Thursday, September 20, 2007

Airline X

Tootled off from Georgia to Ukraine on Monday, with some colleagues, for a conference in Kiev at which I was going to do a song and dance act. When I booked the ticket I was not entirely sure which airline I was flying with. Having arrived in Ukraine, I'm still not sure. Might be Georgian National though Mr Sakaashvili should not be pleased about their use of ancient Russian planes.

Colleagues had taken the same flight on other occasions, and somehow I had got the impression the flights had always been late - very late in one case. Imagine - so was our flight! Three hours after the proposed take-off we were taken by bus to the plane...once the bus found the plane, but luckily Tbilisi airport is not all that big or busy. We tootled all over the airport, past every plane, past every dog sleeping on the parking area (not the runway, thankfully!), and finally we found the little plane - a Tupolev 134a with no clear identity markings other than a Ukrainian flag. Well, it happens - I remember Lithuanian renting Maersk planes; and at the moment maybe SAS are renting some other planes while their own Canadian Bombadier jets are grounded.

I should add here that that day there was a howling gale round the airport, so the little plane rocked even while sitting on the ground. When we got in...it was as if the Soviet Union had never closed down. The plane did not appear to have been cleaned since it was made; it was minging; the seats were the collapsible kind that you see in obscure planes in obscure places; the seat alphabet was the Cyrillic variety. Ah well, I thought.

Some of my colleagues did not think 'Ah well'. They refused to fly on this plane, muttering things about 'serious breach', 'thirty-year-old', and so on. So they got off the plane.

I never quite understand why then all other passengers also had to pile off the plane while our colleagues' luggage was unloaded. The remaining passengers were not happy. Very far from happy. But it did not come to fisticuffs.

Eventually we got back on board, and the flight was absolutely fine. I had worried about the take-off in the strong gales, but nothing rocked the plane - steady as a stately galleon we flew into Kiev. The catering, in true early post-Soviet style was in thin plastic cups, some cold potatos and sort of chicken sticks, and tea served in plastic cups which already contained the sugar.

About 20 minutes into the 2.5 hour flight the first guys piled into the toilet for a smoke. Not sure why they did that seeing there was no no-smoking sign in the plane anywhere. Did not make much difference to the ambiance of the little plane either.

This is dinner - much the same colour as the plane. The little brown things in the right hand corner are dried meat; the chicken cutlet (I assume) was of course provided without a knife to deal with it. Note that at least the cheese is right for this passenger!

Oh yes, and all the other early post-Soviet games came into play - no safety announcements at any stage during the flight; everything in Russian or Ukrainian, no seatbelt checks or seatbelts done up during landing, and folks out of their seats as soon as the plane touched the ground. Makes you feel quite nostalgic!

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