(TVLW) – Nothing exceeds like excess.
That’s why Big Oil and Big Freight have a shiny new flyride to Dubai, the most glittering destination in the United Arab Emirates and the self-proclaimed “Gateway to the Middle East.”
All it takes to fill a first-class seat is $12,000 and security clearance at Houston’s George Bush International Airport.
The inaugural Emirates Airline direct flight to Houston landed like a feather Dec. 3 to much fanfare from a passel of print journalists ranging from New York to Los Angeles and numerous TV types. A water cannon salute splashed the incoming Boeing 777, which can carry 10 tons of cargo and roughly 300 bigwigs both ways of a 17-hour flight.
The service is already a big hit. It will go daily Feb. 1, no small feat considering the first-class costs followed by business class, a cool $8,000, and regular grunt fare at $1,500 a pop.
His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Mahktoum, chairman and CEO of Emirate Airlines and Group, was in Houston to celebrate this nonstop achievement. So was Rick Vacar, head of the Houston Airport System, discussing why this airlink is needed.
“Hundreds of firms based in Dubai are U.S. firms,” Vacar said. “Hundreds of Dubai firms are based here in Houston. This is a very big deal.”
Vacar said demand drives Houston-based planes to connect with farflung Dubai rather than nearby New Orleans, which is still working to schedule the needed number of planes to cover its peak periods.
“The New Orleans recovery still has a ways to go,” Vacar said. “The recovery of New Orleans’ plane service has been pretty good, in particular from Southwest and Continental airlines. They need to restore more businesses to gain more flights.”
Security is the primary roadblock for Mideasterners accessing the West via Houston. It still takes at least 45 minutes to process such foreign travelers. The searing imagery of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks also retains power to raise security alarms. UAE leadership was implicated in funding the terrorists.
But such concerns are not for everyone.
One cute bubble brain from a cable news outlet asked Sheikh Ahmed on air if he planned to buy any of the financially troubled U.S. airlines to accelerate his expansion goals. The chic sheik smiled patiently at the news kitten as if indulging a child and softly offered he did not believe such a purchase was being considered.
One need only look at the spectacular failure of the proposed Port of Dubai purchase of U.S. cargo terminals to understand the prince’s cause for pause.
President George W. Bush in February 2006 signaled “mission accomplished” to Dubai Ports World officials who wanted to buy a British company that operates the cruise-ship terminal on the West Side of Manhattan, one of the biggest cargo terminals in New York Harbor, and terminals in Philadelphia, Baltimore and other big ports. The White House said its decision on the proposed $6.8-billion deal was final.
Congress said: Not so fast, Mr. President.
The ensuing security uproar undid the DPW deal and makes any airline transfer to Mideast ownership unthinkable. Congress would rather spend billions paying off airline debt than consider such a deal.
But I digress.
Boarding the new Boeing 777, I expected to be bowled over by luxury and the lushly appointed plane did not disappoint. First class means having your own beverage tray at your fingertips ready to pop up at your side at the touch of a button. It means a fully reclineable padded seat that slides into a bed format. It means high-definition TV with a range of entertainment options and Internet access. It means world-class beauties treating you to first-class cabin services not readily accessible from your plush seat.
“They take any of the pain out of travel,” said Ben Wheatley, a senior representative from the Austin, Texas-based Pierpont public relations firm.
It also means my plane-riding experiences likely have peaked. It will be hard to top this peek at the way Big Business can be conducted.
In another wow move, Sheikh Ahmed rented out the entire Minute Maid Park for his Houston gala dinner the night after the plane landed. Guest restrooms were in the visitor locker rooms. Some of the roughly 800 guests circled the basepaths, which encompassed the open bar area. Not sure if they did so before or after the second glass of champagne.
Menu highlights: jumbo Gulf prawns with jalapeño kiwi glaze and micro green salad with black truffle cassis mustard vinaigrette. The entrée was a buttery beef tenderloin “medallion” too big for me to finish, topped by seared foie gras atop truffled mashed potatoes with white Parmesan spinach. Dessert was a dulce de leche cheesecake I could not touch for fear of bursting.
The sumptuous meal was accompanied by Cindy Crawford as emcee and followed by Kenny Rogers as the entertainment.
Rogers was miffed he was ignored for most of his set and made a few nasty comments. Kenny, my graybeard brother, three-hour meals with free top-shelf booze tend to destroy an audience’s attention span for a past-his-prime pop star panning for corporate paychecks. Get over it.