A Querulous QR Quest to Q8: Doha to Kuwait

QR132 KWI-DOH Y A321 seat 14F
QR137 DOH-KWI Y A320 seat 18ANear-identical planes, identical service. On the tarmac in DOH before boarding, we stood in the bus and watched box after identical box of what was most probably ammunition for the war in Iraq, all marked with orange “EXPLOSIVE” diamonds, being loaded into the belly of the plane. Eek?The A321 had the same seats as the A330, minus the AVOD (and hence no more metal box stealing half your foot space, yay!), while the A320’s styling was more old-fashioned — I thought I was on a B737 at first — but no different in seat pitch or any other amenities.

The hop from Doha to Kuwait or v.v. is only just over an hour, so inflight entertainment consisted of exactly the same Tom & Jerry cartoons both ways. We were served a “refreshment” consisting of a small sandwich, cookies, a miniature Bounty chocolate bar and tea/coffee/juice/water.

Probably the most memorable thing about the second flight was my seatmate Handy Assmat(*), who showed up wearing a pink polo shirt, shorts, flip-flops and carry-on consisting in toto of a tiny Swarowski gift bag and a mobile phone. Fashion faux pas aside, this alone wasn’t enough to qualify for being an Assmat — in fact, I was initially mildly jealous of such fearsome packing-fu and Zen-like disregard for material things — but he soon started chomping away at those dingleberries: first a loud phone conversation informing not only his girlfriend but everybody in the vicinity that he was only in eco because first class was full (which it wasn’t, I might add), and then he proceeded to delete messages from his phone, one by one, throughout the entire flight, taxi, takeoff, and landing. Clickety clickety clickety. And none of the cabin crew, who passed by half a dozen times and clearly saw it, said a thing. (Was it in flight mode? I’m not sure, but how would the flight crew know?) I was even more surprised to see him board the same connecting flight to Singapore… but once on board I never saw him again. Good riddance.

(*) A guy by this name is actually the manager of a Chili’s in Kuwait, and his first name is correctly spelled Hamdy, but it seemed rather more appropriate this way.

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A Querulous QR Quest to Q8: Singapore to Doha

Changi Terminal 3 at 3 AM in the morning is positively comatose. Qatar had four desks open and a supervisor watching over it all, but I was the only passenger. My iPod having done a disappearing act earlier in the week, I’d been planning to pick up a new one at Changi, but hadn’t expected all electronics shops in all three terminals to be closed. Lacking a lounge, I picked up a few snacks at the convenience store and attempted to sink into one of the plush-looking seats at the closed Il Lido cafe, only to find that they were actually rock-hard. Next time, I’m not showing up two hours before my flight…

QR639 SIN-DOH Y A330 seat 17K
QR638 DOH-SIN Y A330 seat 18A

I had high expectations for these flights, and due to that very fact was ever so slightly let down. Based on the scuttlebutt on FlyerTalk, the A330 is considered the bee’s knees of the QR fleet, but apparently this applies mostly to the pointy end of the plane: in the back of the bus, the seat pitch is less than generous (32″, says SeatGuru) and window seats on both sides of the plane turned out to have half their foot space eaten up by the AVOD box. The configuration is a rather odd 4-2-4, and while on the way in I had a free seat next to me and could catch a few Z’s, on the way back the plane was packed to the max. Based on quietness of Changi, I’d assumed the plane would be half empty, but no; this flight continues onward to/from Jakarta, and the rear half of the plane — on both flights — was packed with Indonesian aunties in hijabs on their way to work in the Gulf, with virtually no men to be seen. Obviously a more profitable strategy than Etihad’s AUH-SIN-BNE flights.

But what the seat lacked in pitch, it almost made up in AVOD. QR’s “Waves” is one of the best I’ve tried, with 120 movies on demand, another stack of TV shows, an eclectic set of music (mmm, ghazals) and a zoomable in-flight map. The screen is large and the controls very responsive.

