Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Long Flight Home

Flying to the States - no matter how you do it - and back - is a long trip. For all but the last year we have flown from Bahrain to Amsterdam to Detroit to Raleigh and back the same way. We probably add some travel time by leaving Saudi to drive to Bahrain instead of flying out of Saudi, but I cannot stand flying in or out of our local airport. First of all, I must be covered in black in order to do so. Secondly, and more the reason I refuse to do so, is that the "chaos" at our airport is too much for me. There are no "queues" or lines that resemble any sort of order. Sure, there are signs that say there are, but they are NOT adhered to in any way, shape or form. Saudis, for the most part, do not "queue." That is something that other people do. Saudis go first. All of them. At the same time. You may be in what you think is a queue, but if you are not aggressive, you will be left standing and waiting and go end up going nowhere as everyone cuts in front of you. This aggravates me to no end and I want to push and shove people and say things that would get me in trouble. Best if I do not fly in and out of our local airport. Amazingly, for the most part, in other countries, Bahrain included, Saudis are able to queue just like everyone else, but not here. Truly this is something that either has to be seen or experienced - it is not describable - I cannot, in words, give this "scene" any justice. Others will disagree with me about this and tell me that it is so much easier to fly in and out from here. I avoid doing so at all possible cost. I've been there and done that; I have the proverbial t-shirt. No thanks. We'll spend the extra - money and time - to go to Bahrain - where there it is "civil" and where people do what they are supposed to insofar as following queues and such.

Returning through Saudi is just as bad. Only once or twice in the half dozen or so times I've flown into our airport - where I must cover myself in black - have my bags not been gone through with a fine tooth comb. If you are looking for contraband, you have x-ray machines - try using them - instead of reaching into my suitcases and pulling out item after item - and article of clothing after article of clothing - questioning my every belonging. Some man in the Custom's line opens my bags and starts pulling items out one by one and asking, "What is this?" "It is a book." [You can't be serious, right? As you open it and flip through it - upside down... I'll tell you the title of the book, and what it is about if you'd like - you've made it quite obvious that you can't read English. Seriously, do you actually think I'm going to try to bring some book into this Country that will raise eye-brows?] "What is this?" "It is a dog toy." [Okay. It is a given that you have probably never seen an IQube with squeaky balls in it, but it does look like a toy that even a child could play with.] "What is this?" "It is a curling iron." [What did you think it was, dumb ass? Never mind. I don't want to know what you think it was!] The feeling of personal violation is beyond anything I can articulate - nicely. No thanks. I'll go in and out of Bahrain which adds an hour or an hour and a half, one-way, in travel time, by car - provided you are crossing the Causeway in the wee hours of the morning and not during the afternoon or evening - in which case, add a couple or three hours, one-way, to the travel time.

Up until this past February, DH and I had been fairly loyal to KLM and Northwest, flying back and forth. I have no idea how many gazillion points we've accumulated. Sometimes, I could book our seats without a problem and other times, it was a major pain trying to get either Business Class seats or exit row seats, and upgrading with points was close to impossible. So I determined that there was no reason to be "loyal" to one airline if it was not going to be in some way advantageous [with our gazillion "points"], and decided to try flying a different airline, Qatar Airways. The price for a round-trip Business Class ticket on Qatar was not all that much more than what we had been paying, and Qatar offers a flight that goes non-stop from Doha, Qatar, to Washington, D.C. So, in February, I had a driver take me from my house to Bahrain at 3:30 in the morning, for a 5:30A flight from Bahrain to Doha - a forty-five minute flight [airtime, twenty minutes or so]. Once in Doha, as a Business or First Class passenger, you are transported directly to their Premium Terminal to wait for your connecting flight where there are two separate lounges, one for First Class passengers and the other for Business Class passengers. Both are very nice, but nothing to "write home about." [The KLM lounge in Amsterdam is still my favorite. Amsterdam's airport, by the way, if you must wait for a connecting flight - is the place to be, and if not there, then wait in Dubai's airport - probably one of THE nicest airports in the world, in my opinion!] In Doha I boarded the plane to fly, non-stop, to Washington, D.C. The flight - specifically, the service on the flight - was beyond anything I have ever experienced.

