Flying international beats US domestic travel like a rented mule.
I’m sitting in Oryx Lounge, and it’s the best $40 USD I’ve spent in ages. I’m not a frequent enough traveler to be part of the clubs that would allow me free access (though that may change), but everything about my flight from Seychelles to Doha on Qatar airlines has been superb. And highlights a great many things wrong our airlines and the TSA back home. I’ve long hated traveling and flying, but this trip has me thinking I’ve been wrong the whole time because of my limited exposure.
First, in none of my international airport experience have I been asked to remove my shoes as if I’m a suspect of some nefarious plot. It really highlights what I’m saddened to say can only be described as a culture of fear mongering in the United States. Michael Moore is a blowhard, but he did have at least that much right in Bowling for Columbine. We’re fed fear constantly in our news media, regardless of the source, and now we’re fighting a war on “terror”… We’re fighting a “war” against an idea or against fear, and as Dan Carlin pointed out in an episode of his Common Sense podcast– it can’t be done or won. But I digress.
First, was the flight itself on Qatar airlines from Seychelles to here. A relatively large Airbus, I’d guess an A320 of some make, that was mostly empty. That’s always nice and allows room to stretch out, but what was truly remarkable to me was simply how nice the plane was. Everything looked new, and even though I was right over the wing and close to the engine is was shockingly quiet. I didn’t even need my Bose QC15 headphones. It’s odd but fascinating to see different locations on the in-flight map like Mombasa and Mogadishu, and the constant distance counter saying how far we are from Mecca. I’m on a middle-eastern airline and the entire cabin crew is pretty women of some form of Arab or Asian origin who speak flawless English and they’re playing soft jazz, with ambient LED lighting that makes the cabin seem more luxurious than it should be. And they have a selection of movies that range from the latest Hollywood blockbusters to Bollywood, to some old classic with Humphrey Bogart.
(Notably, the Shrek spin-off Puss in Boots was called Cat in Boots over here.)
The airport itself isn’t particularly nice, but they do have a quiet area with reclining chairs you can catch some Zs on. What really stood out to me at one point was the food. I paid $9 USD for a plate of rice and chicken korma. A bit on the pricey side because I’m in an airport, but the sheer amount of food they gave me and how tasty it was make the US airport’s Burger Kings seem like highway robbery by comparison.
So I’ve got a 13-hour layover, and I’m trying to kill some time. Mosey around the Duty Free only to discover the prices are no better (and in some cases far more expensive) than simply buying elsewhere in “the real world”. Strike up a conversation with a Brit for a few hours. Sit in a too-smoky smoking room to enjoy the forbidden fruit that is a Cuban cigar (from Duty Free) only to confirm they’re overrated simply because they’re prohibited.
Now, Oryx. More private sleeping rooms, with cabinets for your bags and charging stattions for your electronics.. Another smoking room (which I won’t be partaking of again, thank you). Unlimited wifi that I don’t have to pay for (take THAT Charles De Gaulle and Seychelles!). A small buffet with the most delicious chicken sandwiches I’ve had in months, chocolate tarts, good coffee, lentil soup, and rumor is alcohol (if one is so inclined). It’s large, comfortable, and wonderful. And frankly, I’m really looking forward to a quick nap since I have over 24 more hours of travel left.
It strikes me now that when I was stationed in England I was pretty impressed with flying British Airways direct from London to Phoenix. It was just nicer than the American airlines. Now I’ve flown Air France and Qatar, and they’ve both impressed me as well. Even flying coach/economy on these flights has been nicer than anything I’ve flown in the US, and almost the equal of the one First Class flight I’ve ever had domestically.
(Quick disclaimer: Air Seychelles was outright terrible. So is their national beer, SeyBrew.)
I’m just kind of typing random thoughts at this point, like a journal. I want one more chicken wrap and to get some sleep. But I thought all this was worth noting because it’s made a very long layover downright enjoyable. This is not the torture session of being stuck in an American airport due to delays. This is… the good life.
As somebody who honestly thought they hated travel (but loved the adventure once I was there), I can honestly say that international travel has spun my preconceptions on their ear. I didn’t venture into Doha itself, regrettably, but there’s always the future and I fully intend to explore more thoroughly in the years to come. If you’re an American with our unfortunately typical insular mindset, I really encourage you to try some international travel on a “foreign” airline. Trust me, they’re nicer. And while no country I’ve been to yet measures up to the good ol’ U.S. of A., the experience alone is worth it. There’s nowhere I’d rather live than the States, but I have to admit when we get schooled in something. Foreign travel is the best. You owe it to yourself to try it once in your lifetime.