Without getting into the politics of the Edward Snowden affair, I have to say I feel sorry for the guy, because he’s still stuck in the Moscow Airport. I had that uncomfortable experience 24 years ago.
I wasn’t running from the law. In June, 1989, when it was still the Soviet Union, I went to Moscow to do a week of live broadcasts of my morning show on WCXR/Washington, DC. We called it “Capital to Capital,” because it was the first time the two cities had been connected in that way. Not only did my show air live at home, but the engineers in the Radio Moscow studio also recorded it to be played back later on their station (which we heard on a shortwave radio when it aired a couple of weeks later).
I have lots of stories about that trip that I’ll share with you later, some of them good, some not so good. One that falls into the latter category was the day we were scheduled to fly back to the US. Our flight to the USSR had been on Pan Am, an airline that no longer exists, but our flight home was on Aeroflot, the Soviet airline that should never have existed.
We arrived at the airport three hours before our departure time, because we had lots of equipment and paperwork to handle with the Russian customs officials. Once we cleared that hurdle, we headed for our gate, where we learned our flight was going to be delayed — but no one knew for how long. Unlike in other European cities, in 1989, almost no one in the Moscow airport spoke English, so getting information was practically impossible. As the first hour dragged into the second, my wife and I tried to go for a walk to find something to read, but the Soviet guards keeping an eye on us didn’t let us stray further than a poorly-stocked newsstand, which only had periodicals in Russian. The few characters of the Cyrillic alphabet I had learned for the trip didn’t do us much good.
Unlike most American airports, there were no restaurants in the terminal. This became an issue as our wait dragged on to four hours, five hours. To give you an idea how hungry we were, I started fantasizing about Sbarro — commonly known as the absolute bottom of the airport food chain.
This was the era before the CNN Airport channel or the internet. We had no newspapers or magazines and had finished the few books we’d brought with us. With nothing to do, nothing to read, nothing to eat, no information forthcoming, and the airplane nowhere in sight, most of the folks in our group spread out as best they could over the uncomfortable seats. The rest of us lay down on the floor with our heads on our carry-on luggage, hoping to doze off until someone awakened us in time for boarding.
Finally, after seven hours, an Aeroflot jumbo jet pulled up to our gate. Drowsy, irritable, and anxious, we gathered our stuff and boarded the plane, knowing we still had a long journey ahead, but happy just to be getting out of that terminal.
We were in that airport for a third of a day. Edward Snowden has reportedly been there for 10 days. Perhaps the Moscow Airport has been upgraded in the last couple of decades. Maybe he has access to food, wi-fi, reading material, and a comfortable place to lie down. But I doubt it.
Snowden may not know where he’s going next, but I’ll bet he’d be happy to go just about anywhere else.