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It is a curious fact that Russia produces plenty of chess grandmasters but is apparently unable to find anyone who can manage an airport. We learned this on our trip from Seoul to London on June 23rd, which included a three-hour layover at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

I’ve been to quite a few airports over the years, and landing at one terminal and having to get to another for my next flight is an exercise I’m quite familiar with. It has always been a fairly straightforward affair. Find out which terminal you have to go to, follow the signs to the area where you catch either a bus or a train to it, get on and get off. Sometimes you have to hoof it. But it is a pretty easy task.

Except at Sheremetyevo Airport, where they have found a way to make this simple procedure into an absolutely baffling experience.

As soon as we got off our plane from Seoul, we started to look around for a sign telling us where we had to go to catch our flight to London. However, there were no signs with this information. Instead, we ended up in an area which had several booths. Two of them were staffed by unsmiling women who seemed absolutely uninterested in the fact that a couple hundred weary travelers were standing around waiting for some instruction.

A few brave souls went up to them to ask where they had to go to catch their flight to London, Paris or Frankfurt. They were told to wait. In the absence of information from airport officials, we began to seek information from our fellow travelers.

KJ and I ended up talking to a blonde-haired British guy and a Middle Eastern woman with two small children in tow. We had a bit of a laugh at the chaos of the situation, and the Middle Eastern woman informed us that this was the worst airport in the world – worse even than the one in Baghdad.

After about twenty minutes of standing around and still no wiser as to where we needed to go next, I decided to budge up to the front of the line and ask one of the women. KJ followed and I carried Ian. “Excuse me,” I said. “Do you speak English?”

The woman nodded slightly.

“Where do we go for a flight to London?” I asked.

“For London? The woman is calling you now. Terminal D. Terminal D,” she said urgently, pointing down a passageway.

“Thank you,” I said and we started to hustle in the direction she had indicated.

This just seemed to make her agitated, though. “Not yet! Not yet! Wait here! Wait here!” Apparently what she had meant to say was, “The woman will call you.”

We went back to our new friends to share this bit of info. Amusingly, it seemed there was a high chance the information we had received from the airport official was incorrect.

“I was just talking to another English guy,” said our English friend, “and he said a girl told him a woman came to take people to the shuttle for Terminal D. He just went down there to find out if it’s true.”

Sure enough, it was. The second English guy, a dark-haired fellow, came rushing back to tell us that the London passengers were being taken to the shuttle right then. We all started to motor to catch up, afraid we were going to miss the shuttle.

The Middle Eastern woman had a very hard time keeping up, and whenever we turned a corner in the hallway, I waited for her to make sure she was still coming. In the end, though, we all made it and caught up with the other people flying to London.

After a few minutes, it was time to get on the shuttle bus. The youngĀ  woman who had led us this far was replaced by another woman. Our new boss was a middle-aged woman out of Central Casting. She was stocky and powerful looking, her straw-colored hair pulled back tightly in a bun, and she looked like she might have been top dog on a collective farm back in the day.

And she was obsessed with finding anyone who might be flying to Paris.

Once we were all on the shuttle bus, she stood up at the front. She looked like a kind woman, even though her eyes were narrowed and her lips were tightly pursed. “BAAA-ree,” she said, before adding, “shhhh.”

Nobody said anything. The woman looked about the bus suspiciously, and she reminded me slightly of John Cleese in The Life of Brian asking, “Are there any women here?”

“BAAA-ree… shhhh,” the woman said again. There was still no response, but she was determined. “BAAA-ree… shhhh. BAA-ree… shhhh.”

And still nobody said anything. We all just sat there looking at her as she grew more incredulous.

“BAAA-ree… shhhh. No?” she said, her voice going up. “BAA-ree… shhhh. No.” And this time her voice went down and then she took her seat.

The bus was absolutely silent for a couple seconds and then Ian said, “No?” his voice going up and, “No,” his voice going down.

The whole bus erupted with laughter. Maybe you had to be there, but it was pretty damn funny.

In the end, we got on our flight and everything was okay – but the whole process was so much more confusing and complex than it should have been. I don’t know if the Middle Eastern woman is right and that Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport is the worst in the world. But I do know it’s the worst one I’ve ever been to.

The Russians may be great at chess, but they don’t have the first clue when it comes to running an airport.

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