Fly the Fearful Skies

Trip Start Mar 11, 2006
Trip End Aug 01, 2006

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Flag of United Arab Emirates  ,
Tuesday, June 6, 2006

For some reason it is half the price ($300 cheaper) to fly not directly Delhi-Moscow, but rather Delhi-Dubai-Moscow, and it's half the first leg ($150 even cheaper) to fly Delhi-Mumbai-Dubai, so that's what we did. Air Arabia, who flies Delhi-Dubai, doesn't actually fly that, only Mumbai-Dubai, so they said hey we're going to put you on Kingfisher Air first. No problem by us, Kingfisher is India's most famous beer brand ("the King of good times"_ and the owner, a well-groomed man with silver beard, having decided to start his own airline as well, promised is in the introductory safety video to be the king of good times in the air as well as if we didn't think so to email him ... personally (he reads every one he claims). They aren't allowed to serve been on domestic flights in India. And we got in 45 minutes late. If on;y I'd written that email address down and placed it for safekeeping in the stylish plastic purse containing gum and a pen and earphones. And a mint. I ate Ryan's.
The only problem with flying 2 different airlines back-to-back is, our luck in Thailand aside, they just don't know what to do with you in between which is fine until they lose your bags. Oops, found them now! Oh King of Good Times, I underestimated you nearly as much as you underestimated the actual time required to get from the domestic to international terminals which in Mumbai are located on opposite ends of the world and do it in the 1.5 hour flight gap, 45 minutes on which were taken up with having an extra good time. On the plane, on the tarmac.
But, our policy of being the luckiest men on earth unwavering, we just caught the once-every-30-minutes but found Air Arabia's counter hidden the best I'd seen (though not for long) and frantically checked in before the next minute being in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. The internet is not sure if Sharjah is actually in or near Dubai, so neither were we, but even at 11PM when we got in we were able to a) find a taxi to our next regional airport, b) buy BBQ Pringles and chocolate and cheese because I eat like I'm pregnant, and c) even exchange Filipino pesos for actual useful money at the time (no other country thus far was willing to do so).
Dubai is home to the nicest hotel in the world, the Burj Al Arab, which is rated an unprecedented 7 stars by someone and reportedly charges more than the price of a movie just enter the lobby. Dubai International Airport is rated something less for accommodations and doesn't charge you jack squat so, all else being approximately equal, we slept there. In a fort. Made of backpacks. I called it Fort Ruksak/The Raman Node. Well, only I really slept in the fort off the side of the food court, Ryan was unable to connect with his inner child and decided it would be more appropriate to rest his gnarly bears on a cafeteria table instead. When in Rome.
We did arrive at the airport a good 10 hours before our flight (which makes it now probably the only time Papa would agree that I'd left enough time "just in case") so we didn't expect to be able to check in right away. We didn't know, however, what to make of it when the man at the information desk told us that one of the representatives from Siberian Air would "show up just before your light". After killing most of the day by sneaking into the Emirates Air first class lounge, successfully posing as a sheik so I could use the internet kiosk, it was time to find these mysterious Siberian Air attendants. I couldn't quite process Information's tip to look for "lady in the black shirt" as anything but to look for a counter with the female employees wearing black uniform tops, so I was quite caught be surprise while wandering around looking for this mysterious lady to have the woman sitting by herself on one of the benches urgently growl to me "You to fly to Russia?!" That Siberian, or S7 as it was also called, was not authorized for even a temporary counter might have been telling. We waited as her large bald friend thumped over and told us "Flight full" to which we insisted that we'd paid already and no we don't have an information number because your airline barely got its act together to tell us which cities we were flying in between through email, forget even which airports. Good thing I kinda know Russian, he was jabbering away with his buddy on his mobile trying to figure out how to get us off his hands and only next week's flight before I interjected with the same Russian ferocity with which my parents chastised me the time I wrote my name on my sister's shirt in permanent marker and tried to insist I was framed. She was 3 and didn't know the alphabet yet.
We walked 100 miles across the longest airport ever and only at the very end of the very last gate did I realize I'd left my daypack back at security at the front. Unwilling to lose both my journal from whence this travelogue springs and my Oski bobblehead, I broke the land flip-flop speed record and retrieved and returned with my valuables just in time for last call to board.
What their rush to get me on the place was for I'll never know, as the next two hours we spent starring in the new feature-length film Inferno: The Sitting in a Burning Broken Airplane Going Nowhere Story. While not particularly surprised that the plane would have problems on the ground, I didn't realize that they still had planes with air vents painted on for show. In a sealed metal tube full of Russians sitting on a concrete tarmac in a desert country in the middle of a sunny summer afternoon, it was natural that our fellow passengers were hoping for some water, except for the woman sitting next to me who, when asked if she wanted water as well, only giggles, pointed to her half-downed wine bottle, hiccuped, and took another swig. But most of the folks, unable to procure the water from the overworked and increasingly ill-tempered flight attendants who began communicating in rude hand gestures, found it convenient to produce their own liquid, in the form of delicious and not-so-sweet smelling perspiration. At this point in my life I have been on a fair number of planes, and not always in the most ideal of conditions. But never had I before again cleared my eyes out of the sweat pouring down my brow with my sweat-water-pruned hands to see folks all about the place similarly stripping down and using the overhead bins to hang-dry their clothes while we waited.
Finally, as our neighbors across the aisle were polishing their second handle of brandy, there came a stirring from the plane's belly and I regained hope that we might actually consider taking off. That hope soared as we taxied towards the runway but was somewhat tempered as we turned onto the runway and increased our speed marginally at best. As we whispered down the runway I began to recall my high school physics and roughly calculate how fast we needed to be going to stand a a chance of becoming airborne. With the end of the runway semi-rapidly approaching, it was just like the scene at the end of Back to the Future III except I had no hoverboard and that train stood a better chance of lifting off. Yet somehow at the last moment we attained critical velocity and less took off than groaned up into the air, the craft shuddering and violently protesting all the way. Though to be honest it was the first time I'd ever been at all fearful while flying, once we were about a mile up I relaxed as it's usually well enough straight-forward from there on. Later, when we recounted the story for our new friends in St. Petersburg, Masha said "Hey, no need to have been worrying, Siberian Air used to have some problems because their airplanes were falling out of the sky and killing people but now they are using all new ones."
"I dunno Masha, this plane was pretty janky"
"No no, it had to be one of the new ones. The ones painted all yellow that they lease from America."
"Uh, ours was white with the blue S7 logo."
"Oh. Well. Let me shake your hand then."
"Maybe some of the good luck will rub off on me."
Crash we did not though we had a bit of a nervous laugh when, just after the moment we roughly slammed into the night-shadowed runway to begin our skid to the terminal that evening, half of the ceiling panels crashed loudly to the ground.  A week later, one of the same model of plane on the same airline and similar route crashed and lost all 150 passengers. Worth the $300 we saved?

Moral of the Story: Spend the extra money if you like comfort/Fly Siberian if you love danger and excitement.
I was born to be a slogan writer.
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