Friday, November 14, 2008

On travel

So what has been happening? I just got back from four days in Dubai where I was giving a brief presentation at an IFRS seminar. IFRS stands for International Financial Reporting Standards, which are used in most countries by accountants in creating financial statements. I won't bore you with the details of an accounting seminar but suffice to say there were two things on everyone's mind:

(1) the global financial crisis; and
(2) the Dubai property market

The Dubai property market is getting really nervous right now as banks are tightening their lending, property development companies are laying off staff, and the share price of local real estate companies plummet. Everyone is now selling but no one appears to be buying. Prices are starting to inch down but there have been no dramatic decreases (yet). The next few months should be very interesting, hopefully there will not be a full-blown panic as a lot of Dubai's economy relies on property.

Otherwise prices on everything else in Dubai could really do to go down. When I got to my hotel I did not want a big dinner so I just went to the hotel pub to have a burger. The price of a burger and fries in a pub at the Sheraton? 69 dirhams, which is about US$19 (Cdn $21). 20 bucks for a burger and fries! I could not believe it. The Middle East is becoming such a rip-off nowadays, I'm getting tired of having to pay prices like $4-5 for a coffee. That is why I hate going out to fancy places, give me a $5 dinner at a cheap indian place any day. But it is getting more and more difficult to find anything reasonably priced around here.

Thanks to my trip I did get to see the brand new terminal 3 in Dubai airport. It is apparently one of the largest single terminal buildings in the world and since it opened only a few weeks ago everything was still new. My impressions? It is too big, it felt very empty to me (then again it will not be fully utilised for another month or so) and because the decor is white, silver, and muted green it seemed very sterile and cold. But that still makes it way better than Terminal One, which many of us jokingly refer to as a refugee camp. Terminal one was always crowded and had inadequate seating so whenever I went there I would see lots of people sleeping on the floor. Waiting times through security were hit and miss as well and transit passengers going through terminal one could spend an hour or two waiting in the security line. At terminal three there were so few people I wasn't waiting in any lines at all. I even went through the security/X-ray without a single person behind me, try to think about the last time that ever happened to you. When I got to a coffee shop I joked with the staff if they had any seats available since they had over 30 seats and I was the only customer. Like I said I was not that impressed but if being in an empty and sterile-looking airport is the price one pays for having no lineups or hassles I will gladly take it.

Once terminal three is fully running it should cease feeling somewhat like an empty warehouse, and thankfully terminal one will now be far less crowded and easier to deal with.

(And for those of you not that familiar with Dubai terminal one yes I do think the crowding was worse than Heathrow 3 & 4)

Since I'm talking about airports I may as well give everyone my general views on them since I have now seen so many. The general rule seems to be that the more famous an airport is the worse it will be. I think this is because the "big name" airports were built decades ago so are now completely inadequate compared to a modern airport. Heathrow, JFK, O'Hare, Charles de Gaulle, Atlanta, none of them are particularly nice and I do not look forward to going to any of them. There are exceptions when those airports have new terminals, JFK's new terminal nine is nice and modern while their older terminal reminded me of a subway station. And Heathrow is particularly infamous. I haven't seen Heathrow terminal five yet but maybe now that the opening disaster has settled it will be nice.

Airports I liked? Vancouver, Hong Kong and Zurich are all very pleasant and generally efficient (especially HK and Zurich). Washington-Reagan airport is pretty good. I do not remember much good or bad about Beijing and Shanghai so I guess I will put them in the "okay" category. Miami is poorly laid out requiring you to walk a 1,000,000 miles to get to different terminals. Abu Dhabi is small and old, Muscat & Bahrain are not bad but wait times on arrival can be a pain. I will put Doha in the okay category although many might disagree. At least you don't have to walk a lot to get to places and there is plentiful seating. I am in Calgary airport at least once a year and it is decent.

I guess I will leave it there for now, happy flying everyone.

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