Both flights were red-eyes, so the service followed the same pattern: “refreshment” (read: sandwich) after departure, then hot breakfast before arrival. QR doesn’t do hot towels, instead passing out those dinky little disinfectant wipes (boo), but they do give a nice amenity pack with shades, earplugs and even a tiny toothbrush, and even the bathroom amenities are by Aigner. The thing I missed the most compared to SQ, though, was the total lack of water runs: you had to page the crew to top up on your H20, which isn’t really excusable on an 8-hour flight, and unlike Etihad they don’t hand out water bottles either.

Last but not least, QR gets some brownie points for crew: especially on the return flight, the cabin crew were absurdly attractive, with Japanese and south Indian ladies who should be strutting on a catwalk in Paris instead of dishing out omelettes on a plane.

All in all, I would probably have been delighted with QR if only I’d had a little more space for my legs. On any future flights, I’m definitely steering clear of the windows, or better yet, angling for a way to get myself into C.

Beer, Bacon and Bargirls: ZS754 DMM-RUH Y 737 seat 17F

Dammam‘s King Fahd Int’l is no less than the largest in the world by land area and the terminal itself is scaled to fit, with arrivals, departures and check-in sprawled across four levels and gates numbered from 10 to 125 — perhaps somewhat excessive for an airport that serves under 3 million pax in a typical year. Opened only in 1999, it already looks rather old-fashioned and virtually identical to RUH, which dates back to 1983. We’d arrived a good two hours before flight time, and at the Sama desk we received sequence numbers 001 and 002, our window seats ticked off by pen on a sheet of paper with an airplane diagram.

Our safari chicken consumed (rather tasty!) and planes spotted (EgyptAir plus Saudia, Saudia, Saudia, Saudia and more Saudia), we crossed through security (shoes bad, water bottle no problem) in search of the al-Fursan lounge’s wifi. Alas, unlike RUH and JED they didn’t have one here, so I had to content myself with editing offline. Only after sitting for half an hour did I realize what was so eerie: the airport was incredibly quiet. No crowds of rushing people, no crying babies, no trolleys, no announcements, just silence halfway between a tomb and a library.

Eventually, though, the area near the gate started to fill up and not one but two Sama planes rolled up, and boarding started precisely on time.

We weren’t supposed to be on this plane in the first place: Trsqr had booked us on Saudia, but that reservation fell through for unclear reasons, and he managed to snag some cheap last-minute tickets on Saudi LCC Sama instead. The downside was that the flight time was a good three hours earlier, but on the upside, this now completed both my trinities of all major Saudi airlines (Saudia, Nas and now Sama) and all major Saudi airports (RUH, JED and now DMM); now I just need to figure out a way to fly on Al-Khayala.

My first impression on boarding the aircraft was quite positive: the seats looked new and spiffy, in blue/gray leather with embossed “Sama” logos in Arabic, and surprisingly decent seat pitch, a little better than Nas (trip report). On closer inspection, though, it’s clear that the aircraft wasn’t new (yellowed panels here and there, old-fashioned warning lights, etc), it’s just that the seats have been thoroughly refurbished. The plane was almost full, and the only empty seats in sight were those next to Trsqr and myself. Coincidence or conspiracy?

Sama’s crew had both Filipino and Arabic members, but the uniform was even more conservative than Saudia’s: the women wore a dark blue scarf wrapped around the entire head, revealing only the face, a featureless dark blue coat with a pink shirt underneath, and — the only un-Islamic touch — tight dark blue pants. Reasonably stylish, yes, but attractive, hardly.

The safety demo was run through at warp speed in both Arabic and memorized-by-rote English of the variety that would be indecipherable if you hadn’t already heard it a million times. Flight time was announced with admirable precision as 42 minutes, then stretched out to 45 minutes after ATC kept us waiting for a bit. Once we pushed back, we headed straight to the runway, and the captain got a running start by revving up the engines while still in the turn, straightening out the plane as we picked up speed and took off.

