18 April 2010

Part Two: That’s Not Accurate Information

In times of crisis, the true nature of “modernizing” regimes comes out as the shiny glitzy surface immediately erodes into a frightening display of secrecy and misinformation. Upon exit, we’re all forced to sign a paper indicating we have stayed at the airport. I am made to somehow pay my room bill twice, told I will be “detained” if I don’t reconfirm the charges. Our minibus to the airport runs smoothly and the terminal is - thus far - not in a state of total disarray. It’s just 6am. We’ve beat the rush of 7,000 manic travelers who will no doubt appear when the airline kicks them out of their hotels at noon.

The first hurdle is checking bags to Tunisia. “There’s a problem,” the small lethargic woman behind the counter wimpers. “I need the supervisor,” she moans, as she begrudgingly waves her hand in the air. Twenty minutes later that’s settled. Next we have to process our refunds for the Dubai to London leg.

The line at the ticket counter is still relatively short and we make it to the desk in no time. One of the ferocious five (the nickname we’ve given our new gang) is already in heated debate. Apparently our Dubai to London leg is worth less than our entire ticket, meaning we somehow OWE the airline money even though we’re not flying that leg of the journey. Tensions are rising as we lay out a story we’ve been told on the phone to a group of rude staff telling us we need to go to downtown Dubai for our refunds and that downtown Dubai is “the only place we can process that request.”

Fearing more misinformation, we decide to video tape this interaction as proof of our own personal nightmare. “You can’t video us,” the man says. “Now I’m going to call security and he can teach you a lesson. We’ll see how much you like that.” Great. Not only are we being asked to pay for flight segments we didn’t use, the airline is now cryptically threatening us with prison sentences, which they dole out here for things like kissing in public. Fearing retribution and getting nowhere, the group decides to move on, wanting nothing less than to board our plane.

The hour hand clicks to 8am. I have now been up for 24 straight hours and 42 of the last 46 hours. The man at immigration apparently shares my exhaustion, yawning while he stamps me out of the country. A mad dash for pre-departure coffee means the “final call” lights are flashing as we approach the gate. “At least we’re here, somebody says." Not quite. Charlotte, one of our gang members, is asked for her “paper ticket,” which we obviously don’t have because we booked online. “Sorry then, you won’t be flying.”

If we’ve learned anything in the last two days, it’s that nobody - NOBODY - gets left behind. Either five people go to Tunisia or nobody - not us, not the flight crew, not the other passengers - goes to Tunisia. An extended argument leads to their realizing they’ve messed up our tickets, which of course they do not take responsibility for and instead make a veiled attempt at shifting blame.

“Whatever,” Charlotte says. “At least we’re getting out of here.”

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