Wahhabalinese Adventures 2: Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi is not one of the world’s great airports by any measure, but its quirky terminal seemed downright snazzy after the swirling chaos of DEL. Midnight is rush hour at AUH, but I had no problems snagging a seat from where I could contemplate the utterly bizarre mushroom-shaped spout of lime green and blue tiling that dominates the terminal, although any notions of Zen serenity were blasted out of the water by the endless loop of really, really loud trilingual announcements about vol eh-ygrec trois-trois-cinq a Casablanca or whereever. We’d rolled past Etihad’s future home Terminal 3 on the way in, but despite a few planes parked up to it’s still several months away from completion and Abu Dhabi has, inevitably, already started designing an entirely new airport expressly designed to put those young whippersnappers in Dubai in their place.

Etihad’s slogan is “The Airline of Abu Dhabi”, which left me ruminating. Sure, that’s an undeniable fact, but what do they mean by it? If they mean that Etihad is good because it’s associated with Abu Dhabi, I don’t think that line of argument will quite fly, as for most people “Abu Dhabi” is the faintly ridiculous-sounding place in the middle of nowhere (see also: Timbuktu, Ouagadougou) where Garfield regularly mails obnoxiously cute kittens. Alternatively, they might mean that Abu Dhabi is good because its airline is Etihad, but this has pretty much the same problem — when I told a colleague that I was flying Etihad via Abu Dhabi, her genuine reaction was “Where the heck is Abu Dhabi, and what on earth is an Etihad?” (Etihad, for the record, is Arabic for “United”, and with Air Arabia and Emirates completes the trio of large airlines using all components of the name United Arab Emirates.) Either way, it’ll take another good ten years until these guys get over their name recognition problem…

At any rate, the booze selection in AUH Tax Free was pretty good, although obviously for this leg of the trip I had to limit myself to window-shopping. An hour before my flight the gae number popped up and I headed down to Gate 22, which turned out to be a bus lounge, dominated by a colorful but orderly procession of Indonesian ladies going to work in Saudi. In the bus on the way to the plane, one of the younger women knelt on the floor and wordlessly pressed her head into the lap of a motherly older veteran. For one, the terrors of the unknown; for the other, resignation to the known.

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