As we took off I spotted one of the more eerie sights I’d seen in Saudi: a series of abandoned farms in the middle of the desert, with dried-out circles where the irrigation sprinklers once rotated and both roads and buildings already half-swallowed by dunes. Just a tiny reminder of how artificial virtually everything in Saudi actually is…

As promised, it was a short flight and the crew didn’t even bother running the drinks cart, instead just walking down the aisle themselves and filling the few orders. Before long, we started our descent, complete with the sequence of tight turns that seems to characterize any arrival at RUH, and touched down smoothly. Back in the Dead Center of the Kingdom…

Bonus: Trsqr’s review of the same flight on FlyerTalk!

Wahhabalinese Adventures 2: Flight recap

All in all, I was quite satisfied with all the carriers I tried out on this trip.

Jet‘s international product blew me away, being probably the single best economy cabin I’ve tried anywhere, and I’d definitely like to try their J product someday. It’s a real shame that the hassles of Indian visas and airports mean that transiting via India to anywhere else is just not a sensible option…

I had high expectations for Etihad, and they were pretty much met, but I was a little disappointed in the ungenerous seat pitch (esp. on the A346) and the cumbersomeness of the IFE system. On the plus side, service was very good for economy, their hub AUH is not bad and is likely to soon get very much better, and their network is also growing furiously. The main downside really is the total lack of usable frequent-flyer miles usable anywhere other than EY.

Nas in Saudi was exactly what I expected from a low-cost carrier, perhaps even several degrees slicker than most. As miles aren’t a consideration for Saudi domestic flights, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly them again.

EY 470 AUH-SIN Y B777-300 seat 54K

Another three-hour layover at a time when I’d really much prefer to be sleeping. I picked up a few bottles at the tax-free, noted to my surprise that Romeo & Julieta No.2’s are appreciably cheaper in EY’s in-flight sales than here (US$11.50 vs US$15 for box of 3), tried and failed to find a local souvenir that didn’t involve dates, and then hacked on my laptop for a few hours.

I’m starting to kind of like AUH though. The two-layered squashed-octopus shape means it’s really compact and easy to get around, and the bizarre blue-green tiles roof-fountain-structure pulls off the rare trick of making a terminal really stand out: there is no way you can possibly mistake AUH for any other terminal anywhere. It’ll be a real shame if the new Etihad terminal here is just another soulless box of glass and steel.

I’d picked my seat on this flight carefully. Conventional wisdom says seats at the back of the bus are bad, because it takes a long time to disembark and because the turbulence is worse, but I knew I’d be in no hurry in Singapore (my Access Card would get me past any immigration queues and I’d have to wait for my suitcase anyway, and turbulence doesn’t particularly bother me — I find it oddly relaxing in a “yay, I’m flying!” way. Etihad’s online seat map showed that the back of the plane has two rows with only two seats on the window sides, so I picked the second to last row: this way, I figured I’d guaranteed full recline, I’d have some useful extra space between my seat, and I’d have a fair shot at nobody sitting next to me.

Once in my seat, I realized that the extra space was virtually nonexistent: on eg LH 747s, it’s enough to stretch out both your legs, but here there wasn’t really appreciably more space than the other rows. And yes, the seat next to me stayed empty, but with a load of no more than 40% there were plenty to go around and a few lucky guys — including the guy in 53K — got a whole three-seat row to stretch out on.

