2013 Musings from Togliatti, Russia: Samara Airport Again!

Leaving Russia. KUF Samara Airport Again!

When leaving Russia, I always aim to arrive at the airport an hour before I would in the west in order that the inefficiency I have come to expect can move at its own speed and I might actually make the plane. So I arrived almost three hours before the flight was due to leave.

They X-ray your baggage on the way into the terminal building, and then again at security. The queue for the second level of security had already filled the main terminal building. Progress was not fast. However, when I say queue, that isn’t quite accurate. Russians haven’t really grasped queuing. What they do is more of a mass thronging towards where they want to be. Blink and one will slip in ahead of you.

Only two flights were due to leave in the next couple of hours that I could see, one to Minsk on some local airline and mine to Germany with Lufthansa. How hard can it be?

Well after more than an hour of waiting to get through the second level security, a member of staff from Lufthansa was walking around herding up those travelling to Germany and arranged a queue jump to clear security.

On the other side, the queues to clear passport control were enormous. After a very long time waiting here with no discernible progress, the Lufthansa woman again rounded up everyone heading for Germany and again arranged a queue jump to passport control. For those not travelling with Lufthansa, some of them were very vocal about this and arguments broke out between passengers and staff.

Now I could see the passport booths, I could see the problem. Six or eight cubicles and only two open. Other staff were milling around, drinking tea, sending SMS’s but seemed in no hurry to actually do any work or open any other booths.

After some time, flight time was heading close and Lufthansa woman was getting more frustrated as our party simply weren’t clearing passport control as they were taking around five minutes to process each passenger. Well, do the maths. Two cubicles taking five minutes per person means 24 people an hour. That ain’t quick.

I understood that already the flight to Minsk was delayed because of this, and people around me were getting anxious about that. Lufthansa woman went into a side office and I could hear raised voices. Eventually, a miserable woman came out and very slowly opened another cubicle. But the speed of her work averaged six to eight minutes per person. How the hell can it take so long? :'(

As we know, Lufthansa is not known for being late. Delays because of such incompetence and bureaucracy would be unheard of in Germany. Again Lufthansa woman began stalking up and down bitching at the staff who were simply sitting around.

Finally I got to the booth, the guy spoke English. After the usual typing and messing about, the guy asked me where I was going. What the hell does that matter? “Out of Russia” was my reply.
“To what country?” he asked. He knew this anyway as Lufthansa woman had been badgering him too. *sigh*
“Germany, if its important” I said.
“What is your final destination?” he asked. Where are we, the USA? I thought.
After hours of watching this nonsense playing out in front of me, I had had enough by now and yearned the little bit of organised Germany that was to be my plane seat.
“What does it bloody matter where I am going? Do you want to come with me? Why are you people delaying these flights like this? Is this fun for you people? Look out there at the damn queues, man. Stamp the passport and let me get out of here.”
“Don’t shout at me” he said.
“Do your job then – you know the plane is late, right?” I told him.
Eventually, he stamps me out with a sneer.

On the other side, the staff have minibuses relaying people to the plane three at a time at breakneck speed across the tarmac. Everyone working for Lufthansa is bouncing about looking at their watches and flapping. Outside the building are five or six border police smoking, laughing and chatting like they have no care in the world.

After a huge effort by the Lufthansa staff, the plane took off fifteen minutes late. And of course, arrived in Germany on time. :chuckle:

When we left, the plane to Minsk was still sitting there now well over thirty minutes late. I’d have been surprised if that managed to leave two hours later as most of its passengers were still in the building.

Samara Airport: Absolute and complete bloody shambles and not fit for purpose. It has got worse over the years.

Final thoughts.

Russia is changing; and for the better. Air is cleaner, the economy seems to be showing signs of life, the younger generations are becoming more European in outlook. New and old Russia are currently side by side, evidenced by a swelling middle class. I expect next time I go back I will see more positive change. These things do follow a course, and I saw it before in Estonia where change from ex-Soviet shithole that didn’t work, to the nicer place it is today took about a decade. Russia will be slower, but all the vital signs are there and its well underway.

The only thing that lets Togliatti and Samara down is the KUF airport. Next time I will surely connect through Moscow and avoid most of it. If Russia wants tourism and foreign investment, sorting the shambles out that I experienced two times at Samara airport should be top priority.

Samara KUF Russia Passport Control Problems

Samara Passport Control

I always found Moscow a bit of a pain to connect internally through (although I gather it has improved since I last went through there), and the flight is shorter from the UK to Frankfurt and from there to Samara. Plus the FRA-KUF route is served by Lufthansa and not Yuri Air so is usually on time and half decent. And being a German airline, the luggage usually arrives at the same time as me. Added to which, the UK to Frankfurt and then Samara is almost a straight line on the map. It only involves a 2 hour flight to Germany and a four hour one to Samara.

