre-checked in boarding passes that we printed out at the hotel, which is the grey funnel shaped area at the bottom of this picture.  When we went through the process of handing over our passports and dropping off our luggage, it was just in that first grey area where there was approximately 50 or more numbered check in counters. Vitaly, who checked us in, told us our gate had changed from Gate 5 to Gate 44 and he directed us to go to Terminal F to find our gate.  So, we walked all the way around to Terminal F (about 1.4kms) on the outside immigration and clearance, ‘grey area’, on the map, landing us at the red ‘i’ site on the concourse (it’s depicted just above the green text boxes in the map above).  When we got there, there were check-in counters all numbered 100-150, but no signs directing patrons to Gate 44 at all.  Each terminal has multiple security clearance entrance points, but we had no idea where we were going so we asked the lady as the ‘i’ site to check if we were in the right area.

Big mistake – we handed over our boarding passes, and the woman told us that we needed to enter through Terminal D!  Seriously?  Fucking unimpressed. It is at this point that I should probably mention that I have walked my chronically pained body more than 50kms on foot over the previous 3 days or so… which, while exhilarating and amazing things were seen, had left me in a state of more than usual sleep deprivation (it’s hard to sleep when your pain levels are up) and serious energy depletion all round.  So at this point, ‘Hey, you need to waste time and energy walking 1.4kms back the way you came!’ was NOT happy news.  I did what usually do in these situations though, and STFU, gritted my teeth and trudged back to Terminal D.  There’s nothing else to be done.

So we walk back the way we came and enter the customs area through Terminal D, only to finally find signs with numbered gate directions on them and wouldn’t you know it – Gate 44 was back in Terminal F only we now had to navigate the 1.4kms back there again, wiggling back and forth through the most overcrowded shopping centre you have ever seen. It is at this point I started to have to fight to hold back the tears.  My back pain is through the roof, my feet are stupidly sore and I’m done.  Just done.  This is what happens when expectations don’t match reality for chronic pain sufferers – I anticipated a fairly easy morning of check-in, find gate, sit and wait patiently for our flight to board.  When reality turns out to be an ever increasing amount of walking required, when I am already feeling shattered, I just had no energy budgeted to do this.

Additionally we discovered this wasn’t a normal airport concourse with large open spaces, lots of seating areas and a few shops scattered about.  No, it is full on, tight and tiny shopping centre that seems to incidentally to have planes arriving and leaving from it!  No shit…  So many stores, so few seats, and crowds of people to navigate around, as we walked all the way back to where we went originally.  A great deal of the signage directed you through the duty-free stores to find your gate too, so dodging ladies with perfume samples and display stands of alcohol were more obstacles to be navigated.

The further we went, the more incredulous I became. Nearly the entire gate ‘lounge’ area (and I use that term loosely, as there is no space to lounge at all), is taken over by shopping and retail past the immigration control.  I should have taken some photographs.  And not even useful retail spaces if they wanted people to spend some money – cafes and restaurants and newsagents or bookstores may have been more heavily patronised… no, all this area is taken up with duty-free alcohol and cosmetics stores, and stand alone Chanel, Rolex, J’Adore, Raybans and all sorts of other bullshit high end retail spaces where rows and rows of seats should be for weary travellers to sit.

We finally find our gate, which is squished in beside a Subway and yet another duty-free cosmetics store, and there are people standing around everywhere – and this is fun… people were sitting on the stairs that are marked near Gate 44/45 that leads to the upper part of the concourse.  So we drag ourselves and our hand luggage over to the flight of stairs where we can keep an eye on movement at our gate and finally plonk ourselves down to wait for our flight – on the cold hard and dubiously clean concrete steps.

See this map?  And the icons for ‘Shop’ and ‘Dury-Free Shop’… note also how there are not present on the map?  That is because the entire map would have measles if they were included.

We sat on the hard and uncomfortable steps for about half an hour, watching the people enter and leave the ladies toilets, and for me, taking the opportunity to try and calm my pain and regain my composure,  And during that time, I saw no one, and I mean that literally, NO ONE shopping in these retail spaces. The staff were lollygagging around bored, and the travellers were all exasperatedly looking around for somewhere to sit.  If they had lined the concourse with cafes and restaurants people would have gone in, bought a drink and maybe a snack, just to have a chair to wait on instead of cramming onto the flight of concrete stairs with us.  I don’t get it at all.

