Friday, October 31, 2008

Home for Halloween

Three years ago, I celebrated Halloween by making a long journey home from Osaka, where I had spent ten days visiting my brother and touring Japan. Today, I got to celebrate Halloween by making another long journey home from Asia.

Not that there was much to celebrate about today's trip, however, other than the fact that it succeeded in getting me safely back home. Today's voyage was nothing short of excruciating, even with the fact that I got to fly nonstop.

It started in the wee hours of the morning when I woke up, gathered my luggage, exited my room and went downstairs to check out. I thought it would be a quick affair: I'd settle my account, summon a taxi and be at the airport in short order. I was wrong.

Now, I don't know if the desk clerk at the hotel that morning was new on the job, was having a bad day, or was just woefully incompetent. But it simply should not have taken thirty-five minutes to check out of the hotel. That's how long I had to wait, however, as the beleaguered clerk fumbled through files of paper, printed out statements that were incorrect, and then called his manager to ask why he couldn't get the computer to work properly. Needless to say, I grew rather annoyed. The guy who was checking out at the same time was also becoming angry. Even the taxi driver who had been called to pick me up and take me to the airport was getting impatient. I was just about to say "forget it" and walk out of the hotel, when the clerk finally managed to hand me my statement and sheepishly wished me a good day.

Terminal 3 at DXB just opened and Emirates is still in the process of transferring all of its operations there from Terminal 2. The facility is very impressive - the cavernous check-in, passport control and security screening areas are all located underneath the taxiway and apron between Airport Road and the concourse, and the concourse structure itself is larger than the one at the adjacent Terminal 2.

However, since Emirates is still in the process of moving all of its flights to the terminal, it is still neither completely functional nor fully staffed. The electronic signboards directing passengers to the proper check-in counters were not working and I was unclear as to where I was supposed to check in until I finally found a sign directing passengers for US flights to a bank of counters near passport control. And once I arrived at those bank of counters, I had to stand in a long, slow line: only six or seven ticket agents appeared to be on hand for all three of Emirates' morning departures to the United States (New York, Houston and now Los Angeles), and stragglers for the New York and Los Angeles flights (which left before the Houston flight) were allowed to cut to the front of the line, making those of us who actually had shown up on time for our flight rather annoyed.

Anyway, by the time I finally got up to the counter and checked in - between the delay at the hotel and the delay in the line, I estimate that I was about 80 minutes later checking in than I had anticipated - the only seats still available on my flight were - you guessed it - middle seats.

So that's where I sat. For sixteen hours. Why can't I work for a company that is willing to pay for its employees to fly long-haul flights in business class?

Once again, I had the misfortune of sitting amidst a flying nursery. There were no fewer than six small children within the vicinity of my seat, including one right in front of me, and all of them cried - at times rather loudly, and oftentimes at length - at one point or another during the flight's duration. I also got to sit directly in front of an elderly man with a horrible-sounding, gurgling, hacking cough. He clearly looked ill and his wife had to help him walk to and from the restroom; I assumed he was suffering from a terminal illness and I felt sorry for him, even though I wish I didn't have to sit in front of him and listen to his disgusting cough.

I passed the time listening to music, watching television shows and movies (I finally got to watch Wall-E; I thought it was kind of weird) and chatting with the woman sitting in the seat next to me. She was a German national, currently living in Dubai with her husband and family, who was on her way to Ecuador to visit her parents. She, like me, spent part of her youth in Quito and we spent time reminiscing about the "good ol' days" of the 1980s, when everything was dirt cheap and the city was relatively safe. In spite of the fact that those days are long gone - Quito is now pricey and crime-ridden - the fact that she was going to Ecuador made me sort of jealous: it is still a country that's close to my heart (I will still have to cumulatively spend several more months in Dubai before the UAE surpasses Ecuador as the county I spent the most time in outside of the United States) and it's been over eight years since my last trip there.

Eventually and mercifully, the plane landed at IAH. There was still more waiting (waiting to get off the plane, waiting to clear immigration, waiting at the luggage carousel for my bags to appear; at least the wait at the customs check was short) before I finally reached the arrivals lounge and was reunited with Lori and Kirby. Kirby was already dressed in his dinosaur costume, ready for the evening's festivities.

We returned to the house, I unpacked, some friends of ours came over with their children, we took pictures of everybody in their costumes, and then Lori, Kirby and the guests departed to collect goodies while I stayed at the house, passing out candy and talking to the neighbors. We didn't have an especially heavy volume of trick-or-treaters this year. We're stuck with lots of leftover candy.

Anyway, the last of the trick-or-treaters has knocked at our door, our friends have gone home, and I am completely exhausted. Good night, and Happy Halloween.

I will be home for one week. Then it's back to Dubai for Rotation Seven.

No comments: