Stranded in Siberia

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November 22nd 2018
Published: November 22nd 2018
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Just be thankful you were not on this flight:

From George Steer of TIME magazine: Passengers aboard Air France Flight AF116 to Shanghai were left stranded in Siberia for three days after their plane was forced to make an emergency landing and a replacement plane suffered a technical issue.

“The crew of AF116 on a Boeing 777 from Paris to Shanghai decided to divert to Irkutsk in Russia after an acrid smell and light smoke appeared on board,” the French carrier told wire service Agence France-Presse. The plane landed safely, with no one on board hurt.

When engineers realized the plane could not be fixed quickly enough, a second Boeing was dispatched by Air France from Paris to pick up the stranded passengers.

It arrived the next day without a hitch – the passengers having spent a night in a nearby hotel – but the new plane was unable to take off, prolonging the frustrations of the travelers.

Without Russian visas, they were unable to access their luggage, and had to be accompanied by local police wherever they went, the Moscow Times reports. Temperatures in the region can plunge to nearly -4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Two freezing days later, a third plane finally arrived, departing for Shanghai with no trouble.

What should have been an 11-hour flight ended up taking close to four days.

Air France apologized to the affected passengers in a statement, blaming the chaos on an “exceptional situation.”

The New York Times reported:

The episode prompted plenty of jokes from Russians on social media, partly because the story echoed the plot of a popular 1970s Soviet comedy called “The Incredible Adventures of Italians in Russia.”

Many also pilloried officials in Irkutsk for not letting the foreigners look around — Lake Baikal, one of the wonders of Siberia, was only about an hour’s drive away. Others offered to show passengers the sights if they returned under more pleasant circumstances.

I have a few things to say about this, of course. Irkutsk is the gateway city to one of Russia and Siberia's greatest attractions, Lake Baikal. I stopped there back in 2014, and spent several days in both Baikal and Irkutsk.

But I agree that four days is too long to spend in Irkutsk itself. Perhaps they were allowed a day trip to Lake Baikal, several hours away by car. Baikal is an amazing place, and the world's largest freshwater lake. And it freezes over in the winter!!!

My thoughts would be the Russians would encourage the stranded travelers to spend money in their city. For one, there cannot be too much tourism this time of year. And two, what could possibly create a problem if they ran around the city for a few days? Bottom line, they certainly needed clean bottoms! Yes, some clean clothes, food, and exercise, at a minimum. Would this be covered by the Geneva Convention??

To prove my point (from the BY Times):

“We are dirty, we smell, it is now over 30 hours that we are under house arrest, without a suitcase or passport,” Eleanor Joulie, one of those stranded, wrote on Twitter on Monday, after the ordeal was barely half over.

Though I only spent one night in Irkutsk, it reminded me of a typical mid-sized city, trying hard to be relevant. Even in good weather, there were not many tourists. I was the only one in their big city marketplace, with fruit and vegetables imported from Turkey and Greece. And the only one at dinner in a nearby Japanese restaurant and sushi bar.

But I did leave out one little detail. When a Russian visa is issued to a foreigner, your itinerary must accompany your visa application. Why? The Russians actually track you throughout your stay. Your passport is taken upon arrival at a hotel, and returned to you when you check out. Failure to do so will either result in an unwelcome call or visit from the Russian police, or worse yet, the inability to check into your next hotel or mode of transport!!!

While this did not happen to me, it did happen to one of my travel companions on the Trans Siberian Railway. The hotel 'forgot" to check him out of his hotel. So, when he reached his next destination, they were unable to register him into the hotel!!!

Looking on the brighter side of things, a "free" four day stay in Russia may have been a welcome addition to some of the passengers. On the other hand, they may have been quite intimidated by being "guided" around Irkutsk by the Russian police!

Next time you are stuck or stranded, just appreciate you are not in Siberia!!!


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