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.
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.
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.