Monday, October 15, 2007

Hello Emirates Airline? It’s Blair from America.

Oh Emirates. Are you guys in bed with Aer Lingus and do you party on the weekend with British Airways? I ask because when it comes to handling passengers who use wheelchairs you guys are pretty adorable. I want to pinch your cheeks.
The crowded Departure Terminal at Dubai is a game of trying not to be cut in line or get hit with these huge boxes of who knows what these passengers have saran-wrapped to take home with them. And they don’t have one or two, they have five or six. When I got out of the Hotel Van I thanked my newest friend and went inside. I was in the wrong line for about ten minutes, actually I didn’t even know where I was supposed to be there was just this line and I got in it. I guess the sociological pressure of trying to be a part of a group. As I searched for a way out, and fought against the many people who looked for someone to cut and they chose me, one of the very few times my New York came out. I don’t know if it was because I was alone or the chair but I physically had to push people back out of the line with my chair and shake my head and suck my teeth at them, oh and of course cut my eyes. So I am looking and thinking there has GOT to be another line, and there was way down the entrance to departures. What I want to note also were another group of men just wondering this section of the airport aimlessly. They weren’t asking for money but I got the feeling if you dropped something and you didn’t notice you dropped it the Ten Second Rule applied.
I wheeled down to the “other entrance” and the man at this door was turning people away. I got out my ticket and before I could show it to him he gestured with a half-smile for me to go inside. Okay that’s done. Now was the first security check. As my bags went through one of the creepy wandering guys from outside was trying to get through with going through the security check point and he was making this security guard very, very angry. The creepy wandering guy was trying to pull out some old crusty piece of paper from his over-flowing tan wallet. I just went through the gate and set off the alarm. These three pretty veiled women escorted me into a small closet, only after I made sure the X-Ray Tech had both my bags. Inside this tiny room was The Koran, a praying mat, and a mirror. I actually thought I was going to be stripped searched. I was kind of excited. But she just patted me down. I guess this closet was for a Muslim woman’s privacy.
I got my bags and was gestured to the front of the Check-In Line. Now I don’t like to cut people. I always get to the airport way before boarding, but I will admit the Dubai Airport to date comes in second to Pakistan as having the swiftest policy for getting passengers with Mixed Abilities to their Gate.
My turn. So I go up to the counter which is almost 18 inches above my head and the young, sweet, Emirates employee asks me what I want to check. I asked her if I could keep my backpack she said no it weighed too much. So I start to remove the essentials, items that if I lose this back on the way to Pakistan what can’t I live without. Ofcourse personal female items are overflowing out th top as I try to get to my laptop and some underwear. Trying to distract onlookers and the Youngman who is towering over me to help, I ask her what will they do with my wheelchair:

Emiracita- Can you walk at all?
Blair-No. I need my chair. I also need an aisle chair to get on the...
Emiracita- So you can take our wreerchair and we bring you to gate in our wreerchair.
Blair- Ummm, actually how will that work and where will my chair go?
Emiracita- (She points behind me somewhere, I don’t even look. I was much more interested in what she was going to say next.) You can wrap your wreerchair in prastic wrap and put on conveyer belt and we take it and put under prane. You can get it in Pakistan with your other luggage.
Brair-(Laughing inside. Laughing because I now just realized I was going to Pakistan by myself on an airline that wanted me to wrap up my “wreerchair” like a PB&J sandwhich and I was supposed to say okay what a great idea! Instead I just looked at her smiled and said) Ummm, actually do you have a Supervisor? I understand your idea, I mean it’s a great one, but I was thinking more along the lines of taking the chair apart putting it in the airplane cabin closet, or worst case staying in it, tagging it, and transferring out of it at the gate and giving to the SkyCap to put in Bulk? Maybe?
Emiracita- I will get my Supervisor.

