Monday, 18 March 2013

Epic journeys, rivers that flow the wrong way and a certain, budget airline...

From the long, river voyages of the early Rus peoples, who traveled from Scandinavia to Istanbul to flog their wolf pelts, to the infamous Trans-Siberian Railway itself, epic journeys seem to be part of the "Russian character" in our general understanding. A country the size of Russia has always had to deal with extreme logistical issues. Russia's rivers are much to blame as, in the words of my secondary-school teacher, "they do not flow the right way." (e.g. from north to south  as opposed to the more useful horizontal direction they could have taken through to the remotest parts of Siberia)

The dawn of the railway, something recorded spectacularly in some of Russia's best loved literature, was of crucial significance to the way the country was formed. As well as *spoiler alert* killing off one of Russia's most famous heroines, the development of the railroad changed Russia's fortunes and determined her history. In apposition to the new frontier forged by the Wild West railway of legend, Russia's iron roads brought modernity to the sleepy, ancient parts of the country. Trotsky would then use them to brilliant tactical advantage to aid the Red victory in the civil war.

"Russian Mountains/ Российские горы": photo by Timitrius taken from flickr under creative commons

Nowadays in our fast-paced economies these overnight trains seem just a little bit "last century" regardless of how romantic or exciting (or slightly dangerous in that "am-I-going-to-get-bottled?"way) they are. The next technological step, the aircraft, was not the resounding success that Russia had perhaps hoped for. In fact, as air-crash safety goes, Russia performs quite poorly with an appalling record, especially in recent history, of fatal airline disasters. Without wishing to labour the point, one need only think back a few years to the crash that killed Yaroslavl's ice hockey team or just a few weeks to the slide of the runway in Moscow which killed five.

Where does Easy-Jet fit in to this? Well as comments made by a representative of the company in this BBC Russian Service clip indicate - ( - not very far at all. Quite understandably the airline is moving into the Russian market tentatively. For one, Russia is not short of a budget airline or two, particularly on internal flights or flights to CIS countries where many Russians, displaced after the collapse of the Soviet Union are in constant flux to see their relatives. Secondly, Easy-Jet want to make sure a repeat of January's runway overshooting does not happen to them. Air-travel, however much safer it's supposed to be than crossing the road, is something that relies on trust and reputation more than most forms of public transport.

On the whole, however, it is a marvelous thing that the arduous battle for a flight permit is over and that Easy-Jet can operate a fledgling Moscow service. With Sochi 2014 round the corner and the World Cup to be hosted four years after that it is about time that Russia becomes more affordable and accessible. I only wish this had happened sooner as my student loan barely stretched to BA fares last year on my year abroad...