We’re back in Abu Dhabi for ten weeks, but this time is different. Abu Dhabi is the same – mostly – but we’re not living in the apartment at Al Seef Compound any more. This time, we’re staying in Traders Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri, part of the Shangri-La complex “between the bridges” on Maqtaa Creek, the waterway separating the island of Abu Dhabi from the mainland to the north. Traders is the less pricey (4 stars instead of 5) counterpart adjacent to the Shang.
Since we moved back home to Nevada, Mark has returned to work in Abu Dhabi a couple of times, for a few weeks in May, and again in August. He’s been staying at Traders. When we checked in, the Filipino hotel staff greeted us with big smiles: “Hello, Mr. Mark! You are back! You are now a Diamond Elite Golden Circle member! Please choose three check-in gifts.” A bottle of white wine, two diet cokes, and … I guess we’ll take the Cup-o-Noodles. Wait – why didn’t we pick the Arabic sweets!? Hey, we were just coming off of a 16-hour plane ride and 90-minute drive from Dubai. The diet Cokes and noodles actually sounded kind of appealing, and it was too soon for Arabic sweets after after the food on the plane.
Speaking of the plane, I have a story. And it’s Mark’s suggestion that I write it. He wants the story told. I’m not sure why, perhaps a misplaced idea of vindication or something, although I’m not sure if this will put him in a good light or not. You be the judge.
But first, I’m generally not a complainer; I really don’t like it. Sometimes I think I don’t complain enough. I avoid reviewing hotels and restaurants for Trip Advisor or Booking.com because I don’t like to criticize places. When something isn’t quite perfect I find, in my mind, a way to excuse it. I don’t want to be feel like a whiner. Or a nit-picker. But I don’t see this as a virtue because often, I don’t realize that something is bothering me until it’s too late. Then, I begin to resent. Why didn’t I speak up? Who’s to blame? Who knew, except for me? Why didn’t I just say what I was thinking, ask for what I wanted? Demand it, if necessary? Sometimes I do, sometimes not. It’s a bit uneven, I suppose.
So, Mark bought me an Economy Class ticket on the same San Francisco to Dubai flight that he was already booked on by his company’s travel agent except he was in Business Class. My ticket cost about $1500, paid for by us, and his was about $8,000 on the company. Yes, that’s a difference of about $5,500. Of course, for that kind of money, I wasn’t about to whine about not getting business. And since I was traveling with him and he is a Gold Emirates Member, I get all the same preferred check in, pre-boarding, lounge access and seat choice privileges. Not too bad except for the lower class, smaller space and inferior seat. It’s pretty equivalent travel to Mark’s eye, and mine too. But still … (Cue the chorus: “First world problems!”)
Over the next few weeks, as we were anticipating the trip, I murmured things like, “I don’t mind. Those seats are pretty good.” … “They do have foot rests that come up, although they don’t fully recline.” … “Even in economy the food is good. And the booze is free.” … “I have my noise-canceling headphones.” .. “I’ll just try to sleep most of the way.”
Mark said things like, “We’ll get to the check-in counter when it opens, and get you a bulkhead seat.” And, “Remember, you can get plastered in the Business Class lounge and not even remember the flight! How about that!”
Then, a couple of days before our flight, I got an email from Emirates. They were offering me an upgrade to Business Class for $1000. It would be available until 24 hours before the flight.
I showed it to Mark, but he wasn’t impressed. “You’re already getting into the lounge, and we can get you a good seat. The upgrade is only for one way.” I would still have a coach flight back. We didn’t need to spend the money. But I didn’t really agree. I mean, hadn’t I just the other day won a thousand dollar Royal Flush video poker jackpot? In fact, hadn’t we won several jackpots during the past six months we’ve been home? But wait, that’s another story … and I don’t write about our gambling habits.
I let it go. I was too busy to think about it because we were enjoying our last week before leaving for the UAE on vacation in Sonoma, California, reuniting with friends who had also lived in Abu Dhabi. Yes, coincidentally, we had planned this vacation way last winter, and it happened to back right up against our trip. We were spending the week with Terry and Pete and 4 other couples visiting wineries, drinking great wines, cooking great food, all in a spectacular setting in a private villa on a horse ranch and vineyard. I just couldn’t be bothered with thinking about the flight.
Couldn’t be bothered, that is, until Sunday, the last day, when all the others realized that Mark and I were going back to Abu Dhabi on Monday. Then, the conversation turned to which airport, which airline. Three of the other couples were also flying out of SFO – on Sunday Linda’s husband Fred was going back to Abu Dhabi, Linda was going home to Boston, and Samina and Trevor were flying to London. Terry and Pete were going back to Florida later in the week.
I mentioned, apropos of the topic of conversation, that Mark had a business class ticket but mine was economy. Then suddenly, I felt this weird little awkwardness, and I realized: There are people in this room who NEVER fly coach. And then, another thought: If they did, it would be together. They would never put their wife in coach while they flew business. And then: If they even tried, there would probably be hell to pay. Finally: Am I doing something wrong here? I think I am doing something wrong.
But nobody actually said anything, and the moment quickly passed, as awkward pauses do. We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways, with hopes to reunite again, somewhere in the world, in a couple of years.
