Sunday, January 06, 2008

Fantasy Island

I have returned after three weeks and eight international flights. So much for my carbon footprint. I guess I now have an almost infinite amount of low-fat tofu to knit and bunnies to hug as my carbon offset. The in-flight magazine ran an article about eco-tourism. Apparently you travel halfway around the planet in a paraffin-burning jet in order to live in a mosquito-infested mud hut for a week with no electricity after 9pm because that's when the 'environmentally-friendly' diesel generator gets turned off. The same magazine also ran a two-page advert for a liquified natural gas company. The ad included the phrase '...most environmentally friendly fossil fuel...' That would be like the 'worst paid company director' then, or the 'most polished turd'. With one exception, the flights were as reasonable as is to be expected by a cattle-class cheapskate. In the case of the Christmas Day flight to Gatwick the aircraft was almost empty and I was able to stretch out over four rather lumpy seats and get some sleep while inserting more than my fair share of carbon dioxide into Planet Earth's upper atmosphere.

Despite my efforts to the contrary, the airline catastrophically failed to provide Beloved Wife and me with exit row seats. This was despite my booking the relevant seats on line, then telephoning the airline to confirm the exit row, and being assured by Customer Service that yes we were definitely on the exit row. I wonder why "Your seats are definitely on the exit row" gets translated into "The exit row is two rows in front of you. Again." And I always get a big metal box beneath the seat in front of me so there's never anywhere to put my hooves.

The ill-logic of airport security is bemusing. Upon arrival at Gatwick I noted the signs stating that only one item of hand baggage was permitted. So handbags and cameras somehow had to be stuffed into cabin bags in order to get them through security. This only applied to transfer passengers, of course. With wry amusement I saw passengers having to discard the little bag containing toothbrush, headphones, socks and blindfold as issued by the airline. Apparently this represents some sort of security hazard, which is why the airline dishes one out to each passenger. On a previous trip, one of my friends had a whistle confiscated at airport security lest he use it in a futile attempt to hijack the plane. Yet each passenger is issued with a whistle: it's attached to the life jacket beneath the seat and should be used 'to attract attention'. Yeah, right. Like an Airbus hitting the sea won't attract any attention.

Another point is the current fashion to limit liquids on board. The rules appear to be that no more than one litre, split into maximum 100ml receptacles, is permitted, and all is to be contained in one clear sealed plastic bag. The practical upshot of this is that you can't buy a bottle of Scotch in Dubai Duty Free as a last minute Christmas present if your journey involves a brief stop at Doha. Security personnel at the Doha transit desk will confiscate this dangerous liquid. But that's OK, because you can buy an identical bottle at Doha Duty Free once past Security.

On my journey back to Dubai the flight was delayed at Doha by 'a minor technical problem'. After trundling around the taxiways and sitting for an hour on board a stationary aircraft while someone tried in vain to reboot the computers controlling the ailerons, all passengers were returned to the terminal via the transit passengers' entrance. "Deplane, Boss. Deplane!" Naturally, those folk who'd bought duty-free booze at Doha were given a hard time by Security because Johnny Walker exceeded 100ml and the plastic bag wasn't sealed and instead had 'Doha Duty Free' printed thereon.

Why do we get subjected to x-rays and searches as transit passengers anyway? Having just got off an aircraft and herded directly on to the bus to the terminal, from where are we supposed to have acquired those knives, hand grenades and firearms that the security staff are so desperate to find? I understand the need to inspect passengers' luggage before they arrive in the country of destination (although Mr Dallas Austin and others who enjoy certain pharmaceutical products might disagree), but why search transit passengers, who aren't even technically in the country?

I would have thought that a good way of dealing with a couple of hundred tired and delayed passengers would be to tell them, "Sorry folks, the aircraft is broken. We're taking you back to the terminal where we'll give you vouchers for some food while we move your checked bags into a different aircraft. Please watch the departures board for information about when you can board, and at what gate."

Unfortunately, the airline and ground staff have a different way of doing it:
"Please sit on the aircraft for an hour and listen to our execrable muzak."

"It's going to take an hour to mend the plane. We're taking you back to the terminal."

"We've already decided to change the aircraft, but aren't telling you this whilst we unload your baggage."

"Please go to departure Gate 10 for further details."

"No, not Gate 10. You need to go to Gate 5."

"No, not Gate 5. We don't yet know what gate. We'll feed you, so please show your boarding card at the cafe while we decide which gate we'll use."

"No, you need a voucher. Go over there and get a voucher before you can have food."

"No, not this tray. You may only have food from that tray."

"No, we still don't know what gate. Please watch the departures board."

"We're boarding. However, this is not displayed on the departures board and there's been no announcement over the Tannoy."

"Is Mr Mohammed on board the aircraft? If not, [Is he in the terminal, waiting in vain for the new departure time to come up on the departures board, perchance? Or maybe his mummy and daddy have taken him home to bed?] we'll have to delay the flight some more, while we find and unload his luggage."


DUBAI JAZZ said...

LOL! Hilarious!

Let me guess, was it Qatar airlines??

Jin said...

I flew out of Dublin airport, Business Class, with a 500ml bottle of flavoured water in my handbag. Not a squeak was uttered when I went through security. My grand-daughter had to have her 'sippy cup' checked though?? Meanwhile, one security mongrel with a "I am historically disadvantaged" attitude at Joburg Int (or should that be Oliver Tampon Int?) took a shining to a bottle of perfume, which was encased in its clear plastic bag, along with lip ice/handcream etc. He told me it was 125ml & he would have to confiscate it. Er, no sunshine, my perfume ain't going home to your missus! I instructed him to break the bottle. He refused. I ended up giving the bottle to a friend, proceeded through all the checks & then bought a bottle of Nedeburg wine. This whole liquids thing is a total bloody joke & complete waste of time. Someone, somewhere is sitting back & larfing at us passengers & making a shit load of money from our discomfort!

Sorry GG, I didn't mean to rant so long!

dubaibilly said...

Ahh, the pleasures of international flying! GG, my experiences were not entirely dissimilar to yours, with one notable exception - now I know you are a little taller than me, and I know that Kenya Airways don't fly to where you went, but cattle class on KA gives a phenomenal amount of leg room in comparison to some of the, how can I put this... allegedly more popular airlines flying out of Dubai.

Happy New Year to you and Mme Cyn.



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