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Tupolev 134 & 154 into Siberia + Yak-42, BA 789 J & S7 J

Tupolev 134 & 154 into Siberia + Yak-42, BA 789 J & S7 J

Old May 13, 19, 10:19 am
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Tupolev 134 & 154 into Siberia + Yak-42, BA 789 J & S7 J

Flying is a tremendous adventure. I remember some of my first flights - the excitement of every detail from take-off to the flight attendant call button (or the whine of the flaps extending on an Avro RJ!), and the difference between aircraft types - trivialities such as the location of exits or the underfloor washroom complex on LH’s A340-600s. Some 1600 flights and millions of miles later, the excitement of flying yet another Boeing 737-800 or Airbus 320 has been tempered, if not entirely eliminated.

But I still love flying, and seek experiences that are unusual and certain to be memorable. Of course there’s also a fascination with “rare” aircraft types, and at this point, most of the remaining ones are old Soviet designs. I have tried twice to fly the Ilyushin 96 with Cubana - once ending up on an Air Europa 330 (last-minute charter) and the other time having to abandon Cubana altogether when they “delayed” my flight to the next day (instead flying Upper Class in the nose of a VS 747). I was lucky in Uzbekistan, as the Il-114 took me on my segment to Bukhara, before retiring unexpectedly a few months afterwards.

Another area for exploration of old Russian types is in Ukraine with Motor Sich. Affectionately called the “Motor Sich lottery”, on their routes (LWO/ODS-IEV-OZH-MSQ) you may fly an AN-24, AN-140, YK-40, or even an AN-72! Alas on my last “lottery” attempt, I flew the AN-24 three times - still a blast from the (Soviet) past.

Then, of course, is North Korea, a country that has long intrigued me for reasons beyond their aviation sphere, which is fascinating in its own right. Il-62, TU-204, Tu-154, Il-18, An-24, and so forth, are all actively flown there. I kept my September calendar year free one year in anticipation of being able to join one of the “Aviation Tours” that took place with regularity, flying around the whole country and experiencing these remarkable flying machines. Alas, that very year, the tour was rescheduled for October, so no North Korea.

Such is the excitement of chasing these old aircraft, you need some flexibility and a good dose of luck to be successful in your quest. But the reward! Oh, the reward…

When it came to my attention in April that the last Tupolev 134 in passenger service was scheduled for its final flights in May 2019, I knew I needed to take action quickly. The “final” rotations were scheduled for May 18 and 20, from Mirny to Irkutsk. My Russian geographic knowledge is not comprehensive enough to be able to pinpoint where Mirny, a diamond-mining city, is on a map, but Irkutsk indicated a location in deep dark Siberia. I enlisted a good friend to join me, let's call him P. Neither of us are crazy or especially dedicated avgeeks, but we both enjoy a good adventure and especially spending time together. Mirny is renowned for having one of the “largest excavated holes in the world”, an open-pit diamond mine that was active from 1957 to 2001. Obviously an exciting place to visit!

Planning a trip is half the fun, especially when it poses some challenges. In this case, I would be able to fly the “final” flight on the 18th, but would need to be back in Europe proper on the 19th, which proved to be completely impossible, since there were no flights out of Mirny until the next rotation… on the 20th.

P started researching the Alrosa website (which happens to be only in Russian or Chinese: the former I can read, while the latter is of no help at all) and perusing the schedule of flights to see which combination would work the best. The last rotations may have been for May 18th and 20th but the Tupolev-134 was still scheduled for its regular duties in the preceding days, plying the routes to Novosibirsk and Yakutsk. Our plans were further complicated when we noted that Alrosa had once again scheduled flights on the Tupolev 154 after a five-month hiatus. Obviously, having flown all the way to Siberia, we could not leave without flying both the 134 and the 154.

