Thursday, September 26, 2013

Letters from Egypt: Flying Saudi with Nightmare Egyptians


View from Dammam, KSA

During any type of unrest or turmoil, airlines really take note. It isn’t just about decreasing flights in and out of a particular country because of safety concerns, but it’s also an opportunity to substantially increase airfare for the flights that will remain in operation. Since I’m still searching for my rich prince charming (if you find him, email me immediately), I was forced to recently take Saudi Arabian Airlines on my way to the UAE.

I didn’t know anyone that had taken this airline and I’ll be the first to tell you that the airline itself, food and workers (sans one female Egyptian flight attendant, but that will come later in the post) were actually good. I had a 10-hour layover in Medina on my way to Dubai and a 2.5-hour layover in Dammam returning to Cairo. I looked up reviews of the airline and airports, which were few and far in between. And as KSA airline is trying to expand its consumer reach, I thought that some of you may be in the same position that I was and choose Saudi Arabian because it is economical.

First of all, let me just go over the travesty that is the Cairo International Airport. Taking Saudi Arabian Airlines means that you will leave from Terminal 1, which is actually my favorite terminal because the employees seem a bit more laid back. However, you will not be with the likes of Emirates Air, Etihad, Turkish Airlines or any other decently respected carrier. Oh no, you will need to just march right on over to Departure Hall 2 inside Terminal 1 – the Saudi only hall. There you will find a bunch of animals that appear in human form, but nonetheless are animals.

Imagine your worst experience in Cairo’s airport –we all have them so I know it isn’t hard. The people in one big cluster of disarray, pushing, cutting, etc. Now multiply that experience times 100 and you still don’t even come close to the Saudi-only hall. An absolute nightmare. From the time I stepped up to the counter to speak with the worker to get my boarding pass and check my bags to the time I actually got said boarding pass and checked my bags took an hour. Why? Because the attendant didn’t believe that as an American, I didn’t need a visa to the UAE. The conversation went like this:

Where is your visa?
I don’t need a visa, I’m American.
Where is your visa?
I don’t need a visa, I’m American.
Where is your visa?
I DON’T NEED A VISA BECAUSE I’M AMERICAN. WE ARE NOT REQUIRED TO HAVE A VISA PRIOR TO ARRIVAL TO THE UAE.
Where is your visa?

And thus he spent 45 minutes trying to find out if it was, in fact true that as an American, I didn’t need a visa prior to travel. I’m going to bypass all of the commotion that happened to even make it to the counter in one piece. Carrefour on a Friday after prayer looks like a breeze compared to this.

Good thing I was there prior to curfew (at the time it was 7 pm). So then came time to pay for the visa expiration fees. Now you are likely going to be hassled for some money here and there but I have never in my five years flying in and out of Cairo been accosted as much as I was in the Saudi hall. On top of all the begging, a few women even tried to stroke my hair. This has happened to me once before from a garbage collector shortly after I arrived, but I mean – this is an airport for Heaven’s sake. There are plenty of foreigners in and out. Oh right, I forgot – not so many in the Saudi-only terminal. And there you have it. A complete FML to the max moment.

The next part I’m going to gloss over, but let’s just say that my area in the plane was almost empty and an Egyptian woman manipulated her way to the area bringing with her the family. It was peaceful and quiet. Keyword: was. She pretended (and yes, I know Egyptians well enough to know how to spot an act when I see it) that she was having a panic attack and needed to move. She had recently had surgery so the German flight attendant began panicking that she shouldn’t fly (of course when that option came up, she was immediately alright she just needed her space).

We are landing in Medina and I’m preparing for my 10-hour layover. What some of you might not know is that when you get into Umra airspace, you need to cover; however, if you are only in transit, you are not required to cover/wear an abaya. As I waited for the cattle to shuffle off hurriedly (because there is so much activity going on in KSA that you just don’t want to miss a thing), an Egyptian female flight attendant, backed by a group of Egyptian women, began screaming at me. “Miss, you can’t leave the plane without covering. Where is your abaya?” I said, “I’m only in transit, I don’t need to cover.” Mind you, I’d already heard several women basically taking bets as to when I would cover. God forbid Egyptian women stay in their lane. She said in a condescending manner, “I understand that this is probably your first time here, so let me explain to you that you need to cover.” I said, “What I understand is that you don’t seem to understand English, so allow me to explain it to you in Arabic: mesh emshee men el matar [not leaving airport].” Then the Egyptian male flight attendant alongside the German asked the problem. They explained to the female Egyptian flight attendant that I was only in transit and not required to cover and then apologized to me for the inconvenience.

Were the Saudis angry? No. It was the Egyptians that huffed and puffed even after being told that I wasn’t required to cover.

Now the strange thing about transiting in Saudi is the old-school system for transfers. In Medina, the officials take your passport and boarding pass upon arrival and do not return them until you are boarding the plane out of the country. I assume this is because it is a holy city and non-Muslims are not supposed to exit the airport. You also cannot have a layover in KSA unless you have multiple hours to spend because the process alone takes ages. I went through what must have been at least six security checks, including even getting my checked luggage for another check. Mind you the airport is small with only one “café” (using that term loosely) that sold Pringles and Pepsi.

I ended up with a Syrian that lived in Cairo who provided shwarma from home to the rest of our group that consisted of two Egyptians. One Egyptian and I actually had mutual friends while the other was a creeper who repeatedly talked derogatory to me and about me, not to mention followed me throughout the time there and up until I finally lost him in the Dubai airport. I actually did leave the airport after all, uncovered, escorted by a Saudi cop to smoke. Later, the same cop allowed all of us to smoke in his office and when the Creeper made yet another remark, the cop turned to me and said: “I hate Egyptians. They’re really bad people.” I responded and said, “Well, this is awkward.” As we were leaving the office, the cop told me that it was okay to smoke in the bathroom.

Since the Medina airport provided next to nothing, the staff did give all of those en route breakfast the next morning. Overall, it could have been much worse – there was also free wifi with a good speed and wall sockets that accommodated any plug. My Saudi experience wasn’t bad because it was Saudi or the GCC nationals. It was horrible because of the Egyptians. I understood why the Saudi cop had such a strong disdain for Egyptians because when these are the only ones you meet, you begin to generalize.

The Dammam airport was a step up from Medina, but it is no lap of luxury. There was a Duty Free which was the equivalent to a roadside shop in a local neighborhood in Egypt. There were smoking rooms, a business class lounge (nothing glamorous) and you get to retain your passport and boarding pass after going through the required security checks (again, more numerous than even the US).

The flight from Dammam back to Cairo was even more animalistic than my departure route; however, a quick shout out to the male Egyptian flight attendant that worked that flight. I’ve never seen anyone handle Egyptians on a flight the way that you did. You have a knack and do not take it lightly. You are a rarity and if no one ever gives you praise, just know that I admired you the entire duration of that God-awful flight. You, sir, are my hero.

So basic lesson here is: avoid Saudi Airlines. Not for the whole Saudi experience itself, but to avoid possibly the worst Egyptians ever born.

3 comments:

  1. You want to meet the worst Egyptians ever born then come to Sharm....People have gone crazy here.

    ReplyDelete
  2. My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!


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  3. This had me smiling and smh.

    ReplyDelete