Saturday, May 01, 2010

Qatar Airways: Neo-Arabia in the Air

I am now safely in Qatar fresh from my flight on Qatar Airways. The airline is a prime example of the diverse, technology-driven land the Middle East in general and Arabia in particular have become. Religion, wealth, and flashy Western culture also made appearances on the flight.

First off, I was one of several nationalities on the plane. Americans, Indians, Southeast Asians, and Arabs were all represented on the flight.

  • Americans were clearly military or employed by some company that in some-way-shape-or-form dealt with oil. Their haircuts and clothing with various logos gave away one's profession rather easily. While I am in neither group I have a strong feeling that I was in the very small minority of Americans not associated with the military or an oil company.
  • Indians were possibly the largest minority or even the plurality on the plane. Talking to a few in line and on the plane I discovered they formed the upper caste of Indian workers in Doha. Many had computer or engineering degrees. They told me Doha was a good place for them and their families to earn more money before moving back to India. The women told me they had more simple retail jobs. They missed India but told me there is a large enough Indian community to give a sense of home.
  • Arabs were probably the plurality of people on the plane. Men and women were not only dressed in traditional dishdashas and burqas but some others were in jeans and polo shirts. I sat next to an Arab man in Western clothing who told me he was on his way to Mecca. No matter if one was traditionally clothed or wearing Western style many of them were watching Avatar. The appeal of flashy Western culture seemed to be universal on the flight.
  • Southeast Asians were the final group on the plane. My overview of the plane found no Southeast Asians as passengers but the plane's stewardess staff was comprised completely by them. I found out that most of them were from Singapore and Malaysia. The trend of using Southern and Southeast Asians for menial jobs like airline stewardship is a strong and growing one in Arabia. In fact, 60% of Qatar's population is not Arab. Most of the 60% is from Southern and Southeast Asia.

Qatar Airways is probably the most technological of the airlines out there. Every seat had a console where one could watch movies on demand, television channels both live and on demand, news, e-mail, music, phone other seats or even landlines, and even a map of one's progress (my map sadly did not work).

Other Arabia trends, both traditional and modern, were noticed on the flight. Religion was present with all the food being prepared in accordance to "Islamic Standards." Money, Qatar being an economically well off country, was demonstrated by prices. I asked how much an upgrade from economy to business class would be expecting it to be something like $150. An upgrade was $1,500. I turned it down but managed to get the sympathy backup choice of an exit row seat. That gave me six feet of leg room and very easy access to the bathroom. Comfort, like that of a person who lived in an oil rich state that bought off its citizenry with oil profits, was expierenced in style by me.

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