From Baltic to the Black Sea #5
Belavia Belarusian Airlines, the world’s favourite airline
3 September 1999
I got up at glorious 4:30am to get ready for an exciting flight on Belavia to Crimea. This was one of the most exciting and fascinating flights I have ever taken, and tells everybody about everything that has gone right (1%) and wrong (99%) about that economic powerhouse known as Belarus (Average income per month US$50).
After an express customs examination and interrogation lasting 30 minutes (“your visa has expired” – he got the months and days switched), I almost boarded the flight to Turkey. Sorry, this impossibly stupid foreigner doesn’t understand an international language like the Russian, and so didn’t understand the boarding announcement. We finally boarded the Soviet era TU134 at 7:40, 10 minutes before scheduled departure. For reasons unclear, the flight didn’t take off for the next 1 hour, although only one other flight took place in this busy airport.
A description of the plane: super-flexible forward collapsible seats, of which a number did collapse and exempt the crew from serving more passengers; Floor carpet was removable and in fact, was crumbled by my restless feet; The gloriously red seat mattress, probably reflective of the nation’s rich socialist legacy, was full of coffee stains and leaves sweet memories of previous flights; The plane alternates piped-in Russian sentimental music with heavy metal and Spice-Girls-like screaming – they do cater for diverse taste – the same sequence was played repeatedly throughout the flight.
The toilet is an excellent piece suitable for Christie’s Auctioneers and would certainly fit well for any Museum of 19th Century Toilet Design – Peeling wall paints indicate the great historical heritage of Belarus. Wooden toilet seat with cracks showing age and great antiquity. The toilet paper would harden anyone adequately for jungle training. I can’t find the flush – a quick stint in the toilet would certainly provide excellent field training experience.
Fantastic newspapers are provided – only one of which was in English – Belarus Today weekly, whose headlines proclaimed the country’s economic achievements and other events: “Belarus facing food shortage for winter” and “Belarus and Russian football fans clashed” – so much for brotherhood of Slavic nations. Another inner page headline – “Former Interior Minister Still Missing”.
Inflight meal was excellent – yucky, cold meat and instant coffee powder – with the crew pouring hot water into your cups – in grand old samovar traditions of Mother Russia. Oops, I mean Mother Beylorussia. Oh no, I mean Mother Belarus. Now I am screwed by both Lukashenko and the opposition.
At least, I landed safely.