It’s on flights like these that you need to hire handlers, who smooth the way by filing flight plans, obtaining overflight and landing permits, arranging for fuel, helping with customs and immigration procedures, and even hiring taxis to get you to your hotel. When you’re flying to unfamiliar airports—especially in underdeveloped parts of the world—handlers can be your best friends. At $1,000 to $3,000 per stop, they ought to be.
At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to go. Handlers vary in competence. Some seem to misunderstand their roles. Some wander off after your first meeting, and some simply don’t show up—leaving pilots to find their own way around, pay for fuel out of their own checking accounts, and deal with language barriers. A decent handler does all this, letting the pilot concentrate on the next leg.
Recently, a disheveled handler at a bleak Russian airport managed to put three pilots traveling together into detention. Details are sketchy, but it seems the handler simply didn’t pass along their outbound general declarations to the proper authorities. When the pilots taxied out for takeoff, ATC called them back. Then they were held in limbo. At one point, the issue of a $20 “penalty” (think “bribe”) came up—all because the handler either didn’t pass along the forms to customs, or didn’t ensure that they were correctly stamped. Luckily, all was sorted out after several tense hours.
This is not to say that there aren’t excellent handlers out there. Nakanihon Air Service’s Misao (“Mickey”) Nagae at the Nagoya, Japan, airport will have you fueled, through customs and immigration, and on your way before you can bat an eye. Too bad he’s retiring. Maybe we need an app to raise the bar on less-exemplary handlers.
—Thomas A. Horne, Turbine Pilot Editor