Add to Technorati Favorites expat Abu Dhabi Dispatches: March 2009

Saturday, March 28, 2009

JFK International and Beyond

I appologize for this late installment in my story but I was out of town again. That is fodder for another blog.

So the big silver bird that carried me in extreme comfort half way around the world in a few more hours than a normal workday touches down at JFK International Airport. Technology is great!

I thought that I would experience a wave of emotion upon setting foot in my Homeland after 7 months away but I didn't and that surprised me. Just another trip and just another airport, I guess I am getting jaded to it all which is fine by me. Or maybe I was just tired.

I walked out of the jetway into the big international Terminal 4 and was surprised how empty it looked for a weekday morning. In the past, this place would have been buzzzing with the movers and shakers of the world travelling to do their out-of-town deals. Another symptom of the bad economy in the U.S.

Immigrations and Customs were a breeze (due in part to the lack of passengers). I had to make my way to Terminal 3 which is one of the terminals Delta Airlines flies out of. I got there in a few minutes and settled in to wait for two hours for my flight to Atlanta. I sat across from a couple who appeared to be well-to-do in their mid-sixties. I don't think they said a word to each other or made eye contact the whole time. She kept fiddling with a book I doubt she was seriously reading and he kept getting up and wandering around for a few minutes and then sitting back down. They looked miserable.

Finally, the boarding call to my flight and I got situated in my seat. The engines were started and we pushed back from the gate and taxied for what seemed like forever and stopped for awhile on an isolated ramp while several other planes taxied by. I think the Captain screwed up somehow and was being "punished" by the ground control folks in the tower. This happens alot at large airports. The flight crew misunderstands instructions or gets out of sequence and they are sent to a remote ramp "to think about what they did" much as a child being made to sit in a corner after misbehaving. At Chicago O'Hare, these are actually called Penalty Boxes and are labelled as such on the official FAA airport diagrams that pilots carry around. Chicagoans are big ice hockey fans.

After 15 minutes, the JFK ground controllers decided to grant our flight a pardon for "time served" and let us start rolling again into the queue. Soon we were in the air with an astonishing view of Manhattan, I never get tired of looking at that skyline, but there will now always be something missing from it if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

Those of you who fly internationally must notice the difference in levels of service between foreign and domestic U.S. airlines. One tends to get much better treatment on let's say Lufthansa between Amsterdam and Frankfurt (I have done that leg) than you would on a U.S. airline between New York and Atlanta. All the airlines throughout the world are facing a tough situation, but why can I get a smiling flight attendent, free drinks, a free meal and free checked bags in coach on Lufthansa when Delta charges me $7 for a can of beer, no food and grouchy flight attendents that treat me as an intrusion in their day on basically the same distance flight? In JFK, Delta wanted to charge me $15 to check a ratty gym bag that wasn't even worth that much but relentented when I told them I arrived from overseas. I don't want to pick on Delta as most other domestic U.S. airlines are the same way.

So I get to Atlanta Airport and endure another 2 hour wait at that hellhole with the help of a few big lagers at the bar. This airport is always stuffy, crowded and too big. In fact, I understand it has more flights than any other airport in the States. There is a saying that when you die, you have to connect to heaven (or the other place) through ATL.

So now I am on the flight to my final destination, Fort Walton Beach, Florida (VPS). It is a short one hour flight where I will find my loving mother waiting for me at the arrival gates there. Despite my extreme fatigue and the fact that the Atlanta beers are wearing off, I am getting excited to see her and my childhood home, the "Redneck Riviera". Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Next: Family, good friends, sun, sand, palm trees, raw oysters and snow!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Back to the U.S.A.

In one of my last posts, I said I would be taking some time off and would be going back to the States for the first time since my relocation here in Abu Dhabi. Well I did and I am back and am here to tell you about it.

My flight from Abu Dhabi didn't leave until 2A.M. local time and I had the entire day to spend packing and getting documents ready for the trip. I finished early and was sitting around the apartment-bored-when the beer godesses started calling me. I figured "what would be the harm" and popped my first Amstel Tall Boy. Well one led to another and when I was ready to get to the airport at around 11:30 P.M., I was feeling no pain. 

One of the worries was how to get to the airport. I live closer to the airport than the city so cabs are either feast or famine out here. I dragged my suitcases don the elevator and into the parking lot next to the road where I hoped a cab would pass by in the next 15 minutes. Chances are that I could have been there for an hour or more, but as luck would have it, one of the old white and gold Abu Dhabi cabs stopped by within a few minutes. 

So I loaded my bags into the trunk and settled into the cheap plastic-covered back seat of the ancient Toyota. It didn't smell TOO bad and I was so happy to get to the airport ahead of schedule, I gave the Pakistani driver a HUGE tip. 

Out come the bags and into the "quaint" Abu Dhabi Terminal 1. A porter approaches me and I agree to let him handle my luggage, but there seems to be confusion at the check-in counters and he holds me back until some words were exchanged in some language I didn't understand with an Official and soon I was at the front of some line. He got a huge gratuity, too.

Check-in went without a hitch and I bid farewell to my courageous porter. Then the quest was to get to the bar for a cold frosty as the others were wearing off rapidly. In Abu Dhabi Terminal 1 there is only one place to do this---The Piano Bar. It is hard to find with only a small sign at the top of a semi-spiral staicase leading down 12 feet or so, you would walk right past it if you didn't know where to look. At the bottom of the stairs, the room opens up and there is perhaps 8 barstools in a 20X20 room that could have been a boiler room in a more restrictive time. I don't recall seeing a piano but the bar overlooks a downstairs promenade with duty-free shops on either side. Quite entertaining. I am amused easily.

So, happy to find a seat at the small bar, I bought a Heineken and relaxed knowing I had plenty of time to get through security and to my flight. After about halfway through my beer, a guy sat next to me and we began to chat. I found out he was a Kuwaiti and he found out I was an American and when my beer was getting low, he offered to buy me another. I told him that was unnecessary but he insisted as he said felt indebted to the people who helped reclaim his country from the brutal invasion they suffered from Saddam's Iraqi Army in the First War. I told him that althought I was in the U.S. Navy at one time, I had no participation in that conflict. He said he didn't care and that he and his fellow citizens will always remember the sacrifices of the Americans and other coalition forces in behalf of his country. I was touched at how grateful and sincere he was. I don't care how cynical one is, it was a proud moment for me.

Then it was off to the plane with no drama at the security checkpoints (which I always dread). I boarded and was instantly comfortable in a biz class seat and champaign in my hand before takeoff.  After liftoff, I had a good Arabic Style meal and a few glasses of wine and fell promptly asleep. I woke up over the North Atlantic to a beautiful sunrise and had to take a "biology break". I went to the lav and when I went inside to do my business I noticed that in this particular aircraft, there was a window in the small lav, right over the  toilet. What got me was that as like all windows in the passenger section, it had a pull-down shade and it was closed. So I opened it to get some sunlight in an effort improve my mood and to help my aim. 

My point of this story is that I went to the lav in that plane at least three more times (It was a 14 hr flight) and every time I went in there the window shade was drawn down and every time I went in there I pulled it back up. Now who are these people that are so paranoid that they think that someone on the ground or someone up there in the RVSM altitudes would see their genitals at 40.000FT ? People are strange. And why are they embarassed peeing with an A340-500 window shade open in the lav at FL400?

More to come about my time in the States!