Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Leaving Beirut / Air Travel Stories

Tomorrow evening, I'm leaving Beirut for Algeria. Colleagues in the office were commenting how "lucky" I am to be travelling during the long weekend holidays. In Algeria, Saturday and Sundays are working days and they don't celebrate Easter holidays there.

In Beirut office, public holiday has been declared from Thursday, Friday and next Monday. That's 5 days off in total. I could have gone to Cyprus for a short getaway.

Tomorrow's flight will, confirmed and guaranteed with a big stamp, be delayed for sure. Based on international standards, the time reading on boarding passes and boarding gates is usually the flight departure time. When it comes to Air Algerie flights, the stated time is usually taken to be boarding time!

However, don't be fooled into thinking that since the flight is usually delayed, one don't have to be right on time. A colleague managed to miss his flight because it departed AHEAD of schedule.

Among colleagues, we sometimes trade 'amusing' stories of our air travels. Amusing, yes, only in hindsight.

My personal 'best' air travel stories were the observations on passenger behaviour while boarding and alighting a plane. Actually, these observations extend to all north african/ middle east flights I've taken (Air Algerie/ Royal Air Maroc / Emirates).

Firstly, I noticed that passengers here usually do not turn off their mobile phones even when the plane has started to move. They continue to text-message or make phone calls on their mobile phones while the plane was taxi-ing to the runway. I don't know what the actual standards were but during air travel in Asia, we were constantly bombarded by overhead announcements to turn off our mobiles once on the plane.

What made it worst here was that the cabin crew usually don't give a damn! They walked down the aisle turning a blind eye.

Once, I even got into an argument with a Moroccan passenger after I pointed out to him that he should stop using his phone during taxi to avoid interfering with pilot communication. He refuted that technically the mobile phone needed only to be switched off AFTER the plane left the ground. I don't know who was correct technically but what's the fucking difference a few minutes between taxi-ing and taking-off make? (Airports in Algeria, Morocco and even Beirut are not busy airports, so it doesn't require more than 10 minutes to takeoff).

My second observation was that IMMEDIATELY after the plane landed on the asphalt of the runway, passengers whip out and turn on their mobile phones. A cacophony of mobile phone activation beeps and incoming message tones started going off in surround effect. As if on cue, everyone with a mobile phone started calling or texting someone. Perhaps I must have been flying with local equivalents George Soros or Warren Buffet who might lose millions of earnings for just one missed call.

I can almost imagine what goes on in Mohamad Soros' frentic mind when he started dialing as soon as the plane wheels scratch the runway. "Gotta stay on top of the stock market! Gotta make this call! It's make or break 50 million durhams!" Yeah OK, next time don't come squeeze with me in the economy class, if you are so rich, take business class.

And finally to my third observation, soon after making the million dollars calls to their brokers, all the Mohamad Soros and Abdulhamid Buffet began clambering over seats for their luggages and getting ready to disembark the plane while the plane was still moving to the terminal. It's as if they get a mystery prize for being the first out of the plane. For goodness sake, the plane was still 2 miles aways from the terminal!

Whenever I saw this on an Emirates flight, my heart really went out to the poor stewards and stewardess who tried in vain to request the passengers to go back to their seats and fasten the seatbelts. How do you restrain a herd instinct?

The most amusing story was one I heard from my Japanese colleague. Once while traveling back to Algiers from Hasi Mesaoud in the south, he and 2 other colleagues boarded a plane only to realize that it was completely full. There were not a single empty seat left on board.

He supposed that he may have boarded the wrong flight but it turned out to be the correct flight. That was only one flight for that day. Few thoughts occured in his mind.

1) Why did the ground crew allow his party to board when the flight was full?

2) If he had to stand throughout the flight, why hasn't the cabin crew showed him the hand-straps?

Just then, a steward came into the cabin, pointed to three passengers at random and told them to get off the plane. My colleague and his companions got their seats promptly.

As they say in Algeria, anything is possible.



Super Jihan said...

i couldn't agree happens everywhere i think.

Sencha said...

Hi Super Jihan,

Thanks for your comments. Hope you'll realize your FA dream very soon.

Best regards,