I arrived in Dubai at lunchtime yesterday, after a morning that set the seal on my business trip. After this, I have no interest in visiting Bangalore, or anywhere on the Indian subcontinent, again.
My driver arrived on time: 06:30, two hours before the 8:30 flight, but I was late. The condo duty manager, who was trying to check me out, kept getting interrupted with other problems, just because he showed his face at that time of the morning. Not a problem: I knew the airport wasn’t far, and we did it in ten minutes, arriving well before seven.
After twenty minutes in the check-in queue, I checked in as normal, and got my boarding pass, but they would not take my luggage? Why not? It didn’t have a sticker saying it had been scanned. There’s a scanner off to one side as you enter, but no signs saying that a scan is required at that point. Nor was there someone to operate the scanner, not as I had entered the terminal earlier, nor when I went back to get scanned. I frightened the crap out of four local workers, just standing around the scanner, when I slammed my case on to the belt, and one scurried off to find an operator. Another ten-minute wait, a ten-second scan, and a sticker. This time I didn’t go to the back of the check-in queue, since I had my boarding pass, and all they had to do was print and attach the label.
Security was standard, if lax, despite the Indian Army uniforms on the operators; of course, my boarding pass was in my jacket pocket, being scanned, at the point where another soldier wanted to stamp it, so he had to wait. The bag got a scan, a sticky label and a stamp saying “32 DEC 2006”. Getting a little ahead of yourself, aren’t you?
Then, to the departure lounge (singular): I saw a Gate 2 sign, but everything seemed to be happening at Gate 1. I was in good time, so where was my flight? It wasn’t on the tiny TV screen at all, which showed a few other flights; in retrospect, I guess these were originating flights, while my plane had made a hop from Mumbai, which I wasn’t aware of. There were no airline staff in the lounge at all to check with, from any airline.
At about my scheduled departure time, a line started forming, and I joined it; a couple of other passengers thought it was my Dubai flight, and so it turned out to be. A member of the ground crew appeared and apparently tried to announce something, which was inaudible through a cheap PA over the noise from the TVs and passengers.
So, after a couple of strange questions, such as “do you have just the one bag checked in”, I was on board, just twenty minutes late. The plane was an Airbus A310-300 that had clearly seen a lot of air miles. It was so old that it still had the air-powered headphones and video projectors. The seats were cramped, and my neighbour seemed think it was acceptable to dig his elbow in to my side, but I was aboard, and we would soon be off.
Not so fast. A few passengers were standing around in the aisles, looking confused, and one came up to me with one of the cabin crew, who asked to see my boarding pass. All present and correct, I was in the right seat, so what was going on? The flight was “overboarded”, something I had never heard of before. Overbooking, yes, but that is usually sorted out before booking passes are issued. On this flight a few seats at the back, including mine, had been allocated twice, with two passengers having valid boarding passes for each seat.
I didn’t need to say anything; perhaps it was because I was there first, or perhaps because I was a Westerner whose reaction might have been “disproportionate” – a concern they would be justified in – but I was not asked to move. I didn’t see what happened to the other gentleman, but I hope they found him a place in first class for his trouble. There were other seating issues, including a lady who just grabbed a row for herself and her kids, and it took another half hour to sort that out.
Could we leave? No, there were still some immigration checks going on – it’s apparently harder to leave India than to enter it – and some more bags were loaded. We eventually left 90 minutes late. The rest of the flight was OK, thankfully: the breakfast was very good and big enough to be called Brunch, which was appropriate. I had my Tablet PC out, catching up on podcasts, and for a while all the window shutters were down, so everyone was able to relax. Just as surprising was the way my checked case actually arrived, in one piece, not too long after I picked up a few bottles in the duty-free shop in the arrivals hall. (A great example of logical thinking – that is when arriving passengers have time, and are not yet burdened with all their luggage, meaning it makes sense to shop then.)
Now I’m chilling out in Dubai: we’ll be going shopping just as soon as I finish this and hit the shower, and tomorrow is Christmas. I don’t mind calling it Christmas if my friends are: it’s just a name, and it helps to remember that midwinter was being celebrated long before any organised religions existed.