In 1982 only about 38,000 Americans visited the Soviet Union, down from a peak of 57,000 in 1959. One reason: the American is viewed with unalloyed suspicion, watched, segregated from Russian citizens and restricted from much of the country. Travelers from other countries number about five million. Travel restrictions and lack of service do not make the Soviet Union a pleasure travel destination. Most American visitors summarize their visit to Russia by saying something like, I’m glad I went but would not want to return. The trip was highly educational but not any fun. Some tours of Americans have been known to break into spontaneous applause when returning from Russia and upon crossing the Russo-Finnish border.
If this vast land with its diverse peoples and cultures were really opened to tourism, it could become one of the most fascinating and enjoyable destinations. Yugoslavia, a semicommunist country, has shown what can be done with tourism when encouraged by state policy. Little known Soviet cities such as Samrakand, Tbilisi, Tashkent, and Irkutsk still await the veteran traveler.
The Soviet Union can be reached by land, sea or air. Aeroflot, the Russian government-owned and -operated airline, flew from New York direct to Leningrad and Moscow, but since 1983 has not been permitted to do so. Finnair, Air France, KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) offer connecting flights to Russia from New York City. Within the country, air service is provided only by Aeroflot, an airline noted for poor service and poorly maintained equipment. Group travelers receive superior service compared to that given individuals. Even so, a two-hour wait for a meal is frequently reported. A Russian quip explains: They pretend to pay us a good wage so we pretend that we are working. Costs are not cheap. The foreign dollar is needed.