First off, I had to procure a Russian visa. As many frequent travellers will attest to, one of the most annoying elements of travel to “exotic” countries is getting that precious piece of paper in your passport. The time, cost, and uncertainty in addition to parting with your passport and the inability to be absolutely certain of approval mean I avoid visas whenever practical. In particular, dealing with bureaucracy of the CIS states can be annoying and intimidating (though, to be fair, a part of the fun of going on these trips). I had been to Russia only once, for work and by official invitation from a ministry, and recall the process with my Canadian passport was incredibly expensive (FedEx envelopes both ways, visa fee of $150) and a persistent lack of information was frustrating. This time, I decided to apply in Europe with my European passport, and found the process significantly easier. It also helps that one can still travel - and cross borders - with only an EU ID card, reducing the pain of a missing passport. Going through the (nearly) mandatory VFS Global service it was all rather straight forward, though not without some kinks. I arrived a day before leaving Europe at 3:00 pm, the office closes at 4:00 pm according to the website. There was no line-up, I made sure to have two versions of my passport photo (of course they didn’t like the first one I showed them), and all insurance documents + invitation letter (purchased online for 10 EUR). But soon enough the lady wasn’t happy my insurance document listed coverage in Canadian Dollars not Euros (even though it is for a few million vs. the minimum 30,000 EUR) and that it didn’t specify it was valid for Russia (apparently “Worldwide” has a complex definition). I had to sprint to a shop to print out more pages from the policy to prove some terms, and was informed that - oh - they actually stop accepting applications at 3:30 pm, it’s listed on the door. You should come back tomorrow as we probably won’t be able to help you today. I was back at 3:25 pm, a grumpy Russian woman came out and was about to turn me away as I kindly explained I could not come back the next morning and received supervisor approval to be helped at 3:31 pm. Phew. Visa was ready as advertised, 7 business days later, and I had my uncle pick it up with a power of attorney letter from me. All-in-all cost - around 70 EUR.

So, now to plan the flights.

The first version of our itinerary was a simple Novosibirsk-Mirny-Novosibirsk turn, on the outbound a Tupolev 134 was scheduled and on the return a Tupolev 154. P and I procrastinated a bit (something we both have in common) and didn’t book anything, and when I went to book it a few days later, the outbound flight was suddenly selling business class - a sign it was no longer a Tupolev 134, which is in an all-economy layout. Sure enough, the OVB-MJZ flight was now on a modern 737-800. Back to the drawing board.

The second version of our itinerary was a Yakutsk-Mirny-Novosibirsk connecting itinerary, with the first flight on the TU-134 and the second on the TU-154. After a week of procrastinating, I booked this combination. All good, the website accepted my card, I received multiple emails with confirmations, and I had great fun seeing this on an itinerary/eticket in 2019:



Alas (thankfully?) P procrastinated and only tried to book the above flights a week later. I awoke one morning to a flurry of messages laced with expletives, eventually deciphering that Alrosa had subbed in an AN-24 for the Yakutsk-Mirny flight, not only taking the TU-134 out of the picture but wrecking this itinerary. Back, again, to the drawing board, now only two weeks before the flights. I also had the task of getting a refund for my broken itinerary, which I delegated to P, as he speaks Russian. After emailing with no reply, he gave them a ring, and they told him to email… Eventually the proper department was reached and a refund hit my card only a few days later.

In the meantime, since booking the above and looking for the third itinerary, Alrosa had decided to completely redesign its website. In the past, there was a nice simple PDF with flight schedules; this was completely removed, replaced by a search box for timetables. Each segment had to be searched individually, and I had no luck finding where exactly the Tupolev had been moved to. P eventually found it, flying to Polyarny. Now the trick was to figure out how we could combine Polyarny with the TU-154 (still scheduled on Mirny-Novosibirsk) and how we could get there from Moscow in the first place… Final itinerary OVB-MJZ-PYJ-MJZ-OVB. Two segments on TU-134, one on TU-154, and one B738.

