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Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Beneath The Glitz And Dazzle, Air Emirates Can Be Pretty Grubby

Perhaps you saw a resuscitated 2010 interview with the guy who soon became Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi. During the interview he was against a two-state solution and called negotiations with Israel "a waste of time and opportunities" as Arabs and Muslims get nothing out of engagement with "the descendants of apes and pigs." Gee, and he's upset because tv satirist Bassem Youssef-- Egypt's Jon Stewart-- said something mildly snarky about him!

When I booked our flights to India on Emirates Air several months ago, Roland said he didn't like the idea of giving some "dirty terrorists" and crooked oil barons our money. I understood where he was coming from but the overriding consideration for me was that Emirates has an excellent reputation-- although completely overhyped one, as it turns out-- as an extraordinary airline. They're actually pretty ordinary, almost on a level with Singapore Air or British, but better than Delta or Air India. More to the point, though, Emirates was offering the only flight from Cochin to L.A. that didn't entail an overnight layover. The Emirate flight from Cochin flies at 4:35AM, connects 4 hours later in Dubai (7:05 Dubai time), entails, instead, a painless one hour and 15 minutes wait for the flight that goes direct to L.A. at 8:20AM. At least, that's the theory.

I was flying business class, Roland economy. The flight took off 30 minutes late from Cochin. No big deal, right? Wrong. The airline agents in Cochin told us there would be "no problem" making our connection and that the reason the flight was late was because of a problem in Dubai. Although we got to Dubai over an hour before the plane to L.A. actually took off, they refused to let us board. They had already sold our-- "our" meaning my seat and the seats of the 2 other business class travelers from Cochin going on to L.A.-- seats to some other people. Someone met us at the gate and told us they had rebooked us for the next day. "What about another flight?" we all asked at once. "Impossible" was the reply. Everything was impossible, in fact, except being bundled into a car and driven to a shoddy airport business traveler hotel, a Millennium... with a Cactus Jack's restaurant.

Roland, meanwhile, disappeared and I had to work two hours against a hideously uncooperative Emirates staff to find someone willing to help me figure out where he was. Somehow, for someone traveling in economy it wasn't impossible to rebook onto another flight. Roland was flying off to L.A. while I was pissed off in Dubai.

On The Other Hand...

When dealt lemons... The rule about the Travelers Century Club is that in the quest for 100 countries to have visited, a stop over in an airport counts. I don't care; in my mind it doesn't count. So my 3 hour or so stay in the Emirates Lounge a few weeks ago on the way to Delhi didn't, in my mind, mean I could tick Dubai off my list. But here I was with a day to "kill."

Usually study up on places I'm going way in advance and plan trips so that I don't miss the bets features. I was unaware of any features in Dubai except that it's garish and a shopoholic's paradise. So I asked the concierge what was the best thing to see in the country. "Dubai Mall," he answered without hesitation. I hate malls... more than hate, I'm horrified by them, spiritually dejected by their celebration of cheap gawdy, soul-destroying materialism. But the Santa Monica Mall, I recently discovered has one of my favorite restaurants in L.A., Matthew Kenney's M.A.K.E. And, lo and behold!, Dubai Mall has a pretty astounding healthy organic food store and cafe as well. But that isn't why anyone goes there. Where do I start?

It's the biggest mall in the world-- and across the street from the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa (2,722 feet; Empire State Building is 1,250 feet tall and the Eiffel Tower is 986 feet tall). There are over 2,000 shops and it's a carnival of brands, not just every brand name in America, but every brand name in France, England, Japan, Germany, Italy... It's actually the world's most visited shopping and leisure destination-- more people than the entire city of New York!-- and boasts a mammoth aquarium (with over 30,000 marine animals to gawk out while you shop and eat) and an incongruous ice-skating rink. And, of course 4 floors of shopping and eating, from Bloomingdales and Marks & Spencer to Galeries Lafayette to a Virgin Megastore. I would have preferred to have flown home on schedule but I had a fun time sightseeing in Dubai for a day... so not a total waste. Nice subway too-- clean and sparkly.

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