Russian Airport Security – A Myth

vnukovo-airport-at-nightI’ve written several times before already about how security at Russian airports is a joke. Like all things Russian, it is a Potemkin village designed to provide the proletariat with the illusion that the State has their best interest at heart and takes their lives and well-being seriously.

So imagine my feigned surprise when I read this morning of the story about an unaccompanied 11-year-old girl who managed to slip through security checks at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport and then managed to board a flight to St. Petersburg without a ticket or ID. There are so many failures here, not just with the airport security, but also with the airline itself.

According to the website, the unnamed girl said that she had never flown by plane before and decided to go to Vnukovo after school where she mingled with crowds, slipped passed the security checks (see the security video footage below) and managed to get on-board a plane. As she boarded the Rossiya Airlines plane, the girl said she told the flight attendant she was travelling alone but was never asked by cabin crew to present any travel documents.

It is a sad but undeniable truth that Russia has for many years fabricated the illusion to its own citizens that it is both security concious and mindful of potential security issues, particularly in the wake of dozens of bombings and targeted attacks in Russian in recent years. The reality though is very different. This perceived blanket of security is non-existent. Security checks across Russia’s transport infrastructure are either never performed, or if they are, they’re done in a perfunctory and cursory fashion by a person who earns a pittance in salary and simply can’t be arsed to do their job professionally or properly.

Take for example the metal detector when entering the Airport Express train station. Every time ANYONE goes through it, the detector is set-off, but the security guards wave you through. The same is said of the security screening at the airport entrances. Sure, they have large x-ray machines scanning my bags before I even get through to the check-in hall. But 99% of the time the staff are chatting amongst each other barely glancing at the screen to see what’s inside passenger’s bags. It’s a joke! And don’t event get me started on the kid they employ whose sole function in life is to stamp my boarding pass before immigration!

Given the continued spate of bombings that have taken place at a variety of Russian airports and train/metro stations, you would think that if anywhere, Russia would take the idea of airport security seriously. That being said, it’s also not above the Russian security services to manipulate and manufacture “terrorist” attacks as was demonstrated with the apartment bombings in the September of 1999. Here it was proven that the FSB, in an effort to justify a war in Chechnya, and thus facilitate the apparatchik and military establishment to steal left right and centre under the guise of a civil war as well as enabling a newly installed Putin to demonstrate his hard-man image to the Russian proletariat.

Of course, the easiest way to resolve such issues is to assign blame. And it’s absolutely normal in Putin’s Russia that the blame rests, not with the state, but in this instance the parents of this little girl and the airport and airline whom she managed to slip past on on to said airplane. I have a hard time trying to understand why the parents should be blamed. Sure, an 11-year-old should have come straight home from school. But looking back to when I was that age, it was perfectly normal to go to and from school by oneself without the need to be chaperoned by your parents. No doubt her parents were worried sick when she hadn’t arrived home. Slapping them with a fine is just another way for Putin’s government to avoid criticism for a failure on the government’s part i.e. to provide fit-for-purpose state services by competently trained staff and properly organised institutions.

The longer I deal with Russia, the more Kafkaesque the country becomes over time.

Eye Candy – Hot-Air Balloon Fiesta

This short time-lapse, produced by Roadtrippers, is a beautiful and vibrant introduction to the nine-day International Balloon Fiesta event held every October in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Every year, the city’s skies are filled with hundreds of hot-air balloons, all shapes and sizes. Launching into the sky at all hours of the day — many taking flight just before sunrise — the spectacle creates a sight and experience which is unique in the ballooning calendar.

Hat-tip to Amber for sharing

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Meanwhile In Russia – Parachute Lands You!

This interesting video shows a Russian paratrooper getting taken for a ride by his round parachute. Unlike “square” parachutes, which have brake lines that can deflate the out cells of the canopy, thus making them controllable, the older “round” parachutes have much less control. When you have a slight gust of wind, you can quite literally, be lifted back into the air and slammed back down again with tremendous force.

When I did my training back in Ireland, even though we jumped with square canopies, we were still taught how to do a PLF, or “Parachute Landing Fall”. Essentially you put your legs together, bend your knees and roll when you land. This was the idea in case you flared the canopy too high and hit the ground harder than planned. With a round canopy, there is no real ability to flare, if at all, and so the PLF is the de-rigour way of landing when jumping under these ‘chutes.

But even though the soldier tries to land, the winds gusting upwards, in what looks a little like a micro-burst, literally lift him up off his feet as it catches the canopy and flies him through the air in an almost Mary Poppins-esque dance through the sky, much to the glee of his fellow soldiers happily chuckling in the background. Even his attempts to try and anchor himself proved fruitless as he was dragged for a few hundred metres through the dirt.

As they say, “In Putin’s Russia, parachute lands you!”

Russian Parachute Fail

Virgin Atlantic 2015 Advert – Let It Fly

Virgin Atlantic_4I’ve long been a fan of Virgin Atlantic. From the early days as a scrappy, game changing, market disruptor (buzzword bingo anyone?), to the gradual maturation of a suave and sophisticated airline, bringing back the glamour to the airline industry from the golden era of passenger travel.

