Back To KSA

The trip to Oregon was uneventful, and that suited me just fine.  A personal video screen in the back of the seat back in front of me, and my iPod, kept me quite busy.  So, the time passed pretty quickly.  All 22 hours of it.

OTOH, it took me three days to get back to KSA.

The day I had to go back, Cristina dropped me off at the airport.  I got the sense that something was amiss by the way the two young women were talking to a couple of other passengers.  When I heard the phrases “San Francisco Airport” and “delay,” I got a tad worried.

Sure enough, she asked me if I was flying through San Francisco.  I said, “Yes.”  She grimaced and said, “Okay, let’s see what we can do.  SFO is closed to most incoming traffic due to fog.  They only have one runway going.  You are probably going to miss your connecting flight.”

I was not amused.  Leaving for months at a time is not fun for me on the best of days.  Leaving when my mother-in-law was in the hospital, and my wife was completely consumed with assuring her care, trebled the anxiety I felt.

The woman spent quite a few minutes trying to figure out how to get me out and back to Saudi Arabia that day, but she finally looked at me and said, “I am sorry, but the best I can do is get you on a flight out of SFO tomorrow morning.  You can either stay here an extra day or you can go to SFO when they open the other runway up at about Noon and try there.”  I wavered.  It would have been great to spend another day at home.  But, goodbyes always suck, and as I said before, Cristina was very busy caring for her mom.  If I went to San Francisco, there was an outside chance I might get some sort of connector.  If you’re there, in the major airport, they can do a lot more for you than if you’re at a small regional airport, where the weather might delay you even further.  As hard as it was to do, I opted to go on to SFO.

My plane took off as I walked from my arrival gate to my original gate.  I once had a similar experience back in the mid-80s, when a huge snowstorm delayed planes for hours at Chicago O’Hare.  That time, I sat on the tarmac waiting for a gate to open up, while my plane to Syracuse lifted into the air.  It’s not a pleasant feeling.

So, I made my way to a ticket booth.  Here’s a tip for the inexperienced air traveler.  Often, though not always, at the larger airports, airlines have ticket/information counters inside the security area.  If you have a connection problem, you often don’t have to exit the security area to make changes.  In this case, the United counter inside the security area was empty, and I had to exit to find a ticket clerk.

As it turned out, the first, and only, flight I could book out was early the next morning, to Washington Dulles, where I would have to take a Saudi Airlines plane back to Riyadh.  This was a painful blow.  I really like flying Lufthansa.  They provide excellent service, and unlike some American airlines, everything is included in the price of the ticket – including alcohol.  There would be no alcohol on the Saudi flight.  Not that I drink that much; but, still…the option was there.   And, since it was a weather delay, United would not spring for a hotel room.  They would, however, hook me up with a service that specialized in setting up stranded travelers at a discount rate.

I didn’t want to spend a night in SFO, so I booked a room through the discount agency and stayed at one of the nearby airport hotels (the name is escaping me right now, so that is why I am not being specific).  The room was nice enough, and it was great to get a good night of sleep; I’d had a very late night the night before – packing.  The food was good and EXPENSIVE.  And, it was 12 miles from downtown.  So, a cab ride would have been prohibitive, and I didn’t feel like navigating BART.  I just kicked back, napped, and relaxed.

The trip to Dulles was uneventful.  No food, unless I wanted to buy one of a selection of overpriced box lunches/breakfasts.  I didn’t.  Luckily, I am an early bird, and I actually arrive in time to get through security in a timely fashion.  I hate to be rushed.  So, I had eaten a good breakfast a diner in the airport.

I wish I had known there were agents manning the counter at the gate from which the Saudia plane would leave.  But, I didn’t, and I was very short on time to go exploring. So, I ended up having to leave the security area there, too, in order to find the Saudia ticket counter.  When I got there, a very pretty and pleasant lady informed me that, even though I had a ticket in hand, there was no reservation for me in the system.  She told me not to worry, that the flight was not full; so it wouldn’t be a problem.  But, it did take several minutes to fix this matter.   Then, I had to go through Dulles security.

Dulles security is a pain-in-the-tookus.  There is a huge volume of people, and the folks who engineered the lines never visited Disneyland to learn how to handle large groups of people queuing up for a ride.  It took close to 30 minutes to pass from one side to the other.  Then, I had to ride the shuttle from one terminal to another, which took another five or six minutes.  I kept looking at my watch, and my plane was scheduled to leave in 10 minutes.

When I got off the shuttle I ran to a store, grabbed a cellophane slop sandwich (I was STARVED at that point) and ran on toward the gate.  I should have realized they were on Saudi time.  I arrived with literaly 1 minute to spare (according to scheduled time), only to find out they weren’t going to board for 10 minutes…maybe 30.  It turned out to be closer to 60 minutes.  I almost felt as if I was back in Riyadh.

The Saudia flight was quite pleasant, actually.  They treat their customers very well.  The food (at least from Dulles) was very good.  There were videos in the seat backs, which provided a good selection of entertainment.  And, best of all, there were lots of empty seats, which the flight attendants encouraged us to turn into beds.  There was a first for me, too.  I had never before flown on an airplane with a mosque onboard.  I can’t say that now.  Back in the tail section, they had an area set aside for prayers.  The video screen always showed, if you looked for it, which direction – in relationship to the plane’s orientation – Mecca lay.  So, there was never any question about which direction prayer should be directed.

The flight landed first in Jeddah, where we sat on the plane for about an hour.  Then, on to Riyadh.  After nearly 24 hours of being in an airport or being in-flight, I have to admit that I was quite glad to be back at my apartment.

Isn’t international travel glamorous?   😉

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