Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Belarus airport sans visa big no-no

Traveler tip: if you ever have an international connection in Minsk, you need a transit visa even if you don’t leave the airport. You are required to get this before you get there. In all my travels, I have never encountered this. My ticket to Prague went through Minsk. Having not brushed up on my European geography recently, I didn’t know where Minsk was. It was a good price on the ticket, and got me out of Russia before my transit visa expired, so I booked it. I didn’t go through Russian customs before boarding the plane to Minsk, so I was thinking it must be in Russia. Turns out the Russian customs and Belarus customs are done by the same agents, in Belarus. When they couldn’t find my visa, and I said I didn’t think I needed it as I had a connecting flight, the Russian agent huffed and puffed and roughly told me to wait to the side. She made me wait there an hour, standing as many planeloads came through customs. I stayed calm and curious, one of the gifts from living 5 months never really sure of what is going on. I thought, “They could send me back to Russia, and then my visa there is expired.” Or, “They are going to fine the heck out of me.” And, “Interesting. Wonder what will happen?” Almost anytime unexpected snafus happen on this journey, I have stayed calm and said “Okay, what do I need to do, and how much is it going to cost me?” So I waited patiently. Another guy didn’t have a visa and was made to stand by me. He was very agitated and sweating bullets. Pacing from the place we were told to wait then returning. We didn’t speak to each other. His approach to the situation gave me a chance to see I was making a better choice staying calm until I had more information.

Once all the flights had been processed, they took me and the other man to get our luggage and then through a series of hallways and security checkpoints. We arrived at a consulate services desk, where I thought I would have to buy the visa with a penalty. Instead, the guy had to go there, and the agents kept walking with me. The Russian agent, who kept throwing disgusted glances at me, knocked on a door that was answered by a Russian man. They exchanged a heated dialogue where the only word I caught was “transit” several times. It was as if he didn’t want responsibility for me, but she insisted. Finally, he waved me through the doors, and though he appeared angry with her, he was neutral to me. He even spoke a few words of English. I still didn’t know what was going on. My flight was due to leave in 1.5 hours. He led me to a waiting area, a large room with windows and many chairs, and told to wait until someone came to get me. A Belarusian women sat there in a uniform. “Will I be able to board my plane? How will I check my luggage and get my boarding pass?” She went and got someone to help translate, and finally after 1.5 hours of mystery, it looked like I was going to get through without even a fine.

The time came for my flight to board, and no one had come. I went searching and found the Russian man. He pointed stiffly back to the waiting area. “My flight is leaving in 15 minutes, and I need to check my luggage.” He looked up at the clock. “Your flight was delayed one hour. Someone will come for you. Please, (the stiff pointing again).” Thirty minutes later, someone from the airlines came for me, along with a customs agent. I was escorted through the airport, checked my bag, frisked in security, and taken to my gate. I was so glad to be getting on the plane without further incident, when I looked at my seat assignment. It was 001C. “Uhh, isn’t that first class?” I asked the flight attendant and she kindly showed me to my seat right up front in a cushy first class section. I didn’t argue, just enjoyed. The whole time until we were in the air I thought someone might come and say there had been a mistake, so I had my diet coke and read my English language newspaper. Then I had a nice chicken lunch. More diet coke. No mistake. It was excellent. I felt very grateful and also kept thinking, “lucky, lucky girl.” I think Niraj (my guide in Nepal) would say it was the dimples on my cheeks showing their power again.


  1. Way to turn a snafu into a first class ticket! How you stayed so calm under the circumstances is remarkable. Next time I find myself 'freaking out' I will think of you waiting ever so patiently in the Belarus airport waiting room!

  2. Glad you are still reading! Hope you are well. I will be coming to visit in the third week of October. See you then!