I returned to Chisinau (Republic of Moldova) in mid-May. It was first visit since July 2010. Our college has a partnership with the Academy of Economic Studies (ASEM) in Chisinau, and we have been working with them since 1992. During the 1990s, I made a dozen or so trips to Chisinau. As you might imagine, I have a number of good friends who live in Chisinau; some of the friendships go back nearly 25 years.
Travel to Chisinau requires several segments. In the old days (1990s) it also meant non-continuous flight; that is an overnight stay somewhere—usually Bucharest or Frankfurt. Today, the Star Alliance teams United with Lufthansa, making it possible to check luggage in Omaha and pick it up in Chisinau. Moreover, the connecting flights are convenient with relatively short (not too short) waiting periods between flights. The route taken, Omaha, Newark, Munich (how do you get Munich from Munchen, the German spelling?), and Chisinau involved no drama, a great pretzel in Munich, on-time departures and a smooth landing in Chisinau, a bit tired but happy to be among the best of friends.
Our first ride, United Express to Newark, was on an Erbaraer (EMB) 145, has a cruising speed of 515 mph. The back-of-the-seat information sheet noted that passengers should not use lighters, radios, cellphones, and remote control cars while on the aircraft. Remote control cars? The big ride, Newark to Munich, was on a Lufthansa 767-300, a large aircraft that can seat 214 passengers, cruises at 529 mph, and has all the amenities that we have grown to expect on international flights. As a side note, I have uncovered a listing of the 15 worst airlines. United Airlines is number 14. Turkmenistan Airlines is rated worst, and is known for excessive delays (up to 14 hours), frequent over booking, seat comfort rating-abysmal, rude and inefficient service, and meals that are inedible. It does not get much worse than that, although something was missing in the write-up. There was no mention of propensity for crashes. Mmm. The third leg of the trip, Munich to Chisinau, was on a Lufthansa City Line, EMB 195. The EMB 195 seats up to 108 passengers and cruises at 501 mph.
The four airports, Omaha, Newark, Munich and Chisinau offer some of the best and worst with respect to convenience and design (and smells). Omaha has a nice regional airport. Passenger drop-off and pick-up is convenient, although the airport police are a bit twitchy, worried that someone might stop their car for too long (more than two minutes) when waiting to gather up arriving passengers. It is easy enough to move around the two terminals, and even the longest TSA lines are short when compared to those found in Chicago, Dallas or Denver. The food available in each terminal is limited, with many options closed to passengers who depart on later flights.
Newark is an airport of contrasts. The newer sections of the place are first-rate. They are bright, full of good food and drink options and clean. The older sections are nasty. In particular, avoid the restrooms in the areas where there is construction. You might enter and not be found for several hours. Someone forgot to tell passengers/employees that it is not okay to smoke in the bathroom, and the rest of the odors experienced are not too good either. Airport parking is okay, although be prepared to walk. The passenger pick-up and drop off places work well enough. The security lines can be long, and some of the TSA staff seems to have had a full dose of northern charm with at least a half dose of southern efficiency. Save your sanity, but only if you wish, and sign-up for the Pre-TSA. Your spouse, children, friends, fellow passengers and pets will be happy that you did.
My observations about the Munich airport are based only on its inner workings. I have not experienced drop-off and pick-up or parking. The airport is well-designed. German orderliness and cleanliness are found everywhere. Staff are most helpful. The walk from gate to gate when connecting from transatlantic to European flights can be long, but the steps will likely be welcome if you have been for the most part sitting for nine hours on the ride from Newark. The food options are very nice, a mix of more traditional German foods along with a range of other options that are perhaps more to the taste of the international travelers. Security is tight, but not any more so than it should. They took an interest in me on my way back from Chisinau. I suspect that they randomly select passengers for an extra search and I happened to be the next one selected.
The airport in Chisinau has undergone a significant remake in recent years. While it is the major airport for the country, it looks and feels more like a regional airport in the U.S. It has one runway and a shiny new terminal. Most recently, an additional parking structure was added, the most convenient of any that I have experienced in all of my travels. The airport really has two sections, a regular place for check-in, baggage claim, gate assignment and the like, and a VIP area which is completely separate from the first. VIP treatment like this cannot be found anywhere in regular airports in the U.S. (in private airports, yes). When deplaning, the VIPs are greeted by staff and a car or van that takes them directly to the VIP area of the terminal. Keep in mind that passengers deplane in designated areas of the tarmac in many airports outside the U.S., and are transported to the terminal on busses. No bus for the VIP. When entering the VIP area, a valet collects baggage claim tickets and someone (unseen) goes to collect the bags, returning with them a short time later. Immigration and customs, no problem. The line, well it really was not a line, is short, only two or three persons. Parking for the VIP area is a pip as well, right outside, perhaps 30 or fewer steps from the terminal to the car. While in the VIP area, I did notice a list of stuff you cannot carry onto an aircraft: hedge trimmers, wire cutters, selfie extenders (finally!), needle-nosed pliers, rifles, and baseball bates. The sign has pictures of these items marked by an X.
One final admission as I close out part 1 of this post. I still miss the Skymall publication, the opportunity to purchase a life-sized Yeti figure, avant-garde lamps, zombie hands that can be placed so they look as if they are coming out of the ground, a King Tut’s Tomb bar, inspiration posters with pathetic sayings, and shirts that do not wrinkle (that claim is not true). What I learned on this trip is that many Skymall-like items can now be found in airline magazines; for example, Hemispheres on United and The Catalogue published by Lufthansa. No Yetis were found, but there are opportunities to connect to dating services, buy special shirts (cantuckit.com), choose from hundreds of watches, purchase a funky tool box, chair or lamp, buy a knife that you cannot carry onto an aircraft, get some luggage that appears to be bullet proof, or purchase a Mont Blanc pen being hawked by Hugh Jackman. This stuff is too funny for me.