Stranded in Dubai, three hours from Maldives

Layla waiting patiently with lollipop and iPad as Emirates stuffs up yet agai
Layla waiting patiently with lollipop and iPad as Emirates stuffs up yet again

I think this latest trip broke us. What was suppose to be the trip of a lifetime, taking our kids to the Maldives; turned out to be a trip from hell.  We ended up stranded in Dubai with no chance of boarding a flight to Male, without any of our luggage, sick and on our own.

I remember turning to my husband after finally checking into our emergency hotel in Dubai, deflated he said  “I’m done with travelling“, this sums up our wanderlust for travel right at this point in time. Our airline experience in particular has given us a feeling of dread, of not wanting to roam anywhere with our two little ones.

High spirits at the start of our trip. My two monkeys enjoying the Qantas Lounge pre-flight
High spirits at the start of our trip. My two monkeys enjoying the Qantas Lounge pre-flight

I’ll start with the good stuff

4 year old’s are amazing flyers. Our son was such a great kid on our flight. He had his entertainment system, snacks and headphones and was oblivious to the world around him. My 2 year old daughter was a bit of a mess. You would think an overnight flight would mean she would inevitably konk out due to tiredness. But she was just plain cranky and over it.

Her poor little ears were probably sore from the cabin pressure and a recovering ear infection (incidentally we got the all clear to fly from our family doctor, she was at the very tail end of it). It was just a matter of survival. See my tips for flying with kids. Luckily with the oldest child happy in his seat. Us parents were able to take turns with the 2 year old.

Onboard Emirates flight to Male. Keeping the girl entertained for 7 hours.
Onboard Emirates flight to Male. Keeping the girl entertained for 7 hours.

So…what happened!?

We made it to Dubai with a slight delay. Unbeknownst to us there was a freak fog hanging over Dubai causing havoc throughout the airport. When we disembarked, though a little tired, all seemed well. It was suppose to be a 2 hour transit to get to the connecting flight for Male, where we would catch a ferry to our resort. We were almost there, just 3 hours away from paradise. We even made it onboard our Male flight. This was the first time Emirates made us aware of any problems, that there maybe a “slight delay pushing off” caused by the fog and “a few” planes ahead of us.  No worries, we thought. We’re onboard. It can’t take that long to clear the planes ahead of us.

We were seated for 2 hours in the “ready for take off” position which meant Layla and Liam weren’t allowed to lay down before another announcement was made, “there seems to be a delay getting clearance to take off as there are approximately 10 planes ahead of us”. Every hour or so the message was the same but the number of planes ahead of us grew from 10 to 20 to 30+ planes ahead of us. Fast forward 7 hours later, we finally pushed off the gate. During this time, I had this sinking feeling in my stomach. Nerves perhaps? My stomach was cramping and I was hot and cold. That’s OK. I’ll make it to paradise and get a cup of water and all will be well.

Just as we taxied to the runway. The captain made an announcement “we are now returning back to the gate as there is a family that no longer wants to travel to Male and we have to offload everybody”. WTF!?!?! Can’t they open the door and boot the first class passengers out, whilst we continue to take off!? Isn’t that too much to ask for? There was an uproar from the entire cabin. If there was a family wanting to get off the plane, they may not make it our alive. Meanwhile, I was cramping, head spinning and feeling awful. There were no announcements made as to what was going to happen.

Fading fast. I am starting to feel quite awful onboard. Liam was a trooper taking a nap and thank god for iPads!
Fading fast. I am starting to feel quite awful onboard. Liam was a trooper taking a nap and thank God for iPads!

Waiting waiting and more waiting with Emirates

It was once we got off the plane, where the loathing for Emirates began. There was no assistance as to where to go, what to do next and what was happening.  After wandering up and down the terminal aimlessly and incidentally Dubai airport is huge and difficult to get around when you are doing things backwards. i.e. getting off the same plane you had boarded to return to check in. Bless the passionate Italians that were travelling with us, as they cornered a random Emirates staff member who pointed at the general direction to the Emirates counter, whilst quickly making his escape.