BA Avios come in very handy for flights within Russia, and we were certainly glad that we didn’t have to book DME-YKS - a redeye 737-800 flight of 3,054 miles, just over the Avios band, and would cost a whopping 60,000 miles in business. We would still be taking an ultra-long B738 flight, OVB-FRA, a new once-weekly connection with flight time of around 7 hours which covers 2,992 miles, just under the next band and a more palatable 37,500 miles plus negligible taxes.

For the inbound to Russia, 17,000 miles LHR-DME for the BA 787-9 in Club World, off-peak and with the capped EU taxes - a great deal. P would be flying in from Dusseldorf on S7, and we booked DME-OVB for 20,000 Avios again on S7.

We also booked a quick trip from Moscow to Izhevsk on the Izhavia Yak-42 - as the only remaining scheduled operator of the Yak-42, a chance too good to pass up.

The final itinerary looked as follows:



10,534 flown miles, 7 airports, and three Russian types, all in the space of four days. Adventure awaits.
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Old May 13, 19, 12:53 pm
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Look forward to seeing more of this! Nothing better than some vintage flying.

Last edited by Pseudo Nim; May 13, 19 at 12:59 pm
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Old May 13, 19, 8:51 pm
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Awesome! Looking forward to this.
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Old May 14, 19, 6:11 am
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Sounds like a great trip. Looking forward to hearing about it.
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Old May 14, 19, 6:34 am
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Sounds interesting! Subscribed
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Old May 15, 19, 6:08 am
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Onwards to Moscow…

After an unusually long five-night stay in London, and my second visit to the city in as many months, I was truly keen to depart. The previous night had been a “work” evening, and I was lucky that the situation was unique and permitted me to leave shortly before 23:00, providing at least a baseline amount of sleep.

A car was waiting outside of the hotel at the early hour of 6:15 am; although the drivers’ instructions were to go to T5, I asked him to drop us off at Terminal 2 instead, where I would say farewell to my mom, whom I had spent Mothers’ Day with.







After a rapid check-in process with Lufthansa, off to the Heathrow Express to get to Terminal 5.







A stop at the check-in counter to verify my visa and get a printed boarding pass, and through the rather slow security.

Alas, I do not have any OneWorld status; my two home airports have limited (AA to DFW and BA to LHR) or nonexistent OW service. Since my main travel is Trans-Atlantic, I would be left with only AA & BA, neither of which elicit my enthusiasm. In fact, my last British Airways long haul flight was 5 years ago. The route was from Beirut to North America, and I decided it would be more comfortable to fly BEY-LHR on the A321 with flatbeds vs. BEY-FRA in Euro-business. Indeed, the first leg was rather comfortable, but I vowed never to fly Club World again after the Trans-Atlantic segment. Setting aside the indisputable facts that British Airways has a cramped configuration, generally lacklustre service, and forces you to go through LHR, I found the seat horrendously uncomfortable - an economy class seat that happens to go flat, much too short for me to relax in.

All this to say, if I fly British it’s within Europe and in business, so the journey of escalator rides and walks to a lounge that is right next to security (but inaccessible) is very familiar.



To give credit where it is due, the breakfast spread was completely acceptable and the lounge wasn’t as full as it tends to be.



With pride, I can present my one bag for the four-day escape. Inside: a change of clothes, toiletries, PJs, laptop, camera & lenses, Bose headphones, and book.



The assigned gate for BA233 was C66, so I left the lounge 40 minutes before departure, and arrived at the C satellite to the “final boarding call” announcements.



On board, the cabin was much as I remembered, perfectly fine for the three-hour journey to Moscow, and better than economy for anything longer - but far from a premium product.









I have found the British have a penchant for soft seats and mattresses - a certain type of soggy/springy feel, uniquely British - which would describe the Club World seat rather accurately.

The flight was rather full, so I would look into the (un)smiling face of a Russian man for take-off and landing, happily raising the divider at the first occasion to do so. British Airways has the distinction of being the only airline to charge for all seat assignments, including in their premium cabins, and was charging no less than 100 USD for a seat on this flight. Without status and not on the corporate dollar, this price seemed absurd, so I held out until online checkin. Of course at that point no window seats were left, but I was still spared of having to sit in a rear-facing middle seat, and had a perfectly acceptable aisle seat, 10D.

