Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Airline Offices Under Siege

Corruption in Turkmenistan’s airline agencies is creating an artificial shortage of tickets, so that hundreds of passengers are forced to stand in queues all night, or else pay large bribes to secure a seat.
Every morning, the scene at air ticket offices in Ashgabat, and other cities too, resembles the siege of a fortress. People have to start queuing since one in the morning to buy a ticket for a domestic flight, which are sold two weeks before the travel date. There are five flights a day to Dashoguz in the north of Turkmenistan and Turkmenabat in the east.

But even this long wait is no guarantee of success. Two hours after the office has opened, people are told that all the tickets have gone. They find it hard to believe 600 tickets have been sold in the space of two hours, based on a calculation of 120 seats per flight.

Andrei Danilov recalled how he was number 155 in the queue, but everyone warned him this was no good as only the people at the front would stand any chance of buying a ticket. In the end, he had to spend four days at the airport before he could buy a ticket.

Scuffles and fights often break out when someone tries to push into the queue. Police intervene to break things up, they write statements, confiscate people’s passports, and ensure the worst offenders are fined for breach of the peace.

Anyone who can afford to avoid the queues will do so. , Irina Edova works for an international organisation in Ashgabat and frequently makes business trips, so she goes through a colleague who has a friend at the airline ticket office. Thanks to him, she can buy a ticket at any time – all she has to do is slip some money into her passport.

Getting on an international flight to Moscow, one of the most popular destinations, requires an additional payment of 100 US dollars. Things have got even tighter on this route since flights to Almaty and Kiev were cancelled, so that people who want to go there have to fly via the Russian capital. There are no trains to Moscow, either.

Things are much the same in Turkmenabat, the administrative centre of Lebap region. Adding a bribe means you pay almost 20 times the face value of a ticket to Ashgabat.

Unscrupulous employees of the airline agencies exploit the high demand for tickets, especially for flights between Ashgabat and the provinces because so many people come to the capital in search of work. Many of them find jobs in the capital either with companies or privately as nurses, tutors or nannies. They go back to see their families every month.

In summer, the Caspian coastal city of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk) becomes a popular holiday destination. A bribe adds to the costs of a vacation, and people who cannot afford to fly have to go by train or car, which can take up to eight hours in 45-degree temperatures.

Some angry customers go to see the shift supervisor or other managers to demand that the ticket offices behave properly and sell a reasonable number of tickets, but this has little effect.

In the corridors of power, officials are well aware of the situation but they are doing nothing to address it.

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