On that flight, to the States, I was seated next to a man - he had the aisle seat, I had the window - where we made the perfunctory "small talk," and then kept to ourselves. It was once he had reclined his seat - and me, mine - and he started "sleeping" that I realized I had to move. A plane is not a quiet place to sleep. I had, before we even took off - knowing that I would sleep on the flight - apologized to him that I snore and hoped I would not wake him. I do snore. It is not quiet and it is not pretty. Little did I know that this man was going to be able to out-snore me by tens of decibels - and along with snoring, this man made other bodily noises that I don't want to get into - along with apparently not being aware of his surroundings - that he was on an aircraft and not at home in his own bed - and was doing things in his "sleep" that I am going to leave to any readers imaginations - although where his hands were will forever remain a "fresh" picture in my mind. I quietly got up and went to the galley and asked if there was another seat I could take. The flight attendants happily obliged me and helped me move my belongings back to another row of empty seats. Thank you! Here, one of the flight attendants, Julius, realized that as I was eating nuts and drinking wine [one of the best red wines I have ever tasted, by the way!], that I was not eating the almonds. When Julius brought me another warmed finger-bowl of nuts he had picked out the almonds for me - I didn't even have to pick around the nuts myself for the "good ones!" Talk about service!!! The manner in which ALL of the flight attendants on this flight - especially this flight - and on my return trip from the States home - was impeccable. I was impressed. I sent in my comment card to Qatar praising the flight attendants and the service of all aspects of my flight - queuing, transport to and from planes, lounges, etc. Qatar touts itself as being an airline that offers five-star service and they did NOT disappoint.

My mind was made-up from that flight that when DH and I flew to the States for vacation we would not be flying KLM or Northwest or Emirates... We would be flying Qatar from here on out. I booked our flights. Our flight to the States was completely pleasant and uneventful - as a flight should be. Service was excellent. Food is great. Movie selection is good... All of those things. DH agreed with me that this would be the way to do the long trip home and back.

Our return trip from the States was the complete opposite. As I said, I'd flown Qatar to the States and back in February. DH had had only the one trip - to the States - and he, along with me, anticipated that we would have just as pleasant trip home to Saudi as we had had to the States. Wrong. It wasn't quite the trip from Hell - we've had those in the past - we have done a lot - I mean a lot - of flying. It does not help that DH is a pilot and that the very last thing he wants to do when he is not working is get on a plane. We got on one of Qatar's code-share partners in Raleigh, N.C. and flew to Washington D.C. In Washington, where we waited at Virgin Atlantic's lounge - Qatar does not have their own lounge at IAD - for our flight to Doha. We were called to board the plane and got in line with the rest of the masses as there was no one trying to differentiate between who was flying Business Class and who was flying in Economy. [Yes, at this point in my life, I can say I've become a snob this way. I've flown back and forth too many times and am willing to pay the costlier fair for the "extra" service that flying Business Class typically provides.] As we boarded the airplane, DH and I both looked at each other and shook our heads... "No. This cannot be happening." We were surrounded by children. Little children. A six-year or so old girl, directly behind DH, her two or three-year old toddler brother directly behind her - and across the aisle from my seat - a woman with an infant AND three-year old or so toddler! The horror!!! I immediately went to the galley to see if there were other seats available we could switch to - knowing that sitting with so many children/toddlers/babies was going to be a big mistake. ALL of them surrounding US! I realize that airlines cannot discriminate against families with little ones traveling. But how can it possibly be OUR luck that we are the ones that are ALWAYS seated next to them? Both Business Class cabins were completely full so there were no seats that we could switch to. Damn!

