Off the Beaten (Flight) Path

By Indy Udol

Hello. I’m Indy, and I am an airplane geek. No, I am not that type of boy from rocket-building club back in High School who somehow aced every physics exam. I’m a traveller seeking to fly on many dangerous airplanes as much as possible. Since I was born, I racked up approximately 200,000 miles worth of air travelling and I am hoping to reach the million mark by the time I turn 40.

My passion for flying started when I was a year old, and that was the first time I’ve been on an airplane, from Bangkok to Seoul. Since then, I have found that my de-facto innerselfis,on an airplane. Flying is like an antidote to stress and whatnot crap that is going on in my life. I can recall some of my wicked stories, ranging from binging on the 2005 Dom Perignon Champagne on a free First Class ticket from Bangkok to Munich, to flying a money laundering airline in Russia and Cambodia.  

The epic flight I will be recounting in this article was from Stary-Oskol to Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport. Stary Oskol is a city situated in the Belgograd Oblast, near the Russian-Ukrainian border. It was hard booking this flight, since this airline “(Vologda Avia)” has no official website. You either need to book it via a third party travel agency, or just walk up to the airport counter and hope there is a free seat onboard. This is not a typical airline where you will find on those cheesy travel agents recommended websites, and neither is Stary Oskol a place for you to visit for your holiday in Russia.

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Off the beaten flight path (2)

Stary Oskol airport is stuck in the times of the Soviet Union, its architecture and such. Unfortunately, for security reasons, I was not allowed to take pictures of the airport. I handed my passport to the check-in lady and then I was  presented with my boarding pass. To my surprise, it was handwritten. Classic indeed, flying this airline was like a major throwback to the 60s in Soviet Russia.

After I checked in, I went through the security checkpoint. But this checkpoint was rather unique. Conventionally, security checks in airports like those we have been exposed to, such as Schiphol, are done in an open space.  Security checks here at Stary Oskol are conducted privately in a room, as passengers were queuing up outside. When It was my turn to go in, I was greeted by 5 Russian security officers, with a puzzled look on their face, probably thinking what the f*** is this Asian guy doing in Stary Oskol, flying on an airline designated to carry mine workers between this little-known town and Moscow.

This was probably their first time encountering a foreigner let alone a tourist. They searched my bag as usual, but to their surprise, I carried only my camera gear especially for the aircraft. One of the officers asked me of course in Russian along with series of hand movements. “Tourist”? (With Heavy Russian accent) they asked? I replied Da (Yes). He then replied “Stary Oskol” and then followed by a confused face and a what the fuck hand gesture. Probably, what the hell are you doing here. I said, “Photograph Samolet.” Of course, I was referring to the plane that I would be flying in that day. He then cleared me through the holding room without saying a word. Russian hospitality eh?

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Off the beaten flight path (1)

So, the plane showed up. It is called the Yakovlev-40 (YAK-40). Before I bore you non-aviation geeks from providing those technical details which would have arouse high flyers like me, this airplane is over 40 years old and is of course one of the least airworthy aircraft out there flying. Despite it’s horrible reputation of safety, I am in love with this aircraft. It’s classic, it’s extremely loud and somewhat surprisingly stable when airbourne.

I boarded the aircraft through the rear, which you can rarely do these days and sat myself down to my assigned seat. The first impression of the cabin was, obviously old, the seats were dusty and I saw stains on it. It wasn’t comfortable at all, but hey, it’s all about the experience. The cabin somewhat had a nostalgic odor, like as if I was in a museum.

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Off the beaten flight path

As always, I chose the window seat, and I tend to lean on the cabin walls for comfort If there’s a seat mate which was the case. As I rest my head, the walls were not padded thoroughly and I heard cracks and creaks as I put pressure on it, and this is nothing compared to the entire flights that I have done so far. It was time for take-off, a friendly cabin crew did a final check of the cabin and ensured that everybody had their seatbelts on. Those, like me , who expecting a safety demonstration to be performed by the cabin-crew would be disappointed.

This was my home for 2 hours. As the plane was taking off, I soon realized that the seats weren’t bolted properly to the cabin floor, so I was bracing for the worst. When I moved my body, the seat was rocking as if it was going to fall off. Luckily, as you can tell from the fact I am writing this, it did stay intact throughout the flight.

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