After an amazingly enjoyable week touring Jordan, my friends and I were ready to hop down to the Persian Gulf and spend a few days taking in the sights and sounds of Dubai before heading home. As the designated 'travel guru' for my group of friends, I was tasked with figuring out the best way for us to get from Amman to Dubai. The obvious choices were either Emirates (EK) or Royal Jordanian, as they were the only two airlines that offered direct flights between the two cities.
Being an aviation geek and an avid collector of unique airlines flown, I casually flirted with a few other options. Saudia, the national airline of Saudia Arabia, was offering fairly inexpensive tickets through their hub in Riyadh. Sadly, at the first hint of this consideration to my travel companions it was quickly vetoed and I decided that now was not the time for me to play fast and loose with my friends' fears. So based on price alone, we booked a late afternoon flight out of Amman to Dubai on Emirates. This gave us enough time to get from our overnight camping experience in Wadi Rum back to Amman with a stop for a leisurely lunch along the way.
Our driver dropped us off outside of the still under construction new terminal at Amman's Queen Alia International Airport (for those 'in the know' about aviation activity - yes, this trip was quite awhile ago), and signs of the construction were still quite visible. We walked into the terminal looking for the Emirates desks and I quickly took a survey of the brand new facilities. Similar to my arrival at the terminal a little over a week prior, I was impressed with the modern feel of the new building. Everything felt quite spacious with the vaulted ceilings and sleek marble interiors. It also all felt a little too big. Like a little boy wearing a man's pants - was all this space really needed in an airport with the amount of traffic in Amman?
After literally clawing our way through a giant mob of Chinese tourists that had created some sort of bedouin tent city in the middle of the aisle in front of the Emirates check-in desks as they attempted to re-pack their suitcases to meet the weight limits, we were able to get our boarding passes from some rather dismissive and disinterested ticket agents.
Immigration and airport security was pretty simple to figure out, as all the check-in desks funnel passengers into the same queues for both. The flights for today didn't seem too crowded as we were able to get through in a little under 15 minutes. As is the current trend in modern airport design, passengers were promptly deposited from immigration processing and security screening into a concentrated duty free area that almost resembled a shopping mall. Hey, it's a new terminal and they can't really afford to build it if you won't buy it. "It" being tons of crap you probably don't need at prices that are probably not that great. But it'll help justify the new terminal, so open that purse.
With the terminal still being only about a month old, the celebratory festivities still seemed to be in full swing. The duty free area was jam-packed with entertainers in costumes promoting products you could purchase and providing general amusements for onlookers. As soon as we started making our way through the duty free area a troupe of hip hop dancers started a performance in between cases of perfume and cologne. I kept thinking that one misplaced death drop from one of these people would create a potent scent cloud that may require evacuation. We watched them for a few minutes before casually browsing the duty free area to see if anything piqued our interest.
With about an hour before boarding for our flight started, my travel partners decided to camp out at the gate using the airport's free wifi. I decided to give the concourse a stroll checking out the new digs and also doing a little bit of plane spotting.
One of the great things about being in some of the less frequented airports of the world like Amman is that you can see some interesting airlines that aren't as common back in Chicago.
Having sufficiently geeked out for the day, I wandered back to find my friends and boyfriend with only a few minutes left before boarding started. I had just enough time to slip away for a bathroom break and return to find that they had opened the gate and were loading up the business class passengers and those with elite status. After that it pretty much turned into some sort of WWE-style wrestling match for the economy class cabin boarding. Like a zombie apocalypse, all sense of humanity and reason went out the window.
We looked at each other, nodded with determination, girded our loins, and joined the scrum to board.
I wish I had some better photos of my seat and the airplane cabin, but as I mentioned the entire process of getting on the plane was a bit of an ordeal. Crying babies, crying adults, people stuffing giant bags into overhead bins, seething masses of humanity pressing up against you in what I'm certain was a violation of Islamic law at some points. I was lucky enough to have made it to my seat at the very back of the plane without having lost a limb or gotten pregnant. You'll have to settle for the few shots I did manage to get out.
My first impressions of the seat were positive. We were flying on one of EK's two cabin Boeing 772s. The economy class cabin was set up with 9 seats across in a 3-4-3 configuration.
Having checked out the flight ahead of time, I had made sure that the four of us had selected seats at the back of the economy cabin where the fuselage narrows and they can only fit two seats instead of the standard three along the windows. Having pre-selected our seats on EK's website, we were pretty pleased to have one less person to share the area with as our selections of 37A & B and 38A & B were honored.
The seats themselves were pretty well-padded and the lateral space for those with big manly shoulders (winky face) seemed decent. My boyfriend, who's 6'4", was sitting next to me and I didn't feel cramped at all for space during our 3 hour-ish flight to Dubai. I'm not sure that would be the case if it were a longer flight and I was trying to get comfortable to sleep though. It's one thing to eat an airline meal while watching tv shows on the seat back screen and another to try to spread out for a relaxing snooze at 35,000 feet.
