How long does it normally take to go from Dhaka to Jeddah? The answer would range between 7 to 12 hours; 7 if it is a direct flight, 12 or so if flying via a stopover.
We flew direct and it still took us 13 hours. And the usual culprit, Biman, was in no way responsible this time.
In fact a rather comfortable ride in a Biman plane that actually had inflight entertainment and palatable food was a pleasant surprise. The so-called Enemy no. 1 of Biman (as per local newspapers), Mr. Kevin Steele, seems to have done a good job of (trying to) turn the sinking ship around. Unfortunately for him though, a new B777-300ER with 419 passengers must be serviced not only with a good pilot and decent choice of movies, but also good inflight service. This concept of hospitality is where Biman still has a long way to go.
The stewardesses were no less than my mother’s age and I am not bluffing when I say my mom probably looks younger :p. Ihram and unfriendly biman-balas don’t go together. While the 7-hour flight in an Ihram was hectic enough, the crew’s sheer disinterest in listening and total lack of competency was disappointing (if not irritating). Even my usually chilled-out wife got into a tussle with them after a good 45-minutes of calling for them while we heard them chatter away in the crew zone.
But still, I was very impressed with Biman (notice the absence of we).
The Jeddah Airport (not even the Hajj Terminal) looks like it was made during the Gulf War for emergency troop landing and evacuation. Ask why? Well wartime airports handle a lot of passengers in and out but don’t really need to offer any added services. Such is the case of Jeddah Airport as well. Except for one food court and 5 to 7 no-gooder outlets selling god knows what, there was nothing. Literally, nothing!
But the best was yet to come 🙂
As we quickly maneuvered through the lines we were met with a line of some sort (resembling the size of the Great Wall actually). We were both in high spirits and quickly made a few Bangladeshi friends. Previously, in Dhaka we have stood out almost an hour and a half in immigration, so a line full of noble-minded Hajis seemed like a breeze.
Four hours later, we had inched 10 steps forward when an officer announced that the women weren’t allowed to stand in this line and would have to go join a female only line at the other end. My wife and her newly made friends had to leave their Mahrams behind and reluctantly make their way to the back of yet another long line.
In our line, time just didn’t seem to pass. And after four and a half hours as I stood ten feet away from the long-awaited immigration desk an argument had started between the Bangladeshis and some Indonesians who were trying to break into the line. As the commotion attracted the attention of the airport authorities we all felt like justice would be served.
The result? This Deshi Bhai and I were asked to go back to the end of the line. Simply because we happened to be within earshot of the officer who’s idea of sorting this mess was forcing anyone closest to him to leave the line. Like literally the end of the line. By then two more flights had landed and it was longer than ever.
Wife and the other women were through by then and most of my Bangladeshi friends were almost through as well. Meanwhile I waited on; patiently counting hours behind some bullying Turks and rowdy Arabs.
I finally made it through at 10 30 am; a painful six and a half hours since I had initially stood in line.
The long road to repentance had just begun!!!