Grateful one, two and three

Air France still has a first class. I think most of the American airlines abandoned this class years ago. On the Boston flight there were four seats and on the Dubai flight eight. Each first class pod is the size of a New York City studio. All of the seats were empty, even the business class was half full. Yet these two classes together take up a sizeable chunk of the plane’s real estate. Maybe one first class passenger every other flight pays for it all?

The seats, even when fully extended, slant downwards, making me slide down – the foot not really up, but definitely an improvement over economy. I couldn’t have managed the toilets from there. My crutches were put away someplace and each time I needed them someone had to go fetch them. And then the tricky walk up or down the aisle. My biggest fear was unexpected turbulence and the biggest challenge opening the door to the toilet and keeping it open while I hopped inside. I was immensely grateful for the clean toilets and for the absence of lines in front of them.

In Dubai my handler was Alfie from Kenya. I gave him a very big tip because he had to do a lot to get me squared away for the Kabul flight. It goes into his kitty for studying engineering when he gets back to his country. I learned more about the intermediary scoundrels who recruit poorly educated people in Africa and Asia and then keep most of their paychecks, a variation on indentured slavery. Alfie just got our of their tentacles and is now employed by Emirates which will pay his fare to Kenya for leave.

When in a wheelchair you get to go through all sorts of areas that are roped off or closed to the public. This is how one circumvents the stairs and find the elevators. We occasionally went through metal detectors that went off, what with all my metal, but no one seemed to care.

Safi airlines didn’t know anything about wheelchair services, supposedly arranged by our travel agent back in DC. I was not surprised. I was asked whether I could get up the stairs as the plane is not parked at a jetway, otherwise they had to get more sophisticated machinery and lift me into the plane. I said yes as long as someone carried my bags and spots me. So that was unwelcome news – no jetway entry; a bus to the plane (as it will be, no doubt, on arrival).

I was very grateful for Alfie who did all the legwork to get the wheelchair assistance arranged. He parked me on the concourse and walked away with my passport and itinerary. I am a trusting person and had no reason to distrust Alfie, but there was this nagging little voice that said, what if he never comes back? I suddenly felt very vulnerable and realized how hard it would be, from my low sitting position with my handluggage, coat and crutches, to find the right official, and then not have any papers to prove my existence. The place is staffed by lethargic underlings, sitting behind high counters, and who don’t display any recognition that customers are ultimately the ones that keep them employed. It’s not a clear cause and effect diagram in their minds, I gather.

For Safi Airlines wheelchair assistance is an extra, another 100 dollars on top of the already steep fare. Unfortunately, the rules about how the payment was to be done, and where, had changed and the people Alfie was dealing with didn’t know the answer. After much telephoning Alfie was given a slip and we were directed to a ticket sales office, minutes before midnight. The cashier, clad top to toe in black, the uniform for females not wearing airline dress, had a midnight task to do first: adding up the transactions of January 9, 2014 and stapling a thousand little pieces of paper together. Luckily she was fast. Five minutes after midnight she attended to us and I had purchased my wheelchair assistance in no time at all.

And now I am in the Marhaba lounge, available to me because of my business class ticket. I asked Alfie what he would have done with me for the three hour wait if I not had the business class ticket. He told me there is a place where the handlers park their charges, somewhere off on the side. I am trying to imagine that place and am once again grateful, this time to the US government for helping me out.

I have never flown business class to Kabul and wonder why anyone in their right mind would for such a short flight, except when you are very big or, like me, have one very big leg. The economy seats are so close together that even I often had to sit sideways. I wonder who I will be sharing my upper class with: big and crippled people? generals, ambassadors? Ministers? Warlords? More about that later.

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January 2014
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