Here begins our journey of waiting in queues and waiting for information as to what was happening. Again, 4 year olds are great travellers, if I think back to even 6 months ago, our son would have ran away from us for sure. Instead he sat in a borrowed stroller waiting in line with Dad for hours on end without a peep. Patiently ready to get to the “beach and pool” we had promised him. You just have to love the little guy right there.

Our daughter on the other hand had lost the plot. I was now fevering and having dizzy spells, running after a crazy two year old around Dubai International Airport. This was hours of waiting, sweating, cramping and chasing. We weren’t even offered a drink let alone meal vouchers.

Shane was told by an Emirates staff member that the earliest possible flight to Male was in 4 days time, which was when we were due back. Meanwhile, I was starting to feel incredibly horrible and had no inclination to get on any more planes. It was about this time I relinquished all parental duties. Passing out on a chair near the entrance of the Emirates lounge.

The kids sleeping in borrowed prams at the airport during our 22 hour wait. Having flown 14 hours from Brisbane. Little troopers.

Brief trip in a wheel chair

I was rushed off to the medical clinic in a wheel chair, I’ve never been rushed off medically before and when I came to, felt quite embarrassed. Offering to walk but couldn’t even stand up.

Shane was left to deal with two kids, getting our luggage and rebooking flights. I’m not sure how he physically did this. But it’s humbling to know you have a wonderful husband that can pick up the pieces when it all goes pear shaped. That he always has your back.

The Dubai medical center is slow and short staffed, with allot of waiting around. After a 2 hour wait I received some treatment for dehydration, antibiotics and pain killers for Gastroenteritis. I was next door to a man whom was apparently having a mild heart attack, which they seemed very calm about. When they discharged me I wasn’t ready to walk, but managed to slowly lean against walls, breathe and stumble back to the family.

Where’s our bags?

It was around midnight, 18 hours since we boarded our Male flight, Emirates officially confirmed the flight cancelled. Followed by more waiting for flights to be officially rebooked, this time back to Australia and our luggage to be located.

“Don’t worry sir, your bags have been requested and you will have it in 2 hours”. They can lie straight to your face. We didn’t see our bags until we landed back in Brisbane 5 days later.

It was now very obvious that our holiday had come to an end. All we wanted was our luggage and we would find our own accommodation, rather than waiting in the airport for nothing to happen quickly.

When we caught up with the baggage department after immigration, they said they had no news from “upstairs” that bags were suppose to be pulled for us. But rest assured that they would be here in a few hours and that they don’t normally do this, but will deliver the bags to our hotel. Apparently we were in good hands as we were speaking with the night baggage supervisor, our case was urgent and will be treated as a special case. That was the last time we heard from her, nor did we see our bags despite daily promises of it’s arrival.

We arrived in Dubai at 6:30am after a 14 hour flight from Brisbane. We only exited the airport at 4:00am the next day. That’s a total of 22 hours of waiting at the airport with two little kids. It was 36 hours since we left Australia. It was a debacle.

Finding last minute accommodation in Dubai – Kempinski Hotel we love you

Layla in the very shiny lobby of the Kempinski Hotel Dubai. Sanctuary.

Without any assistance from Emirates, we rang nearby hotels to try and find any with availability. Due to the fog, it appeared everybody was affected and all nearby hotels were full. So we turned to and booked an available hotel in Dubai. It was a random selection of 6 available hotels. We picked something in the middle of the price range (though it wasn’t cheap) for 2 adults and 2 kids which was located somewhere central with good reviews.

It was so lucky that that the airport hotels were full and that Kempinski Hotel Dubai was available. I could kiss the lobby floor. Just anywhere away from the Emirates logo and airport announcements.

Turns out check-in wasn’t until 3pm that day. I guess that is what happens when you book the same day on Expedia. In the back of our minds, we knew this, but had turned into zombies and decided to sit and wait in the hotel lobby, probably until 3pm as it didn’t matter anymore.