Shortly after boarding, passengers were handed out a bottle of water, menu, and amenity kit. Bedding from the White Company was already on the seat upon entering the aircraft. It’s nice to see a local brand being used on BA, and the bedding is rather nice.









I noticed with curiosity that the startup of the Dreamliner sounded different with the Rolls Royce engines - having flown this aircraft primarily with the GEnx engines, the RR rumble felt much deeper.

Shortly after take-off, the passenger in 10A inquired about the entertainment system, only to be informed that it was disabled for this flight as “it is a European destination”. This did not please Mr. 10A, and he promptly made it known that he has been flying this route for the past 10-20 years and there has always been inflight entertainment. Not knowing the specifics of the route, I stayed silent, but certainly agreed with his ire for British Airways’ absurdity. Either way, regardless of whether if it was a mistaken crew or airline policy, flying Club World (complete with bedding and amenity kit) but with the system “disabled” is rather peculiar.

I stopped sympathizing with Mr. 10A shortly thereafter, however, as it turned out he was a hot-headed and noisy complainer, muttering profanities under his breath and throwing his table tray onto the neighbouring seat. It was a relief when he finally retreated to his cocoon and raised the privacy divider. He would continue emerging from his seat to pester the crew for this or that and would always make his presence known.

Other passengers included an older Australian couple, who had boarding passes printed on Qantas stock - a long journey - and a panoply of businessmen.

Service was performed on trays brought from the galley, no complaints here, it was simply a traditionally inedible airline breakfast.







Reclining the seat after the breakfast was complete, I was surprised to find the bed not quite as uncomfortable as I had remembered, lying completely flat in the bulkhead row I was touching the wall with my feet and the back of the seat with my head - fairly standard. Bending your legs is impossible considering the seat width is comparable to that of an Economy seat.



Shortly before landing flight attendants walked through the cabin and asked if anybody would like something else to drink, served nicely on a porcelain tray with some nuts.



Customs forms were handed out as well, littered with spelling mistakes & dated 200_, apparently also unnecessary to fill out...





We landed to a fairly grey day with light drizzle in Moscow, and I was the first passenger to get off the plane and head for immigration.
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Old May 15, 19, 10:24 am
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A hop into Moscow

There was no line-up at immigration - in fact, nobody at all, and all the agents were lazing around in the back of their cubicles. With the typical Eastern European apathy one reluctantly took my passport and only asked me as much as where I had come from. Then, in the traditional bureaucratic way, she inspected each and every page of my passport, through two magnifying glasses and UV light. Eventually I was handed back my passport, without as much as a smile, and was sent on my way. Behind me, a rather sizeable lineup consisting of the BA233 passengers had formed.

Since P was only flying in immediately before our first Russian-metal flight to Izhevsk, I had a six hour connection to myself, which of course I used to go to Moscow. I had purchased the Аэроэкспресс ticket beforehand on their website, a same-day return costs only 850 RUB, or about 12 EUR.

On the way, I decided to purchase a SIM card, for our comfort in case of urgent need in Mirny or Polyarny, and since after all P is technically still at work. The process was super quick, and I overpaid three times the normal amount (despise a ripoff), but for the convenience and considering we’re talking about 10 EUR here it was a done deal.

The Aeroexpress terminal is adjacent to the airport, just a short walk in the rain.






The ticket was in my Apple Wallet, and the train was just pulling in. Free WiFi onboard, very clean, comfortable seats…



















But a LOT of advertising.






Greenery and rain on the way into Moscow.









At Paveletsky Rail Terminal, there was a security check to get into the station building (Russian style - have to make sure you’re clean coming into Moscow!) and I went to the Metro landing to purchase a ticket. Lenin’s name greeted me immediately.









