Important Notice

It is not my intention to denigrate Saudi Arabia or its people. It’s like everywhere else, there is good and there is bad. I would rather focus on the unusual and the humourous. Offence is not intended.

“The country is not perfect. The media cannot be trusted, mistreatment of religious minorities is common and there are some that live in fear.” You can decide for yourself whether that statement is about Saudi Arabia, the UK, or any country for that matter.

To quote the Joker, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

That is all I will say about either subject.

Wednesday, 18 October 2006

Departing King Khalid International Airport During Ramadan

My flight from Saudi to Singpore included a change at Bahrain airport and I'd only have one hour in which to make it.
Given local efficiency I was understandably concerned that I would miss my flight. With a scheduled departure of 17:00 I was happy when we were all aboard at 16:30. It looked like we would be leaving early. At 16:55 I was resigned to the fact that we’d leave on time. At 17:15 I wondered what the hell was going on. The captain announced that we were waiting for four passengers. What the hell?! Leave the self-important, selfish little prats! At 17:30 the captain announced that the passengers were on board but as it was now sunset during Ramadan all of the ground crew had left to break fast. So there we were, a plane full of people stranded on an empty runway. There is only one country on Earth where this can happen. I then endured one of those peculiar Saudi moments when you are reminded that you are not a member of the boys club. Passengers started passing around dates and water supplied by the cabin crew and everyone broke fast. Despite my secret lunch I broke fast too, but I still felt a little left out. We finally left at 18:00 and I had no chance of catching my connecting flight. When the plane landed I leapfrogged barriers and pushed past a huge queue at the transit control area (it must be the Saudi in me) I then ran to the gate…. only to find they were true to their word and the plane was waiting.

Checking In At King Khalid International Airport

My wife's visa finally came through! In total it took a little over a month which is fast by local standards. As Eid was only a few days away we decided that I'd go back to Singapore and then we'd both fly back together.
My flight to Singapore via Bahrain was scheduled to depart a week before Ramadan ended so I’d been told that King Khalid International Airport would possibly be quieter than usual. Fat chance.
When I turned up I could only just get in through the front door of the airport because the queue for luggage screening (and then check-in) was backed up so far. A typical Saudi queue had formed.
Let me explain what a Saudi queue looks like. Take one exit / entrance. Place ten rugby scrums in a row in front of it. This is a Saudi queue. It’s a maul. The queue was about 15 people across for only 2 scanning machines. I had three hours till my flight left. There would not be time.
Fortunately I had been warned that the porters could help out in these situations. I turned down the first two guys but on the third request I relented and let him take my bags. I’d been told that the standard tip for these guys was 10 SAR (about US$2) so as he carried my bags away I checked my pockets. Damn. I had either 4 SAR or a 100 SAR note. This could be tricky. I figured I’d never see him again so I’d hand over the 4 SAR and scarper.
He took my bag to the very front of the maul, right past (and sometimes through) the other people jockeying for position. We walked straight through the bag scanning area and straight to the first and business class queue. I tried to quell my rising embarrassment and explained I was only travelling economy but he didn't care. As the person at the front of the queue was being processed he pushed their bags forward and put my suitcase on the conveyer. As I stood and watched him in open-mouthed awe my hand in my pocket dropped the 4 SAR and reached for the 100 SAR note. I had met the Jedi master of pushing in. He was as oblivious to my admiration as he was to all the other people shouting profanities at him.
As I was checked in I got chatting to a friendly South African chap behind me who was going to be on the same flight to Bahrain. He was actually travelling business class so he had a right to be there. When checking in was completed I shook my porter’s hand and slipped him the 100. He stole a glance at it and I could see the happy surprise on his face as he grabbed my hand again to shake it once more. I can’t express how glad I was that I didn’t try to stiff him with the measly 4 SAR. Ironically, the South African chap had been in the same situation as me but had nipped to the shop to split his 100 SAR bill for two 50s. His porter must have seen how much I gave mine because when the guy handed over the 50 to him (already a princely sum compared to the standard 10 SAR) his face fell and he put his hand out for more!

I think I spoiled the market.