The hotel manager Mr Ahmed must have felt sorry for us, as we requested to see a hotel doctor and had two little kids and myself passed out on their grey velvet chaise lounge. He fixed us two pots of herbal tea and upgraded us to a suite within an hour of arriving. This was around 6:00am in the morning.

Having experienced such poor treatment we weren’t expecting much, this act of kindness touched our hearts and left us feeling extremely grateful. I couldn’t fault this hotel at all. It was the perfect sanctuary for our little family.

By they way, if you are to be stranded in Dubai and in our case it was for 4 days deemed unfit to fly. It’s best to be stranded in a hotel that is attached to a mall. I would hate to be stuck in an airport hotel, where simple things such as PJ’s and undies would be hard to find.

The Kempinski is attached the Mall of the Emirates. It’s an amazing mall, offering all types of food options, plethora of retail shops, and a fully lined supermarket. Not to mention an indoor ski center. It’s nice to have these facilities within walking distance.

There are a few hotels attached to malls in Dubai. The BurJuman Arjaan, where we were going to stay is connected to Burjuman Mall, The Sheraton is another connected to Mall of the Emirates, The Address Hotel is connected to the huge Dubai Mall. A list of all hotels with malls attached will be coming soon.

During our stay we constantly chased Emirates for our bags. Every day it was suppose to arrive at noon, followed by 5pm, followed by the next morning. Then on the last day of our stay in Dubai, we were told they rushed our bags to Male, but don’t worry they will have our bags waiting for us at check-in. Which they didn’t.

A note on doctors in Dubai

800 Doctors in Dubai comes to your hotel room and offer you treatment. This is ideal for families, not having to travel to a hospital or do the long waits with kids. The doctor pays a visit to you in your hotel room and performs a diagnosis. He then recommends any treatment needed. The nurse whom is alongside cares for you and stays in the room until the treatment is finished. In this case two IV drips and some more pain killers. All tests i.e. blood and urine are collected and sent away to the labs.

The doctor prescribes any medication needed and the nurse fills the prescription and delivers it to you. It all comes with a hefty sum, it costs over $1000 for treatment. However, we contacted travel insurance and in theory all this should be covered, though I haven’t submitted the claim.

After 4 days stuck in Dubai, we were excited to finally go home. The final straw to the comedy of errors was checking in, our bags were not there as promised. They were “somewhere” in the airport and will have it sent directly to Brisbane. Emirates also managed to suspend our flights home, which resulted in 2 hours waiting around to have the tickets correctly rebooked.

Some much needed rest. Receiving an IV drop of pain killers and fluids with my girl by my side.
Some much needed rest. Receiving an IV drip with my baby girl by my side.

Giving Emirates the benefit of the doubt

Our flight home went surprisingly smoothly. The kids watched movies, had a snooze and Layla walked up and down the aisles with other kiddies for a little bit. Our bags even managed to arrive with us!  Although, we requested some form of documentation from Emirates for proof of luggage delay, they said they couldn’t help us and to write an email. Perfect. Heard that one before.

To be fair, when there are no unforeseen circumstances such as fog, delays or emergencies. Where things go according to script. Emirates lives up to expectations. The food is good, the entertainment system is great and they offer cute kids touches such as soft toys and blankets, kids colour pack and fun snacks. On day flights they even take a polaroid snap of your child and frame it. The service is good, they hand out hot towels and collect your drinks with a smile.

We have since written to Emirates customer service and we have requested written confirmation of our baggage delays and to address issues resulting from our nightmare trip. Although we’re not holding our breath for anything spectacular, a comprehensive and detailed summary of events and issues to resolve has been sent to Emirates.

A friend I know in the airline business say that they call Emirates the mudflap airlines – shiny on the outside, mud underneath and that they “just don’t get economy travel”. If the emergency protocols were in place and communication was honest and open I would be a tad more gracious with my remarks.

However, to really judge an airline, you need to see how they deal with circumstances that are beyond the norm and see how they manage passengers during times of need.

I recall travelling onboard Southwest airlines, a domestic American airline with a budget far less than that of Emirates; on this occasion there was delay of a couple of hours due to weather beyond their control. Not only was the captain and crew profusely apologetic. They kept us informed, were honest and offered a couple of rounds of drinks onboard. Perhaps, airlines can take a leaf out of Southwest’s book.


