Since moving to Saudi Arabia in May of 2015 I have had the opportunity to travel more than I ever have. Before making that first long and arduous 20+ hour journey from Canada to Saudi Arabia I had a wide-eyed, romantic and somewhat naive vision. It has since been tempered by some hard doses of reality.
I don’t want anyone to think I don’t appreciate the gift of being able to go back to Canada three times a year to connect with all of my family and friends. Especially my children and grandson. I am truly grateful. Still, there is a dark side.
Air travel isn’t like it used to be. Back in my glory days, the airlines treated you like valued customers. You weren’t crammed in like sardines. Beverages and meals were a complimentary part of the service. There was more of everything enjoyable and less of everything uncomfortable.
Let’s face it, in the anti-terrorism age, the headaches of travel begin at the airport. Going through security can be a nightmare of travel sized liquids in plastic bags, laptops, belts and jewelry removal. My husband was once chastised for not removing an old tissue from his trouser pockets. I have been repeatedly hassled for my various medications, including extra insulin and ice packs to keep it chilled. And then of course there are the random pat-downs.
To illustrate, I shall regale you with the details from my husband’s and my most recent trip. As we stood at our gate waiting to board our flight from Florence to Rome the screen suddenly changed to show a delay from a 12:10 departure to 1:00, making our connection in Rome tight but doable. Moments later it was revised once again, due to thunderstorms in the area, to 3:00, making our departure in Rome at 4:00 impossible.
We had to switch gears and accept our fate. We walked over to the Food Court where we thrilled to discover that in Italy even food courts serve wine. Sipping wine and munching on Caprese salad while engaging in interesting conversation with one another seemed a civilized way to pass the time.
Back at our gate, there were further delays. We got chatting with a lovely couple from Virginia. Somehow the conversation turned to politics and Donald Trump. Some Trump supporters in the line behind us overheard and it all got a bit heated. But that’s a whole other long, controversial and emotionally elevated story.
Back to our travel woes. They finally boarded us. I conked out immediately. David dozed off for a few minutes and informed me later that he woke up to discover our plane still parked on the ramp with the stairs leading up to the open cabin door. We never did get an explanation, or perhaps we just slept through it.
We arrived in Rome around 5:30 and upon deplaning and entering the terminal we were greeted by the sight of a massive throng of people in the same unfortunate circumstances as us, lined up at the Alitalia transfer counter. It took five and a half hours, standing in line with impatient and occasionally hostile passengers only to be told that all flights out the next day bound for Riyadh from all transfer cities were fully booked.
We were given instructions to board a shuttle bus to the Ergife Palace Hotel, which was most definitely non-palatial. A half hour bumpy ride later we arrived. Our adventures in Rome is another story for another day, but just let me remind you that I hadn’t packed my insulin in my carry-on and my checked luggage was still at the airport. Apparently in Italy, as a non-Italian, you cannot purchase insulin at either a pharmacy or the hospital. So I had to cross my fingers and hope I had enough. We spent two days in our palace in Rome and then it was back to the airport to start over again.
We had been advised to arrive at the airport three hours earlier so we arrived with three and a half, just to be safe. Of course, the Aegean ticket counter, our new airline, wasn’t open until two hours before the flights departure. But my quick-thinking husband suggested we use the self-check-in machines. Tickets in hand, we went through security (where David’s study notes binder caused the traditional open your suitcase for a search routine). We used our handy Lounge Key App and located a lounge to wile away the time until boarding.
Upon arrival at our posted gate,D3, we found the gate had been changed to D7. We walked to D7 where the plane was then announced delayed for half an hour. Really? Another delay? Then the gate was changed again, to D2. I tried not to feel frustrated and impatient. I tried not to worry. Secretly I felt that if I had to spend a night at a hotel in Athens I might lose it.
Finally, we boarded our flight. I was disappointed to find the configuration of seating even tighter than usual. And no TV screens. I buckled into my cramped quarters and peered out the window at the pouring rain and felt despondent as I noticed we were in a long line of planes awaiting take-off. My ears were accosted by the loud, obnoxious and constant laughing and shouting of a group of overly-enthusiastic young Greeks. Eventually we started down the run-way and lifted off into a dark and ominous-looking sky.
We arrived in Athens and our plane to Riyadh was already being boarded. An Airport Ambassador corralled the group of us destined for Riyadh and guided us through the fast track at Customs, but then abandoned us at security where they still felt compelled to rummage through our luggage. Frustrated, I wondered, not for the first time, how we could possibly have procured an inappropriate item since going through security last in Rome. Grr….
We made it! We boarded our plane and despite the same cramped quarters as always I was thrilled to finally be on the last leg towards home. I was given the extra bonus of an airline meal I could actually consume, that did not consist of wheat products. Did I mention I have a wheat allergy? Well, I hadn’t eaten anything for twelve hours, since lunch, other than a few bites of chocolate. It was midnight and I was starving and exhausted, so the otherwise mediocre rice and chicken tasted heavenly.
The fasten your seat belt light came on. It was time to descend so David retrieved my Abaya from my carry-on bag and I draped it over me. We deplaned and turned the corner and beheld the spectacle of a next to non-existent line-up at customs! Hooray! I almost clicked my weary heels! It felt like a silver lining, but alas, it quickly turned to grey. All of the luggage from our plane was dispensed and the belt stopped moving and there was no luggage belonging to us.
Off we traipsed to the Baggage Claims counter where a porter led us to a different terminal where apparently our luggage awaited, having arrived ahead of us from Jeddah the day before. Mine was there, and I almost hugged it, but thought better of it seeing as how David’s was still missing in action. It’s been three days and it is still missing.
Suffice to say, the ordeal was draining. Even I, who scored 23/24 on a Test Your Optimism quiz sound like a Negative Nancy. It’s like I said, I’m feeling nostalgic about the glory days of travel.