Monday, August 29, 2016

I don't know about you, but I had a great summer away from Muscat - I managed to get a month off work (not a usual occurrence) and spent most of my time in Canada, but managed to get over to Ireland for a wedding half way through the trip too. I took advantage of the KLM seat sale earlier this year and booked my Muscat-Toronto-Muscat flights with them for a (comparatively) great price (it still made me vomit just a little bit). I actually had a really good experience on KLM and if I get time I will post about that experience because I think it was really good.

Anyway - set the scene - imagine you have just flown from Toronto to Amsterdam, then to Abu Dhabi and then finally on to Muscat. Then imagine you did that with a 1.5 year old and a 3.5 year old. Then imagine that because Muscat Airport's baggage handlers are cruel enough to ignore the specific baggage tag for a baby stroller to leave the damn thing by the bottom of the steps for parents who are getting off the plane (choosing to send the stroller to the baggage hall instead).

Add in a dash of 8 hour time difference and simmer in 35'C heat (at midnight) and you are starting to get the picture. Then you get the mad rush as the bus doors open at arrivals, and everyone walks as fast as they can to get to the smart card readers (or immigration counters). I think it'd be a good recruiting ground for athletes for the next Olympic's speed walking team.

And here's where the real problems start - you see, as a parent of two young children (both born and bred here in Muscat), we don't have resident cards for them, we only have their residence visa's stamped in their passports - which means that we can't go through the smart card machines, and have to wait in the Visa / Immigration line instead.

Imagine my relief as I get to these lines (which were very, very long, packed full of single men clutching their paperwork) that I see that there is a specifically signposted "Families line", along with two desks (numbers 13 and 14 from memory, but this might be wrong).

So, with two over-tired kids, one screaming blue murder, we move to the families line and walk and wait opposite one of the desks. At this point a man, I'm assuming Omani because he was wearing a dishdasha and seemed to have been in charge, comes up to me. I stress that this man does not know anything about me or my family, has no idea if we are tourists or not - he just comes up to me. And this is how he greeted me:

What are you doing? Get to the back of the line.

Welcome to Oman, where tourism is our repeatedly stated priority. Now get to the back of the line, and get out of my families line. I argued that this was the families line, as specifically sign posted and that as he must have been able to see, I was actually travelling with my family. Nope, not good enough. No smile, just the subtle assurance that if I didn't move right away I was going to get in to trouble.

Fine, the line can't take that long, right?


During the next hour I counted 8 men, all wearing ID tags, standing around at the immigration counters, chatting with the men who were actually working the counters. The long line of mostly single men clutching papers moved so unbelievably slowly it was horrendous. Our 1.5 year old also decided to step it up into high gear and literally screamed constantly, stopping only for the occasional rest to regather her efforts to attempt to shatter any glass within 20 feet of her with her high pitched wailing.

At some point during this tormenting wait (tormenting for just about everyone who was near us in that line, and for that I'm truly sorry to all of them) an arabic family turned up, and did the same thing we did - walked down the families line. They too, were turned away by the same man, but he shook the guys hand and was all smiles and seemed very apologetic to this family - not the shrugging of shoulders and, "What are you doing? Get to the back of the line" comment that I had received. Lovely.

It was so bad that eventually some of the women who were working the Visa sales desk called over and checked our passports to see if they could help, and asked my wife what the problem with the baby was. The problem was we'd just travelled a very long way and the baby wanted to sleep, but the assholes inefficient baggage handlers had taken our stroller away so we couldn't let her sit comfortably so she could sleep, so we'd had to hold her the entire time.

Then, one of those women did something amazing. She went tribal on the same guy who had so rudely told us to GTFO. He looked sheepish after that - she was pointing at the families sign and yelling at him and then pointing at our now delirious baby who had by then broken a few records for tears shed and highest pitches in screaming and finally we were called out of the line and told we could go in the families line,

I asked the man one more time, why could we not use the families line before and he said that it was closed. Apparently he didn't see fit to open it for the 3 families that arrived in that 1 hour period.

What really disappointed me is that this man is on the front lines for "Beauty has an address" and is A) treating Arabs nicer than Westerners, and B) Not recognising that there is a family line at immigration for a bloody good reason and that families travelling with young children have priorities like making sure their kids have food, water and comfort, and that by affording a little kindness to them helps a very long way.

