2006-08-13
Safe in Dubai, pt. 1 - Portland "International Jetport" through Philly
We've arrived safely in Dubai, finally!

The whole story is so twisted and odd that I'll probably mess it up here. See, Liz's university pays for her flight home and back in the summer. They also pay for the flight of a spouse. And now, since last Saturday, I'm her spouse, they pay for me.

The travel agency that works with the school gave Liz a "PTA" number - take it to any US Airways desk or office, they said, and the agent will print out a ticket for me. Easy as that.

Of course, the first time I tried to do this was when Liz was when Liz arrived at the Portland International Jetport. I use the full name only because it's the biggest joke in the universe. "International Jetport". Jeesh. The place only goes up to Gate #11 - and I don't think I've ever seen gates #1-5. It's the smallest airport I've ever been to. It makes Burbank (or the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport, or the Bob Hope Airport, or whatever the hell they're calling it now) look like Chicago O'Hare.

Anyway, when I went to the ticket counter there was only one lady there. I asked her for help, and she said, "Oh, I'm just the cleaning lady. The agent had to go up to unload a flight." Seriously. There was ONE ticket agent for US Airways in the entire airport - er, sorry, "International Jetport". And since a flight was unloading, she wasn't around to help some schlub get his pansy international ticket.

So here was my big mistake - since Liz's incoming flight was delayed, I decided to run to the South Portland Target and get a few things before she came in. It was 8 pm on a Sunday night.

By the time I made it back (I think round-trip it was 35 minutes) the ticket agent was gone. Not upstairs, not downstairs, just gone. Apparently the flight she was unloading was the last US Airways flight in or out for the night - so she packed up and headed home.

I was peeved, yes, but I had a whole month to come back to the "International Jetport" and get my ticket printed.

Then all of a sudden we were planning a wedding, then we HAD the wedding, and la-dee-dah it's August 8th and I'm in Portland to play poker with the work boys one last time. "Tomorrow I'll go get the ticket," I say.

The next morning at the "International Jetport" I'm told by the somewhat surly ticket agent that a "PTA" number doesn't mean squat. It means I have a reservation. Not a ticket. You don't get a ticket until a reservation has been paid for. And this reservation hasn't been paid for.

Uh-oh.

Drive the hour back to Naples from the "International Jetport", tell Liz. With the eight hour time difference, it's already past closing time of the travel agent in Dubai. Liz sends an e-mail.

This is Wednesday - and we leave at 5:50 pm on Friday.

On Thursday morning we wake up to a whole host of e-mails. We have the same "PTA" number again, but then we also have some other long random numbers and the assurance that the ticket is paid for. Liz and I drive the hour to the "International Jetport" (all instead of packing my belongings or cleaning my parents' house where we've been squatting the last month). The nicer ticket agent at the desk says what we fear, that this is a "PTA" number, that only means we have a reservation, not a ticket. You don't get a ticket until a reservation has been paid for. And this reservation hasn't been paid for.

Of course, to complicate matters somewhat, in Dubai the weekend is Thursday and Friday - not Saturday and Sunday like in the States. So not only is the travel agent a third of a day ahead of us, she's also on her weekend. From the ticket desk of the "International Jetport" Liz and I try calling the emergency contact number for the travel agent in Duabi. Of course we don't get anyone.

Frustrated, we go home. Should I even pack? Am I leaving tomorrow, or am I sending my wife back to Dubai sans Josh?

Wait - maybe there's someone else who can help us. How about US Airways reservations? Like, the 1-800 number? Maybe they have more info than the ticket agents. We call the US Airways toll free number, and are told that we have a "PTA" number, a reservation only. Not a ticket. They issue a ticket number once a reservation has been paid for. And this reservation hasn't been paid for.

Argh.

That afternoon we finally wake up the travel agent in Dubai (now two or three AM her time), and she assures us that the ticket is paid for. She doesn't have a receipt, she says, but she can send us the "PTA" number. Liz tries to explain to her that three out of three US Airways employees we've spoken to seem to think that this ticket hasn't been paid for. Does she have a receipt of payment?