Drink and cracker service rolled around soon after takeoff, but it took close to two hours until they got around to lunch. Here’s the menu:

Asian glass noodle mixed seafood salad

White fish masala, biryani and harissa vegetables
Saffron vegetable lasagna with basil tomato coulis
Singapore hawker’s chicken laksa yong tau foo

Ginger and kiwi fruit mousse
Strawberry coulis

Cheese

Tea and coffee
Hot chocolate

Note to the menu writer: if you’ve got two “coulis” in one meal, one of them atop lasagna at that, you’re trying too hard. Indeed, the crew did the right thing and reduced that down to “fish, vegetable or chicken?”, and I opted for the “chicken” as it just sounded so bizarre. I wasn’t disappointed: the entree turned out to be a collection of tofu, fishballs, shrimp and, yes, chicken on a bed of thick rice noodles with a sauce that was half laksa, half rendang, with coconut shreds, laksa leaf and plenty of spices. I suspect this might be a bit much for people unused to Southeast Asian cuisine, but for me the end result was delicious, and even the noodles had stayed firm instead of degenerating into sogginess. Full points to Etihad for ingenuity!

I watched No Country for Old Men, which isn’t very good in-flight fare because it demands your full attention, but it does certainly deserves its Oscars. I also realized that Etihad’s headphones, which are excellent for economy (solid, padded, cover the whole ear, comfy) also incorporate noise canceling — I’d just gotten a broken set on the DEL-AUH flight, and this time too the wiring was flaky enough that turning my head was enough to flip the canceling on and off.

And then to bed. Even us economy class plebs got socks, eyeshades and earplugs, and even the brown blanket seemed a little fluffier than what you’d usually get in Y. Two seats with a liftable divider ain’t too bad, and while they never turned the cabin lights off, I managed to contort myself into a semi-sleeping position and catch a few Z’s.

The menu had promised us a “refreshment” prior to arrive in Singapore, which I figured would be the same sandwich-and-juice deal as on the RUH flights. But nope: we were treated to cups of frozen-solid Haagen-Dazs instead.

Disembarkation, immigration and baggage claim went fast enough: the only problem was that the handle I used to pull along my diving gear-laden suitcase had been knocked cleanly off. On my previous trip, the same beaten-up old Samsonite had lost a wheel, but off it was to the baggage claim office. Sorting out the claim took a while, and I was told to expect a call sometime within a week — I was thus rather surprised to get a call on Saturday morning for pickup, and even more surprised to get the fixed bag on Monday. They’d even replaced the top handle as well!

EY 316 RUH-AUH Y B777-300 seat 26D

A brutal flight time, as departing from RUH at 5 AM means getting up at 3 AM. Check-in and immigration were uneventful, although I was disappointed (but not very surprised) that the immigration guy couldn’t tell me when my visa expires. Why, you ask? Because Saudi visas don’t state this date: instead, they just have the date of issue and the number of months it’s valid. The catches are that 1) these are Islamic (lunar) months of 28 days, not Western months; 2) business (non-working) visas appear to have a restriction on how many days within that period they’ve valid; and 3) it depends on the visa type if the days start counting from date of first issue or date of first arrival. Gah.

Same plane as last time, but much lower load, maybe 20% in economy. I watched through that creepy safety video again (I think the dead white eyes of the characters are to blame), devoured the sandwich and juice tossed to us after takeoff, and attempted to sleep.

SV1069 RUH-JED Y B777-200 seat 45D

…skipping a dull week in Riyadh and heading straight to the next destination…

I’d wanted to try out Nas or Sama for this flight, but neither had conveniently timed flights, while Saudia’s departures are near-hourly and reasonably priced at SR 280 (~US$75). I’d already booked my ticket before the Delhi detour, but changing the departure with a call to SV’s Singapore office was quick, effortless and free, and I could confirm that the date was changed online. Props to SV.

