Connecting in Moscow


I was relishing doing the legendary dash between Domodedovo Airport in Moscow’s South and Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow’s north. I’d heard on average it takes 3 hours, but delays of up to 8 hours had been heard of – depending on sudden snow storms and traffic snarls.

However, my ‘direct’ flight had unexpectedly detoured and by the time I got to Moscow, I had exactly 2 hours and 30 minutes to make my connecting flight to London. After a 50 minute delay waiting for my bags to appear on the baggage carousel, I figured I’d spend the night in Moscow and fly out the next day.

I figured wrong.

Exiting the baggage hall, I waved at a grizzly man anxiously holding a sign with my name. He leapt over the barricade, grabbed my suitcase, and began barreling through the crowd at breakneck speed.

He sprinted to a dilapidated old Lada outside the airport, frantically threw me and my bags in, and then hit 60km/hr in the 100m dash from our parking spot to the car park barrier.

I frowned. I now had an estimated 1 hour 35 minutes to make my flight. Was the speed because he thought we were going to get to the other airport in the next 30 minutes? Had I been misinformed about the time taken to get between the two airports in Moscow?

I fumbled for my air ticket and thrust it at him as he threw the parking ticket stub and a cloud of rubles at the attendant.

“Mozhabeet problem?” Maybe a problem? I said, pointing to the departure time on my ticket.

“Nyet. Mozhabeet,” he said. But floored the accelerator anyway.

We rocketed out of the car park once the boom gate lifted and G-forces thrust me back in the seat. He began weaving through the cars on the dual carriageway, speed increasing exponentially… 80 km/hr, 100km/hr… until I lost sight of the speedometer needle behind the dashboard.

The cars around us were close – very close. We were moving so fast, my brain was constantly anticipating accidents, but time and time again, the driver swerved and found empty air where split seconds before had been a car.

We raced up the backside of a car, barely breaking in time as my driver grasped the notion that the car in front wasn’t going to pull over. As soon as the driver in front realised it wasn’t dead air behind, he slid into the next lane, but barely was he half way across before we were hitting Mach 2 again.

I was fighting very hard not to flinch and close my eyes as we narrowly missed one high speed collision after another. I gradually became aware that I had my right hand wrapped tightly around a couple of fingers of my left hand.

I spied a police car ahead and hoped we’d be pulled over for speeding, but seconds later we zagged in front and the police gave no chase. I doubt the police had registered us as anything more than a blur.

“Slow down!” I screamed soundlessly, cursing the language barrier that prevented me from saying, “I’ve missed the flight!” Gradually I became aware I was quietly chanting “Please don’t let me die, please don’t let me die…” until the endless vista of near death experiences caused my brain to black out the experience.

I was abruptly brought back to life when I was violently thrown against my seatbelt as the ancient car slid diagonally on its bald tires into a slim gap between 2 cars. Cars stretched endlessly before us, the dense buildings of Moscow city just visible in the hazy distance.

“Finish,” said my driver. “Nyeto.” I glanced at my watch. I couldn’t believe only now, 55 minutes before my flight was to depart, he was beginning to realise that we weren’t going to make it…

The drive became marginally better after that. We still had moments when we broke the sound barrier, but usually on relatively brief empty stretches of highway. Once through Moscow, traffic began to flow again and the speedometer needle quickly edged up out of my sight…

At Sheremetyevo Airport, the driver pulled up outside the departure gates.

“Nyet flight,” he mumbled. No kidding – it was now 30 minutes past the time it was due to depart! With the gruff courtesy Russian men often show, he went into the airport, spent an hour sorting out my rescheduled flight and drove me calmly 200 meters to the airport hotel.

S Gillies

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