Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Come fly with me

So after 3 years of avoiding Syrian Air in my numerous trips back home, I finally summoned my courage and booked my holiday on a Syrian Air flight.
I have to be honest; the only reason for flying with them was the price! I’ve already travelled twic to Syria this year (wonder why?!) and consumed my travelling & holiday allowance for 2007 and they really had a very good price, £290 rtn!

So came the day and after a nervous waiting at Heathrow with flights being cancelled left right and centre due to extremely heavy fog covering the airport we were finally allowed on the plan.

Now, I must tell you that the last time I flew SA, I ended up in a seat with a broken tray and behind a chair with a broken back in a plane full of crying babies and smelling of curry! Not at all an enjoyable flight at the time; so this time around, I was pleasantly surprised to see nice wide seats with decent legroom in the compact Boeing 747 I’m flying.

My luck was on a role, I landed a window seat with an empty one next to it and a nice heart consultant on the aisle…
Settling happily in my chair, I was feeling pretty upbeat till a horrible odour drifted towards me, I was a safe distance away from the loo so I couldn’t pinpoint a source until further scent analysis narrowed it down to bad breath (not something I can blame on SA).
Fiddling with the overhead air controls, I managed to create barrier of some kind thank God and I nestled contently in my seat until it was time for the famous, all too scary, meal time.

Beforehand, let me tell you that I’m not a picky person food wise, as my diet consists mainly of microwavable meals and takeaways, to the disgust of my parents and acceptance of my partner, nonetheless, there is a minimum level that airport/plane food has to reach for me to be able to consume. So you can understand that I had a dilemma in choosing to eat or not to eat on the plane and in the case of the former, which of the day’s two options would I go for!

By the time the trolley came by, I was already halfway though writing this blog and I felt that to be just in my assessment, I will have to try the food!
Gathering my courage and mastering the friendliest smile I have, I dared to ask the steward which was nicer, the meat or the chicken (ps: isn’t chicken meat as well?). The wondering surprised gaze I was given would take pages to describe, something neither you nor I have the time for. The reply that I received was even more mind boggling “how should I know?”
Met with that answer I quickly asked of the chicken (at least a defined meat) and prayed for safety!
Two pots of salad, 1 bun (men were being treated to 2!) a tab of butter and another of cheese and the mysterious main course wrapped up in foil.
I started with the salad (not bad, a bit too much mayo but at least fresh ingredients), 2nd in line was salad no 2, a shrimp cocktail thingy (nice, 1000 island souse and a lemon), so starters got an ok 6 out of 10!
Then came the main course, I was unwrapping the plate wondering if I will get the traditional rice, or be faced with the more hip (and potentially scary) pasta! Surprise, surprise it was neither! It was potato balls!! Next to it a breaded piece of chicken and some boiled vegetables (how unusual?!).
Reaching for the salt & pepper sachets, I realized that Syrian air is a caring carrier; they worry about their passengers’ health and knowing that the poor travellers’ blood pressure was probably sky-high by mealtime, they provide the smallest sachets ever, barely enough to give the impression of salt in the food!

A sigh, and I turn my attention the chicken swimming in oil residue, I ‘skinned’ it and made do without the soggy shell altogether! At the halfway mark through the chicken (2 bits later) I discovered a micro amount of cheese in the middle and was able to identify the mystery dish as chicken Kiev!!!

Didn’t even think of trying the dissert (a chocolate thing covered with dark syrup) and I waited for the drinks tray to come by to order a very large tea to help me survive my past ordeal.

Having ran out of things to reads and still having two hours of fly time, I reached out to the pocket in front of me and picked the various printouts there. In my hand were the safety instruction sheet and a promotional pamphlet about different things in Syria.

The safety sheet was your bog-standard one for an Airbus A320 so I put that aside and turned to the pamphlet intrigued to see what is being promoted to happy travellers to Syria! Well, restaurants, lots of restaurants which, after your meal, wont look so appetizing; shopping centres (a recent craze in Syria) and at the end, what I considered my personal cherry on top of the whole ‘fly Syrian Air experience’ cake, SA’s own version of a frequent flyer program! Oh, how I looked with parental pride at this new development by our flag carrier. Of course as a frequent traveller to Syria (as most people using SA) I was very interested until I realized that unless you travel 8 times a year or 4 times two years in a role you wont get anything of much value, at least nothing you wont be able to get if you know someone at the check in desk or at the company (maybe they should rename it to No-Wastah program?)

The one thing that stood up, the sugaring on top of the cherry on the cake was a one liner on the 2nd page detailing the program. Initially I thought that it was a translation error only to discover that it was written exactly the same in both Arabic and English!
So what was that shocked me so much? Well simply the fact that “as a silver card holder you are entitled to a free ticket a year that you can give to a family member, which include your parents, children and WIFE”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

See, for Syrian air, there are no female frequent flyers, the idea is just inconceivable; or at least, a woman flying 8 times a year (or 4 times two years in a role) will, for sure, not have a husband to pass that extra ticket to! A woman will only be so pleased with getting one handout ticket a year from her husband!!

