Business travel is supposed to be glamorous, isn’t it? Well after many years as a road warrior, clocking up 250,000 miles in each of my last 2 years, I can assure you it isn’t. Delayed flights, over-zealous security checks, poor food, indifferent hotels, no access to wifi, all of these make life on the road a trial. A test of stamina, resilience of spirit and good humour. I am pleased to say that I invariably failed all of these tests. I hated business travel.
Yesterday I set off with great trepidation. Like a prizefighter making a comeback when he knows he is well past his prime the butterflies were churning in my stomach. To start with I no longer have top tier frequent flyer status. That means no first class check-ins, no free buggy rides to the first class lounge and no fawning crew on board the aircraft telling me how wonderful it is to see me again. This despite the fact that many mispronounce my name and after a decade of flying the same airline they still haven’t twigged that offering me copious amounts of alcohol is a no-no. It might dull the pain of travel but it would also kill me. Sometimes that seemed an attractive option. I recall vividly flying out of Karachi on a delayed flight one night. Midnight ticked by and and an attendant appeared with a bottle of champagne. We were out of the dry zone of Pakistani airspace. Happy Birthday Mr. H, she said. ***** off said Mr. H., ever the master of wit and repartee.
Well I survived the check in process and even the humiliation of the Business Lounge. Luckily nobody who knew me saw me. I was then fully prepared for my least favourite airline to have put on the usual vintage aircraft, tired in decor (any decorators out there want to have a go at splashing paint over the inside of the ‘plane?) and with a menu to disgust even the least discerning of palate. Well the food met my expectations but the aircraft had had a refit and the seat was quite spacious and comfortable. I was in row 18 but it starts at 11 (few airlines have first class these days but it is clearly too much hassle to renumber the rows) and, food aside, the only complaint was the seemingly reduced number of washrooms.
I did some work, watched 2 Cantonese movies (with subtitles thankfully) and read an entire book on my iPad. So passed 9 hours of tedium. Then the wheels started to come off. Figuratively at least. Dubai immigration. Unluckily I still qualified for the FastTrack queue. Normally Dubai doesn’t open this counter but as it was open last night I decided to give it a try. Big mistake. It seemed that Fast was actually Slow and all the normal channels were Fast. After 20 minutes they opened a second channel. So all the people behind me reversed out and went to the front of the new queue leaving me at the back of the old one. The public wifi wasn’t working so no internet either. After almost an hour I was at the front of the queue, stamped and waved through.
The next shock was not having a hotel limo waiting for me. How times change. I wandered about looking for something someone had told me about called a taxi. These turned out to be small cars where you can be driven to your destination in return for a modest fee. Quite a neat idea in fact. I wonder if it will catch on. For a mere AED60 I was whisked to the haven of rest knowni n the trade as The Ritz Carlton.
I went up to my room and opened the door. It compared very favourably with the apartment we bought for our children in Hong Kong last year. You could certainly park a couple of family cars in the bedroom, assuming you could get them up to the 11th floor. The bathroom was and indeed is larger than our family kitchen with a choice of washbasins, wet room for the shower and a bath adjacent. My only gripe is that I can’t work out how to open the curtains. There must be an instruction booklet somewhere. I even have to admit that the bed is comfortable and the aircon works.
It was 4 am
HK time when I crashed, midnight local time. Four hours later I was wide awake. I have finally had breakfast and now I need to find out how to get to the office. Despite being disappointed with the smoothness of the trip, except for immigration, I have decided that being a road warrior in 2013 is no more attractive than it was in 2011 when I threw the towel in. You can’t change the dry, prickly, recycled air of the aircraft cabin and you can’t do anything about the time zone change. So with a dinner tonight
I shall have another late night on the HK clock and my brain will be slowly grinding to a halt by 8pm
Being downgraded from all my perks wasn’t too bad after all. And the upside was that I was actually being paid to go through the assault course. Naturally Mrs. Ha will probably have pre-spent my fees but if there is any left I think I may just treat Lulu to an extra packet of kangaroo and lamb biscuits. Beats the food on my least favourite airline any day.