Dubai-based airline Emirates has refused to negotiate compensation for an Australian woman who was asked to share a room with a male stranger when her flight was delayed, potentially causing repercussions under UAE law.
Susan Tickle said she was concerned when Emirates staff told her she would be sharing a room with a “random” man, despite travelling with her brother, after her flight from Glasgow to Sydney was delayed in Dubai on January 21.
It is against UAE law for a male and female to share accommodation unless they are married or related.
“I actually could not believe that the airport staff were showing us such disregard for our own religious, cultural and moral beliefs,” Tickle told Arabian Business from Sydney.
“We all felt very uncomfortable, even the worry of your belongings and privacy.”
Emirates claims the incident was a “mistake” and that it takes the allocation of strangers of the opposite sex in the same hotel room “very seriously”.
In an email response to a complaint by Tickle’s brother Jamie Young, an Emirates customer service employee offered the pair 25,000 miles each towards their Skywards memberships, “purely as a gesture of goodwill and by way of apology”.
“Once again, please accept our sincere apologies for your experience on this occasion,” the email, dated April 4 and seen by Arabian Business, says.
“The triple accommodation would normally only be offered to members of the same group, and upon their consent, and not to complete strangers. Apparently the male passenger who was booked in your sister’s room was listed on the voucher as a female in error.”
The siblings were dissatisfied with the offer of 25,000 miles – which is far less than the 90,000 miles needed to claim a Sydney-Glasgow return trip, or 72,500 miles required for a Sydney-Dubai return ticket. The 25,000 miles would be sufficient to buy only a return ticket within the GCC.
In a reply to the airline, Young said the offer was “of little comfort” and “inadequate given the circumstances”.
“Effectively it means that we have the option of booking another flight with Emirates - given that number of miles actually isn't enough to get anywhere we want to travel. So we are given the choice to pay your company additional funds, and again put faith in your company, in the hope that your airline and its staff perform better next time,” he wrote.
“This is a risk at this stage [that] both myself and my sister are certainly not willing to take.”
In a response on Monday, Emirates said the complaint had been “investigated fully” and it would not discuss the matter further.
“We believe the goodwill gesture offered is appropriate and as no new concerns have been raised we have nothing further to explain, which is our final position in the matter,” an email signed by the Sydney-based customer relations manager says.
Emirates claims the strangers were told to share a room because of a lack of available accommodation due to numerous flights being delayed at the same time. All passengers were given the choice of staying at the airport or sharing accommodation.
“... all passengers were advised that if they had any concerns with the hotel arrangements, they could be taken up and rectified upon their arrival at the hotel,” the initial email response to Young says.
“As you managed to switch with the gentleman in your sister’s room, there are no reports mentioning your complaint at [the] Hotel where you were accommodated.
“Notwithstanding, I sincerely regret the frustration you felt with the overall handling of this disrupt [sic] and I would like to assure you that this was not indicative of our usual level of service.”
The complaint was forwarded to relevant senior managers, who would “address the situation as necessary, and where appropriate counsel staff on their performance”.
“Emirates, in accordance with employment and confidentiality policies, does not share the details of any internal actions taken,” the email says.
Young said he managed to swap rooms with the stranger and did not register a complaint at the hotel, instead sending an email to Emirates days later.
He said the response was “very insulting given it's gravity and the insinuation that we are at fault for not creating a scene when finally [we had] some hope of a place to sleep was in sight is ridiculous”.