Aaaah, returning home never fails to remind me of how well regarded women are in my beloved Syria! But again, in the country of ‘Bab el Harah’ 1, 2 and 3 scheduled for next Ramadan, why should I be surprised?

For those of you wondering, the famous Syrian fly that is a specialty of Syrian airways did accompany us on the flight and is, according to accredited sources, a paid employee of SA and a member of the workers union there.

If you’re flying SA, DO NOT take an aisle seat unless you’re willing to accept the risk of being burned by hot tea passed over your head without a trey and to put your hopes in the steady hand of the steward and the passengers next to you.

You didn’t read wrong, nor did I go crazy, the safety page was for an Airbus A320 and we were flying a Boeing 747! For those of you who might wonder what’s the difference, well, the latter has 2 exists compared to 3 in the former to name one difference! I leave it to the more knowledgeable to detail further ones.

Post PS:
I only used the word ‘Steward’ and not ‘Stewardess’ simply because it would be a more accurate description of the staff serving our beloved plane!


saint said...

SIL, you have put a smile on my face. I think if anyone from SA staff, Steward, Stewardess or any official from SA read your post they will never find out what is wrong with the picture you have painted.
I congratulate you on the wonderful description and you courage to fly SA. I will never do it and the answer from the steward to you “how should I know” is enough reason to me.
Let them call me any name they want but my last voluntary trip from Athens to Damascus, 1980s while we were queuing to get into the air plane, the back tail of the plane was leaking oil, and when I asked the steward, he shrug his shoulder and said, it is nothing don’t worry.

DUBAI JAZZ said...

Having flown Syria Air last year, and since I am going to fly again within couple of hours, I can relate to everyword you've said..
God bless you...

The Syrian Brit said...

Did you say flights were being cancelled due to fog??.. Did you, by any chance, fly on Thursday 11th??.. If you did, you would have been on the same flight as my wife and daughter.. (See my last post:
We normally fly out from Manchester, on Syrian Air because it is the only airline that operates direct flights to Damascus.. But as my wife needed to go home urgently, I drove her to Heathrow.. a four-hour trip in heavy fog, driving overnight... Not nice!.. and Heathrow is nothing short of a zoo!.. I'd take Manchester any day!..
As for female frequent fliers, my wife actually flies a lot more frequently than me.. and she does fly to Damascus twice a year!!.. So, maybe she should look into that 'No-Wastah' Programme.. then I can look forward to a free ticket!..
Thanks for an enjoyable read.. but I still await a detailed account of your journey.. Meanwhile, have a good time in Damascus..

Syrian in London said...

If it was me with an ok leak I would have canceled, I didn\'t really feel to comfortable flying through the fog and I’ve been flying around for some time, you must have been brave or really desperate to fly!

Dubai Jazz
Belsalameh in shaa Allah, hope you\'ve arrived safely to your destination.

Syrian Brit
I\'m really sorry to hear your news, I have wanted to comment on your blog but untill Abufares gave me a working proxy I was only able to access the dashboard to control the blog but not the blog itself. Yes, I was flying on the 11th (Seat 16A) and will be returning on the 27th in shaa Allah, when will your family return?

abufares said...

Remember! I volunteered to make your flight exceptionally memorable with my own version of "Wasta Frequent Flier". Unfortunately my buddy was not the captain on your flight.
I love your post. I had an experience with SA so many years ago. To put it in as few words as possible, one of the stewards (guess which one) threatened to throw me out of the plane. We were at 30,000ft+ somewhere over the Med. You think I'm kidding... Think again.

Rime said...

Very funny, especially the part about the safety instructions ... well, perhaps scary more than funny.

I've reflown with Syrian Airlines after years of British Aiways and Austrian, because they did offer good prices and the people are usually so friendly. On my last trip, however, I discovered they didn't even have a safety belt for the baby, who sat in my lap for over 5 hours without being attached.

However, I must say I usually have a different experience with the food, or even the drinks (which is what I usually have): when picking up the tray, in response to my "shoukran," the steward usually answers "inshallah alf sahha." Now THAT is unique and heartwarming! :)

As for the wife thing, let's thank our lucky stars it's not like the stupid "daftar al 3aileh" in which there is place for First Wife, Second ......

The Syrian Brit said...

My wife and daughter are flying back on the 26th, but they fly direct to Manchester.. it is a lot more convenient this way.. at least for me and my wife.. My poor daughter will have to take the train to Cardiff, but we will have the pleaseure of her company for the weekend.. (on the way out, she met us at the Airport, having taken the coach from Cardiff that morning...)
Thank you for the kind words..
I wish you a safe journey back..
(And I still await your detailed account!!..)

The Syrian Brit said...

As for 'daftar al 3aileh', some time ago, I firmly believed that it is A DUTY AND AN OBLIGATION that every able-bodied male should have all four pages (allocated for wives) filled!!... but I have since regained conciousness..

Rime said...

LOL Syrian Brit. Was it the convincing powers of Mrs. SB that made you see the folly of your ways?

The Syrian Brit said...

Got it in one, my dear.. got it in one!..