I was looking forward to Thailand for at least a month: the food, the cheaper prices, the beaches, and the culture. For our flight to Bangkok, we got to the Cairo airport nice and early (Amber and I have different travel styles when it comes to the airport: I like to get there early and relax and Amber likes to get to the airport so you have to run through the terminal and onto the plane) and got into the check-in line for Qatar Airways. What airline was that? you ask. Yes, I booked our cheap flight from Cairo to Bangkok on Qatar Airways (the tagline is "World's 5-star airline"). I was excited that our flight would actually fly through a stopover in Doha, Qatar's capital. Well, truthfully, I had never heard of Qatar before the airline showed up on cheaptickets.com and I had to look up where the country was. But after booking the flight, I was kind of hoping that maybe we would get delayed and have to stay in Qatar for a night, just to experience a new country. Of course, these thoughts of a delay jinxed us...
After having trouble checking in because the counter woman didn't type in our credit card number correctly 3 times (and it was somehow our fault), we ventured to the gate waiting area for our flight. While waiting, our flight time came and went and after a few announcements in Arabic, I inquired what was wrong. I was assured we would need to wait just 15 minutes more. Half an hour later, I was again told 15 minutes more until boarding. Then 20 minutes later, I realized that I was not the only person that was worried about missing connecting flights. Amber and I were sitting on the sidelines when at least 20 angry middle-eastern passengers were screaming at the airline personnel about not getting on our flight. It became obvious that the airline did not have its act together and there was no clear person in charge. It turned out that the plane's tire was flat and had to be replaced, but this repair would take the rest of the night and that we would have to fly the next day. So I guess my secret hopes of a delay were realized, but it meant that we had another night in Cairo, not Doha. Bummer.
The flight delay was actually a peek inside a culture: the use of posturing and conceit to try and get on another flight. One gentlemen told the airline staff member trying to manage people's concerns that he was going to miss an important business meeting and that tomorrow there will be an article in the Wall Street Journal about Qatar Airlines being sued for $150 million. I noticed that instead of laughing at the enraged customer, the airline staff member quickly got out of that conversation and into another. (If you have that much money, why would you be flying coach on Qatar Airways?) The men and the women were equally vociferous and angry at the staff. I was kind happy to see that the woman who blamed us for our credit card not working at check-in was getting yelled at by another passenger. One thing we noticed later was that people had a "melt-down" at different points in the night. Some people were calm at the beginning of the night and then angry later on, some were angry from the beginning and then just gave up being angry, and other hapless folks were mad non-stop. Within the group, there were about 15 men that wore astonishingly bright white robes who obviously had money (evidenced by their large shiny watches and diamond cuff links). They didn't get embroiled in the fight, rather they had handlers or middlemen that seemed to get involved on their behalf. As we were all herded like cattle through the airport to go to a hotel, the white-robed men were long gone and probably already asleep at the hotel. Money talks in any country.
I was getting anxious about missing our connecting flight and I was angry about the delay. I think it was because everyone else was fighting for new flights and I didn't want to be left on the runway while everyone else got taken care of. But, after thinking it through: why was I so upset? Out of everyone on that flight, I think Amber and I probably had the least to worry about in terms of having a delay. We didn't have to rush somewhere because we had limited vacation time nor did we have any deadlines to meet for work nor were we inconveniencing anyone with our late arrival. With this new perspective, the delay was not so bad and it was more fun to just take it all in. One saving grace was that the Cairo airport had wifi and a STARBUCKS!
After waiting in the airport for 8 hours, Qatar Airways did put us up in a nice hotel by the airport and fed us food and drink for free. The hotel was a disaster in that we waited for two hours until 2:30 am for a room to be cleaned and ready and therefore we only got 4 hours of sleep. On the other hand, it was probably the nicest hotel we have stayed in on our trip.
Final verdict on the airline: because of the lack of organization, poor communication with the passengers, not telling the hotel to get rooms ready, and lack of a drink service on the flight, I am going to have to revoke at least 3 of those 5 stars. "Qatar Airways - Middle East's 2-Star Airline" doesn't really have the same ring to it.
We did make it to Doha and got on another flight to Bangkok, but like they say, its not the destination, it's the journey that makes traveling so rewarding.