UZBEKISTAN: All Humans Aboard!

BagsOn the day of our flight to Tashkent, I woke up with a giant headache. I wasn’t sure if it was because of all the crying I did the day before when I left our dog at the pet shipper, or because of the beer and wine I had, trying to suppress the thoughts of our dog at the shipper.

We packed up all remaining toiletries and lined up our luggage, crossing our fingers it passed the dimension and weight restrictions at the airport. While trying to deliver all of them into the lobby of the hotel, we got momentarily imprisoned in the hotel elevator that operated only after swiping the room keys. Both our keys only produced a red light and the elevator stood still. We stood in it, pressing the “open door” button to no avail. The elevator started magically moving only after my brain whizzed through all of the worst case scenarios possible, including us missing the flight and having to pee inside the elevator.

Instead of relying on the somewhat incompetent clerks at the hotel for a taxi, I thought I would outsmart everyone and call an Uber, saving us a lot of money…I thought.

One shiny black Suburban, a suit wearing driver and an EZ pass zip-through the traffic of DC, we swooped in the one and only remaining spot for unloading at the Lufthansa airport curbside. We tipped the driver and after a minor struggle with the pay-for luggage carts, we rolled in the airport hall. I checked my phone and saw an email from Uber. Smiling, I opened the email, only to have my mouth drop open at the $146 charge. Insert wah-wah sound.

After we successfully checked all of our bags in, we were funneled through the fastest security check I have ever been through. I mean – I didn’t have to take my laptop out, I didn’t have to take off shoes, nothing. Later, we strolled through the airport and saw the boarding of the flight that our dog was booked to travel on to Frankfurt. I wanted to call out to her: “We are here! Don’t be scared!” And wished I could have reached through the thick window pane and the belly of the plane and pet her one more time.

A couple hours later, we were boarding another Frankfurt bound airplane. The flight went surprisingly well even though I sat in the middle seat. The stranger on my left was a small, older lady, who struggled with every gadget, including the lamp, the headphones and the recline button.

To my immense surprise and relief, no one in front of us reclined their seat. I spent the 7-hour flight watching Taken 2 and Hot Pursuit, which were perfectly interrupted by meal and snack services. The flight attendants were all German, pretty and looked like the make-up ladies in the mall.

In Frankfurt, our next task was to figure out how to get the boarding passes for the Uzbekistan flight since they were not issued to us in D.C. I found a German brochure called something like “The Transit” and as I was squinting, deciphering the German words and sentences for any semblance of what we should do since there wasn’t an Uzbek desk/gate, my husband calmly slipped in front of my face the English version of the same brochure he picked up from the same stand.

On the way to the Uzbek flight gate, I collected all my nerves and checked the tracking status of our dog. If everything went according to the plan, she should have been in Frankfurt as well. My hands shook as I connected to the internet and typed in “Lufthansa cargo tracking”. A window popped up and I entered her shipment number. I held my breath. A page loaded and, thanks to German accuracy and preciseness, I was immediately able to tell that our dog did indeed make it to Frankfurt and was received at the pet hotel. For the second time in 24 hours, my stomach unknotted itself and I started breathing again.

The English brochure told us to just go on to the Uzbek flight gate and get our boarding passes there. The girl at the desk was nice and reminded me of Selena. She checked our passports and typed on the computer. A couple seconds later, two boarding passes shot out with such force that they flew out of the machine and on the floor. As we were about to walk away, I asked:

“Are we next to each other?”

The girl gave me a quizzical look.

“I mean, like, are we sitting in seats that are together?”

She reached out to look at the tickets and shook her head. My husband and I looked at each other.

“Well, could we sit together?” I asked.

She proceeded to type again and, this time catching the boarding passes before they landed on the floor, handed me two tickets that were indeed for seats next to each other.

“OK, thank you.” I said, watching her as she gazed at me with what I interpreted as a still not comprehending look of why I wanted this change to be made.

When the time for boarding the plane arrived, we experienced for the first time what we were told to be prepared for with the Uzbek culture: the very much reduced or practically non-existent personal space.

We were all told to go downstairs and board a bus that would take us to the airplane. After standing back, trying to fit in some kind of a line, we realized that this concept was not getting us anywhere, so we plunged in and rubbed shoulders and pushed bags until we were seated in our seats on the plane.

After the plane took off, I remarked on how empty it was. Only about half the seats were taken. And precisely because of this fact, I was even more perplexed why the gate girl wouldn’t seat my husband and me together. Another mystery for me was that fact that we had a third person in our row of seats even though there were several completely empty rows of seats all over the plane.

The guy that sat next to me (I was in the middle again) had so much cologne of a mysterious smell on that my eyes watered and I coughed several times. I tried to breathe as little as possible but when I started feeling the first tickle of asthma, I leapt out of my chair, crawled over my husband and walked in the back of the plane where two of the flight attendants took up the entire back row of 2+3+2 seats.

I asked in Russian:

“Excuse me, is there a way my husband and I could switch seats and go sit somewhere else. There is a man with a very strong cologne and it is making me sick.”

The girl lifted her eyes and said:

“No, all of these are occupied.”

I glanced around the empty seats next to her and wondered when the airline rules changed that flight attendants sat in regular customer seats. Since I already hadn’t slept for about 24 hours at that point, I just nodded and started to walk away, when she added:

“You can sit in any other rows if you want.”

I got back to our seat and just ended up switching my chair with my husband because by then, other people also figured out that the seats are empty and took them up accordingly.

During the snack and drink time, I noted with curiosity that a lot of Uzbeks (or at least I assumed they were) ordered tomato juice and a coke. At the same time.

I spent the rest of the flight watching badly dubbed movies until I finally searched my way through to the movie about Stephen Hawking. I couldn’t think of anything more depressing but I watched it anyway to pass time.

When we landed at 9:30 PM Tashkent time, we realized we were the only plane to land for many hours and probably the last one that night. Everybody was ready for us and the processing was surprisingly painless. We were whisked away and through the lit city to our house while driving around monumental buildings, huge parks and Uzbek flags everywhere because we just happened to arrive during the Uzbekistan’s Independence holidays.

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