One of the many books that we have about living and working in Russia says that a person should have a Plan A, a Plan B, and a contingency plan in case Plan A and Plan B don't work. I can personally vouch for this being the case, as it has happened to me many times, and it was very much true when trying to get my parents and sister out of the country.
It is difficult enough trying to get into Russia, but I've never known it be so difficult to get out. Typing something like "My family have finally left Russia" makes it sound as though I'm sitting here with a large shot glass of Putinka or some other strong spirit to sustain me after a stressful visit. Nothing could be further from the truth because a) I love my family and b) I don't drink.
There were no problems getting them into the country. We all flew to Heathrow, boarded the Moscow-bound planes, disembarked at this end without a problem; there were no issues at border control - nothing. For a week everything was hunky-dory. We all enjoyed the walking, sight-seeing, taking of photos, cruising on the river, the full works (although it was rather chilly at times!)
And yet...the problems started after everyone was checked in for their flights home on Wednesday. I checked them all in and printed out their boarding passes plus itinerary. On the Wednesday morning I checked the flight details and it showed that the Domodedovo-Heathrow flight was cancelled. Not delayed but cancelled. This rather put the cat amongst the pigeons. So we tried to call BA's office in Moscow and also in London to find out what to do. Neither of us could get through to either office, so we went to the airport anyway.
The taxi driver made a decent bit of money from us, and we got a very comfy ride, travelling as we did with eight people in a minivan but without luggage (Nat's family all came as well, as they had originally planned to do). When we got to the airport we joined in the BA line to talk to the ladies who were gainfully manning the ticket desk. By now the line was getting longer and longer, and it was a good job that we had arrived when we did. After about 90 minutes we were served: fortunately we had all of the paperwork that we needed and the lady could deal with everyone quickly and efficiently.
She rebooked everyone onto the corresponding flight the next day, so no-one would have to remember anything different - just a change in dates. This done, we all went to have a drink at the Airport Bar. If we were going to all be out together, we would at least have a drink! However, Alice began to feel unwell shortly afterwards, possibly brought on by nuts in her chocolate. It was strange because she's eaten 'Krasny Oktyabr" many times before and never reacted this way.
Nataly and I went back to the Fishers' for a bite to eat with Mum and Dad: Alice went to lie down and rest in the quietness. She felt a bit better later on and came and joined us for the last little while. She still looked washed out, though.
Next day...we went through the same routine. I couldn't check anyone in online; the BA website told me that we'd have to go to the airport. So off we went again. The taxi driver (we used the same man as the previous day!) commented something to the effect of, "so this time it's for real?" At the ticket desk we were told - yet again - that BA had cancelled both of their flights. The flight that my parents were due to fly on had been cancelled several hours earlier and the airport had just received notification that the second, later flight was cancelled.
There are very few times when, as a British citizen overseas, I feel embarrassed. However, when looking at the 'Departures' board and seeing that the only country to which planes were not departing was my own - due to our inability to deal with frozen water. It was noticeable.
The girls manning the desk (if that's not too much of an oxymoron!) were again doing a sterling job. My parents and Alice had made up their mind that they were leaving Moscow that night, by hook or by crook. The girl to whom they spoke was able to rebook them onto a BMI flight leaving Domodedovo at 0630 the next morning. BMI, for some reason, were still flying in and out without any hindrance and had not cancelled any flights. At our Young Adults group last Tuesday I announced that I was authoring a book entitled '101 Reasons Why Not To Fly With British Airways In Cold Weather'.
So my family got to know the cafes and shops of the international terminal very well during the next 12 hours. Fortunately they had plenty of reading material and other things to keep them amused. We did still call them early in the morning to ensure that they were awake and checking in on time!
They made it to London without an issue, only to find that their flight to Newcastle (BA) was cancelled. So they took the train to Kings' Cross and managed to make it there in time for the 'Flying Scotsman' to Newcastle. From Mum's description it was more of a 'Crawling Scotsman'; the snow and ice on the tracks slowing the train down. A terribly English reason...
As all of their luggage was checked through to Newcastle, they only had hand luggage to take back with them. Alice in particular was very upset about this. The suitcases finally arrived during this last week and Alice's - of course - was the last, on the 21st! What an end to their trip. It hasn't tarnished their memories, though.