And key among that image projection, aside from the stellar service one gets aboard one of their flights, is their TV advertising campaign. Their most memorable advert, celebrating their 25th anniversary, still feels fresh and tongue-in-cheek, with an homage to the 1980’s.

Their 2011 campaign took inspiration from the often artistic James Bond opening credit sequences to dazzle customers with their take on British sophistication. Full of fun, glamour and rife with self-deprecating humour, it’s one of my favourites.

Not to be out-done by their parent, Virgin America got in on the act with an update of the safety demo shown to passengers before take-off. Part “Glee”, part “Got To Dance”, it again exhorts Virgin’s humourous side whilst keeping passengers engaged in the usual boring safety demo. Interestingly, Delta have also more recently rolled out something similar on their flights.

Their 2013 advert once again took inspiration from the movies. This time, it took the form of a Superhero “movie trailer”, which showed off the various skill-sets of their pilots, crew and cabin design team.

Two years later, they’ve launched their newest TV advert for 2015. This time round, it’s focused more on the business traveller. Inviting viewers on a high energy journey which follows a passenger on his way to pitch an idea.

Set to Depeche Mode’s ‘Personal Jesus’, the film is intended to capture the spirit and vision of Virgin Atlantic as THE airline for people who share a similar “can-do” mindset and inspire those who want to make their ideas happen, whatever those ideas might be.

English actor and award winner Andy Serkis, best known for his Lord of the Rings work, narrates the video.

As is usual for Virgins ads, this one is thick with humour, and shows off the various pre-flight perks Virgin are rightfully proud of. That being said, given the emphasis on the “perks”, it’s clear the audience it’s aimed at is the more discerning and affluent business traveller. That is, after all, where most airlines make their profits, and Virgin is no different……they just have a much better product.

Swiss Airline Alpine Formation Flight

Switzerland’s infamous Lauberhorn mountain, home of the worlds longest downhill ski course, hosted its annual leg of the Ski World Cup late last month.

As a way to celebrate the return of this years leg, the national airline, Swiss, arranged a formation flight with one of their Airbus A320 alongside six F5 Tiger of the Swiss Airfoirce’s aerobatics team, the Patrouille Suisse.

The formation took in the sights of the beautiful Bernese Alps and gave spectators a fantastic sight as they flew overhead in tight formation.

The display, filmed from more than 30 different camera angles from inside and outside the Airbus shows off the piloting skills of all pilots involved. The nice flying bits start from about 1:50 in to the video.


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Another Aviation Disaster Affects Asia

Taiwan Crash ATR Taiwan Crash CarDramatic footage of the latest aviation disaster to have hit Asia in the past few months has been posted all across social media.

TransAsia flight 235 crashed in Taipei, Taiwan, earlier today. At least 16 people survived the crash of Flight GE235 and were taken to hospitals for treatment, according to the Taipei City Fire Department, with the current death-toll at 21, and two occupants of the plane still unaccounted for. The aircraft’s cockpit-voice recorder and flight-data recorder have been recovered for analysis.

At 10:55am (local time), the scheduled flight took off in the morning from Sungshan domestic airport in down-town Taipei on an hour-long flight to the island of Kinmen off mainland China. The ATR 72-600 aircraft, a twin-engine turbo-propeller model carrying 53 passengers and five crew, lost contact with air traffic control. The aircraft’s fuselage landed in the Keelung River near the city’s Sungshan airport.

Footage taken from a dashboard-mounted camera in a car showed the plane in what appears to be a deep stall. The the plane’s wings then tilt at a steep angle as it entered an incipient spin, eventually clipping a taxi with port wing-tip before barrelling into the motorway crash guard and finally plunging into the Keelung River. Two people in the taxi suffered injuries, the city government said. Two tour groups from mainland China with 31 members were aboard the plane.

Last July saw 48 people die when a TransAsia Airways flight crashed in Taiwan’s Penghu archipelago. That plane went down after the pilots couldn’t find the runway seconds before their aircraft slammed down on the island, according to the accident report. Ten people survived that crash, which was also an ATR 72 twin-engine turbo-propeller aircraft.

Including today’s crash, TransAsia’s ATR 72 planes were involved in four accidents over the last two decades that killed 73 people, according to AviationSafetyNetwork, which tracks accident data.

Putin’s Russia – Plane Pushing

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Putinism has taken on a new symbolic twist with these images doing the rounds on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook today.

Passenger’s on a UTair flight from Igarka airport in Russian Siberia, had to get out and push their plane to help it reposition before commencing its departure. In -50C temperatures, they got out and pushed the plane backwards, often joking with each other about pushing it all the way home. 🙂

Putin’s Justice Minister has announced that this exercise will now be introduced into Russian Gulag’s from this winter onwards, and will form part of the “Hard Labour” regimen that convicts incarcerated in Siberian Gulags will undertake as part of their sentencing.

Ryanair have also announced that they are considering adopting this method of passenger power as part of their new cost saving initiatives in 2015. A Ryanair spokesman said that “passenger power is both environmentally friendly, cost effective, and will help ensure that Ryanair can continue to offer the lowest fares to its passengers next year.”