If you time it right, and are lucky, the connection time can be 40 minutes. I couldn’t get these times at all this time, so I had to wait a dreary six hours in Germany. Still, they had free wifi and I can manage Bratwurst and black coffee. And I bought a nice shirt at half off. I have schoolboy German so know pleasantries, numbers and basic transactional speak in German, so I can get by without looking like a dumb foreigner who must desperately seek out an English speaker.

And while we are in Germany, what’s with all the German guys with little oriental women suddenly? Its like an explosion. For a while I thought I was in Scandinavia by mistake. :chuckle: Not sure if they are Thai, Philippine, Korean or Chinese. Those ladies don’t look all that different to each other to my eye. But for sure, German men, like their Scandinavian cousins have gotten a taste of the oriental woman. To be fair, some of the women looked pretty good catches for the average square-looking badly dressed middle aged German guy. Some of those women have pretty good fashion sense and they seem to take care of themselves. Pity the same cannot be said of the men with them.

Samara has always been a drag to enter Russia through. One agency website a few years ago specifically and emphatically advised against it and said ONLY use Moscow and connect internally to avoid being rolled for a bribe or given a hard time there.

On my old topic from a few years ago, Olga recounted a would-be corruption tale here and they tried to roll my wife on a visit in recent times too. Only that she recognised the customs guy as an ex student of hers did she get out of it – the guy ended up carrying her bags to the car outside. :chuckle:

I have always found them to be slow but you get there in the end. The more old visas you have (and they look), the more they see you are not a newbie and let you by without grief. That has always been my experience anyway.

However, in 2008 it took an age to get in. But I got in.

But last time I went there was some sporting event going on. They had nice English speaking female staff out in the foyer helping foreigners, handing out pens and helping with immigration cards. At the time, I cited this as “changing Russia” and assumed the old days had gone.

Nope. Regression has occurred.

I had no pen. I always have a pen, but this time I didn’t. I needed to fill in my immigration card as they hadn’t given them out on the airline as usual. No problem, pens will be on the counter. Nope. No problem, I’ll borrow one…….

But nobody else seemed to have one either. I identified an American by sight (and non American travellers will know how I did that – ask if you want me to elaborate). He had the big fanny pack with pens. He gave me one. It didn’t work. 😀

Not to be defeated, I asked a passing customs guy. He had one in his hand but wouldn’t lend it me. (:)

So I wandered past the queue and asked a border guard. He had a pot of pens but said no. :duh:

So I went to the next cubicle, and that guy lent me one.

Then I noticed on the immigration card, one could choose between being a “Male” and a “Famale” – I mean my god, – on an official document? If they cant get basic stuff like that right, is there any hope? :'(

So eventually I arrived at the cubicle to find a very bored and angry looking woman. The usual Russian bureaucrat behind glass. I make a point never to understand a word of Russian in such circumstances unless it behoves me to do so. But I slipped up.

“Gavarit pa Rooskie?”
“Nyet” – shit. :'( “Ummm. I don’t understand?” :innocent:
Her: 😀

Then we have the usual five minutes of her reading all my old stamps and visas.

She then starts to write the usual War and Peace on her computer whilst intermittently intently staring at the screen. After a few minutes of this, I am thinking ‘Really, how long does it take?’ I am bored by now and say “problyema?” and quickly cough, and say again “is there a problem?” (Hours in Germany plus the flights had dulled my reactions and I was ready for sleep)

She says “Da, probleyma” and then something else garbled that I didn’t get about the issuing of my visa. Well, I know this gag, this is the old in a side room and invitation paperwork and $50-$100 gag I am being primed for. So I changed tack.

“Do you speak English?”
“Nyet” (Touche – well played, love.)
“I think you do. You must in your job. My visa was issued in London, I know there is no problem with it. However, I have people waiting outside to collect me, one of whom is a lawyer, I can call him and you can speak to him on my phone to clear up any misunderstandings if that helps?” (Complete bollox by the way, but worth a shot – and I cant do that sentence in Russian.)

Long delay with no eye contact……………..

Suddenly, feverish stamping happens. 🙂 (When the stamping starts, you know you are in and its done). She pushes my visa and half registration slip back at me and looks the other way without a word.

I take them and go to move through the gate. But it is still locked and the lights are still red. Silly game huh?

“Dyevooshka?” I said mischievously while pointing at the red lights. She does this face (:) together with a big dramatic sigh (like she had released it three times already but I was too stupid to walk).

“Welcome to Russia” I said back to her as I walked through the gate. I can feel a Tweet to Medvedev coming on…….

What do these people get out of this? Surely it takes less energy to not do all the sulking, sighing, delaying and just do your damn job! Check the visa and stamp it, What two minutes tops? Why should it take fifteen minutes and fifty overheated people behind you?

New Russia indeed……….

A Trip to Samara, Russia to Meet a Russian Girl

I felt a tap on my shoulder. I lifted my arm and turned around ready to confront another taxi driver but this person wasn’t a taxi driver. It was a beautiful girl that I had never seen before…………

Copy Protected by Chetan's WP-Copyprotect.