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Another Wonderful Flight to Saudi Arabia! Not!!!
Saturday, April 28, 2007
I had many a strange thing happen at each conference I attended or spoke at in 2005 (e.g., getting stuck on the balcony of the hotel in 110 degree heat and the door will not open), but 2007 has to be the year of air travel fiascos for me. I have had a series of plane adventures this year so I thought it was time to write one up. Since the year started, I have been stuck overnight in Gatwick Airport, sat on the runway for hours in Indianapolis and Chicago O’Hare Airport during snow storms, been forced to sleep overnight in Chicago, and experienced far too many flight delays. Every trip for the past 5-6 months has has some problems.

My latest fiasco was this week during a trip to Saudi Arabia where I was training English and Math teachers for Saudi Aramco how to be more learner-centered and to embed collaborative learning and technology in their teaching. Since this was one of the more interesting flights I have ever had and I had time to kill, I thought I would write it up and chronicle the journey in my blog.

1. April 18th: The Unexpected Exit: I should have known this would be a strange, when in my first leg of this journey in Indianapolis, a nervous elderly man asked to get off the plane after we had already started to leave the gate. Apparently, he felt claustrophobic and did not like his window seat. The plane had to go back to the gate and let the man off. Strange, strange way to begin this trip.

2. April 18th: The Wait: That did not delay us much and I had plenty of connection time in Cincinnati (more than 3 hours). What I did not expect is that Delta officials would decide to wait 10-15 minutes for a plane that was late arriving from Seattle. Apparently, many of the people on board had a connection to our flight to Frankfort. Unfortunately, these 10-15 minute soon resulted in a delay of more than a one hour. And when we had to taxi to a remote runway at Cincinnati, our delay time expanded even more. I looked at my watch repeatedly and said to myself, “Self, you will be running to the gate when we get the Frankfort.”

3. April 19th: The Missed Flight: My original schedule had 1 hour and 15 minutes for me to locate my flight in Frankfort; which, they assured me would be enough time when I booked the flight. Not! When our plane landed that morning in Germany, this layover was reduced to 15-20 minutes. As soon as I got off the plane, I ran to my exit, which was about 5-10 minutes away (if you ran really fast and ran over several passengers and people innocently walking to their gates). Despite wearing tennis shoes, I arrived at the gate only to find out that my plane had left already; i.e., it left early. I got there 10-12 minutes prior to departure but Gulf Air had already left for Bahrain. Ug, I hate Gulf Air! Same people that left 20 minutes early back in February when I had a tight connection in Istanbul. That time I made it; this time I did not.

4. April 19th: The Mad Scramble: Ok, my one day of touring Bahrain the following day seemed lost. Still, I ran down to the Delta terminal (which was not easy to find and required me to go through customs in Germany). Ok, is it in Hall A, B, C, or D? After explaining my situation to a couple of Delta agents, they were kind enough to place me on a Lufthansa flight to Bahrain that was leaving only 90 minutes after the one I was supposed to be on. Hooray, I finally had a stroke of luck! Unfortunately, they could not issue a boarding card. The Delta agent warned me that my return flight on Gulf Air might be canceled as a result and that I should see the Gulf Air agent across from her after she was done processing my ticket. So, I ran to the Gulf Air counter to explain the switched flight and they were, of course, closed. Ug! So I proceeded to the Lufthansa terminal or Hall to retrieve my boarding pass. Plane was leaving in a little over 1 hour. When I got there, the lines were so long that there was really no hope that I would make this connection either. So I went to the Lufthansa ticket agent and explained my situation. He told me to jump to the business class waiting line with his permission. So I got my ticket and ran to the gate. Sweat was pouring off my body after this run. Bags were checked and they explored a few of my props for my talks but were ok with them and I proceeded to the gate.

5. April 19th: The Screaming Boy: The Lufthansa flight was great since I had 4 seats to myself. Ah, time to sleep! Not so fast, there was a screaming boy sitting right behind me. Seemed that every time I was fading off to sleep, he would let out a huge scream. Oh my, my, my, my ears! But still I did sleep and we made good time to Bahrain.

6. April 19th: The Canceled Flight: When I got to Bahrain, I checked with their information desk and found out that, indeed, my return flight was canceled. The agent indicated that my entire trip back home was canceled, not just the leg on Gulf Air. At least that is what I could understand from him. I am not exactly sure what he was saying given that English was not his first language. I think he said that Delta had failed to process my ticket in a timely manner, and hence, I was canceled for my return. So, on to my hotel I went but without knowing if I would get home or not a week later.

7. April 22nd: The Powerless Phone Call: A few days later, I had to call Delta to see what happened and I was not feeling well. I had a extremely sore throat, sinus problems, and other cold-like symptoms and a serious lack of sleep. The first night with Delta I was on hold on and off with them for an hour, and, while they admitted to the problem, they were having difficulty rerouting me or reconfirming me. So I sat and sat and sat on the phone with them. Then the phone I had borrowed ran out of power and so nothing had been done though they did have my email address in case they found something.

8. April 23rd: Reconfirming Delta’s Mistake: The next night it was 2 more hours of such phone conversations. I knew that it would be a long time since the Delta representative said that she would have to sit down for this one. And eventually, she would have to contact her supervisor. This seemed endless—every 10-15 minutes they would come back on the line and say, we are still checking sir so no worries; we just wanted to let you know that we are still working on it. Of course, they wanted me to tell them the story of what happened to me each time so that they could verify that Delta was at fault. Finally, after what seemed like days on the phone, they indicated that I been rebooked on the original flight but in a different class of service (not that I would notice). Keep in mind that I was pretty sick during all these calls and I was borrowing someone else’s phone since my Verizon mobile phone does not work in Saudi.

