Emirates Airline has been forced to apologise to several delayed passengers who were allocated a Dubai hotel room with a stranger of the opposite sex, potentially causing repercussions under UAE law.
Susan Tickle, an Australian who was travelling from Glasgow to Sydney after attending her grandfather’s funeral, said she was distressed when told she would be sharing a room with a “random” man despite travelling with her brother, who was allocated a separate room.
“I actually could not believe that the airport staff were showing us such disregard for our own religious, cultural and moral beliefs,” she told Arabian Business in an email.
“We all felt very uncomfortable, even the worry of your belongings and privacy.
“There were elderly people being put with young men and, like myself, quite a few women being put into rooms with men they didn't know. I am married but a few of the women were in their 20s and single. We were not asked any of these details.”
Tickle and her brother Jamie Young were due to fly home from Glasgow on flight EK026 on January 21 when they were told the flight, via Dubai, had been delayed due to a pilot calling in sick.
They were told the delay meant they also would miss their connecting flight to Sydney and would be given overnight accommodation before flying at the same time a day later.
When Tickle, who was trying to get home in time for her five-year-old daughter’s operation on January 23, and Young, whose wife was heavily pregnant, arrived in Dubai they claim the accommodation was not organised and they were only given a room after waiting at Dubai International Airport for 12 hours.
But their distressing situation worsened when they were told they would be sharing with strangers of the opposite sex.
“I was not at all comfortable with my sister staying in a room with another man in the middle of Dubai - although I wasn't entirely familiar with the local laws I had vague recollections of tourists being arrested for adultery for sharing hotel rooms together when unmarried,” Young said in an email.
“To be honest I wouldn't even be comfortable with the situation if it were to have occurred in Australia given I had no idea of the demeanour or background of the person that Susan had been asked to share a room with.”
Another passenger, Mark Allen, who is from the UK, also told Arabian Business he was dissatisfied with the way Emirates ground staff handled the situation.
“The flight staff were very helpful, friendly & in my opinion the best cabin crew around. The airport & hotel staff were pretty much the worst I have ever encountered,” Allen said.
“I hope the Emirates team fix their policies & train their staff better when encountering these.”
Young said Emirates staff were inflexible with the arrangements but he managed to swap with the man in his sister’s room.
In an emailed response to Young’s complaints to Emirates, a member of Emirates’ Customer Affairs Australia team apologised for the “mistake” and said the airline took the allocation of strangers of the opposite sex in the same hotel room “very seriously”.
“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 email, dated April 4 and seen by Arabian Business, says.
The customer affairs employee said it had been difficult to meet all passengers’ expectations under such “taxing circumstances”, particularly because fog had caused numerous flights to be delayed and “all the hotels were quickly filled leaving no further accommodation available”.
“According to our records, all passengers were given the option to remain at the Airport or accept shared accommodation,” the email says.
“Contrary to your perception, I would like to assure you that we take your feedback regarding your sister being placed in a hotel room with a male stranger very seriously and I have personally investigated the circumstances surrounding this event.
“... 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. As you managed to switch with the gentleman in your sister’s room, there are no reports mentioning your complaint at 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.
Emirates offered Young and Tickle 25,000 miles 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 says.
In a response to inquiries made by Arabian Business, Emirates said in a statement that the circumstances leading to the incident were extraordinary.
“The scale of this unusual natural occurrence meant that some 75 flights and their passengers were affected, resulting in extreme pressure on hotel accommodation in Dubai,” the statement says.
“Passengers were offered the opportunity to reside in a single room, a shared room or choose to remain at the airport until connecting flights were cleared for take-off.
“Emirates regrets any inconvenience caused to its customers however safety is of paramount importance and will not be compromised.”
Young denied there was any opportunity to use a hotel room other than the one offered. He said the man allocated her room did not have a name that could be mistaken for a female and questioned how such a mistake could have been made if the Emirates employee had been working directly off the flight manifest.
The response did not accurately reflect the seriousness of the complaint, he said.
In a reply letter dated April 5, he wrote: “I feel that some of my concerns have not been addressed completely, and in fact I feel that your response and offer of recompense is inadequate given the circumstances.
“You mention that the hotel voucher listed the individual as a female by accident but my sisters situation was not an isolated case, as a check of the other vouchers issued to passengers in our same situation will quickly tell you.”
Young said he and his sister would not use the offered 25,000 Skywards miles, which were insignificant compared to the 125,000 miles it would take to purchase a return flight between Sydney and Glasgow.
“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 both myself and my sister are certainly not willing to take.”