I know that modern commercial aviation is a truly wonderful thing, and this post is rather unfairly written to highlight its recent shortfalls rather than its benefits. It's a bit of a cathartic rant. I basically agree with the sentiments of Ford Prefect, who “...always found the actual travelling-through-space part of space travel rather trying.”
Indeed. Air travel is similarly afflicted, being the several rather expensive hours of discomfort between where I am and where I wish to be. I lack the wherewithal to fly Business class, and I don't fly enough to earn sufficient air miles for upgrades.
I swore off Emirates, Dubai’s flagship airline, way back in 1997 after a disastrous Eid trip to the Maldives where the said airline contrived to bump me and two fellow passengers off our flights three times in 24 hours and then mislaid our luggage. How wonderful to arrive on a diving holiday with nothing but the clothes on our backs. My letter of complaint made shortly thereafter received a curt “it’s our airline and we’ll snub who we want to” response.
But for the most recent trip to the Philippines, Emirates represented the only realistic combination of schedule and price that would get both me and Beloved Wife from Doha and Dubai respectively to Manila and back again. Maybe Emirates had improved after 14 years.
Credit where credit is due. Our bags were not mishandled and we got where we needed to be, eventually. All cabin crews were polite and accommodating where they could be. You can’t blame the airline for bawling brats.
But four flights, and not one of them took off less than 45 minutes later than advertised. After an hour queuing to check in, trying to get me and Beloved Wife into adjacent seats was “sorted” in Doha, but by the time we had rendezvoused in Dubai it had become “impossible” and the best the airline could manage was placing us on opposite sides of the cabin in nearby rows.
At least the entertainment system worked. Sleep was impossible in the packed cabin, as was movement.
I must agree with the SleepingInAirports.com website (for the more frugal traveller!): Manila's Ninoy Aquino Airport is a dreadful place to wait. Having negotiated check-in and immigration, the possibilities for entertainment are limited to a modest selection of duty-free shops and an even more modest choice in food and beverage outlets. We bought our instant noodles and then tried to find a quiet corner of floor where we could sit down and eat. The concept of a restaurant providing seating for patrons seems an alien one.
With over three hours to go before take-off, there were announcements that passengers for the Emirates flight to Dubai should make their way to the departure gate. It was very clear through the glass that there was a big empty space where our Boeing 777 should have been. It finally trundled into position about twenty minutes before the scheduled departure, at which point we were advised that departure would be delayed. Duh.
In other airports, there might be a business case to keep passengers on delayed flights in the terminal, where they’d buy food and drink, but not so in Manila. Perhaps the policy is to prevent the terminal from becoming totally clogged with people by removing travellers to the departure gate sheep-pen as early as possible and holding them there with nothing to do. And no, you can’t use the lavatory. Why not? Because we say so.
Many hours later, the Emirates flight touched down in Dubai but didn’t park at the Emirates terminal. Such is the case with Dubai, where the weary traveller arrives at his destination and then spends half an hour in ever-increasing circles, looking for a parking space. The airport bus trundled the length of the airport, depositing all passengers at Terminal 3 where Beloved Wife and I parted company. I underwent airport security yet again: the authorities clearly need to check that we transit passengers haven’t sneaked any contraband into our personal effects on the trip between aircraft and terminal. And then the 1km walk to Terminal 1 for the Emirates flight to Doha. Why not the Emirates terminal for an Emirates flight?
The lateness of the Manila to Dubai flight meant that my three hour stopover was now only two hours. I decided not to avail myself of the “SnoozeCube” at Dh65 per hour, but instead crashed out on the floor between one of the travelators and some airport seats for a fitful few minutes of kip. My carry-on wheeled suitcase does not make a particularly effective pillow.
And the Doha flight was delayed by half an hour, which actually turned into 45 minutes before the doors were finally closed and we were on our way.
I look forward with no little trepidation to my next long-haul trip. The idea of being able to cross a third of the planet or more by simply paying money and then showing up at an airport is a truly marvellous one. It seems such a pity that the actual experience always leaves me feeling as if I’ve gone several rounds against Manny Pacquiato.