The Longest Day - Cincinnati to Dubai
14 - 15 April 2002 - On the day my adventure began, I got up at 6:00 a.m. because I had an Executive Committee meeting at church beginning at 8:00 and I still had some preparatory work to finish beforehand. At about 6:30, I called Delta Air Lines to see how the loads looked for the flight to Paris that evening. It didn't look good so I decided to take the early afternoon flight that required an airplane change at JFK before continuing to Paris.
After the meeting at church, I came home and finished packing, then got Jen up to drive me to the airport. I thought for sure I had everything I needed. Of course I was wrong. As we were pulling into the airport two hours before the planned 2:15 p.m. departure, I realized I'd forgotten to pack my medications. Jen volunteered to drive home to pick them up while I went inside to get checked in.
Check in proved to be a bit of a hassle. The agent had to reissue the ticket to account for the extra leg. Consequently, I didn't have to wait outside for Jen very long. When she arrived I loaded the pills and a few extra goodies she brought along into my suitcase. We hugged goodbye and I headed off toward the gate.
Security was a chore. They required that I take my laptop out of its case so that it could go through security by itself. I ended up leaving the case on the wrong side of the scanner. I notified one of the security people when I realized my error. They were nice about it, but it certainly added some stress.
When I got to the gate I realized getting on this flight was going to be tight; but all I could do was sit it out. Also, I discovered that Delta has a two bag carry-on limitation, which included my purse. Discrimination! I put my purse and camera inside my suitcase. The flight attendants assigned to the trip were late arriving due to their inbound flight being delayed; so the flight boarded about thirty minutes late. There weren't many seats left on the flight and I could see that with my low priority people kept showing up that bumped further down the list. Finally, I was cleared though - the last person allowed on the airplane - and we got on our way to New York.
Fortunately I was able to get my now bulging suitcase (it didn't start that way) into the overhead because it never would have fit under the seat in front of me. The sweetest sound for a non-reving passenger is the cabin door closing. Once that happens it's unlikely they'll open it to pull you off. When the door closed on the 757, I breathed a sigh of relief. Eventually we pushed back. Next stress point: JFK.
I was hungry so I stopped and got a slice of pizza and called Jen before looking for my next flight. I finally made it to the correct gate and checked the standby status board. Although I still had a low priority, there were more seats left on the 777 than people trying to get on the airplane, as long as there wasn't a sudden mad rush of paying passengers who decided they'd rather go to Paris than Des Moines. While I waited I called Ami. Again I got on an airplane and was relieved to hear the cabin door close.
The flight to Paris was reasonably comfortable. I had an aisle seat and my bag fit in the overhead. I napped a little on the flight but mostly tried to stay awake so that when I got to Dubai I'd be tired enough to sleep. The six hour time change and the seven hour flight meant that it was fully daylight by the time we got to our parking spot in Paris. We were in remote parking, so they put us on buses for transfer to the terminal. I dragged my bags up the stairs to Passport Control. The agent looked at my passport and sent me on. No hassle, no sweat I was in France!
I had four hours until the flight to Dubai. That's a lot of time to kill; but not enough to do anything interesting. So, I went outside the terminal and took some pictures to prove I was at Charles de Gaulle Airport, then found the restaurant area where I had a croissant and a cup of coffee. I had to do the check in thing at the ticket counter again so I set off to find the correct line. Eventually I found it and was told they wouldn't begin working on that flight for another hour, so I wandered around awhile longer. At the appointed time, I queued up for the ticket counter and when it was my turn I was told they wouldn't begin clearing standbys until an hour before departure, almost two hours from then.
I found a seat where I could watch the people checking in for the flight and was somewhat relieved that not that many people seemed interested in Dubai that day. Finally it was time. I, along with several other standby passengers, lined up to get our boarding passes, then got in a line of a couple of hundred people trying to get through security. I finally made it and proceeded to the gate where I found out the flight was delayed. Air France made no effort to explain why. About an hour after scheduled departure they began boarding. As I was headed toward the airplane, an Air France representative informed me that my suitcase would not fit into the overhead and that I'd have to gate-check it. Now, remember that I'd been stuffing my camera and purse into the suitcase to conform to the "two carry-on" rule. Also remember that I'm now a typical passenger who suffers from the dumb-shits. I surrendered my suitcase and happily got on the airplane, mostly concerned with hearing the cabin door close. As soon as it closed, I realized my purse with all my money and credit cards plus my new, expensive camera were in the suitcase. I wondered if I'd ever see them again.