Riyadh’s domestic terminal is creepily similar to the international terminals — no surprise, really, as they’re all cast from precisely the same mold, down to way you have to X-ray all bags (carryon and checked) before check-in and then walk back out through the metal detector before going through security again into airside.  Being the beginning of the Saudi weekend, Wednesday evenings at the airport are unsurprisingly busy with fairly long lines at the Saudia desks, but I’d budgeted for this and check-in itself was unproblematic. The airport’s flight info monitors are rather annoying though, as not only do they switch back and forth between Arabic and English (which is understandable), but they spend half their time showing pretty pictures of the airport…

The airside of the domestic terminal looks identical to the int’l one as well, but one lady was sufficiently impressed by the cascading fountain in the center to lift her veil to take a better look! The domestic terminal is noticeably more lively than the international one, with three restaurants/cafes doing a brisk business and a gift shop/bookstore that, much to my surprise, even stocked the latest Economist. I opted for the Saudi Gazette at a sixteenth of the price, picked up a green salad and bottle of water from the Sport Cafe and leeched off the Saudia Al-Fursan Lounge’s unsecured wifi. Quite a few Umrah pilgrims also heading to Jeddah were already in ihram: consisting basically of two towels wrapped around your body, it looks rather like a cross between a terrycloth bathrobe and a shoulder-baring Roman toga, and the terminal’s bathrooms were full of pilgrims taking care of their ablutions before donning it.

As on my previous DXB-RUH-DXB sectors, the plane today was again a B777, again looking a little worse for the wear and in the odd 2-5-2 configuration. Getting everyone settled down took a while though: for example, in my row, seats F/G/H were taken up by the three Saudi wives, with seat F objecting to having a young Saudi guy sit next to her in E, so the guy was swapped with an Indian lady who didn’t object to my male presence and satisfied Ms. F’s sense of decorum. Now repeat this all over a plane that appeared full to the last seat, and I was surprised that we in the end managed to take off more or less on time.

The plane had the same IFE as on my previous DXB-RUH flights of equal length, but this time it wasn’t even switched on. As flight time was about 1.5 hours, there was enough time to serve a quick meal, which turned out to be precisely the same chicken-and-rice mandi as last time, with a small salad and piece of cake, but minus the bun or drink service other than tea/coffee. About half an hour before arrival, the same prerecorded voice that informed us of seatbelt signs and pre-flight supplications announced in remarkably crisp British English: “We have now entered miqah. At this point, pilgrims should don ihram and recite talbiyah.” Turns out the plane from RUH actually flies over the sacred territory around Mecca — and that’s the closest I’ll ever get to it. (I should have taken a window seat.)

Neatest sight while deplaning: a lady tapping out a text message on her phone under her veil, lighting it up from underneath.

XY 406 JED-RUH Y A320 seat 15E

King Abdulaziz Int’l Airport is a mess. Turns out check-in desks are layered two deep when you enter the domestic side, and I’d plunged in towards the Saudia desks and wandered around for a while, looking for Nas… but then I spotted competitor Sama and guessed (correctly) that Nas would be near them, behind the sign saying “International departures”.

You know you’re flying off the beaten path when your very appearance at the check-in desk appears to make the day of the young Pakistani guy running… not the counter, but the old-fashion analog scale next to it, used to weigh bags. (Mine clocked-in at 17 kg, and Weighing Machine Guy was simply delighted to report that it would be free.) This ticket, too, had been booked prior to my Delhi detour, and while the departure date was easily changed by e-mail (!) to Nas customer service, I had to pay SR 50 extra at check-in, and sorting this out took a few minutes. This also meant that my original fare of SR 269, 11 riyals cheaper than the Saudia fare, turned out SR 39 more expensive than the legacy carrier with better schedules, flexible tickets, meals and all. Oh well…

Once through security, I was presented with what looked like a badly maintained bus terminal, which is in fact pretty much what it is: rows of hard plastic seats and half a dozen tightly packed gates for the buses waiting on the other side, without a single jetway. The air was thick with cigarette smoke and flies hopped happily on tables, so I was glad I’d already eaten and thus didn’t have to resort to the solitary eatery on offer. But I scrounged a chunk of table, snarfed wifi from the Al-Fursan lounge again (thanks Saudia!) and passed an hour without too much pain.

