The best laid plans...
When you travel a lot, especially internationally like I do, timing is really everything. How long is the flight? How long does it take to get to the airport? When's the next train? These are just a few of the questions that you ask yourself and anyone else that's involved in your planning process.
Sometimes, no matter how much you plan, time just gets the best of you. Forces beyond your control make time either your new best friend or your worst enemy.
Like today, for example. When planning my trip to Dubai, I was happy that I could come home a day early but not thrilled that my flight left at 12:05am. All things being equal, I decided to suck it up. I was also delighted that the hotel I was staying at granted me a late check-out of 6pm. Late check out is not always easy to get without an additional charge. If you're in Dubai you should check out the Grand Millennium in Media City. It's a wonderful property with well-appointed rooms (i.e. lots of reachable electrical outlets) and a lovely breakfast buffet. The staff is extremely courteous and helpful.
To make matters even better, a colleague on the trip was in the same situation only her flight was leaving at 10pm, so we decided to share a cab to the airport and grab something to eat or drink there. Sounds grand, no?
So we get to the airport fine and dandy. We're flying different airlines but figure we'll meet on the other side of security in the main international terminal. We say good-bye "just in case" and go on our way.
When I get to my "gate" I am told that I can't even get into the gate area until just 3 hours before my flight - which is now 5 hours away. What? Can't I just get my boarding pass and go to the lounge area? No. It's not open yet. Then I remember that I had to wait in line for an hour in Sao Paolo, Brazil for exactly this reason. No one was at the gate to check us in yet. The "gate" is not the gate we normally think of at the airport where the plane pulls up and you fly away. The "gates" in these airports are where the ticket agents assign your seats and hand out boarding passes. Often when you're out of the country you can't print out your boarding pass for a litany of reasons. They need to check your passport or visa or blood type (just kidding).
The kind guard tells me to go upstairs where I'll be more comfortable. I ask if United has a lounge there? We'll yes they do but you have to go through the "gate" to get there. Somehow this all seems ludricrous to me and I'm wishing I just had stayed at the hotel until I saw the restaurant choices for my 2-hour stay. There's a row of 5 restaurants in the "food court" and a Baskin-Robbins. Things are looking up. Where there's ice cream there's always fun - right?
So I picked what I thought was the least likely restaurant to kill me. It's a kind of Chick-Fil-A chain for the Middle East called - Marry Brown's. It's not bad and to make myself smile I got a Fanta Orange, the soda of my youth. It's the little things that sometimes get you through the rigors of travel.
I suddenly remembered a trip long ago with another colleague, who innocently stopped for a bagel at O'Hare in Chicago and ended up with food poisoning on what was supposed to be a food and drinking boondoggle weekend. I must admit that, in the end, she forged ahead much better than I ever would have and was back and drinking and reveling less than 24 hours later.
Fortunately, the chicken sandwich was good and non-eventful. As I sat people-watching, a couple of guys wandered up to the tables near me with the same look on their faces that I had on mine when I first arrived in the "lounge." I smiled and they immediately asked if I was on the same flight to Chicago. So I spent the next 2 hours talking to two DOD (Department of Defense) consultants who were very entertaining. We talked about Afghanistan, Dubai, technology, travel tips - we laughed and learned from each other.
Moral of the story: You can never know everything, no matter how hard you try. By now I'm sure that my colleague has figured out that I'm not going to join her. My paranoid side is thinking she's probably glad. My kind side is thinking I hope she's not worried. And, my practical side is thinking why the hell didn't you get her cell phone number? Hopefully our timing will be better on the next trip. But, on the plus side, I did meet some very interesting guys who taught me once again that it is sometimes not only right but also good to talk to strangers because you just never know which one of those "strangers" might turn into a new friend.