No Olympics signage. Old terminal. No information counter, only the taxi sharks. No sign of the 105 bus or even a bus stop. Some Olympics preparation in Sochi.
The taxis are trying to gouge me. The trip should be about USD 15-20. One is asking USD 400. Another 700. What is going on?
Finally a taxi dispatcher gets my guest house on the line and they find a person with a little English. “Because you are not in Sochi, your flight has problem.”
So how did I end up in Mineralnye Vody Airport (MRV), 600 km away?
I had flown to Moscow overnight from New York, taking Delta which put me in Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport (SVO). SVO is impressive, a very cool immigration hall. I took the slick AeroExpress into town, stopping at Red Square to drop in on Lenin, then continued out to Moscow Domodedovo International Airport (DME) for my S7 flight to Sochi. I could have stayed at SVO however I wanted to pass through Red Square and a British Airways Avios award to Sochi was much more attractive than buying an Aeroflot ticket or eating the huge fuel surcharges for Delta SkyMiles awards on Aeroflot.
My flight was delayed a half hour and then we headed for Sochi. Not much English on offer on S7 though one flight attendant spoke some English and knew I do not speak Russian. Her volunteering a little info later would have helped. On approach I felt the familiar turns of a holding pattern. The captain made a garbled announcement in Russian and English, from what I could make out I thought he said we were landing. Maybe I missed the part about Mineralnye Vody due to heavy rains in Sochi.
I was in a jet lag daze as we sat for over 20 minutes waiting to deplane. People moved around outside and the ladder was at the plane, but no one opened the door. Eventually a bus pulled up and took us to arrivals.
Russian airports I later learned all have the city name lit up above the airport in the back. Because of the U-shape of the terminal that sign was out of view and I passed through arrivals. I was the first out since I had no checked luggage. That started my search for the bus, then a taxi, during which I had not seen that the other passengers had collected their luggage and headed to the departures lounge. The big sign at the front of the airport only said “Airport” in Russian so it was only when my hotel was phoned that I realized what had happened.
Thinking back there were clues that should have snapped me out of my stupor yet not a single passenger complained or even groaned. Everyone was stoic as if nothing was amiss. I found them quietly sitting in the departures hall and stuck with them for the remainder of the wait and eventual resumed flight to Sochi. I am used to the US where there is endless drama with even the smallest issue, or China where there are violent mobs threatening airline staff over delays.
So the lesson other than pay attention? Russians have seen a lot, experienced a lot. Just because they are taking things in stride doesn’t mean all is well.
I was happy to arrive in Sochi at 12:30 am. Next lesson? Just because the guest house is 5 miles from the airport doesn’t mean it is convenient. The taxi driver took an hour to find it, at one point going in reverse for about a mile on the M27 highway. Every person in the neighborhood had the same response, “I don’t know,” which along with “No,” seem to be the default Russian responses to any questions. Another lesson learned.