The Makkah Region Desert, Saudi Arabia
The benefits to sitting in the exit row are few but valuable. The most important for me, a man of 190 centimeters and 114 kilograms (6’4” 260lbs), is that I can stretch my legs without too much worry as to whether or not I will be abruptly awoken by the infrequent settling back of the chair ahead of me. This is key, since the reason that the person in front of me would need to slide the seat back in the first place is because they’re going to be preparing to sleep for the next few hours – assuring that I won’t be doing so for at least that long.
The second benefit, of course, is that the restrooms are 10 feet away. Convenience when needing to use the restroom is always a comfort. It also helps in the event that there is a long line. One can rest easy and simply wait for the line to be an amicable length before committing to the bladder dance that will ensue once in line and looking forward to the relief that will be arriving soon.
The drawbacks to being in the exit row, however, are more numerous and far outweigh the benefits. For starters, while you’re 10 feet away from the bathrooms, you’re also 10 feet away from the bathrooms. So while the wait might be less and the access convenient, one finds that they have leveraged these accommodations with the continuous odor that emanates just a short distance away. And on a flight from a Middle East country and continuing onto one with a high concentration of Indian descendants that particular aroma carries with it a continuum of reminders of the kind of digestion problems which are inherent to the colons of nations with such a long dietary history of curry and spice inclusion.
Of course, the hidden gem of advantages to being seated so close to this nocuous location is that one can fart without worry of being suspected as the culprit. It goes without saying, however, that one can’t make a terribly audible reverberation whilst breaking wind. Because, though the engine and wind against the hull may lull one to sleep along the day-and-a-half trip, the infrequent rumble from the seat next door might well become questionable when followed by an aromatic differentiation with the common scents abound – especially when no one is using the lavatory in a pressurized vacuum. But, well timed, the internal release of the kind of pressure that airplane food can concoct in the average bowel system is a welcomed respite in an otherwise nerve-wracking situation.
The second most profound detriment to winding up in the exit row is that this is the row where the airline places the families with very young children. And, while I think kids are great and cute and interesting, I don’t necessarily find the percussion of noises, the incessant and hyperactive activity and the sensory-debilitating stench quite so adorable.
Even being extremely tired, wearing a headband over my eyes and with earplugs crammed into my ear canals, I remained sleepless for the 12-hour flight from Washington D.C. to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
The third, yet no less disappointing item that stands in the way of a pleasing experience on the aircraft’s exit section is that on the bigger aircraft, there is no window in this isle.
Needless to say with all the inopportune elements to the start of this long journey to Malaysia, I was not pleased by the time I arrived in the Kingdom of Saud. But nevertheless, I was in good spirits as I was still looking forward to a great time in my new life.
So in my many long hours aboard Saudia Air Flight 036 I had a lot of time to think about the goals that I wanted to set for myself in the coming year and to look forward to the new insights that I will behold in my new position in Malaysia.
I utilized my time on that leg concentrating on the positive attribute of the flight and found creative ways to get around the crying babies, nasal assaults and lack of good views of the passing earth below. I was able to find a row in the back of the aircraft that had a window seat free and snapped a few shots and captured some footage of the long, empty desert below. But we were lucky because most of the flight was during the nighttime hours. So by the time we were flying over Egypt, we’d reached the part of the world where the sun was up. And I wound up getting some great shots of the Nile River, the Persian Gulf and of the geologically impressive Makkah Province desert (pictured above).
Once in Saudi Arabia, I realized that I was only one of very few white faces in the crowd. So, while I was able to figure out quite quickly that I wasn’t going to blend in, I also realized just as fast that those who stand out in Arab cities seem to be categorically selected to be most scrutinized.
If I’d thought that people in the U.S. profile travelers at airports, I was in for quite a shock here in the most extreme of right wing, conservative Muslim countries. I, as well as basically every other westerner, found myself the victim of not one, but two trips back to the same searching station in order for guards of varying paygrades to quite thoroughly rummage through my belongings and wrinkle up the shirts that I painstakingly folded and placed so that I would not look like a hobo for my first day at work.
I was asked several times what I did for a living and if I was a journalist. I didn’t have the heart to tell them ‘yes.’ So in an effort to be honest, I simply told them that I was not staying in their wonderful country, but that Jeddah was just a through-flight for me to land in Riyadh, where I would then be off to my final destination in Malaysia.
But while the guards were less than welcoming, the locals seemed very nice. I sat and talked with several people that were awaiting flights. I didn’t approach any women, but the men were very welcoming and informative. They spoke with very good English and seemed very formal and respectful.
One man, Dr. Sharif, talked with me for about ten minutes and spoke about all my inquiries with enthusiasm and pride in his country. I asked about the type of dress that people wear, the interesting things to do in the Middle East and about what people from the Kingdom thought about Americans and westerners.
The audio clip from that conversation will be loaded soon.