Paveletsky is one of a multitude of railway stations in Moscow, and offers relatively few services throughout the day…



I had decided to take a tram because it took about the same amount of time as the metro, and I would see some surface sights (though undoubtedly the metro stations are tourist attractions in themselves). Of course, as luck would have it, I saw two suitable trams just as I left the railway terminal, but ended up waiting a good ten minutes for the next one.

A rubbish bin at the tram stop, true to Russian style.



Tram stops here are in the middle of the street and most drivers try not to stop.



Ah, yes, finally the right one!



I was glad to get a true vintage tram, complete with the Eastern European sweat smell. The custom here, as in other true proletariat states, is to get up for anybody who looks older than about 50-60, and to help older people up the very steep steps onto the tram.





Tram sightseeing paid off!





At the final stop, a quick lesson in Cyrillic.



My first and, as a matter of fact, primary destination was the central post office. I needed to get a competent post office to buy the stamps I would require for my postcards, and there would be no time at any of my stops. Unfortunately the почтамт was under renovation, so the service was conducted from a series of back offices accessed through the typical Soviet courtyard, with limited to no signage. Asking around, I was pointed to the right one, and a fairly disinterested but ultimately helpful man helped me purchase 48 international stamps.





With that out of the way, I walked towards Red Square, as the drizzle turned into proper rain.





Ice cream, perhaps?











Lighting conditions for pictures were rather abysmal and the rain had already drenched me, but I did what I could under the circumstances.











Sometimes the rain can help your pictures…





No visit to Moscow is complete without a trip on the metro, so down I went. Unfortunately the Teatralnaya station complex isn’t the most elaborate…









Inside, true to form, the metro was noisy and fast. I love the distance between stations, very refreshing after the Tube, which stops without having even sped up.



Paveletsky station is much more interesting!









Note the enormous swing doors!





The station was rather utilitarian from the outside, not helped by the ever-present construction occurring in front.



Aeroexpress has a separate hall downstairs, and they also have a canopy over the platform - the only platform upon which such an honour is bestowed.





One train pulled in, everybody went to the doors, another train pulled in, everybody moved to those doors. This journey was very full, but I managed to secure a single seat and enjoyed taking in the rainy Moscow suburbs.

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Old May 16, 19, 7:17 am
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Yak-42 Moscow-Izhevsk



Back at Domodedovo airport, I passed through security at the entrance and then couldn’t find any indication of where the check-in desks were. Big screens hung everywhere, but instead of displaying such information, they were dedicated to a never ending stream of ads. Departure monitors were located in the middle of the checkin hall, and I had to backtrack to find the common handling agent desks used by Izhavia. Izhavia actually even has online checkin, with a rather remarkable and memorable design.







With my printed boarding pass in hand, I headed up the stairs to preflight security. This was rather farcical; a full-body scanner was in use, and though I showed numerous “yellow” areas I was waved through without further checks.

The tarmac glistened in the rain, and though there were plenty of interesting airlines - Alrosa, Turkmenistan, Yamal - no Russian types were in sight.



There are a few Priority Pass lounges on the domestic side of Domodedovo, but severe restrictions are in place for two of them: one is “open” only from 1:00 am to 4:00 am while the other restricts entry from 17:00 to 22:00. The only one open continuously was therefore very full, and I was glad to find seating. The selection was abysmal, furniture uninspiring, but there was cold beer! A shortage of beer glasses required moderate ingenuity, and I spotted plenty of passengers imbibing beer in tea glasses. When it comes to drinking, anything will do.

Tracking the inbound flight from Izhevsk, I noted my friends’ Dusseldorf-originating S7 A321N was immediately behind. Positions for photography are limited but I did capture both planes a few moments after they had landed.





P had a rather optimistic scheduled connection time of 50 minutes; fortunately the flight to Izhevsk was slightly delayed in boarding and the timing worked out perfect.

Izhavia actually pays for a gate in Moscow, and it is a remarkable experience boarding the Yak-42D this way - a plane never designed for jet bridges.





