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Stale Cookies and White Knuckles

April 24, 1990|CAROL J. WILLIAMS

One of the few constants in East Bloc airline travel in the socialist age was the standard-issue meal served for breakfast, lunch or dinner: a boiled knuckle of chicken, brown bread and a stale cookie.

East European airlines took their cues on cabin service and fleet maintenance from the Soviet Union's Aeroflot, the world's largest passenger airline, which has long been plagued by fuel shortages, safety scandals and a ho-hum attitude toward its hapless clients.

Horror stories abound about rough landings, unexplained diversions and flight delays counted in days instead of hours.

"Limonad," a sugary concoction of mineral water and fruit syrup, was for years the only beverage available on East European airlines, though it was offered in a pleasing array of colors from amber to azure blue.

Cabin attendants sometimes closeted themselves behind a flimsy curtain sealing off the forward galley. The smoke from cigarettes forbidden to passengers could be seen seeping out from behind the drape.

Safety was also a sometime thing, with the seat pocket in front of passengers usually missing any escape-route diagrams and no life jackets stashed under the seats. Even today, many of the Tupolev aircraft lack individual oxygen masks overhead, instead relying on tanks stored at the rear of the cabin.

An American passenger on a recent flight on Tarom, Romania's airline, from Bucharest, Hungary, to Timisoara, Romania, reported that--on takeoff--the Tupolev aircraft made two abortive lurches toward the sky, touching wheels to ground between each lurch, before finally getting airborne.

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