Thoughts during a long layover at the Bermuda Triangle of airports.
MOSCOW SHEREMETYEVO- I am on my way to the WCIT conference in Armenia, stuck in Moscow Sheremetyevo on a nine hour layover. This airport always scares me a little. It’s the kind of place that a man can become trapped in. This isn’t just conjecture that resonates from its Iron Curtain history or its chaotic winding corridors, odd dead ends, and mysterious roundabouts, but because people really do get trapped here.
A few years ago I did a series of stories about Hasan, a Syrian that I found living in the glass enclosure of a smoking booth in terminal E for eight months.
People getting stuck in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo
Airport is nothing new. The place has a notorious reputation as being
somewhere that a person can easily trip into a political or legal
pothole and never be heard from again. There have been popular Russian
songs and movies about this happening, and many Russians claim to breath a sign of relief when their flight is in the sky and they watch this airport fading fast behind them.
What I don’t believe I mentioned in this series was another refugee that I met the same day as Hasan. Nested in the smoking booth between Hasan, a family of Syrians, and two Afghans, was an American. He was around 30 years old and sat there on the floor with his legs tucked up in his arms, looking just as dejected, run down, and worried as the rest. He was a refugee too, although one of a very different type. Rather than being the victim of political persecution or war he was more a victim of himself:
He showed up in Sheremetyevo, sat down at a bar, and started drinking. He got drunk and missed his flight. The airline booked him on another flight. He kept drinking. He missed that flight too. The airline told him that he’d have to pay for the next flight himself. But he had drank up all his money.
He didn’t have a Russian visa, so he couldn’t go into Moscow. He couldn’t afford a flight out, so he couldn’t go anywhere else. So he just sat there with the refugees, wondering if he was ever going to get out, still drinking.
I don’t know what ever happened to that guy.
Someone may wonder how this could be possible — How can someone miss two flights when they’re already at the airport just sitting around by the gates. But this person has probably never been to Sheremetyevo. This is a Bermuda Triangle kind of place — a non-linear void that sucks you in. The harsh florescents and white tile floor gives it a surreal, clinical feel. The claustrophobic corridors, sharp turns, thick pillars, and lack of signage make it difficult to orient yourself. Sight lines are limited to ten to thirty feet almost wherever you are, making you feel enclosed and trapped. It’s easy to get lost in here — physically and metaphorically. The place is the setting for that heinous dream where you’re running through an airport looking for your gate but no matter what you do you can’t find it.
I check to make sure I still have my passport a dozen times an hour. This place gives me the creeps.