I was bound for Murmansk, north of the Arctic Circle in December. My flight plan was Chicago to Frankfurt and Frankfurt to Moscow, where I would meet a colleague and travel together to Murmansk via local airline. The flight from Chicago was delayed 6 hours due to weather, and I missed my connection in Frankfurt. Because of the 1988 Lockerbie air crash, unaccompanied luggage was put in quarantine for 48 hours before release. And, of course, that included my luggage. I rerouted to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo II airport (international), arriving alone, hungry, and with no one to meet me. It was my first trip to Moscow since 1990, and the signs were all in Russian. I was traveling on an individual visa, and when no one met me, I had to use my super powers to figure out a plan of action.
I wandered aimlessly from one counter to another, trying to file a claim for a lost bag; there was no such thing. Finally, I saw an English-language sign that read “lost baggage.” Disguising myself as a lost bag, I found my way to a small office and a single employee who spoke only Russian. I showed him my ticket and explained, through crude drawings, where I needed to be. I must have been pretty good because he wrote my destination in Cyrillic, and then requested $100 payment for a piece of paper with my destination and $2 in rubles to hold me over. He then walked me to a bus stop where I boarded a local bus for the 40-minute drive to the “other Sheremetyevo I – the local airport.”
Thinking that it would be smaller and easier to navigate, I entered the building, and I was correct. It was smaller, there were holes in the flooring, there were limited restrooms that I might not have used, and there was no food. I pulled out my list of Russian letters and attempted to read the signs, making my way through security and to a gate. I took a seat on a hard bench and pulled out my alarm clock, setting it for the local departure time. I did not have to worry about the safety of my carry-on bag; it was a small tote, and remember, I had no luggage. Exhausted, I promptly fell asleep, hungry and alone, until the alarm sounded, and I boarded my flight. In Murmansk, there was total darkness. I did not know if it was 11am or 11pm. I was met by my colleague who told me that when I did not arrive in Frankfurt, he traveled to Moscow alone, where he was met by an English speaker and taken to the local, newly built Novotel for a shower and a meal. His reception was certainly better than mine. In Murmansk, we traveled by bus to a country village that resembled oil tanks. Each night, an interpreter who has since become a lifelong friend, and I traveled to the airport to look for my bag. On the third night, she told me that if I offered the pilot an administrative fee, I could get my bag back. I wish that I had known that on day one. No longer disguised as a lost bag, I paid the fee, and my bag arrived just as I was about to return to Moscow.