Enter the airport and proceed directly through security, no boarding passes required so friends and family may accompany you. There are then 3 staging areas and a television monitor that identifies which flights are assigned to each of them. With your luggage, you join the crowd around the cordoned off area outside the door to your assigned staging area. Eventually the door opens and for 5-10 minutes various people stick their heads out, look at the anxious mass, and seeingly decide you are not sufficiently agitated. When the moment it finally right, a uniformed agent appears and the roiling mass presses in and, in small groups, ticketing docments are presented so you can go through another security screening. This one includes a full body pat down. Now to the tciket counter to check bags, get boarding pass. Next, passport control. Ok, phew -- now you can go to the boarding area and relax. NO! There is a final security screening: third time for your carry on items, first time for your shoes, and a second pat down. Now you can relax and wait for the boarding call. Our little group repairs to the cafe where we pool our remaing soum to buy drinks and snacks.
After landing, the plane taxis to a distant tarmac to be met by busses. Distant is a kind term for Westbuttfuckistan -- we are far, far away from the terminal. Even though the plane is still moving, passengers start jumping out of their seats and opening overhead bins with the hope of deplaning first. Despite reminders from the attendants, these folks aren't budging. (Knowing what I know now, it's clear these people have no idea what's in store for them because no one is getting out of this place quickly.)
After deplaning and filling the transit busses, we enjoy a nighttime tour of the many charming cargo and administrative buildings that line the tarmac. Tashkent gives Heathrow some serious competition when it comes to incomprehensible inter-terminal transportation. Eventually we are dropped off at the arrivals hall for passport control, luggage claim, and customs. Our tour organizer has warned us about customs and we have carefully our forms filled out twice -- I would say in duplicate but you actually have to fill out the same form twice. The NY visa shakedown pays off here and passport control is pretty easy for me unlike the Aussies who "get" to buy a visa at the airport -- it's only $40 -- with a 90 minute wait.
Baggage claim is insane. Not only are too many people jammed into a very small place, it's impossible to determine which conveyor belt is for which flight. So I spend 45 minutes at the wrong place watching bags come out and jam the belt -- as more and more bags pile up behind -- until someone spots their luggage, climbs over the belt and starts clearing the jam. Sudenly a bag I recognize appears on the distant belt and off I go to shortly claim my luggage. Almost done? Nope.
Very close to the baggage claim are about 6 customs inspection points, each of whcih has a mass (but not a line) of people waiting. None of these masses seem to move or diminish in any way so I picked one that wasn't directly adjacent to the conveyor belt in hopes of minimizing getting pummeled by anxious travelers searching for their bags. After about 20 minutes, I have moved about 6 feet. It takes another 40 minutes to finally get to the inspection where both those idenitcally completed forms are stamped, scribbled, and stapled. Then I am asked to follow the inspector to the special desk to have my money checked. Here, in front of a half dozen immigrants from SE Asia who appear poor, I have to dump all my American dollars on this man's desk. (Background: because ATM and credit cards -- as well as traveler's checks -- are useless in Uzbekistan -- and US$ are the preferred currency for textile goods of which I may purchase many, there is an uncomfortable pile of cash.) The money guy tells me to put it away, then tears up one of my forms and fills out a new one that I must sign describing the amount of cash. I may now go.
Welcome to Uzbekistan!