"No-Frills," Romanian Style
Passenger, July, 1981
One of the most priceless flying experiences I have ever had was when I flew from Athens, Greece, to Bucharest, Romania, in 1981. I was flying on the Romanian National Airlines, TAROM, a carrier that gave a whole new meaning to the phrase, "no-frills." The plane was Russian. Their security measures involved placing all the baggage next to the airplane. Everyone had to find his bag before being allowed to board. There were no assigned seats, so being among the first to find your bag and board was important. My bag was on the bottom of the pile, and I ended up boarding last. I found an aisle seat in the back and was pleased, since a middle seat would have been worse. My seatback was in the full recline position, so I attempted to right it, but it was broken. No wonder no one had taken the seat! The woman behind me began demanding in her native tongue that I put my seatback up. I tried to tell her it was broken, but she couldn't understand me and just kept yelling and gesticulating wildly, creating a huge scene. The safety briefing was given in Romanian, and there were no instruction cards in the seat pockets,
so I hoped for a safe flight. Upon takeoff, which was unusually steep and featured panic-inducing shuddering and loud groaning, items stored in the Greyhound-bus-style overhead shelves began raining down on the passengers below. Everyone assumed the crash-landing position and covered their heads with their hands. I was smacked right in the head with a case of Marlboros! What an undignified way to die, I thought. We finally leveled off and everyone put their heavy items back up so they would be ready to fall again upon landing. I comforted myself with the thought that this would make a great story if I made it home, and at least we would get good Greek food, since that's where the flight originated. Alas, it was not meant to be. TAROM had apparently carried our lunches from its then-communist homeland: a dense bread roll suitable for use as a paperweight, some greasy salami whose ingredients were of questionable origins, a hunk of unwrapped butter, some sort of cookie thing, and a Coke. I didn't eat or drink the Coke,
lest it arouse a need to experience a TAROM toilet. I managed to make it back onto the ground without sustaining any further injuries, and of course I enjoy telling this story whenever I can!