The two children behind us - the little girl and her toddler brother - used the aircraft as their own personal playground - doing gymnastics off of their seats and into ours. It took several of my "cold hard glares" for the father, who was seated directly behind me, to realize that I meant business and that if he was not going to get his unruly brats to behave, then I would do it for him. The gymnastics did, finally, come to a halt. However, the toddler boy - seated two seats behind us - the father and daughter were in the row separating us - with his mother - could not be consoled and screamed bloody murder for half of the flight - keeping everyone in the cabin from getting any sleep. It was when we were deplaning that the father asked the flight crew if their nanny - who was seated in Economy - could join them on the bus to the terminal. WTF?!? You had a nanny with you this entire time - back in cattle class - who could have perhaps consoled the toddler who screamed for much of the flight - and you didn't either try to put the kid back there with her - or have your wife - who was quite useless insofar as attending to her son and his screaming - switch seats with the nanny? [A perfect example for a case for forced sterilization, in my humble opinion!] Whatever. Many years ago, when DH and I first started traveling, we used to jokingly say to one another that we had had an unsuccessful trip if there were no crying or screaming babies/toddlers/children. Now? We avoid being seated next to passengers with babies/toddlers/children if at all possible. Yes, I realize I should feel sorry for the parents - that I should be a little more sympathetic and/or tolerant. And I can be, for some. And, yes, I know that you cannot have a baby that is not going to cry at some point. But a toddler - and this child was old enough to be reasoned with - in my opinion - needs to know that some behaviors are just NOT acceptable. Using a plane as a jungle-gym - for a toddler and his older sister - is NOT acceptable. Using my seat as a bumper pad for your gymnastics is totally out of the realm of what is and what is not acceptable behavior. This is the parents' fault. Here's a novel idea: Just say no.

So, along with having unruly toddlers next to and behind us - the poor woman with the baby had a toddler with her as well - and that toddler had more energy than any child I have ever witnessed have. She had her hands full. Between baby and toddler! Her husband, who was seated in the row behind her, directly behind his son, did his best with the infant while the mother did all she could to contain the toddler. I at least give her credit for trying. The two parents with the older child and toddler? They did NOTHING to contain their two brats. NOTHING!!! The crying / screaming continued off and on throughout the entire night's trip. It was not pleasant for any of us in the cabin - I am sure that I will not be the only one to complain. If it wasn't the two/three-year old boy screaming at the top of his lungs, then the baby was crying... Oh, yeah. Just a fantastic trip. Not!

Worse, though, was the service on this flight. The service on Qatar's flights, up until this one, was exactly what one would expect for "five star" service. I am not going to go into a whole lot more detail about this as I want to give the airline a chance to respond to my six-page, single spaced, letter that I have sent. Depending on whether or not I am satisfied with any response - or if I get one at all - then I might just decide to publish the entire letter on my blog, and give anyone out there who considers flying the "heads up." If on the other hand, the airline assures me that our flight home was a fluke and will not ever happen again, then I will keep the rest of my complaints to myself and give them another try. In the meantime, I'm going to see what my options are with another airline: Etihad is one that I will check into. Or Lufthansa. And we still have KLM / Northwest - with a gazillion miles, for whatever they are worth - to fall back on...

I am so not looking forward to the trip "home" to the States again in a few months. It is, at a minimum, a twenty-four hour trip, that really, really does take its toll on your body. This year, with our trip home planned for over the holidays, I will have done the trek three times in one year. And that IS just too much!


  1. when you pay x amount of dollars for a service, you expect that service. I know I complained bitterly when our flight was delayed coming back from Britain in February, and did eventually get most of our cab fair home back off of them, we travel cheaply.

    I must admit, we have two children of our own, who are grown up now, so I am not anti-children, but when we were out with the children they were expected to behave. Parenting today leaves a lot to be desired, and I must admit not to having a heap of patience with young children, or their useless parents.

  2. Gill - I am not anti-children - but it irks the heck out of me that children these days are NOT expected to "behave." In restaurants, malls, airplanes...

    There were five children in my family. There'd have been trouble - big trouble - if any ONE of us had behaved like the two on the plane behind us behaved. Misbehaving at home was barely tolerated. Misbehaving in a restaurant or in public was NOT tolerated at all...

    And, yes, we do pay XXX to travel now. We didn't used to. Regardless of how much you pay, no one should have to deal with other people's unruly children!


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