It’s possible that, up until this point, the biggest airport I’d encountered was OR Thambo in South Africa. Abu Dhabi wasn’t as straightforward to get around- I put this down to its size. It’s also probable that I’m just crap at finding my way around places, but I will not be the guy that fuels that stereotype.
The smartest thing you can do is scope out a passenger that looks like he or she may be heading to your destination and stalk the shit out of them… at a relatively safe inconspicuous distance. If you do this properly, no one is going to assume you’re some weird perv auditioning for a terrestrial Mile High Club.
With that in mind, I looked around after my phone call and realized that my potential ‘guides’ had all vanished, forcing me to just walk straight through the terminal. This was supposed to either lead me to a helpful airport official/security or would see me walk right out of the airport and into the city.
What actually happened was I found a fairly large number of people sitting and waiting, prompting me to sit and wait with them. I realized something wasn’t quite right when they all got up a few short minutes to board the plane to some European destination…just as well, I was beginning to grow fond of my little section on the floor.
Until my butt went numb.
I took another walk around and found some showers (which would actually come in handy on the return trip) a couple of Duty Free shops with very misleading price tags that carried both the Dhiram rate AND the dollar rate. Understandably, I think, I was not too keen on spending triple digit dollar on bottles of liquor (except that I didn’t have to, as a closer glance would have revealed) so I bought one of those neck brace pillow thingies.
It had nothing to do with me needing the dumb thing, I just feel uncomfortable walking into a shop and walking out without buying anything. This may be why I steer clear of car dealerships.
On the way back to my hallowed tile, I ran into a gentleman who informed me the preclearance facility was about to open. This is basically a US immigration/customs facility that spares you the anxiety of not knowing whether or not you shall be turned away when you get to the States by either turning you away in Abu Dhabi or letting you proceed with your journey.
It is such a big deal that once you’ve been allowed through, there are sections of the airport you can no longer access because “you are now on US soil”. Your facebook check-in won’t buy into that hype though.
I approached the facility in the company of a young Nigerian lady who, through a cocktail of chivalry and panic, I asked to go ahead of me. The gentleman quizzing her needed to know why she was going where she was going, who she was going to see, what she was going to do, why she was practicing medicine, what kind of doctor she was… you know, the usual questions.
I was luckier. My customs person (such was the camaraderie, I felt a sense of growing ownership up until I gaffed by saying one of the places I’d hoped to visit was Manchester. There’s a good reason for this, by the way. I know Manchester is not in the US, obviously) was pretty cool and made me feel at ease. So much so she had to hear about how my friend walked in on me singing Blackstreet’s Booty Call when I was just 9 years old. (mental note, must clear Itunes library before the offspring are old enough to use it)
Having survived the valley of preclearance (it’s downstairs, so this kind of works) I was ready for my 14 hour trip… well, as ready as you can be to be airborne in a cramped space with complete strangers for close to two full work days with no respite.
The weather, pre-boarding, was extremely nippy which made me a little irritable, a situation not improved by the chick in hot-pants making out with her bae. I was pretty stoked when we finally boarded Etihad’s A380 for the simple reason that the PDA was pretty upsetting as I didn’t have my own heat generating human nearby.
I mention the model of the aircraft in passing purely because it is something of a big deal to Aero enthusiasts. For the commoner reading this, I boarded this really yuuge plane. How big? Well, my hands aren’t big enough to show you.
Before I’d left home my sister had cautioned me against staying put for too long. “All sorts of messed up stuff could happen,” she intoned. I usually go into a full blown panic attack when my feet go numb, so her completely unresearched observation that I could get a clot freaked me out. Her advice, “walk around every so often. Don’t sit still for too long”.
Well, great. I was going to be the dude from the front of the plane who would keep walking up and down like a model on a catwalk… A model wearing layers of clothing and bathed in sweat accrued over a couple of hours.
In hindsight, my pee trips should have sufficed, but it really is hard to sit still when every so often you look up from your screen (which is reporting that there are protests going on in New York) and see a new passenger just walking about and playing air soccer.
Most people will tell you in-flight meals are the worst, and you really should listen to them. The menu volunteered lamb, roast chicken and some plant life I can’t for the life of me remember, so I went with what I thought I knew. My limited culinary knowledge had until this point led me to believe that anything with the word “roast” in it would be devoid of soup and soaked in dehydration.
The meal in front of me didn’t share the same sensibilities and I wouldn’t be surprised if at the end of the flight lights flickered on and Ashton Kutcher emerged saying we’d all been Punk’d into eating 3D printed fowl.
The neck pillow was utterly useless. In fact it did more harm than good seeing as every so often it would fall and startle me. And when I slept through its attempt to flee, the passenger behind me would wake me up and graciously return it. The bastard.
The pseudo rock and roll star in the seat next to mine had better luck falling asleep against his folded leather jacket. Something to do with the stud placement, I suppose. It was his first visit to the States, he would later volunteer and in so doing making me feel like it was pointless to share my excitement at seeing the Statue of Liberty in the distance.
Over the intercom, the pilot informed us that we were about to begin our descent into JFK and oh so chirpily declared that the flight was shorter than advertised. I’ll put that down to pilot humour… If a 14-hour flight is shortened to 13 hours 30 minutes and not, I don’t know, 2 hours… or even 3 on account of crazy traffic up there, I don’t want to be told it was a shorter journey.
Thank goodness for pre-clearance, I imagine a number of us would be barred entry into the United States on account of the sweat we’d racked up along the way in the place of frequent flyer miles. I went down to the carousel, picked up my luggage and sought out the gentleman with a placard with my name.
I promptly followed him out, thrilled at what lay ahead of me.
Then New York welcomed me with a cold kiss.