Even with the fierce competition to get on the plane as quickly as possible, we somehow ended up departing the gate a few minutes late due to lollygagging in the aisles and passengers trying to fit over-sized bundles of items into the overhead bins. The flight attendants (FAs) made their way through the aisles once they were cleared to make sure everyone's seat backs were in the upright position and seat belts were buckled. The FAs, in what I consider typical Emirates fashion, went through all the motions of caring without any of the emotions of caring.
Being at the back of the airplane, I was hopeful that the FAs would do a meal service from both the front as well as the back of the cabin since this happens on a lot of airlines with bigger economy cabins. In those situations your position at the back of the cabin doesn't mean having to wait forever for food and drinks. This wasn't the case on our flight though, so I turned my attention to the in-flight entertainment for the time being.
Emirates has an excellent in-flight entertainment system called ICE, which stands for Information Communication and Entertainment. The only other systems I've encountered in person that rival the offerings on Emirates are on Cathay Pacific and Etihad. ICE puts most other airlines' offerings to shame. It has a variety of television shows, movies, and audio options to keep you entertained for hours and hours. This flight was only about three hours and I could have probably taken it five or six times before I ran out of things I wanted to watch. It had the latest Hollywood hits, classic cinema, and several complete seasons of popular television shows.
The Mentalist? You got it. Family Guy? You betcha. Big Bang Theory? Bazinga.
What did I settle upon for our hop to Dubai? A Bollywood movie called Dabaang 2 - the sequel to a movie I watched during my first trip to India. I'd love to tell you how great that movie was and how it inspired me to contine the saga, but it's an awful movie and so was its sequel. I just wanted a bit of cheesy fun and Bollywood music because nothing makes me happier than people bursting into song while women in colorful saris spin around with fireworks exploding in the air as marigold flower petals rain from the sky. As a side note, you all now know what my wedding will look like.
With the FAs slowly approaching our row, I picked up the menus that had been distributed a little earlier. I've only been on a handful of airlines that still offer menus in economy class, and it's a really nice touch in my humble opinion.
Today's flight offered a chicken or mutton option, so apparently if you're a vegetarian you can pretty much go eff yourself. Generally airlines try to have at least one meatless option, which is nice but as a meat eater myself isn't impactful on my experience.
When given the choice between Western and Eastern food I almost always pick the Eastern choice - today was no different. When the bored FAs finally reached our row and asked for my meal choice I selected the mutton.
Meal quality might not look that great on the presentation portion of the scorecard but I was really pleased with the flavor of both the entree and the dessert. The Arabic mezze, which was pretty much just some hummus and tiny crudites, was pretty lackluster and the chapati served in the plastic wrapper was a bit cardboard-ish. Definitely an above average economy class meal offerings despite the failings of those two smaller portions of the meal.
As the picture below shows, they didn't really get touched but I cleaned the plate on the entree and dessert.
Typically an airline would offer a round of beverages prior to the meal service, but not on this flight. The beverage cart, still staffed by pretty faces with just the slightest veneer of caring painted on the surface, made its way behind the dinner cart. Despite the myriad of options on the menu, I picked a simple Pepsi.
I finished up my meal, downed my Pepsi, and settled in to finish Dabaang 2. The remainder of the flight was very uneventful as the only other service offering from the airline were the Emirates FAs making their way through the cabin about 45 minutes after leaving our row to clear the trays from the meal service and to prep the cabin for our evening arrival into Dubai.
Flying into Dubai is a bit enthralling, especially at night. The entire landscape out of the window is pitch black for quite awhile prior to landing. The captain comes on the PA and lets you know that you'll be arriving at Dubai International Airport in just a few minutes and suddenly, like the dawning of a new day, the lights of Dubai spread across the horizon. You soar above it, the stark contrast of the electric glow of street lights and billboards against the empty natural world of the desert laid out before you. Take it all in, this modern yin and yang, before gracefully touching down in the United Arab Emirates. Quite the experience for the first time arrival.
Much like the outbound, the deboarding process was insanity with people attempting to get out of their seats to pull down the previously carefully stowed bundles of junk they had stashed above after just 10 seconds of being on the ground. Elbows and hip checks were the order of the day as we watched the entire cabin full of people try to inch their way just a little bit closer to getting off the plane before anyone behind them. Being at the very back of the cabin, we took our time and also took great enjoyment in watching the hot mess before us.
We walked what seemed like five miles before finally making it to the immigration counters. Despite our plane load of passengers, and what I assume were many other similarly loaded planes arriving around the same time as us, there was almost no one in line to enter the UAE. This really highlights how EK's Dubai operation works more on connecting people onward to other destinations vs. bringing them just to visit Dubai. Sure, plenty of people are in fact visiting, but a huge portion of traffic at this airport arrived with the purpose of connecting to somewhere else.
I walked right up to an immigration agent and handed him my passport. He wore the traditional white robes of a man from the UAE and spent all of 30 seconds processing my passport. He never once looked up to confirm that I was the correct bearer of the passport. For all he knew my passport said David S and it could have been Beyonce handing it to him. Sure, we both have excellent cheekbones and amazing hair, but he'd have no idea it wasn't me.
Chattering away in Arabic on his cellphone, he stamped my passport and tossed it (literally tossed it) back up on the counter top for me and waved me through. Little did I know that this cavalier attitude would pretty much exemplify our entire time in the UAE, so it really was the best possible way to say ....