What I took from this entire experience was: Welcome to Oman - we don't care about young families.

Have any of you had similar experiences?

le fin.


Al said...

Hi Sythe,

No I had the exact opposite experience flying back into Muscat airport during a trip home in the summer with a 9 month old who was also born here in Muscat. Straight up to the family line and through in a matter of minutes with smiles and pleasantries all the way. I thought it was great!The stroller not being available until the baggage hall was a pain though.

You must have got the wrong guy.


Amna Taalib said...

Of course this situation is undoubtedly familiar. I think my worst experience was travelling with my then 2.5 year old back from Chicago and after a long flight with several pit stops we reached Muscat. unfortunately 3 flights had landed at the same time and the "Q's" were unbearable. My daughter was screaming the only words she knew at the time - "home" and "bed". One of the few officers kindly let us stand in the shorter line filled with a group of businessman . That unfortunately took longer as few of them had to be sent back to collect their visas from another counter and come back to be stamped. It was literally torture my daughter was also born here and I think it's about time they had a solution to ease this situation.

Anonymous said...

I know exactly how you felt. I had THE SAME experience, after almost 30 hours (between flights, waitings and connections) traveling with my 1.3 baby (just us), we arrived in Muscat exhausted, and even him crying his lungs out we had to wait in an unbelievable slow and long line. It was written "family lane", however most of the people there didn't have kids (smart adults). In my case I saw this very sympathetic sir (just not for westerns) open a special lane for muslim families. Yep... I felt everything but welcome here. And the same happen with other friend traveling with her 3 young kids.

Anonymous said...

You;re lucky, when I questioned Mr Happy about the system he took my labour card from me and told me to sit down on the chairs at the back until he saw fit to let us through.

Anonymous said...

Similar, I was in the arrivals waiting area (quite the experience in itself) waiting for my wife and 1 year old to come through. 2 hours after landing they finally arrived, both highly distraught. My wife has a resident card but as is normal, my child does not. She tried to approach the family lane but did not even get a vocal instruction, simply an arrogant man who pointed at the back of the line and waggled his hand at her in a dismissive manner before turning his back on her! She stood in line, again no stroller. My wife is Asian, she firmly believes this arrogant man is a racist git that views her as inhuman. On the plus side, the guy on the desk was very polite and apologetic for the delay although his "What to do?" did not settle too many woes! What to do? Apply some common sense and decency, ensure the strollers are available at the steps as most airlines do, make sure the facilities for families and of course the elderly or disabled are open and get someone in to replace that jerk with all the customer service skills of a plank.

Terry said...

No consoliation, but at least you have it better than Asians on the bottom of the respect chain.

Anonymous said...

Or get rid of the expensive visa on arrival and get a bunch of those fancy pasport scanners like they have in Dubai.

Anonymous said...

You think you have it bad? Try being will experience a whole new level of racism!

Omani Princess (not Omani...yet) said...

It's like that for me when i take my kids to Canada... although no rude guy. just no one around to help or not help... sadly.

You'd think they could get issued residency cards? my sis and I when we were kids got cards from the ROP that we used in the airport... we'ren't born here however. hmmmmm

Anonymous said...

Why do some people believe that they're entitled to preferential treatment simply because they have children?

Anonymous said...

To Anon @ 02:33 PM - I don't think that people with kids are expecting ' preferential treatment' just for the sake of it. And while I am advocating this stand, let me make clear - my kid is on the verge of college days. All I am stating is parents with kids/ differently abled etc. are meant to be given priority just to make them comfortable. The kids cannot understand the nitigrities of our commercial world. Why keep them waiting and punish them? I think thats all.

And some people commented of being brown. Sigh !!! It's controversial topic but regretfully the treatment and attitude changes. I am not talking specific to a country or place; but yes it does.

Anonymous said...

Rotten apples exist and your guy surely was having a bad day. Like others said I had the opp experience. Me & the mrs travelled in for the first time with our infant and got into line with others and soon enough a kind gentleman asked us to head to the family line. The stroller at baggage claim is a nightmare and hopefully the new Airport is different and makes immigration an easier and an advanced process.

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