Sunday, 28 December 2014

On the Move

After expressing some concern about the planned travel arrangements to Heathrow in the last post I was grateful for the suggested alternatives by blog readers.  In the end I did what Paul (nb Waterway Routes) suggested.  I must confess I hadn’t thought of going north to head south.  No, not a circumnavigation of the world, just a 40 minute train journey to Birmingham.  There I would change to a Cross Country train for Reading.  At Reading there is an Air-Rail bus service direct to Heathrow Terminal 5.  I departed Waiouru at 6.00am briskly walking to Rugby railway station where I purchased the fare to Reading.  The walk had been sufficiently fast that I was able to catch the earlier train.  Sufficient to say the journey was uneventful. and I arrived at Heathrow with ample time.  Thanks for the advice Paul!

I’d done the online checking the previous night and only had one small cabin bag, so it was just a case of waiting for the departure gate to be displayed on the screen.  The flight was scheduled to depart at 1.20pm and the board didn’t show the gate number until 12.10.  I’m not much of a fan of Terminal 5. I find it takes quite some time to get from the departure lounge to many of the gates.  Suffice to say I caught the terminal underground rail to the departure area only to find yet another security screening area.  There were two machines but the staff were only using one.  No shortage of staff and there was a long queue.  It was also moving very slowly as the bulk of the people in the queue were ethnically indian and appeared to have an enormous amount of cabin baggage.

There were only two people behind me in the queue.  One was a rather young lady who started to get very concerned about the delay.  She had a flight to New York to catch and time was passing.  It turned out she was from Saudi Arabia and had only recently completed her phD in Human Services.  I asked if she was returning to Saudi Arabia to work and was informed sadly no.  There are few employment opportunities for women in Saudi Arabia.  This seems an enormous waste of talent.  The Kingdom pays for their entire education but then the culture prevents them from using the knowledge.  She was hoping to find work in Europe and I suspect will be part of the Saudi brain drain.

Eventually I passed through security to see the flight information flashing the gate was about to close.  I think I was the second to last person onto the aircraft.  Who flies to Riyadh the day after Boxing Day?  No one of course!  I hadn’t seen anyone board the aircraft (a 747) and anticipated plenty of room.  What a shock to find it almost full!  Where had all these bloody people come from?  Eventually I worked out they majority were expats who had taken a few days off at Christmas to see family and friends.  This didn’t bode well for the arrival in Riyadh.  I would be in a very long queue.

The irony of my late arrival at the aircraft was we were delayed for 40 minutes because another passenger hadn’t made the gate in time and they had to remove his bag from the hold.  As a consequence the flight missed its departure slot.

There isn’t much to say about the BA flight.  Last time Jan and I flew with BA it was up the pointy end where I’d used all my frequent flyer points to go First Class.  Jan liked the experience of being pampered.  It’s a different story back in coach cattle class where BA stands for Bloody Awful.  The cabin staff almost appeared to be on holiday and the food was nothing to write about.  I either read the eReader or watched a video on the tablet.  These days I find looking at a good quality 10” tablet screen much easier than the pokie little screen in the back of the chair in front.  The aircraft managed to make up some of the lost time and we arrived into Riyadh at 10.45pm local.

My concerns about the queues at immigration were correct.  Very long……  Unfortunately a flight from the indian sub continent had arrived ahead of us and there was a long line of migrant workers with their cardboard boxes waiting to be processed.  Two courteous Saudi officials then started to whittle down the queue by removing all the ladies, sending them to the front.  They might wear black, but they get preferential treatment.  Next the families were picked out.  Finally one Saudi asked for anyone was entering Saudi Arabia who had a previous business visa that was less than 12 months old. That was me!  So I got to jump the queue.  By the time the Saudi officials had finished the indian workers were at the back of the queue.  Get used to it fellas.  That’s the way it works here!  Actually I felt rather guilty about the whole affair until I realised the Saudi government must have introduced a new computerised immigration system immediately prior to my arrival in 2013.  They already had all my biometric information in their database.  I just needed my visa to be checked and my fingerprints to be re-scanned. 

Clearing Customs was a breeze.  I was the only passenger that had no hold luggage to collect.  The baggage carousels hadn’t even started to move by the time I reached the Customs xRay machines.  I threw my bags into the machine and watched the Saudi operator chatting to his mate rather than look at the screen.  So much for the detailed inspection looking for “inappropriate” items.

A car and driver were waiting and I was whisked off into downtown Riyadh.  Would I be taken back to the “Hotel for Suites” to be met by sleep little Ali the Egyptian porter in his grubby white trousers and shirt with faded burgundy waistcoat.  No, we appeared to be going west, eventually stopping at The Holiday Inn.  What bliss!  Except there’s now only 4 hours before I start work!

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