Eventually we started to board and ‘lo and behold, two lines had formed on either side of the round Chanel counter/stand thing and then it became a bullshit, ‘can you people fucking merge politely?’ clusterfuck.  Jebus… not looking forward to coming through here on the way back, though mind you, now we know the lay of the land, we will just go find a seat in TGI Friday’s near the central D terminal and wait it out.  Though Mr K is likely to just go buy lounge access somewhere to skip the entire mess.

Sheremetyevo Airport – 2 out of 10.  Do not recommend.



Hong Kong to Moscow transit.

Up early, dressed, breakfasted, packed, checked out and off to the airport all before 8am to race to the Hong Kong International terminal because all the information on the Aeroflot literature insisted that check-in for flights CLOSES 2 hours before scheduled departure time… only to get to the airport and be faced with completely empty counters, devoid of signage or staff.  So we waited, and waited…  Check-in eventually OPENED a little over 2 hours before scheduled departure times – le sigh, so much for that!  We did the thing, got rid of the luggage and then had a bit of time in what should be Duty Free Shopping Mecca. It should be, but each time I’ve been through here, it invariably disappoints.  Loads of expensive cosmetics, clothing and watches – Burberry, Fendi, Rolex, Chanel, Coach, Tiffany & Co, and other hoity toity fancy shit for sale, as well as all the alcohol in Christendom – but nothing is actually any cheaper than what you can buy for retail if you are prepared to shop around a little.  Even the electronics are ‘airport prices’ rather than duty free prices… what’s with that?

Meh.  Found a cafe and had a smoothie while waiting for our flight instead of shopping the hallowed concourse of Hong Kong International Airport.  Our flight was scheduled to board just before 11am and we made it to the right gate with heaps of time.  We had a very strange flight… strange, and yet also familiar.  We had booked seats in what Aeroflot calls their ‘Comfort Class’, which looks like premium economy, but given there is this or First Class, I guess it is what passes for Business Class too.  We were severely outnumbered on the plane (and this is where the familiarity came in)… 90% of the plane was probably Chinese folk?  And judging by their queuing and personal space behaviours – I’d warrant not many of them were from Hong Kong.  It was like being on China Eastern Airlines all over again… children running in the aisles, people speaking really loudly in their seats, personal devices with the sound turned on.  :/  Needless to say, this is not my happy place.

Thankfully the ‘Comfort Class’ (I hate that term… maybe something to do with reading a book recently on the Korean ‘comfort women’ of WWII), was half empty so it was mostly quiet – except for those two kids that kept running up from the back of the plane so they could start thumping on the floor for no discernable reason.  Immediate impressions of Aeroflot premium economy seating – nice, large comfy chairs, with a lot of extra legroom, nice cosy pods, foot rests, food served on china, real cutlery and all good things.  Later impressions of Aeroflot premium economy – chairs have no lumbar support, the extra legroom meant I couldn’t actually reach the footrest for it to be useful to me without seriously slumping in my seat, the food was lovely, but they ran out of the main choices (and I know not how – there were only about 15 of us in that cabin), drinks came luke warm, and ice was a long time coming… shan’t complain, I could have been back there in that tide of Chinese humanity all hacking up lugies as loudly as possible.

Our flight was uneventful – just the way we like ’em – but, at 9hrs, was another fairly long haul.  I managed to watch a pile of stuff on the in-flight entertainment system (in spite of having a headphone jack that only provided input to one output… would madam like the sound in her right or left ear, today?)…  Table 19, Passengers, Collateral Beauty and some episodes of Billions kept me from boredom.  Mr K spent most of the flight reading ALL the academic papers associated with the Thredbo conference that we are attending – which I thought was particularly diligent of him, and excellent news for me because I got the TL;DR once he was done.

As is customary in these situations we eventually arrived at our destination where upon we made our way off the plane on a rather shabby and filthy air bridge (well compared to Hong Kong, you know), along a corridor, and down two flights of stairs – no escalators, just one of those chair staircase lifts down the side that your elderly Aunty Mabel might install so doesn’t have to move house – that spilled into a space about the size of a large McDonalds restaurant for the EIGHT HUNDRED people that had just teemed off two flights from Asia.  Straight away, an immigration official tried to direct us (in Russian) into the ‘Returning Citizens’ line, then recognised his mistake as soon as I said, ‘Um, sorry, I don’t speak Russian’.

