Notebook: The Romance of Foreign Travel

Baghdad International Airport is seen in this Thursday, May 15, 2003 file photo. The Baghdad International Airport, the country's only reliable link to the outside world, was closed Friday in an embarrassing pay dispute between the government and a British security company. The Interior Ministry said it was sending troops to reopen the facility. AP

Veteran producer and CBS News Baghdad Bureau Chief Larry Doyle has covered the Iraq war since the invasion in March 2003.

No matter how tough you think you are, how experienced hunkering down in unfriendly places, or how blasé you may be about danger, there is one thing that still gets your motor running…the thought of being "short time" and the prospect of soon going home.

We in the Baghdad bureau of CBS News are hardly immune to the giddiness of counting down the final days in country. The food tastes better, your mattress no longer sags, and you even think you're starting to understand some Arabic. You're ready.

Hugs and double, sometimes triple cheek kisses for the locals, handshakes with your mates and you're bound for the airport.

Usually a gloomy, cavernous hulk, on getaway day Saddam International, now Baghdad International (BIAP) is full of multi-national travelers happily anticipating their escape to destinations full of laughter and reunions. And a lot fewer guns.

It's 8 a.m. and my flight to Amman leaves at 11. Best to always be a little early since these flights are often overbooked. No problem today, as we sail past immigration and settle onto generations-old dusty sofas in the departure lounge. They were never more comfortable.

We're checked in, ticketed and ready to fly. Even the surly folks behind the airline counters seem reasonably friendly today.

When no boarding announcement comes by 10:30, you're sure it's just a BIAP snafu.

You get up, start to wander a bit, get slightly restless. Flights have been delayed before, Right? No problem…back to the sofa.

11:30 and it's time to get some answers. No one in an "official" capacity knows what's happened, so we call Amman to learn the flight coming in, our freedom bird, has been cancelled. This is not good, not good at all.

The word spreads and you've never seen a faster evaporation of good cheer in a room.

Now these Baghdad-Amman flights are called "3-M" for the misfits, mercenaries, and missionaries who ply their trade in Iraq and travel the route.

And now the 3-Mers are angry and demanding answers. I mean, no one fools with departure day.

Finally an airport contact finds me and says the flight's been delayed not cancelled and we'll leave at 2:30. Okay, acceptable, "you're sure, 2:30?", "yeah, Larry, 2:30, tell everyone." I do and the growling somewhat subsides. The 3-Mers are back in their cages.

At 1:45 I quietly head to the gate, cleverly plotting to be first in line and assuring me a seat. A few fellow passengers have the same idea and rush the gate. I find myself badly beaten, but in a still well-positioned eighth place.

2:30, nothing. 3:00, no movement. 4:00, the 3-Mers are very unhappy. 5:00, maybe the plane has left Amman. 5:28 the plane is in the air. 6:13 chaos.

Our orderly line has been overrun by masses of Iraqi women on one side, equally aggressive Iraqi men on the other. Local officials herd the western passengers against a wall. The Iraqis storm forward. Shouts and curses but we remain pinned to that wall. It's pitch black outside and the mood inside matches.

Finally, watching the Iraqi passengers board buses and head to our plane, we're allowed to come unstuck from the wall and hit the last of six security checks we've gone through today. Then onto the bus and we head across a dark tarmac.

Despite all the security searches, luggage is left outside the plane not to be loaded until claimed by its owner. Today it seems everyone is traveling with black suitcases and without light, hundreds of people are stumbling around finding their black bag.

I'm afraid if I stumble I'll wind up on the conveyer belt.

Then it's over. The bags have been properly identified. We board and my eighth place finish now gets me a middle seat in the last row. Who's complaining, it's a seat, we're going home. I'm happy until my seatmate grabs my pen out of my hand as I complete an immigration form and offers me a cigarette in exchange. I want to do something very bad but I look around and see so many happy 3-Mers, I decide to fill out the form upon arrival. After all, it's departure day.


Incidentally…on the flight Larry Doyle took going to Iraq he spent fours hours on the tarmac in the states while a water leak was repaired and then experienced a six-hour delay going from London to Amman, arriving just in time for the flight to Baghdad.
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