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Moscow Sheremetyavo: The World’s Scariest Airport

Thoughts during a long layover at the Bermuda Triangle of airports.

Moscow Sheremetyevo airport
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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.

Refugee Moscow airport

This is where Hasan sleeps.

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.

Moscow airport refugee

Hasan in the airport transit zone.

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.

Moscow Sheremetyevo airport

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.

Moscow Sheremetyevo airport
Filed under: Air Travel, Airports, Russia

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3704 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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5 comments… add one

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  • Trevor October 20, 2019, 3:44 am

    Not a place to get stuck. What did happen to the drinking guy??

    Also re Russia:

    But not for Brits, USA or Cannucks

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    • Wade Shepard October 23, 2019, 5:54 pm

      Haha … not for the people who want it most.

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  • Brendan Harding November 14, 2019, 8:06 am

    I used to work in that airport back in the late 80s/early 90s – I saw more children born in that airport than in any maternity hospital. There were families living (existing) there for years on end. And, like you, when I left I never found out what happened to them.

    Imagine, I had to go to work there every day!

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    • Wade Shepard November 14, 2019, 9:02 am

      That’s wild, man. It’s a truly disconcerting place … I don’t feel like I do there anywhere else in the world. What were you doing working there?

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      • Brendan Harding November 14, 2019, 9:06 am

        You’ve notice the Duty Free Shops I guess, I used to be the retail Visual Designer for a couple of years. 1989-1993. That was a lifetime ago.
        It was like the end of the world. Guess it still is.
        Amazing how we change directions in life – I think Sheremetyevo did that to me. But, it did set me on my career as a travel journalist.

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