No.

But tomorrow she will call the London office where the ticket was issued.

The next day is Friday. I am, quite frankly, freaking out. I'm leaving Maine, my family, where I've lived for the last two years, going to a foreign land with this woman who I love and who now is my wife, which is kind of daunting in its own way. And, while Liz is freaking out, she keeps mentioning "Insha'Allah".

See, "Insha'Allah" is an Arabic saying that literally means, "if God wills it". Apparently it's a phrase often used in Dubai to mean, "it would be nice for that to happen in the future" or even "hopefully in the future". But I guess it can also be used off-handedly, such as "I'll see you tomorrow, insha'Allah". I take it to be this almost lackadaisical, "out of my hands" kind of expression. "We'll see what happens", kind of deal.

If there's an opposite to Insha'Allah - it'd be me. I like plans. I like knowing what's going to happen. Instead of, "the building should be done by September, Insha'Allah" I like, "the building will be done on September 4th. You have my word on that". They're just two different philosophies.

Anyway, regardless, on Friday morning while packing I told Liz, "No more Insha'Allah. A ban on Insha'Allah until we get to Dubai".

Oh, and this one is good - we speak with the travel agent in Duabi on Friday morning. She keeps asking to speak to the ticketing agent once we get to the "International Jetport". What does she plan on saying to this guy? We try to explain to her that EVERYONE WE'VE SPOKEN TO DOESN'T THINK THIS TICKET IS PAID FOR. But she wants to talk to Chuckie behind the desk.

Aaaah!

My folks come to drive us to the "International Jetport", with a quick stop to meet Liz's parents in the parking lot of the Verizon Wireless store in Windham. Odd, you say? Well, I have to cancel my cell phone before I leave town. Why not wait to the last minute?

Of course, Verizon can't shut it down immediately, I've paid through August 20th, so the phone will remain on until then. I balk, but to no avail. (However, this is, if you want a little foreshadowing, the best luck we've had all week.)

We get to the "International Jetport". The ticketing agent is a nice guy, prints up the boarding passes and tells us to have a good time.

That's it?

That's it.

We're golden.

Hugs and kisses and tears with the parents, go through security, get to gate 11. It says the flight is delayed, but then they board at the right time. But when I go to board they say, "where's your ticket?"

"Um, I have this boarding pass?"

"You need a ticket, too."

They punch me up in the computer. Apparently, all I have is a "PTA" number ...

I start to freak out in my head a little.

But then, in that classic passing-of-the-buck way, they say, "Just get on the plane. But this could be a problem in Philadelphia."

Of course, it was. We only had an hour layover in Philly to begin with. We got there, walked about a mile from terminal A to terminal F, called the Dubai travel agent thirty-two times (luckily I still had my cell phone, eh?) We ended up going out through security to the front ticket desk to talk to someone. That someone was Ronald. He was not a happy camper, especially when the Dubai travel agent asked to speak with him. Apparently she told him we have a "PTA" number. Apparently we owe US Airways $1600, he said.

And then something magical out of a Disney movie or Oprah book - Ronald called his own reservations number and somehow printed out tickets for us.

Seriously.

I don't know how it happened, but without our paying a cent, we FINALLY got my ticket.

Naturally the jet was leaving in a half hour, and we had to run back upstairs, unpack our two carry-ons each of their cameras, computers and the like. But amazingly we made it.

I don't think I've slept as soundly in the last week as I did when we were on the plane from Philly to London Gatwick.

Damn.

Gatwick was a whole other adventure, though. More on that in a little bit.
posted by Josh @ 1:03 PM  

Josh and Liz are two American kids who got married in August. Liz has lived in Dubai since 2003, Josh since August of 2006.

Follow along in the culture shock of being recently married and (for Josh, at least) recently transplanted to Dubai.


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