5 Filters

Aeroflot Stories (during Soviet times)

Again, this is a bit of frivolity during these dark days we now find ourselves in.

Of course I’m the world’s biggest travel bore, and thus have my own Soviet era Aeroflot story - an 8 hour flight from Beijing to Moscow. When you tell people what flying used to be like, pre-9/11, and in weird and wonderful parts of the world, they now have a hard job believing you.

Eight hours in Aeroflot economy class, with five crates of chickens and a goat running up and down the aisle. Naw, that could never happen.

Anyhows, before I bore you with this particular tale, does anyone else have memories of the Soviet era Aeroflot?

1 Like

Two stories but not Aeroflot. My brother in law going from Ethiopia back to western Europe (I forget where) was waiting for a flight, which was delayed a day. During the 24 hour delay, the departure lounge got more and more full. When the incoming delayed flight arrived and the departure lounge doors opened, everyone ran for the plane. Those that got there first got the flight!

I travelled from Kitwe to Lusaka in Zambia, I sat in the “jump” seat behind the pilot. The pilot told me we were flying low below the cloud cover, so he could see the landmarks as there was no electronic navigation. A little worrying when he was looking left and right obviously looking for the “landmarks”.


Not Aeroflot, but I did travel from Beijing to Moscow on the Trans-Siberian railway (early 90s), via Ulan Bator; tales a-plenty!

1 Like

Jamie, ‘the last disco in Mongolia’? (or the first, depending on your direction of travel). It was a very strange experience, in a dusty little border town on the edge of the Gobi Desert. When I did it there were only two trains a week heading down to China. The trains had to stop for quite a while, so that they could change the wheels from Russian broad gauge to Chinese standard gauge. During this time ‘the last disco in Mongolia’ would go into full swing. Surreal is not the word.

I loved Mongolia, by the way.


Pat, were you working for the airline, and thus could take the jump seat? or was this back in the day, when you could actually walk into the cockpit, smoking a cigarette, and with a glass of gin in your hand, and you could chat with the pilots.

Oh, and in case anyone’s worried about that goat, back then, Beijing International Airport was much smaller and less sophisticated than it is now, having just one terminal. We walked across the tarmac to an ageing Tupolev jet liner. The plane was due to leave at five minutes past miday. We had economy class tickets and were among the last to board. The steps up to the aircraft were a bit wobbly. The smiling hostesses stank of alcohol. We entered the cabin and encountered total mayhem. It was crowded with people and luggage, and it wasn’t hand luggage. Suitcases, boxes, crates of chickens, and a goat; the aisles and seats were overflowing. The passengers fought and jostled to get space for their possessions. It looked like a 3rd class railway carriage in India. If there’d been any kind of emergency no one would have been able to get out of there quickly.

Our first thought was: how the feck is this plane going to get off the ground? since it was obviously severely overloaded. I do like take-offs, though, the moment when the pilot gives it full throttle and you feel that kick in your seat. The Tupolev taxied to the start of the runway and got the green light. The next moment we were whizzing down the runway. I could hear the chickens squawking in economy class. The plane took a while to get off the ground, but when it finally did it was a normal take-off. We soared upwards at a steep angle, then, still at a steep angle, the plane seemed to stop climbing. The runway was now far behind us. I could hear my companion saying a prayer. I got to thinking about all that luggage in the economy class cabin, which meant that the plane’s holds must be filled to bursting. All that weight?! The pilot was obviously thinking the same thing and put the throttles at absolute max. The Tupolev clawed its way up into the sky. The feeling of relief was palpable.

Everyone lit-up. There wasn’t a non-smoking section. The ventilation system did not work properly and very soon the cabin was a fug of cigarette smoke. Even the chickens were coughing. The plane almost exactly followed the route of the Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Siberian railways.

After an eight hour flight we touched down at Sheremetyevo Airport in the late afternoon (Moscow time). At this point a lot of dodgy geezers boarded the plane and all the swag was magicked away, including the goat, which must have had an entry visa for Russia.


Rob. I was on sandby so was offered the jump seat if I wanted it. At those times, there was no cockpit door. However on Zambia Airways, one could only have a gin and tonic if one fell asleep and dreamt it!

I’ve got to tell you when the pilot is looking left and right for “landmarks” and there is only bushland, no hills, no buildings it is a bit worrying. But I would rather be back there rather than worrying if I’ll ever see my kids agian, or if I’ll outlive my jabbed grandkids!

1 Like

I travelled a lot in the late 80s/early 90s, including to many countries that might be considered risky by your average westerner fed on a diet of England the Great; Outer Mongolia was one of them and the only one in which I experienced anything remotely approaching a ‘culture shock’. Most countries I visited; the people, the sights, sounds, smells, they were all, as I saw it, just variations on a theme and so I was rarely brought up short.

Outer Mongolia was a continuation of the China trip I mentioned in another thread. In Hong Kong, I purchased tickets for the TSR via a company called Monkey Business (long since defunct, I suspect and probably a tad dodgy). Guy there offered me $100 to go to a state office in Beijing and purchase several tickets. This I did and good to his word, I got my hundred bucks and a Gov. scribble in the back of my passport. I suspect that whilst legal for me to do it. it probably wasn’t for a business and I was told I could only do it once, thus the scribble.

Anyway, the other bonus was that somehow Monkey Business managed to get your Russian transit visa to start the day you left Outer Mongolia and not, as it should be, the day you left Beijing. This meant that you could have four days in Moscow without the tourist visa that would have required you to stay at prohibitively expensive state hotels. (I stayed in some cockroach-ridden apartment on the outskirts of Moscow for $5 a night.)

At that time, although newly democratic, Outer Mongolia was Communist and in order to visit, you had to have a state representative with you. We (myself and about 7 others who were also going to Moscow) never knew where we were staying until about an hour before, including at one hotel miles and miles from anywhere, where the showers ran red (rust?, ore?). We also ate mutton for breakfast, lunch and dinner day after day after day. The highlight of the four days was probably an overnight stay in a yurt with a lovely Mongolian family.

The low point was in Ulan Bator. We were out having lunch at a restaurant when I heard a commotion outside. Going to look, I saw there, in the square, an awful fight going on, with two guys on one, kicking the hell out of him. There was a crowd watching. This was no street punch up, no pub fight; brutal, primal, protracted, kicking, punching, blood everywhere, I was terrified the guy was going to be killed and so I rushed to the Gov. rep and implored to him to call the police. He nonchalantly walked over to the window, looked around and then said, “Look, over there, the police are already here.” I looked and indeed they were, arms crossed, watching, totally unfazed. I found it utterly terrifying.

One final thing to relate; I had gone from Hong Kong to Shanghai via the South China Sea, then overland via several towns to Beijing. From there to Ulan Bator and then finally on to Moscow before flying home. That took in over several weeks, two continents, three countries (two communist and one very recently not), numerous time zones, numerous modes of transport and all without a hitch bar that one incident in Ulan Bator; it was a joyful breeze. All those risky countries! However, ironically, after all of that, in a sense, the biggest risk (at least symbolically) was yet to come. From Heathrow I got the tube to Victoria to catch a train for the last twenty minute leg home. Except I couldn’t and was stuck in Victoria station for four hours. Why? IRA bomb scare. :sweat_smile:


Turns out Monkey Business is still going! Just Googled and it’s now Monkey Shrine - similar logo and the ‘about us’ section references Monkey Business. I wonder if they still have t-shirts available? Loved that tee - wore it until it fell to pieces.