Boarding was a little confusing, as there’s no centralized departures board of any kind, you just need to listen to the announcements or try to scan the LED scrollers above each gate, all carefully positioned like the rocks in a Zen garden so that no matter where you sit, you can see only see half of them at a time. But shortly after scheduled boarding time somebody carried over a Nas poster, a mob formed next to it, and boarding started. Yay! As JED has no jetways, at least on the domestic side, we were bussed out to the plane and clambered up the stairs.

The all-female flight crew (Moroccan, I hear) was rather fetchingly decked out in a wispy half-veil a-la Emirates/Etihad, white blouse and green skirt that seemed drop-dead sexy after a week of abayas: you could actually make out the vague outline of a bust when they stretched their arms upward to put in the bags! <insert sound of bug-eyed Wahhabis having heart attacks>

The plane was considerably newer and shinier than Saudia’s workhorses, but based on the “vueling” stickers on the catering boxes it had had at least one previous owner. Seat pitch was a little tight but tolerable, helped by having a pocketless plastic seatback with a one-inch indentation for your legs.

The flight was packed full, and despite checking in pretty early I was put into a middle seat — haven’t been in one of these for a while. The flight experience was just like flying one of Europe’s better LCCs: chirpy announcements (no pre-flight prayers!), trolley service for drinks and snacks (SR2-5 for drinks, SR8 for a sandwich, so not entirely unreasonable), zero entertainment. The Saudi guy next to me bought me tea without saying a word or even smiling, but I had to reject his somewhat excessive hospitality as caffeine in the evenings keeps me awake at night.

In due course we descended and rolled straight up to a jetway. RUH seemed like an old friend now, so wonderfully quite, large and clean after JED. My suitcase came out after a tolerable wait, and my first Saudi LCC experience was over. All in all, no complaints, I’d definitely fly them again if the price and time are right.

EY 315 AUH-RUH Y B777-300W seat 19C

Again a short hop and an almost unnecessarily luxurious plane, but while similar to the A346 in appearance, the seat pitch was an inch or two more generous. This was a relief: I’ll be flying back to SIN in one of these (or at least am scheduled to), and that inch will make all the difference. Today the usual complement of Filipinas was joined by the lovely Kyeong-Soo from Korea, who pacified us with a tasty chicken or veg sandwich and a small bottle of juice before leaving us to giggle at the inane antics of Juste pour rire, Montreal’s ripoff of Candid Camera that seems to have a remarkable hold on transport operators the world around, ranging from business class on Garuda Indonesia to the buses of SBS Transit in Singapore.  The plane was equipped with the same IFE system as the A346; it was just turned off, and no headphones were passed out.

My stomach was still bubbling discontentedly, and it was approaching 6 AM Singapore time, so I did my best to zonk out — not entirely successfully, but soon enough the 80-minute flight was over and we landed at King Khalid International, quiet as ever in the middle of the night. Having purposely booked a seat towards the front of the plane, I reached Immigration well before the queues formed. My suitcase was out almost surprisingly fast, and the irritatingly persistent taxi tout waiting for me outside Customs turned out to be the first guy in line at the official taxi rank. I negotiated his ridiculous initial offer of SR160 to a somewhat more reasonable SR80 (still a good 25% premium on the official fare), and we zoomed off down the desert highway to Riyadh.

EY 211 DEL-AUH Y A340-600 seat 43A

On my last day, the trip from Noida to the airport was (much to my surprise) over in barely an hour, leaving me with a rather too-generous four hours to kill at DEL. The Departures floor is under such heavy construction that I could barely recognize it, one of the check-in desk rows (Row 1) already reworked into the 21st century, the others still falling apart. I’d arrived so early that Etihad hadn’t even started checking in, but after I’d completed one circuit of the terminal looking for them, I spotted a bunch of unlabeled checkin desks with their monitors turned off… and a stack of Etihad luggage tags. Bingo. They’d just opened, and I got sequence number 002 for DEL-AUH, with sequence number 270 for AUH-RUH. How does that work?

