Saturday, February 27, 2010

En Route to Damascus, Syria

My original itinerary to Damascus involved flying with three airlines and two layovers, for a combined 25.5 hrs of traveling. My AirAsia flight from Kuala Lumpur to Abu Dhabi was very empty. In fact, many of us laid across three seats. (I learned later on that they have since canceled this route due to low occupancy.)

Upon arrival in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, I spotted many men dressed in traditional Arab attire. This included a white robe (jalabiyya) and checkered headscarf (keffiye). In fact, all the immigration officers wore this outfit. I was a bit taken by surprise as I had never seen anything like this before! It felt like a scene from the movies!

A problem arose when I tried to check-in for my Damascus flight with Etihad Airways in Abu Dhabi. The check-in staff told me that according to their system, I needed a visa before arrival on my Hong Kong passport. I told them that this was impossible as there is no Syrian consulate in Hong Kong. They refused to let me board my flight and after a little “begging” on my part, told me to come back in a few hours as they would check with their counterparts at the Damascus Airport. A few hours later, the Etihad staff called the Damascus Airport and informed me again that I would need a Syrian visa before they would let me board any flight to Syria. They told me that I could obtain one at the Syrian Embassy in Abu Dhabi. With the help of another Etihad staff member, I called the Syrian Embassy and explained to the staff my situation. He said that it was possible for me to obtain a visa on arrival and spoke to the check-in supervisor. I was then finally allowed to board a flight to Damascus, one that was 5 hours after the original flight!

Etihad Airways did not apologize for what happened above nor did they even try to make my waiting time or flight easier. In fact, my flight was utter chaos as these Pakistani religious pilgrims sat wherever they wished and refused to adhere to what was printed on their boarding passes. As a result of this ordeal, I am never flying with Etihad Airways (yeah right, the “world’s best airline”) again!

And the conclusion of the story is that I had to wait a bit for my visa on arrival at the Damascus Airport, but it was granted without too many questions asked. I was welcomed to Syria!

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