Chew, chew, glare. The jaws of the immigration official rotate, but she says nothing and merely frowns into the middle distance. Her disdainful glance shifts between the passenger and the document in front of her. She studies the passport as closely as if she had an exam on it tomorrow. Only when she feels that you can indeed have enough of a good nothing does she show any sign of activity. She leafs painstakingly through the document, each exotic visa stamp adding to the curl of envy on her still- chewing lip; she is stuck at Moscow's international airport every day of the year, and seems to believe passengers should suffer for the pleasure of travel.

Occasionally her official eyes wander upwards to the mirror that prevents children and small animals sneaking through the control point. A third time through, just in case there is an irregularity. Her colleagues mirror her actions; one or two of them add that extra bit of lethargy that keeps the queue at bursting point.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russian culture flourished as the citizens rejoiced in their new freedoms. But at Moscow's main international airport, not a thing changed. The same barriers and bureaucracy impede your progress. By the time you reach passport control you will have been in at least three earlier queues: the vehicular snarl-up on the airport approach (Sheremetyevo opened in 1980, at which time no Muscovite owned a car; now they all do); the queue for customs, a gigantic scrum that occupies at least half the concourse; the third queue, for check-in, is comparatively unchallenging.

Lenin, lying 20 miles away in his Red Square mausoleum, probably chuckles now and again about one egalitarian aspect of the whole dismal experience: the fact that every passenger, rich or poor, Russian or foreign, goes through the whole miserable process. Perhaps all regular travellers should go through the ordeal at least once a year to remind themselves that flying in the West is plain cushy.

It would be unfair to mock the Aeroflot ticket office at Irkutsk in Siberia for the sign announcing its "Lanch Break" - after all, airline offices in Britain rarely attempt translations into Russian. What I found more disturbing was the daily "Technological Break" each day between 4 and 5pm. My flight was scheduled to be airborne then, but fortunately neither the captain nor the aircraft took any technological time off.

The travel industry lost one of its most colourful and effective figures this week. Les Wilson, managing director of Bristol airport, died in a car crash on the way to work on Monday morning. He was 62 and was due to retire shortly.

Singlehandedly, Les turned Bristol into an aviation gateway. He regarded any traveller from the West Country who was forced to travel to Heathrow or Gatwick as a personal loss. Few airlines, whether charter or scheduled, could resist his verve and confidence that a service from Bristol would succeed. Commuters on the short hop to Glasgow, as well as adventurous travellers en route to Hanoi have Les to thank for a local, easy getaway.

Les was on fine form at the annual conference of the Airport Operators' Association a few weeks ago. At the end of a speech in which I highlighted shortcomings in Britain's airports, the Chairman said "Thank you for that, er -" and unwittingly paused long enough for a familiar voice from the back of the hall to complete his sentence with the words "load of old rubbish". Only Les Wilson, with his enormous generosity and good nature, could make being heckled seem like a privilege. He will be missed.

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