9. April 24th: Confirming the Reconfirmation: Once I had been rebooked, I had to get to a travel agent to pick up the new ticket. Fortunately, Saudi Aramco gave me an assistant, Brian Clouse, who picked up my ticket when I was conducting my workshop in Jeddah (my 4th workshop of 5). My voice was going hoarse that day as their microphone did not work. Still, the travel agent which handled the ticket said to call Delta to reconfirm my reconfirmation. So Brian and I did just that.

10. April 25th: Facing Four Flights? Ok, the workshops I conducted went really well and it was time to come home. But I had to come back through Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, where my final workshop took place. This meant 4 flights; one to Bahrain, one to Frankfort, one to Cincinnati, and one to Indianapolis. Then, of course, the drive home.

11. April 25th: First Flight, Worst Flight: There was concern that I would make my flight in Riyadh since I was doing training one end of the city for Saudi Aramco English and math teachers (actually outside the city) and I had to get to the opposite side. So we left quickly. Not much traffic and we got to the airport by 3:30 for a 5:20 flight. Unfortunately, my Saudi Arabia Airlines ticket was actually with my old friend Gulf Air (see #3 above). I sat in line for 20-30 minutes before I figured this out and was told to head to a different terminal and find Gulf Air. Well, the line going through initial security was extremely heavy there, so I got me a airport helper (with official helper blue shirt) who required a fee to push me through faster. He got me to the first class desk in fact, though I do not know if I paid him in Saudi money or money left from Bahrain. Who cares, I was in line and I had passed 100 or more people still waiting to go through the initial security line (which actually does nothing). Unfortunately, I was in the wrong line and found out that our flight was delayed for 3 hours. One Saudi gentleman was extremely upset with this and screaming at the top of his lungs at the Gulf Air officials. He wanted to be let know of this delay much earlier in a text message; not when he got to the airport. I have never seen so much yelling from one person at an airport. I had to hold back from laughing. Many others were upset as well. Most just said that Gulf Air tends to do whatever they want and really have no schedule. I found this out—our 3 hour delay soon become 5 hours or so. I had an 8 hour window in Bahrain so I did much care since I had to wait somewhere. Unfortunately, their free wireless service in the Riyadh airport was slow (I tried to download one web page or 1 email for 15-20 minutes and gave up).

12. April 25th and 26th: More Gulf Air, Oh No!: When I got to Bahrain, I still had 2-3 hours to kill. Of course, with Gulf Air you never know and they added 90 minutes to this delay. I make a vow, Gulf Air no more. Sometimes they leave earlier than scheduled but more often late (and when they leave early, I am usually the one running to the gate and finding out that the plane has already left). Still, this delay gives me time for a wonderful dinner overlooking the airport on the 4th floor of the concourse and I find time to read a book on self-publishing. And I have a beer since I could not have any in Saudi Arabia.

13. April 26th: Next Up, Frankfort again and Another Screaming Baby: Time to depart for Cincinnati. We board on time! This is a first! And, to my surprise, I am in luck with a whole row of 3 seats to sleep on. The flight attendant smiles at me and says that I have a bed to sleep on. Oh no, she decides to move a family with a screaming baby to the empty row or seats in front of me. And he screams and screams and screams. Still, I did get some much needed sleep. I think I was awake for 1 or 2 hours of this 9 hour flight.

14. April 26th: On to Indy: Well, in Cincinnati, I had to go through security with my bags, just as I had done in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Germany. I think my bags should be fine by now. Again we board on time and I enter the little plane to Indianapolis now and consider myself quite lucky. I have just this short leg left. Cool!!! And we got back in plenty of time. Finally, a good flight. And finally home!
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  posted by Curt Bonk @ 2:58 PM  
  • At 5:45 AM, Blogger My Wish (MW) said…

    What an adventure. You seemed very animated too from your flickr photos. I used to be really active with flickr, but I took the site down a few months ago.

    You are one of those that I frequently cite for my papers. Good to see you here.

  • At 8:07 AM, Blogger Curt Bonk said…

    Thanks for the kind words and comments. Yes, every flight lately is an adventure. FLICKR is fun but hard to keep up-to-date.

  • At 2:47 PM, Blogger Downes said…

    I'm leaving for Bahrain on Thursday, via Gulf Air.

    Suddenly, I feel nervous...

  • At 8:18 PM, Blogger jie said…

    You made me afraid of my coming trip to China. :)

  • At 7:31 PM, Blogger Curt Bonk said…

    Flights are getting better. NOT! Last week, my brother had to drive from New Jersey to Syracuse after waiting all day for a flight that was canceled. Took 3 more hours to find his bags and gt a car. Needless to say, he is not happy.

  • At 3:47 PM, Blogger scope said…

    When you were locked out on the balcony, how did you get back inside your room?

  • At 1:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 2:15 PM, Blogger Curt Bonk said…

    Eventually I got back in my room. Long story. Had to come through the room next door.

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About Me

Name: Curt Bonk
Home: Bloomington, Indiana, United States
About Me: I am a former accountant and CPA and a former educational psychologist. I am now Professor of IST at Indiana University and also adjunct in the School of Informatics. I founded and later sold SurveyShare. As president of CourseShare, LLC, I run around the world training instructors to teach online and give motivational talks about emerging learning technologies. I also write and edit books related to e-learning and blended learning. See bio and vita.

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