Well, I can’t say my travel to Yakutsk was as seamless as I dreamed it would be. The plan was Denver to Frankfurt to Moscow to Yakutsk, on two separate tickets (saving money, but making any travel road bumps more difficult). My flight from Denver to Frankfurt went perfectly (I even finally got to watch the new Star Wars!) as our takeoff just beat incoming afternoon monsoon thunderstorms that I love so much about living in the West.
I had a tight connection in Frankfurt – about an hour. The university’s travel agent did not seem too concerned about this, but I have done this rodeo before. I reluctantly accepted that ticket (as you can imagine, there are not a ton of flexible options to get to Yakutsk from Denver), resulting in me power walking… then jogging… then sprinting through the sprawling Frankfurt airport (seriously, I checked my Fitbit and I clocked over 11,000 steps) only to be stopped by another airport security line. I checked the time. They were 5 minutes into boarding my Moscow flight. I had time if this went smoothly. I asked the security agent what I should be taking out of my bag, taking off (shoes, sweaters…) given that security rules in every country are always different. He said I was totally fine! Just take out my laptop and I was good to go…
INCORRECT. I get through the security line feeling confident that I was going to make my flight to Moscow with about 5 minutes to spare, only to see both of my carry-ons pulled over for additional inspection (mind you, this was after a 9.5 hour red eye flight and then a 4 mile sprint, so my patience was waning). The inspecting security agent seemed to move in slow motion as he unpacked both of my bags, carefully inspecting every nail clipper and tweezer. The first bag was good, he said, as I carefully repacked the bag for the next flight. He then began to unravel my second bag, looking at me with disgust as he pulled out a water bottle filled with water, indicating that I would have to go back through security with all of my bags again. I explained my tight connection and asked if he could simply dump out the water so I could be on my way. He obliged, throwing out my entire water bottle while tossing a look of disgust at me. The joys of flying. I lamented the loss of my water bottle, collected my things, ran to gate, and settled in for the 3 hours to Moscow. I became excited as we began our descent into Moscow – not only did I have a full 5 hour layover to calmly cross the border, collect my bags, and recheck in for my Siberian Airlines, but perhaps I could sit down and have a proper meal not made in a plane galley. I looked out the window at some impressive thunderstorms we were bypassing, and then realized we had been flying at about 15,000 feet for a while. This was not good. The flight attendant crackled over the intercom first in German (when most of the flight broke into sighs and frantic whispers), and then I patiently waited for the bad news in English: we were being diverted to Kazan due to thunderstorms in Moscow. Where the hell was Kazan?!
Kazan is somewhere in central Russia. We landed at the tiny airport, with a few other large jets that were also clearly bound for Moscow. The pilots and flight attendants kept us updated on weather in Moscow and of course, arguments between the Kazan airport and Lufthansa over jet fuel payments. Welcome to Russia. After 3 hours on the Kazan tarmac, we finally took off, bound for my not-so-final destination. We landed at 8:45 pm Moscow time, 5 hours late and 15 minutes before my flight to Yakutsk was supposed to take off, with me having to cross the border, collect bags, exit the terminal, recheck bags, and reenter the terminal. I sighed again. I would need to find a way to rebook my Siberian Air ticket (due to a flight delay on another ticket…) and get my butt to Yakutsk before the boat to Zhigansk left the next morning. This was not promising. My heart sank. This is where my trip ended.
I frantically searched for the Siberian Airlines desk to see what I could do. The Siberian Airlines desk consisted of about 50 check in lines with thousands of people sprawling to check in and no indication of where help could be obtained. I found an unoccupied agent. “English?” I asked. She rolled her eyes and shook her head, swatting me away. This scenario then reoccured about 6 times. I sighed in frustration, but continuing to run around trying to find someone who could help. After about 30 minutes (9:45 pm now and yes, I am persistent), I found someone who spoke English. I explained my situation. “Yakutsk?! Flight 109?!” She exclaimed in horror. Yes…that was my original flight, was there another option tonight or first thing in the morning? “Come, come!” She printed out a boarding pass, put a gate check ticket on my massive bag and screamed for a young man to escort me through the gate. Am I actually going to make this flight? Is this flight still even here?! The young man calmly told me to follow him as he escorted me through the first class security line (as the security agent checked my passport and ticket, said something in Russian to my escort that could only have been, “is she actually going to make this?” with a smug smile). My escort left me at security and nodded. Ok, so I guess this means I now need to find my gate. No time to check screens… I ran to the gate listed on my boarding pass, and they were still boarding the flight. I MADE IT. Somehow, I made it. I laughed with relief with sweat again dripping down my back. I could not wait to take a shower, but I was on my way to Yakutsk.
One flight diversion, two sprints through airports, and three times through airport security does not make for a pleasant or relaxing trip. That being said, I have officially arrived in Yakutsk, luggage in tow and sanity barely intact. Tomorrow, we take an 18 hour river boat (14 hours? 12? reports vary…) to Zhigansk to start the fishing festival. I have been told that the fish we will catch get up the 20 kilos, so I’m looking forward to getting some in strength training after my airport cardio sessions.
an addendum: On our second day in Yakutsk, my host here – Tero Mustonen, President of Snowchange – informed me that a few hours after I flew through Frankfurt that they had closed and evacuated the very terminal that I sprinted through. Somehow, my travel day could have been much worse.