Fighting the Chaos: The Evolution of Sofia Airport

Written by on August 3, 2016 in Bulgaria, Sofia - 6 Comments

While the first airfield for Sofia was located where the recently refurbished Central Station was erected later, Czar Boris III ordered the construction of a fully blown airport in the village of Vrazhdebna, which belongs to Sofia by now, in September of 1937, during the times of fascism. According to Sofia Airport’s website, the first waiting room for passengers was available in 1939. By the early 1950-s, the terminal was erected and extended in the years and decades to come. It would survive decades of communism.

It was much later, the new millennium had just made landfall, when I hit Bulgarian soil for the first time. My entry point was the most chaotic airport I had seen since landing on the Augusto C. Sandino Airport in Managua in 1983. The only terminal, known as Terminal 1 today, resembled a larger sausage stand, rather than an airport for a capital. On top of that, nothing worked properly. Once the shiny, new Terminal 2 opened its gates, one would have expected an improvement and that things would start working properly. They didn’t.

In 2005, I wanted to catch my flight to Berlin. The lady at the disinformation counter in the departures hall was annoyed about the fact that someone would dare to ask her a question, when I inquired about the right check-in counter. “There is no flight to Berlin.” But, 30 minutes later, the counter finally opened, for my flight to Berlin. During the following hour, my experience didn’t exactly improve. The announcements resonating through the building were hardly comprehensible, due to the grave English issues the announcer had. In a bored voice, which sounded like she was going to fall asleep at any moment, she said things like “Bulgaria Air flight no. 123 from London just landed at Sofia Airport.” Where else could it have landed? In Pyongyang?

Minutes later, the border police at the security check, who did not speak English at all, shouted at passengers: “Belt! Now!”. It was their way to politely ask passengers to take off their belts and place them on the conveyor belt. Once that pleasant encounter was behind me, I entered the Duty Free store in order to purchase tobacco products. The lady at the cash register was busy working or her monumental, pink finger nails. Since she did not feel like grabbing coins with those nails, the change I received was 12 Cents short. This lead to a heated discussion, during which I explained to her that I did not care much about 12 Cents, but that it was a matter of principle to make sure customers got all of their change. After waiting at the gate, we entered a bus, which was supposed to take us to our aircraft. It didn’t happen. Someone at Bulgaria Air had just decided to redispose that aircraft for Vienna. So, we were taken back to the terminal, in order to be taken to another aircraft 30 minutes later. 

In other instances, the conveyor belts for the baggage at the check-in counters gave up. The employees behind the counters, most of them ladies, were forced to drag heavy suitcases to another conveyor, located several meters behind them. Let’s not even mention the baggage handling for incoming flights. At times, it took 45 minutes and longer, until the first baggage pieces would appear at the baggage claim. My mother, who shows up in Sofia several times a year, recently had a complaint. Her suitcase had been cracked open, some items were missing. The gentleman at the baggage claim counter laughed when she complained. A day like any other at Sofia Airport. Things like these happened all the time. I know since I flew in and out of Sofia a lot.

But I have to admit that nowadays things have improved. Some of the chaos is gone. O.k., the other day it rained inside Terminal 2, due to a leak in the roof, next to the stairs to the departure gates. Also, those mafia taxis, with copies of the O.K. Taxi logo on their doors, keep on circling the road in front of the terminal, waiting for victims, whom they would charge 100 Leva for a trip to the city center, while police officers are watching. But, otherwise, Sofia Airport is on the right path. Most of the chaos is gone. So, you wanted a positive post? This was it.

Update: On October 16th, 2016, Sofia Airport wrote history, by welcoming the first (and only) Airbus A380 ever.

Update II: There were far more crashes in this airport’s history: “Balkan Bulgarian Airlines: Flying Passengers to their Deaths”

A380 in Sofia: The announcement article.

A380 in Sofia: The video report.

A380 in Sofia: The comment.

A380 in Sofia: The satire piece.

By im.

 

Sofia Airport. Photo by Maya Dulgerova

Sofia Airport. Photo by Maya Dulgerova

The Shiny New Terminal 2.

The Shiny New Terminal 2.

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