During those hot sultry nights, when the humidity and heat were so high that the air conditioning immediately condensed, and sent billowing clouds into the cabin, that familiar music would somehow pacify the background and bring a cool freshness to the surroundings.
Entering a Qatar Airways plane at some exotic city in the globe was like an instant massage, be it Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Buenos Aires, Katmandu or any number of desert destinations. There were the stewardesses, usually from Eastern Europe or South Africa, with their bewitching accents, or from Asia, with their enigmatic smiles, and the immaculate burgundy and grey decor. But it was the Qatar Airways tune, piped along with the air conditioning that seemed to really work the magic; when that soothing feeling, of entering the cabin to take a flight from desert to Europe, or desert to more jungle, seemed like real therapy. There is just something in that music they played, better than any James Bond theme song, or Tchaikovsky ballet score, or Rolling Stones latest.
But Qatar Airways offered more: the Japanese stewardess, when I was getting off the plane, who had slipped off shoes to stand on a seat, to bring down a heavy piece of luggage, who gave a small shriek, stumbled and fell into my arms when I offered her a small package, for in those days, with such good service on board, I often brought some small gifts from Europe for the hard-working flight attendants: ”I thought it was a bomb!” the Japanese stewardess had said to me, red-faced, as she sat caught just in time in my arms.
And there was the Slovakian air stewardess, on September 11th, 2002, who when I told her how much I’d enjoyed trekking in the Tatra mountains of Slovakia, had purred: ”therrre arrre two good things that come from Slovakia; the beerrr, and the wommmen,” and slid her hand into my open shirt and wiped it up my chest – electric. And that was on September 11th 2002, heading to Pakistan from Munich,after a couple of people had left the plane, one a woman screaming we were going to crash and the other a bearded Pakistani in pashtun hat after he answered a mobile phone call, both causing the delay which allowed the delicious chat.
Other airlines in the Persian/Arabian Gulf region had their strong points too; Etihad and Emirates, Oman Air, Gulf Air and Royal Jordanian, who brought a plane back to the gate for me when I was late, a plane I boarded with razor blades in my bag, having passed the bag through the x-ray, the security guard asking me if they were there, and I mistakenly answering ”no”, and him replying ”I trust you.”
But Qatar Airways just seemed to be a touch different. And those electric feelings? That’s why I write. I like to set my books in wonderfully exotic locations, but the trips taken to get there are also a secret delight. It was Robert Louis Stevenson who said that it is the journey, not the destination, and he travelled by donkey. I am sure he would have had a few more interesting words to say about his journeys had he been sitting waiting to take off to Tahiti, or Samarkand or Cape Town in those planes with the oryx on their side.