Amman Stories and Tips

Amman airport in a pinstripe suit

After an amazingly tortuous final approach through Jordanian air space, the British Airways Tristar finally landed safely at Amman airport, and there I was, in the Middle East for the first time. As I was actually on my way to Baghdad, I then queued at the "Transit" desk.

When I finally reached the front of the queue and had my ticket and passport examined, I received a perfunctory "No!"

It transpired that my excess baggage charge had not been paid for the Amman to Baghdad leg of the journey. He waved me away with "You will have to go to the office!" I then had to almost beg him to tell me where this was.

It involved passing through several "checkpoints" manned by armed troops. Being in a pinstripe suit, however, I just wandered through. I was a little concerned that the return journey might not be so easy!

I also had to pass through several - shall we say - lounges, full of thick choking smoke, emanating from Arab cigarettes. The smoke was being exhaled by hordes of people that would have looked at home "falling" on a Turkish train with Lawrence. They were even wearing the right "uniform". The noise and smell was agricultural and astonishing.

A huge Jordanian policeman took pity on me and appointed himself my escort, but the worrying part of this was that he then proceeded to beat anyone who inadvertently got in his way, on the back, with his stick! For a moment I had an insight into the last thoughts of Gordon at Khartoum.

When finally I reached "the office", the man there made a note on my ticket and waved me away to "Mr. Haleed, downstairs".

Mr. Haleed stared into space, formulating his instruction, before waving me away with, "Excess fares desk".

The excess fares official required six Jordanian Dinars. Which was exactly what I did not have. And of course the money changer was ... on the other side of the cigarette smokers!

The exchange desk could not have been more like bedlam. One bellowing official was being shouted down by 50 Arabs -- and the man in the pinstripe suit.

By the time I finally paid the excess fare charge, the "smokers" were greeting me like an old friend and a great shout went up every time I traversed the lounges.

I was now, after an hour of to-ing and fro-ing, given my boarding pass at the original desk.

Timidly I enquired what to do next. "Departure Lounge" waved the official.

"Hello!" roared the smokers!

Now, while staring at and trying to decipher the departures board, it suddenly dawned on me that, an hour and a half previously, I had left the carrier bag containing my Heathrow duty-free purchases and camera at the first desk. Horror!

I dashed back, fearing the worst, through loud cheers and applause from the smokers, only to find that I had sparked a security alert, and the whole area was cordoned off by troops, guarding my belongings.

Very embarrassing!

More loud cheers and applause from the smokers.

With some relief I sat down with a "coke", but then noticed that my flight was not on the departures board.

I joined a couple of UN officials and an engineer from Wigan and discovered that "they never show that flight ---- for security reasons".

But a rumour spread through the lounge some thirty minutes later that the flight was leaving.

The aircraft was surrounded by armed guards and wire fences. The passengers were told to identify their baggage and board the plane. Wonder of wonders - there was mine. All of it.

I boarded, took a window seat, strapped myself in, and avoided eye-to-eye contact until we were airborne. Two East Africans who fell afoul of the Iraqi Airways policy of 'keep selling tickets until they stop buying them', were shown off the plane by armed guards, as there were not enough seats left.

After the 'meal', the air filled with cigarette smoke, and I came very close to re-enjoying the humus.

At the Iraqi border, all the plane’s lights were extinguished and the window blinds lowered, and the plane descended to treetop height. "So we didn't get shot down". I incurred the wrath of an Arab harridan in stewardess uniform when I tried to peep under a blind. A very eerie landing followed. I'm sure the pilot was fighting the combined will power of 150 passengers straining to keep the plane airborne.

Thankfully, once in the terminal building, I was through customs and immigration in a flash and on my way to the city.

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