Soviet Union, 1978

The Teheran connection was at fault. The plane from London arrived on time but the onward plane to Teheran was cancelled because of engine failure. As I worked for airport protocol in Moscow I had to look after the 40 or so transfer passengers, including the bearded stranger, likely to stay 24 hours in the terminal until the same flight the next day.

This was 1978 and in those days people used to fly all over the world via Moscow because Aeroflot, our national airline, offered such cheap fares and, usually, good connections.


If you had seen the terminal in those days you could have anticipated some trouble. A large room, the size of a football pitch, with some benches against a wall, a café which closed at 10pm, and a TV with a few chairs in front of it. No-one would willingly spend the night in such conditions; I expected trouble.

It was the TV which saved us: a World Cup football match appeared and the Iranian youths, returning home from the UK for their school holidays, crowded around the TV to watch the match. When I counted I cheered, and ran. There were 16 people not watching the TV. I went round to each one and very quietly told them to move slowly to the exit next to cafe. Surprise rather than suspicion of Soviet tactics was the reaction, but when they were in the coach they cheered when I made the announcement.

Well, thank goodness for football, said the bearded stranger. I, who hated football , had to agree with him. I have always wondered if the match was of sufficient quality to compensate the other passengers for their night on floor or bench. My announcement told the 16 that Intourist, our national tourist agency, had allocated the flight 16 beds in Moscow’s best hotel.