You may not know this about me, but I love to fly. When I was a kid, and on until I was a young mother, my Dad and brother’s owned small planes. Our friends were pilots. We flew to the local,restaurant to meet them for breakfast on many a Saturday morning. You might say this was part of the playground equipment in my backyard. There was a runway that ran the length of our 50 acre farm. Yet with all my experience and exposure to flying it has never become dull to me and I never take it for granted. I marvel every single time. While some sleep or read through the take off I do not. I stop what I’m doing. Look out the window. Feel the deep powerful rumble of the engines and feel all the exhilaration and wonder that is due this incredible feat of engineering and technology.
On my daughter’s first flight I was able to tell her what was happening and assure her that the noises she was hearing were all perfectly normal. She’s an excellent flier to this day. She is seldom afraid. Explanations and expectations can go a long way to calm the nerves. I remember my Dad telling me, as we flew, about the air currents. “As we head out over the lake there will be a change of air current. We’ll hit a few bumps.” “We are coming to the edge of a wooded area, that will change the air patterns and we’ll hit a little turbulence.” Have you ever noticed how completely calm pilots are? I know many of them and I can tell you, I think it’s universal. They are exactly who you want around when things get rough. Panicking doesn’t help anything…ever. It’s a good life lesson really.
Having that background, let me tell you about our trip to Dubai last Thursday night. It’s one for the books. Cue the singing of “three hour tour, three hour tour.” (If you’re too young for that reference don’t worry about it).
First of all we were at our gate, waiting for it to open. We were all reading or listening to music. Honour said “Don’t you think it’s strange that we’re the only ones sitting here and boarding was supposed to start 5 minutes ago?” Good point. I went and checked the board. It still said our gate was the right gate for boarding so Dave went and asked someone. “Oh no, we’ve moved you to gate 11.” Might have been an idea to change it on the board…or to check the original area to see if anyone was still there! What we were about to learn (the hard way!) was that Qatar Airways has a “silent airport policy.” Meaning that nothing is announced over a P.A. aside from the automated “Please do not leave your luggage unattended” message.
So we made our way to our gate and boarded the plane around 9:00 p.m. Dubai is about a 50 minute flight. Once we were all strapped in a ready to go, the quintessentially calm pilot welcomed us and told us that due to a big thunder/lightning storm front over Dubai, the Dubai airport was closed and not allowing anyone to land. We had a spectacular storm the night before in Doha so I’m sure this was also big.
We sat on the plane for about 2 hours before Mr. Pilot came back on and said that the storm front had moved on and Dubai was now open for business. Weather. Who are we to predict what it will do? That was my thought. Anyhow, we were finally on our way.
As we approached the Dubai airport we were told that the storm had moved back in and the airport was once again closed. Perfect. We were going to circle the airport and wait a bit. We circled for 2 hours. You can imagine that this was not the smoothest of flying either. There were 18 planes circling. I kept consoling myself, there are flight patterns, radar, we weren’t going to hit another plane, we were too high up to crash, and I’m sure the calm, cool and collected pilot was watching the fuel gage. We slept, we read, we waited.
At about 2 a.m. we were told that a decision had to be made and we were turning back to Doha. Obviously we couldn’t circle forever. People were really angry. I’m not sure if they thought the Dubai airport could control the weather or the pilot could control the weather? We’re really not used to being in situations we can’t control. Didn’t matter how much people screamed and shouted though…the storm was unaffected.
This was the flight tracker on the plane. For your amusement. My sister tells me this will be funny to me someday.
We landed safely back in Doha in the middle of the night. I was thankful we were safe. The Yellers began their rampage to the ground staff…because, the ground staff had so much to do with it. One man kept yelling at them “this is a disgrace!” Ok. I felt for the staff. Well, I felt for the staff for about an hour as they tried to sort things out and tried to reason with people. It quickly became apparent though that they didn’t have a plan. This was not welcomed news at 3 a.m.
We bought some food. Then found out they were giving out vouchers for food. We went to the transit desk, they said go to gate (?) and they would take care of us from there. We were told to watch the monitor for our original flight number and it would say where it was boarding when the time came. We sat there for a very long time before asking another QA worker who said “NO! You should be down at the transit desk!” Down to the transit desk. Go to gate 17, that’s where we’ll issue you a new boarding pass and board you all at the same time. Gate 17 was mobbed. After standing there for an hour (I think it was now about 5 a.m.) a QA worker came to tell us that we needed to form a proper queue. No one moved. Please, form a proper queue. No. Who did she think was going to move away from the desk and risk not getting on. She said (this is my favourite) “You have been standing here for an hour and have not moved yet, if you form a queue the line will move.” I was done. “The line has not moved because we’re not in a proper line? Not because the gate isn’t open yet?” No one moved. Seriously…now they were going to get snippy with US??
It was another hour before we boarded. Once boarded we were told that 30 people didn’t get on and ground crew was going to have to remove their luggage and shift the remaining luggage around. I can only imagine that the 30 people were somewhere sleeping because all of the instructions were yelled into a crowd of people (so only 1/2 the people could hear) and if you’d been told you should be somewhere else (by QA staff who didn’t know what was going on) then you might be…who knows where!
Once in our seats we fell fast asleep. Since the beginning of our day the day before we had now been awake for about 26 hours. When I woke up…we were still on the ground. I had been sleeping for almost 2 hours while they shuffled the luggage. Nightmare-ish. Would this ever end.
The weather for the flight was still not great.
I went to the bathroom. I could feel that there was quite a bit of turbulence. All of a sudden the flight attendant used the emergency bathroom unlocker and opened the door. Yup…I was sitting there looking at her. I realized she was in a panic but I thought an apology was in order.
When I came out of the bathroom the flight attendants were strapping themselves in, my knees buckled as the plane dipped and the nearest flight attendant said “Do not go back to your seat, strap in right there.” She pointed to a flight attendant’s seat. Really, my seat was 6 feet away, but ok. How often do you get to do that? By the time I’d figured out how the seat and the buckle worked the turbulence was over and I was back to me seat.
So…here’s what we lost:
A night’s sleep, which seriously affected the rest of our short 4 day holiday.
The price of our hotel room that we didn’t sleep in the first night.
Our love for Qatar Airways. Really…we used to rave about them. I wouldn’t be one to lose faith from one bad experience but I have to say, the previous 2 times I’ve flown with them they were “off”. Also, this incident isn’t just about bad communication and a stormy night that was hard to deal with. It’s about a policy (the silent airport policy) that should really be reviewed. There should be times for exceptions.
Two days ago my husband wrote a very constructive letter to Qatar Airway’s customer service. So far we haven’t had any reply.
I promise, if they somehow make good of all of this, I will definitely let you know and will exonerate their name.
In fact, I would like nothing better.