You know, I’ve always railed against the Disneyland-esque rope lines that direct you in places like airports and busy events – but seriously Moscow airport… you need them!  We were in among hundreds of Chinese for whom queues simply do. not. exist.  I swear the one guy who was trying to tell people to go to the back of the queue was my hero this afternoon… he was vociferously trying to stop these people from jumping the line and cutting in everywhere, and I swear it nearly came to fisticuffs at one point, but eventually people got the idea and waited in the lines that had sort of formed which meant half of them were on the flights of stairs with standing room only.  Thankfully, those Comfort Class seats paid off, and we had disembarked at the front of our flight, which happily landed us about 12 deep in the queue. You’d think that would be a cored advantage, but it still took us over an hour to be processed out – an hour stood standing about with Chinese people staring and pointing at me, some weird cat toy noise going off constantly (which after about 45 mins we discovered was an actual, seriously distressed, cat in an animal carrier in the middle of this mess), a French family in front of us who were standing there for 30 mins before realising they were transiting to France and should have gone left for ‘International Transits’ instead of walking into this wall to wall loud Asian clusterfuck, and the weirdest immigration official I have ever seen!  This lady had clearly – clearly! – had enough for one day.  She was processing in tour groups of Chinese people, and each person is supposed to sign an immigration form that

This immigration lady had clearly – clearly! – had enough for one day.  She was processing in the tour groups of Chinese people, and each person is supposed to sign an immigration form that they keep on them and hand over when they leave the country… but she was obviously sick and tired of trying to tell these non-Russian, non-English speaking people where to sign, so she was giving them a pen, waving the paper in front of them, scribbling on the paper in the two spots HERSELF and whisking it away from them straight away.  No shit, she was physically forcing them to grab the pen, hold it near the paper (for the benefit of cameras), and then ‘signed’ the official Russian immigration papers for about ten people while we stood there watching… mind you, it did make her queue move quicker, that and the frequent stepping out of her booth to yell at the tour operator to tell the people to just stand up and hold the damn pen, don’t do anything else.

Thankfully the lady processing our queue was not so riled up, and she let us sign our papers ourselves (we are supposed to carry them everywhere and while it is unlikely that we could be stopped and asked for our papers, I don’t want to be explaining to a Russian cop that that wasn’t my signature…) and we were eventually deposited out in the baggage claim area.  All up from alighting the plane to picking up baggage – about 1hr 15 mins – and we were barely 12 deep in the queue with hundreds behind us.  Baggage collection was a little interesting.  There were four carousels and none of them working.  Guys came in pushing massive trolleys with the bags and unloaded the luggage all over the not-moving carousels.  Just scattered the bags all over the place for people to come find.

I had a sneaking suspicion that dealing with a decided lack of language skills, various public transport options in a post-long haul flight fatigue was not going to make for a comfortable or easy transit into the city, so I took the path of least resistance (which I rarely do) and ordered a transfer through our hotel.  Some guy in a suit, (who failed to introduce himself, but who I was calling Ivan in my head anyway), was happily standing outside the airport gates waiting for us and led us to a smart shiny black Mercedes for what I hoped would be a speedy ‘where’s my seat belt?’ ride into the city.  It is supposed to be 43 mins from the Sheremetyevo Airport into town, but alas, Muscovites can’t fucking merge, and even though there were no traffic hold ups, it took exactly 1 hr and 58 minutes to get there.  Three hours early to the airport, ten hours sitting on the plane, two hours stuck in a traffic jam, a five hour time difference from Hong Kong, so roughly 1 am for us by the time we arrived at the hotel. Dead tired.

Pringles in the fridge? Who does that?

Checked in, did the thing, found the room, sorted the power for everything (when did that become such an overwhelmingly important part of travel – keeping your laptop, ipad, phones, camera, power banks and shit all charged?!), put shoes back on, went out for supplies and something cheap, cheerful and forgettable for dinner.

Now – to bed.  Be back tomorrow night with hopefully something interesting to report of Moscow!