Monday, April 6, 2015

A typical day in the life of a road warrior: Stuck in transit.

The plan was simple – leave Amman, Jordan from my vacation spot with an early morning flight
through Abu Dhabi to arrive in Nairobi, Kenya for a presentation on Digital Radiography in the early afternoon. This is what happened:

12:00 (midnight) wake up, pack, take shower and check out from my hotel, which is about 30 minutes from the airport. Pleasantly surprised by the nightly fee of US$30, which seems to be typical for a nice clean hotel in that region.
12:30 – load up rental car and spend 5 minutes with the Garmin GPS to figure out the route to the airport.
1:00 am – arrive at airport after being lost two times, second time ending up in a dead-end (nothing beats Google maps, I’ll get a SIMM card from a local carrier for data browsing on my smartphone next time). I delivered my car, a nice small French Renault, very convenient and fuel efficient. Rental is only $150/week.
1:15 – line up for security, tickets in hand, made it through security but did not make it past an airline employee who is screening everyone with a scale at his side. My carry-on is too heavy, 12 kg instead of the allowed 8kg. I’ve never had this happen in other parts of the world, so I head, back to check-in.
1:30 – Through security, without my carry-on, sit down at Starbucks to get a latte (did not realize I missed that for more than a week), and a quiche, checked emails, text my spouse Johanna, who is on her way back home and is delayed in Chicago.
3:00 – Board plane, which is not full, I can spread out, skip breakfast and sleep a little.
6:30 – set clock forward to 8:30, as we arrived, but there is no space. Note that the Abu Dhabi airport is very congested, half of the planes stay on the tarmac and passengers load and unload through stairs to or from a bus to get to or from the terminal (so 1980’s)
8:45 – we finally get to deplane. Bus takes forever (It seems)
8:55 – arrive at terminal, I run to security, of course they need to check my backpack, (too many wires).
9:05 – run, run, run, zig-zag through the terminal to gate 47
9:10 – arrive at gate, bus is waiting outside to take the last passengers. I show my boarding pass, but… I have no seat. The gate agent shows on his computer that I have no seat despite my boarding pass showing 9C! They obviously gave my seat away to someone else, under the presumption I was not going to make the connection. I am told to go to the “transfer desk.”
9:20 – The transfer desk is chaos. The best thing when having to wait is to start up conversations with other travelers around you, and so I have a nice conversation with two young men from the east coast who are stranded going to the Himalaya base camp. I told them about my Kilimanjaro hike 2 years back and they suddenly respect me a lot more.
10:45 – finally, I reach the front of the desk, talking with an overworked, frustrated airline employee. First flight is a day later, they are willing to put me up in a hotel and provide transportation. Upon my request, they give me e-calling card so I can call my party in Kenya that I am coming a day later.
11:15 – I finally reach the front of line for one of the two public phones and reach my partner so he can re-arrange my schedule, who was about to leave for the airport himself.
11:30 – amazing… no line for the passport control, which I need to pass to get my luggage and go to the hotel.
12:00 – finally get my luggage, they have to request it from the transfer area (yes, I wish they would not have made me check it.)
12:15 – wait at the chauffeur desk for 15 minutes for transportation to my hotel. The city of Aby Dhabi is clean, there is construction everywhere as is common for the Middle East and we pass a huge new mosque, which looks like a palace.
12:45 – check in at the Hilton hotel, no rooms are clean; I can go and have lunch instead.
2:00 pm – after a good lunch buffet with Arabic and Indian dishes, and checking my emails, I finally get to my room and am ready to take a nap. I should have been in Nairobi instead, but spent another five hours or so in transit thanks to the airline.

Anyway, this type of incidents happen to me occasionally, not a lot, about once a year I would say. The majority of my fellow travelers got upset about the airline overbooking and be outraged at the hassle the mistake causes them. But I’ve learned that travel is stressful enough and some things I just can’t control, so why make it worse by venting your anger raising your own blood pressure, not to mention that of the poor airline employees who simply are trying to do their job. Instead, I’ve learned that International travel is about accepting the surprises as opportunities which enables me things to do and see things that weren’t on the agenda. … I had another day to explore a city I had never visited before and could enjoy. I walked in a new area, and took the unscheduled time to get in a stress-reducing workout in an excellent gym. After all, what is a single day delay in a lifetime journey…