Soviet types are infamous for their very low entryway doors, and the Yak-42 is no exception. A Dash8-Q400 pales in comparison - this is a proper bow of respect to cross the threshold.







We boarded as some of the last passengers, but bins were not yet full, and we had the impression that many passengers were traveling only for a short trip.



It’s exceedingly rare I sit in the last rows of a plane, but here the merits of seats 19A or 19F proved themselves instantly. A view not to be found anywhere else: the wing and Lotarev engine through the round, porthole window.



Alas the very reason I avoid sitting in the final rows soon manifested itself, namely the discomfort of the seats and lack of legroom. Judging by the ceiling panels and the location of the reading lights for each row, a few rows have been jammed in to this aircraft (that is, if the panels were ever properly aligned to begin with!). Legroom was nonexistent, and I’m fairly sure I was providing the same massage to the person in front as the passenger behind me was giving me. The window was low like on a Canadair RJ, and did not have an interior plastic panel - no decorative elements here. A cool breeze was blowing from somewhere beneath the seats; the passenger next to me reeked of cigarette smoke.



The Yak-42 is a rather late-model Soviet plane, being first flown in 1980. This particular example was only from 1989, about the same age as some members of the Air Canada fleet.

Par for the course for any public announcement in the East Bloc, not a word could be made out of the pilots welcome aboard message. The safety demo was only marginally more audible, and was performed in Russian and English. Of note were the markedly different oxygen masks - grey, not yellow, and rather bulky.

As we left the gate, the fluorescent lights were switched off, leaving only the incandescent bulbs giving off a warm light to the cabin. The engines were started one-by-one, a symphony of sounds, completing this memorable moment.



After a remarkably long taxi, enjoying the view of the Domodedovo graveyard (complete with Il-86, Tu-154, Il-62, and others), we started our take off roll. Soviet airliners are often considered to be underpowered, but this takeoff felt exhilarating - perhaps aided by the fact I was sitting right next to a screeching engine.

When we eventually reached cruising altitude, service started with drinks. Water (carbonated or still) and juice were on offer. A while later the cart was rolled back down the aisle and a meal service started. There was a choice, either you wanted chicken or nothing. The chicken was served with kasha, a true Soviet meal.





The two flight attendants serving us were interesting in their polar opposite characters. Tatiana was cold and unpleasant, Natalia was smiling and honest.



The landing was notable to me, with the requisite nose push-down and a lot of vectoring at a low altitude. With the climate changes, my window continually fogged up from the inside, not unlike an old Soviet car.

Not much could be seen in the rain of Izhevsk, but we made our way to the stand and deplaned - somewhat surprisingly - through the front door.













A Yandex.taxi was procured near-instantaneously, and we were off to the Park Inn Izhevsk, the “best” hotel in town, for a minimal dose of shuteye.






Last edited by jlisi984; May 16, 19 at 1:16 pm Reason: Fixed two images
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Old May 16, 19, 1:00 pm
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This is very interesting. I was looking at Mirny through Google maps just a couple of days ago thanks to that big hole and I'm curious to see what kind of impression you will have of the place.
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Old May 16, 19, 1:54 pm
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Wow great report thanks!

Was vodka gratis on the flight? lol
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Old May 16, 19, 8:52 pm
  #11  
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Wow, great report so far. Looking forward to the rest of it - beautiful photos so far, and a fascinating trip thus far!
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Old May 17, 19, 1:10 am
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This Tupolev looks really awful imo.
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Old May 17, 19, 3:09 am
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Great report!

Thanks for sharing!
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Old May 17, 19, 7:02 am
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Originally Posted by enviroian View Post

Was vodka gratis on the flight? lol
My question as well. One needs the Vodka to kill off any bacteria from the inflight chicken.....

Great report so far - I am enjoying it, thank you.
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Old May 17, 19, 12:55 pm
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I can't see the pictures. What am I doing wrong?
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