So the next five minutes I battled with the conveyor belt that had all my personal stuff in it, and without looking a couple of times the Emirates Girl keep turning on the belt and saying so sorry. We were both smiling it was cool. I just realized I had to now be patient and go with the flow. So Supervisor Lady comes over and we all agree the “wrapping” idea wouldn’t work that well this time so I was escorted by a man to the waiting area. We both went through about two more security checkpoints and three more elevators to a Special Delivery room in the Airport. While with my escortor I found out he was Pakistani and like a jerk introduced myself and shook his hand. I realized that was a BIG no-no and apologized. I tried to ask him more questions but his English was bad and my Urdu was even worse so he basically said no more talking for him he would just bring me to the terminal. So I stopped with the questions.
We got to this Special Delivery office/holding cell. I gave my boarding pass to a nice young woman and she said I can wait here and they will take me to the gate for boarding and tag my chair at the gate. I looked at the clock. It was 12:30am and boarding didn’t start until 2:40am. I asked her if I could leave and come back, and she looked at me with pleading eyes and said yes but please come back by 2:30am.
I went straight over to Emirates Bank to convert my Dirhams and USD’s to Pakistani Rupees. I was at the counter and about ready to put down my wad of twenties when this little Asian Woman, and by Asian I would guess Korean possibly, wherever in the East she was from she actually leaned her tiny little Lucy Lui body in front of me and started asking the Bank Agent to convert her money. I was now angry. I said no you don’t. I am next you can wait. She gave me attitude and backed away slightly but only after the Bank Agent looked at her and gestured with his eyes for her to wait. She was still soooo in my back-space that I asked her to move, please move away you are too close to me.
I got my money and waited for two hours wondering the terminal; buying junk in the trinket shops, going to the bathroom a few times. I got back to the holding cell just in time and was escorted to the gate by two employees of the Special Delivery Office. The Special Delivery Office is a private company that handles all the transport of people in chair for Emirates. These two women joked with me about Dubai and me not needing them to push me to the plane and then they gasped when I said I was going to Pakistan by myself and I didn’t know anyone there. Then they laughed a laugh like you’re gonna die.
We all laughed. They said they liked me. I boarded the plane okay. And just let go and trusted my chair would make it in one piece to Islamabad.
I was sitting in the Economy Class wondering who would be my new friends to sit with me. First a man sat next to me. He smiled but that was it. Then a few minutes later a pretty woman from Afghanistan sat next to me. She was very cool. She thought I was Egyptian.
My whole time in Dubai and going into Pakistan I made the choice to where a full head scarf out of respect for the Muslim culture and for Ramadan. The woman, Mashal, wasn’t veiled. I asked her why and told her I had noticed a lot of women were not veiled. She scoffed at the idea. She said, I am Muslim. But I will not let the stares of the men scare me and make me cover myself. I wear what I want and what I think is respectful.
We giggled as the plane took off. You see Emirates has this cool device-a camera they installed on the front and underneath the plane so on all the monitors you can see the plane taking off and the runway getting smaller. It is the freakiest thing in the world. Especially if you are afraid to fly. I got over that quick. I filmed the take off. I thought it was the coolest thing. I joked with Mashal about what would we do if we saw another plane fly by underneath this one on the camera, or a monster.
After a squishy lunch was served. I had to use the bathroom. I told the attendant and she said she would be back with the aisle chair. Well she didn’t return for ten minutes and when she did she told me I couldn’t use the aisle chair because they were descending. So her and her colleague said they would lift me up into the bathroom. Both these girls weighed a buck fifty combined and they were going to lift me through the bathroom door? I just told them to step aside. I crawled on the floor of the plane to the bathroom. When inside the Captain says, Ladies and Gentlemen we will be descending in three minutes. Lazy *$#!, they just didn’t want to go all the way to the front and get the chair. When was done I got out my camcorder pressed record put it in my mouth and hopped on the floor waving nicely for people to move out of my way and I handed the camera to Mashal and pulled myself up into my seat. I turned to the Flight Attendant and said that was unacceptable. She had no response, looked a little frightened and walked away for our descent.
We landed fine in Islamabad. I taped the whole landing thanks to Emirates cool cameras. We had to wait on the plane another twenty minutes for another plane to exit the gate we needed. The cabin filled with grunts after that announcement. We finally exited I waited for the aisle chair which came rather quickly and found that my wheelchair was already in the airport. I asked if someone was with it? They said someone was. So I hopped in this metal tank connected to this truck and me, four folded wheelchairs, and my new friend drove to the airport. As we drove over I had my camera in my hand. My new friend said is that a camera? I said no, no, its’ for DVD’s and put it away. I guess there’s no filming here.
As we were almost the airport I yelled, “That’s my chair!” I was so happy. It was waiting with two airport employees but the entrance to the airport next to a nice long ramp. I got out of the truck/metal tank contraption and got into my chair and as my new friend tried to push he looked confused when there were no handle bars, I said, no I do it and gestured for him to go first and I would follow. And as I made it up the ramp fine, even thought he cheated and still pushed a little, I turned to him to say again I could do it I saw the military officer waiting in the door way. I made it. I was now in Pakistan.


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