Construction prevailed at the immigration desks (over in a jiffy) and the airside had been transformed to such an extent that I could only gape. Gone were the plastic bucket chairs, gone was the Flamingo duty free shop where I used to buy my Indian wines (better than you’d think), gone was the ITC lounge downstairs, even the security queue had transmogrified into something new. In their place were lots of construction hoardings and drilling noises, and I shuddered at the thought of having to spend four hours here. But there was a sign pointing to the Clipper lounge upstairs, and having done my research on FlyerTalk’s India forum I headed up with my Mastercard in hand. Now, in America gold Mastercards are included in boxes of cereal, and even in Singapore the income requirements for one aren’t too lofty, but in India they’re apparently still beyond the means of the hoi polloi — which is why Mastercard graciously offers free use of the Clipper Lounge for every holder of a Gold, Platinum, Titanium or World mastercard. It was still before the evening rush, and aside from a few JAL pax I had the blessedly peaceful lounge (and its fridge full of Kingfisher beer) to myself.

An hour before departure I headed out, and back in the less rarified realms of the terminal the security lines were as bad as ever, with powertripping jawans doing their best to harass the poor bunch of workers heading to the Gulf, barking at them for not waiting at the yellow line (as if they could read the signs) and emptying out every last slip of paper from their pockets. Once they were finally done with them, white sahibs like me were promptly passed through and I headed to Gate 3 to board my first Etihad plane.

The good news was that it was, indeed, the promised Airbus 340-600; why they’re operating a smallish long-haul plane on a low-yield short-haul route like DEL-AUH, though, is beyond me. The plane looked nice, all muted tones of desert tan (shades of Emirates), but the seat pitch was surprisingly cramped, with sharp bits of the seatback poking into my knees no matter how I moved my legs. Fine for this three hour flight, but I’d definitely steer clear of this plane for a real long-haul. The IFE screen was big and the headphones were unusually high-quality, but the interface was kinda slow and clunky, although there was a largeish (if dull) movie selection and an immense library of music — minus, alas, any ghazals. And no sign of the rumored in-seat power plug.

The bad news was that the plane was packed to hilt and 95% of the passengers in economy were workers headed to the Gulf, who aren’t exactly a frequent-flying bunch. Sitting as I was in the back, there was a constant jingle of “bong! bong! bong!” tones as people fiddling with remote controls unwittingly punched at the stewardess call buttons and little lights blinked on and off above the seats. Etihad also certainly didn’t bend over to serve this constituency of its passengers: all announcements and printed matter were in Arabic and English alone, with not a word of Hindi, and only one harried flight attendant appeared to speak the language. At least remarkably creepy safety video, which turned those 70s-style safety card cartoons into 3D computer animations of corpselike ghostly figures stoically enduring oxygen loss, crashes and evacuations, was probably equally incomprehensible in any language…

Meal service started soon after takeoff, and at least this was Indian style: Goan fish curry, curried peas and carrot, pulao, parantha and two balls of rasgulla. Reasonably tasty if unremarkable, and the carrots were red, so you could tell it was made in India. Drink service was a little odd: we received cups of water before takeoff, nothing immediately with the meal, a juice run after it was served, and then tea, coffee and hard liquors on demand while clearing the trays. Alas, the carbonation in the beer I’d drunk earlier has started disagreeing with the reduced air pressure and my stomach by this point, and while eating dinner helped — oddly, it usually does — I wasn’t quite in a position to appreciate the meal, or the flight, to its fullest. The workers, on the other hand, were enjoying the novel experience, with the jolly fellow in the row in front happily popping powdered coffee creamer into his mouth, like a Western version of paan masala, and chomping away.

The lights stayed on, but I pulled on my shades and attempted to rest a bit. Three hours into the flight we crossed over the coast at Oman and started coasting down to a descent in Abu Dhabi.