That evening, we met up with our sailing friends at Richmond Yacht Club in Point Richmond, California, all of whom are also pretty well traveled. After dinner, and several bottles of wine shared among a dozen or so friends, we were getting ready to say goodbye and the conversation turned to our flight. Before I could think to stop myself, I was telling everyone the story about the upgrade.
The crowd’s condemnation was swift: “Oh my God! You’re letting your wife fly in coach while you’re in business?” “Aren’t you giving up your seat to her? Won’t they let you?” “You’re letting him get away with this?” Everyone joined in with his or her two cents’ worth. It was unanimous. Mark deserved public shaming.
Then Judy grabbed me by the arm (anyone who knows Judy can certainly picture this) and said, “Annie, you have a credit card, don’t you? Why didn’t you just take the upgrade? Why’d you have to ask him? How does he have that power?!” And so I, too was being shamed. But it was too late to take the deal; our flight was leaving in less than 24 hours. Finally Mark said, defensively, almost challenging me, “Well, maybe you’ll still get an upgrade …” Oh yeah, right. He’s already told me he checked, and my ticket was not eligible for a mileage upgrade.
So now I finally realized that, yes, I was mad. Actually, I was hurt. Wasn’t I worth the $1000 upgrade? It was more fun to fly together. Why did he have to be so cheap sometimes? What was the point? This was our last trip over there – inshallah.
But there was nothing I could say that the others hadn’t already said better. I was mad at Mark, but I was just as mad at myself. Why didn’t I just take the upgrade? I didn’t take it because a thousand bucks used to be a ton of money to me. It’s still a ton of money to a lot of people. And I had wanted Mark to say, “Yeah, that’s great, let’s get the upgrade so you can be in business with me.” But now, he kept saying things like, “I guess I’m in trouble. I screwed up.” And all I could say was … nothing. I admit it. I was now playing it passive aggressive.
So there we were in the Emirates Lounge. We had checked in early and I had a bulkhead seat. Mark was being extra solicitous, getting me glasses of champagne, encouraging me to have a plate of seared ahi, chilled shrimp, Indian curry. Then, in the jetway, as I prepared to head to the back of the plane, he said something like, “I guess everybody thinks I’m a big turd.”
He felt guilty. Good. “Well,” I said. “You’ve been shamed.” I’ll be honest, by that time I could hardly look at him. “Bye,’ he said, “see you later, Honey.” Yeah. Right. Bye.
The bulkhead seats on the Boeing 777 have more leg room, yes. And that’s why bulkhead seats are always occupied by families with infants. They have little bassinettes that they hang on the bulkhead for the babies to sleep in. But the babies don’t always sleep, and when they aren’t sleeping they are crying. When they aren’t crying, they are screeching.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE babies! But. There was a baby in my row that was screeching, and it was the loudest, most painfully intense noise I have ever heard a baby, or for that matter, a Sawzall on metal, make. I felt sorry for the parents already. As the plane filled I broke out my noise-canceling headphones, cranked up the music on my iPad, closed my eyes, and tried to relax.
About ten minutes later, I sensed that someone was standing in front of me. A flight attendant was bending toward me, speaking, and I pulled my headphones aside. “Mrs. Thomas?” Yes. “Your husband has upgraded you to Business Class. He said that he did not do this he is in a lot of trouble.” I admit that, as I gathered my belongings, I felt … not surprised.
She led me forward on the plane, to a seat at the very front of business – there were lots of empty seats! Then she moved a sheepish Mark to join me. He told me he’d used his miles for the upgrade. Was it a lot of miles? “Yes. Two tickets to Milan.” I didn’t know we were planning a trip to Milan.
I settled in, and the flight attendant brought the menu and wine list. Veuve Clicquot champagne, top shelf liquors, five-course dinner, hot and cold “light bites,” and full breakfast, with fruit, yogurt and four main course choices. I’ve a feeling we’re not in coach any more.
After dinner (seared beef filet for me) they brought a mattress for my reclining seat – it’s more like a quilted pad. Headphones on, and (at Mark’s suggestion) I watched “True Detective.” Sometime during the fourth episode, I reclined my seat completely and fell asleep.
One of the neat things about the Emirates Boeing 777 is the lighting. Simulated stars in the ceiling encourage sleep, and after a few hours, “dawn” breaks and the light goes from dark blue to purple to pink, and finally to full “daylight.” Then they serve breakfast. I never saw the “light bites,” I guess that happened while I was sleeping.
So over the course of the 16-hour flight I got a pretty good night’s sleep, and had dinner and breakfast on a reasonably normal schedule except that breakfast was about 4:00 a.m. West Coast time. Then we landed, and it was 7:00 p.m. and dark. Weird.
But it worked out the next morning because the breakfast buffet at Traders has dishes that seem, to me, more like dinner than breakfast: Indian curries with rice, Asian noodles, sir-fried beef, couscous … or, you can get eggs, bacon (beef bacon, that is) and all the other regular breakfast items.
But that’s another story, which is coming: what it’s like to live here, leave, and come back – this time, to hotel life between the bridges with some, if not all, of your friends still around.
Was it worth whatever miles it cost to upgrade me? Oh, yes. To me, it was huge. For some reason, I enjoyed that flight the most, and slept the best, of any so far.
Note: the photos of the seats, flight attendants and baby are copied from the Internet.