19 December 2012


Paul booked us on Emirates Airlines this year after an overwhelmingly positive review from a business contact. Now, granted, this business contact flies first class and stays in the A380 suites but he could not stop talking about the customer service, so we decided to give it a try.

As usual, I left slightly before Paul so that I could fit in some time with friends before heading back home to see the family. When we booked the tickets, I did make a comment about how an hour and a half between two international flights was not a great option but I didn’t worry about anything.

The night of my flight, the ticket area was backed up. I arrived at the gate as passengers were already going through the boarding ritual. In Singapore, passengers enter through one main security door just after the ticketing area. Foreigners just visiting the country get their passports stamped while Singaporean residents like myself enter what I call the genius line.

Several stations are set up on the left side of the immigration area. There are two electronic gates in a single lane. The first gate opens when a traveler’s passport is scanned and approved; the second gate opens after the traveler’s thumb print is scanned and approved. Genius. It takes maybe a minute and there are no people involved. Easy peasy.

Once through the first security barrier, passengers are welcomed into a mall atmosphere where shopping, coffee, food and duty free items are plentiful. Boarding areas are lounges behind glass walls and open somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half before the scheduled departure time. When the boarding area opens, people queue to have tickets and passports checked and finally clear security. In Singapore, shoes may remain on people’s feet, zip-up hoodies are fine left on the body and laptops just need to be identified. There are no pat downs; there is no creepy body scanner. Again, easy peasy.

When I boarded, I made my way to the back of the plane where my selected seat, a window, a pillow and a blanket were waiting for me. Also waiting for me was a European couple who did not speak English well. They were larger in size and even larger in volume. I placed my carry on into the overhead compartment and waited to make eye contact to indicate that my seat was the empty one in the row.

Excited, the woman got off the phone and the man jumped up. They started speaking to me in broken English. I understood that their son was somewhere else on the A380 and they wanted me to change seats. My “O.K.” meant as, “I understand,” was immediately taken as, “Yes, I will gladly give up my seat for your son and sit in his unknown location without even considering whether my current seat is better.” Before I could take a breath, the man was gone, running to the front of the plane in search of his long-lost son.

I spoke with a flight attendant and advised her of the situation, also noting that I had a special meal and asked if it would be O.K. to relocate. She noted the change and gave me approval. When the man and his son rejoined the area, I grabbed my bag and found my way to the son’s seat on the complete opposite side of the plane. I was originally in the back-left; my new seat would be in the front-right corner.

A pilot came on the speaker system three times to advise us of delays, first due to ATC clearance and twice regarding a Quantas A380 that was apparently blocking us in, preventing us from leaving by our scheduled departure time. By the time we got to the runway, we were more than six planes behind the first and already an hour behind schedule. I had a feeling I was going to miss my connection.

We were still in the air with 20 to 30 minutes remaining when my flight started boarding. When we landed in Dubai, I was glad I had been moved to the second row and I hurried my way through the hallway in hopes that I somehow might make my connection. As I came out of the narrow hallway and approached the boarding area, I was bombarded with a dozen Emirates employees shouting city names. I found the woman responsible for Dulles people and she advised me to wait at the side. Great! I thought. She will escort me to the gate. Awesome. We waited for a few others going to different cities and then we made our way along the terminal to the next location – the transit desk.

I was officially advised that I had missed my connection and that the next flight out would be the same time the next day because the Dubai airport only offered one flight a day into Washington D.C. So, I got online, talked with Katie and told her about my situation. After a discussion as to whether I should stay in Dubai or try to get a flight to New York, connecting to Washington, we decided it would be best to stay.

The airline gave me a voucher for a hotel, advised me that I could retrieve my checked luggage and sent me on my way. After speaking to seven people in different areas of the airport, I figured out the process for retrieving my bag and I was on my way to a hotel, though not the same one on my voucher.

At 2:30 a.m. local time, it was official. I had 24 hours in Dubai.

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