‘Moscow for a week’: Georgia’s Soviet-era frequent flyers (Al Jazeera)

Before the advent of today’s low-cost air travel, Soviet citizens hopped on budget flights run by Aeroflot. 

In the 1980s, when Manana Natchkebia was in her twenties and worked in an aeronautical factory in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, she would relish her holidays to Moscow.  At the time, Georgia was one of 15 Soviet republics that made up the USSR. Manana, now 60, travelled every year to the Russian capital and would buy French perfumes and fashionable clothes and shoes – expensive imported products that were not easily available throughout the USSR.  

“We loved Moscow,” says Manana, sitting among potted violets, green plants and Orthodox icons in the living room of her Tbilisi home.  “As young people, we had to go and see the capital, the big theatres and Lenin because we were all members of the Communist Party. There was always a long queue to visit his [Lenin’s] mausoleum,” she recalls.  She and her friends would stay in guesthouses in the city centre, close to Moscow’s well-known Tsum and Gum department stores, and she visited Lenin’s mausoleum just the one time.  “When we came out, my friend told me she regretted not having been able to go shopping instead of wasting a whole day waiting [in the mausoleum queue] outside.”  

Manana, who worked as an electronics technician, and her friends were not the only ones travelling and taking advantage of an extensive budget air travel service. Long before today’s low-cost carriers such as Ryanair, EasyJet and others came along, many ordinary Soviet citizens travelled by air to the Russian metropolis for holidays. The Soviet authorities favoured collective public transport over private car ownership and given the huge distances within the USSR – it spanned 11 time zones, as Russia does today – and harsh climate, investments in air transport were often less costly than building new roads and railways.

Picture by Julien Pebrel, read the full story on Al Jazeera website