Iraq: Delayed in a desert war zone
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BAGHDAD – It seemed like a good idea at the time. Fly from Amman, Jordan, to Baghdad on a 90-minute military flight, do a week-long embedded reporting trip with the US military, and then head back to Jordan.
The only problem: I was flying military aircraft into Iraq. Frequent dust storms and just trying to secure a seat on a flight can create delays that last for weeks. When I arrived in Baghdad, I spent almost a week living on the military side of Baghdad International Airport waiting to take a helicopter flight to my final destination.
Unlike other airports, on any given day you can usually find scores of people who’ve been stranded for days, sometimes weeks, whose universe has become Baghdad International Airport, or BIAP.
Life at BIAP orbits the flight terminal, where passengers await news of their flights. However, after hearing once again that their flight has been delayed for hours, passengers relax at the military equivalent of a strip mall complete with a coffeehouse, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and gift store. The Air Force also offers a cafeteria comparable to a decent college dining hall.
While there is a bus that takes stranded passengers to tents with cots, many passengers opt to sleep on the benches or gravel outside the terminal in an effort to be the first in line for that day’s flights.
By the time I finally left BIAP, I’d spent more time there than I did as an embedded reporter. “This isn’t bad,” said one passenger who’d been stranded with me most of the time. “I once spent three weeks waiting for a flight in Afghanistan.