Grounded flights send tensions soaring in Moscow

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No one at chaotic Domodedovo airport seemed more important than a pimply young man handing out airplane food to the irate passengers who have been waiting for their holiday flights since the weekend.

"I need my own bodyguard," the teen said with a laugh. He agreed to identify himself only as Igor "for security reasons".

"There have been a few people making threats when these things run out," he said pointing at the stacks of aluminum foil covered plates. "Everyone is going a bit mad."

The mayhem has been reigning at Moscow's busiest airport since Saturday when unseasonably warm weather covered both planes and runways with sheets of ice. A local power line snapped, cutting power which was only restored Monday.

Some random flights were indeed seen departing Tuesday and the taxi drivers were no longer charging 300 dollars for a ride into town.

But angry attendants were rushing around the packed halls unplugging the computers of business people trying to establish contact with their offices in Europe and the United States.

"Telephones only," one grandmotherly attendant hissed at a man who had piles of papers strewn around the puddle-filled floor. "That computer will blow the fuse and the lights in all the toilets will go."

Tempers tended to boil over at the slightest provocation as thousands of passengers remained stranded in an airport that was once the marvel of Moscow but now resembled a war zone.

People were seen fighting over treasured luggage carts that entire families turned into beds.

Others haggled over a cherished seat at a fast-food chain that charged gourmet prices for stale salami sandwiches and instant coffee in a plastic cup.

"There is absolutely no information and they just keep sending you from one place to another," growled a young man named Dmitry Menyayev.

He and his girlfriend were supposed to have been home for the holidays in Novosibirsk two days ago. Now they were preparing to "compensate" for the lost time once they actually get there -- possibly on Wednesday.

"There are problems with the water and all the cafes are full. We are eating what is left of the airplane food -- and there is not even much of that."

Getting information from anyone indeed seemed like a hopeless mission. A British Airways ticket agent named Oksana smiled meekly and murmured: "We are trying to help an many people as we can."

Another agent for Transaero stood on her chair and chanted the same two sentences over and over: "We have food vouchers. No flight information at all."

Ainar Kygorov admitted that he probably had been overly optimistic bringing his entire family out to the airport knowing that all flights to his native Bishkek had been either grounded or were experiencing days-long delays.

"The tickets are already paid for and we have people waiting for us," he said. "I do not really know what else we are supposed to do."

© 2010 AFP

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