The flight to Dubai was great. I had an aisle seat and Air France serves good food. I managed to watch a couple of movies during the trip. But the entire seven hours to Dubai I was haunted by the thought that my purse with all the financial resources I had available were in a suitcase I wasn't sure would make it to my destination. Finally, twenty-four hours and eight time zones after I started my odyssey, I arrived in Dubai; just about an hour later than planned.
Despite what I'd read on the UAE's propaganda Web site, I'd had little confidence that a single, American woman would be able to get into Dubai without difficulty. Consequently, my attire for the trip was a long skirt (I'd been warned against wearing pants), a top with long sleeves with the ability to button up to my neck, and a scarf to wrap around my head. I was prepared! The curious thing I noticed was that none of the Arab women on the flight bothered to "cover" prior to getting off the airplane, so I didn't either. What I found was the cleanest, most modern airline terminal I'd ever seen. The lot of us walked up stairs, on moving sidewalks, and down indirectly lit corridors to get to Passport Control, where we queued in very long lines.
Standing in the line my apprehension concerning the whereabouts of my suitcase continued to rise. I had no idea if there would be a fee to get into the country. Fortunately I had my passport in my laptop case which I still carried with me. After what seemed like an hour I finally got to the desk where I was confronted by a uniformed Immigration Officer seated in front of a computer. I opened my passport and laid it on his counter. He looked at it and said, "What is the purpose of your visit?" I explained that I'd come to Dubai to pick up a light aircraft and would be flying it to Switzerland. He said, "That sounds really exciting. How long will you be in the Emirates?" I said, "Two, maybe three days at the most." The Immigration Officer smiled, stamped my passport and said, "Enjoy your stay in Dubai." That was it! No hassle, no entry fees, no stress.
I made my way to baggage claim fully expecting to be penniless. I checked the carrousel for my suitcase. Nothing. I waited for it to make another complete rotation. Again, nothing. Panic now had me in its grip. I turned around, scanning the area for the Air France baggage office. In the process I saw a pile of bags off to the side. With little hope, I dove in looking for mine. It was there! Cautiously I unzipped the bag to see if anything was missing. To my absolute relief, purse, camera, and everything else I'd packed were right where I'd put them. The only remaining task was to clear Customs, which consisted of running my bags through the x-ray screening machine. Totally exhausted from traveling and emotionally drained, I stepped through the doorway into Dubai.
Since September 11th, the US media has characterized travel to the Middle East for Americans as nothing short of suicidal. We've been drowned in full-color images of embassy-storming Arab mobs burning American flags and effigies of G.W. Bush. The reality is that Arabs are rightfully angered by the US government's unquestioning support of the Israeli oppression of Palestinians and its insistence on sticking the US military anywhere it pleases. The average Arab has far less hostility toward individual Americans than Americans have toward Arabs living in the US. Petroleum revenue only benefits the elite. Much of the remaining population depends on tourism. Bomb-laden Islamic extremists would be bad for business.
Hotel van drivers holding signs for their respective establishments were lining the walkway out of the terminal, I spied the one representing the hotel at which I planned on staying. He escorted me to the van where I found one other occupant. I climbed into the van and within a few minutes was delivered to the Airport Hotel. Since I hadn't made a reservation and the main hotel was booked solid, I was offered a room in the "annex," which I found to be an old building with sub-standard rooms behind the main hotel. As it was now after midnight, all I wanted was someplace to sleep. I was told I would be moved up to a better room in the morning. I gladly accepted.
When I got to the room I called Jen to let her know I'd arrived safely, then crawled into bed. Suddenly I wasn't tired. My body was telling me it was 7:30 p.m. and I should be wide awake. I got out of bed and worked on my Web site for a couple of hours, then fell asleep around 4:00 a.m.