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Published: September 22nd 2013
Seat 1A on flydubai heading to Kiev
I love flying business class! Thanks to Bana for taking this photo.
Who would have ever thought that an offer such as this would come my way? My travel blogs are a labour of love for they combine my passion for learning more about the world with the art of crafting the English language and seeking to capture that ever elusive perfect photograph.
It so happened that one day on Twitter my attention was drawn to a retweet from two friends in Malaysia seeking travel bloggers based in Dubai or Abu Dhabi for a media trip to an unnamed Eastern European country. Since I fitted the criteria, I sent an expression of interest, but believed that my chances of being selected were virtually nil. Not so as it transpired, for a few days later I received confirmation of my invite for a four day journey to Ukraine. Furthermore, I was the first travel blogger ever invited on a media trip by the airline flydubai
There were five others on the media trip – Bana, Izzy, Laura, Nicola and Nour, and we were accompanied by Houda, a press officer from flydubai. I was the only male on this journey – the thorn amongst the roses as it were. We were given no
instructions on our written content, form, style or volume, but instead the itinerary was designed around two types of activities. First, was the flydubai experience (covered in this blog), but it was definitely secondary when compared to the attention given to the destinations of Kiev and Odessa (covered in the next blog).
Considering that all my travel is self=funded and that my preferred style is independent and solo, being part of a group of six for a free media trip was an entirely new experience. Not only was the accommodation, transport, flights and meals all graciously provided, but even my Ukrainian visa was organised for me.
This was to be a journey of surprises. First of these was upon check-in for I was given seat 1A – thus a spot in the newly configured business class – tickets are not available to the general public until October. As was expected with any business class there are plenty of: spaciousness, noise-cancelling headphones, large high-definition video screens, power outlets, and superior food. There was a very nice touch to the In-flight entertainment for flydubai carry the entire Triple JJJ Hottest 100 collection – all 19 editions. For those from Australia,
Introductions after the maiden flight - Odessa, Ukraine
The CEO of flydubai, Mr Ghaith Al Ghaith (with arm outstretched) with Captain Doug Mtuz (left) and the Mayor of Odessa, Mr Aleksey Kostusev (closest to camera on right).
they will realise the value of such an opus.
After a relaxing flight, we arrived in Kiev, and collected our VVIP-tagged luggage shortly after – obviously only being a VIP would not suffice in this instance. The letter introducing me to this experience stated “Your trip will include return flights with flydubai, and bed and breakfast accommodation.”
Given my usual accommodation option, I expected this to mean a cozy bed and breakfast establishment. Instead, the choice was the salubrious Radisson Blu in the heart of the historic Podil district. Silly me.
Being in a media trip comprises of sightseeing, long meals, and an allocation of free time. Sightseeing entails covering a large amount of sites in a relatively a short period - so the days are long, tiring but obviously enjoyable. The schedule is tightly packed in order to give a sample of the main attractions and languidly lazing at any site is not possible. I found that media trips are more tiring than my usual form of independent travel where the pace of travel is usually slower.
My free time was largely spent photographing and this pursuit continued during meals when I excused myself from the
group to photograph in the period immediately after sunset. I did feel a trifle guilty for wandering on my own, but I figured that if flydubai bestowed me with the generous offer of taking me on a media trip then I needed obtain the best photographs of the experience – even if it was during meal times.
There was another aspect of a media trip that I failed to appreciate beforehand, namely the access to people and opportunities not available to the travelling public. Our group (lifestyle writers) were joined by the other flydubai group (business writers) for the VIP flydubai dinner in Kiev where important figures in Ukrainian tourism and flydubai were in attendance. Set in an elaborately decorated function room, there was food aplenty, two brief speeches and an extremely good time-lapse video on the construction of a flydubai Boeing 737 aircraft
Our group proceeded to Odessa where after another important function awaited: the arrival of the maiden flydubai flight. The CEO of flydubai, Mr Ghaith Al Ghaith, was joined by the Mayor of Odessa, Mr Aleksey Kostusev, and local officials. For a new experience, I was taken through a side entrance and into a hospitality tent on the
tarmac where delicious hors d’oeuvres were on offer (the smoked salmon was a favourite). There was much mingling and networking within a short period of time.
Mr Ghaith Al Ghaith was talking to me and other flydubai staff about the excitement of a maiden flight when his eye caught the flydubai plane descending from the distant clouds; “Here it comes!” he exalted. The aircraft landed at Odessa for the first time, and expectant eyes and cameras awaited as it taxied to the terminal. As is traditional with any maiden flight arrival, fire vehicles spray a water arch for the aircraft to pass under, and this shimmering halo encircled the plane in the brilliant sunlight. A red carpet was quickly rolled out and Captain Doug Mutz disembarked and was accorded with the traditional Ukrainian salt and bread welcoming ceremony. A pack of photographers, both professional and amateur, crowded around the proceedings, and everything combined to provide a sense of occasion.
There followed speeches, presentation of gifts, and a tour of a scale model of the new Odessa airport currently under construction, before we were hustled onto the plane for the return journey to Dubai. I boarded and took seat
3C, again in business class. A professional video camera roamed the cabin to record the opening of this new route, whilst I consumed two cups of ice-cream (strawberry and vanilla) thus confirming my indulgence in this dessert whenever an opportunity arises.
Travelling is something obviously dear to me, but I have always wondered of the opinion of the senior people within the travel industry about travelling. Whilst wandering the streets in Odessa, I happened upon Mr Ghaith Al Ghaith, and during our brief walk, asked him, “Why should people travel?” His responsive was immediate, “To explore. Even for seasoned travellers they can come to see places unknown to them. I had not been to Odessa before – look at this!” Surrounding us were the ornate facades and tall trees of a typical cobblestone street in Odessa. A gust of wind at that moment caused another cluster of leaves to be dislodged from the trees.
I parted from Mr Ghaith Al Ghaith and whilst striding away, the descending foliage touched the ground and the motion in the air ceased. Not distracted by the twirling, twisting leaves, I gazed at the canyon of classical buildings and reminisced on the words
Triple J's Hottest 100 available onboard flydubai!
This was the most pleasant surprise of the entire trip.
“To explore” just uttered by the CEO that evoked Mark Twain’s famous phrase “Explore, Dream, Discover”
. To be accorded the honour of my first media trip has introduced me to another dimension of the compelling world of travel.
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