  • The way the situation was handled by Emirates, contrary to what is reported, was a scam. We stood up for hours (8hours precisely) in a crowd of people which were not even organised in proper lines. Some people bypassed the queue on the side and managed to give piles of passports to be processed while we were all waiting in this mess. This bypassing seemed very fine to Emirates staff who did nor order them to line up behing prople who were already there for hours. People fainted. Some drinks were provided but most of us could not access them because we were scared to loose our place on the “queue” and to have to make again the queue from the start. They could have had one staff gping through the waiting crowd and handing over water bottled. Drinks were very warm too. Some of the Emirares staff just walked away (escaped) when passengers tried to approach them. One of the staff said he was from Qantas so could not help us. Why was ge behind the counter then? Only when we complained to the manager did this guy agree to take care of some passengers. They kept saying they would come back to us after two minutes which became hours. Even two days after the incident my husband s situation was not setled and the two days we stayed in Dubai were spent queuing. Some other passengers were told they would be given hotel vouchers and 3-4 hrs later were still waiting for them. Our kids slept on the floor. We were finally sent to a hotel where we were assured there would be an Emirates representative but nobody from Emirates ever showed up. This is just a small list of issues that show the little conduderation Emirates has for its passengers. The PR campaing lead by Emirates deginitely does not reflect the reality.

  • I see that you are in Australia, so I don’t know if the same policy works for you. However, in England, if there is a delay of 3 hours or more, you are entitled to a refund – it is law. I have just received a cheque for nearly £400 for the 2 of us from our travel in 2011, so maybe you could check the following website . Good luck.

    • Hi Glen, that’s so interesting, I did not know that. I’m not sure what the rules are in Dubai where the delay occurred. I have almost buried this experience and moved on. But I might investigate a little. Thank you 🙂

  • I see that you are in Australia, so I don’t know if the same policy works for you. However, in England, if there is a delay of 3 hours or more, you are entitled to a refund – it is law. I have just received a cheque for nearly £400 for the 2 of us from our travel in 2011, so maybe you could check the following website . Good luck.

  • Wow. Just catching up on this one! Keeping people in the loop and making timely decisions when there are changes to plan is key. Bet that family probably would even have stayed on board in that case!

    • Oh that family… don’t get me started on that family! We still haven’t heard back from Emirates…. oh well it made for a nice story. xo

  • Dear Rene, I have just read about your ordeal in detail. It’s very strange but on our way to the Maldives for our honeymoon we almost had a trip from hell too, but eventually made it (our flight got stranded in São Paulo after the mother of all storms. We flew with another company a few days after and the flight was still there). We basically had our Maldives holiday cut short and a lot of stress for the newly weds)! Nothing compared to your experience though. How frustrating the way Emirates dealt with the situation.
    Thank God for great places like Kempinski. We had the best time at Kempinski in Aqaba, Jordan a few years ago.
    I hope this trip hasn’t put you off roaming.
    Ps.: have been reading about flying with kids and packing. Thanks heaps. The website looks fantastic by the way

  • It sounds like a pretty horrible experience. You did get a nice hotel in Dubai which I suppose is only little comfort for this ordeal and what sounds like an exciting holiday.

    I’ve taken a flight virtually every single month since May 2000 and know things can and will go wrong from time to time. Out of fairness to how things work, the fog was an uncontrollable and not something Emirates had influence on. Your actual time taxing and position for take off is decided by the airport control tower air traffic control, again something Emirates have no influence over.

    Luggage at the airport is controlled by airport staff luggage handlers, not Emirates. I think some of your complaints should be direct at Dubai airport and not the airline.

    With regard to ground service and lack of support, I think you have some very valid complaints.

    Admittedly I love flying with Emirates and have never had a problem with them. However from reading your unfortunate tale I’d like to share where I think they were to blame and where others should take the brunt of the blame. As for the fog, well I’d blame the weather or the good Lord above.

    • Thanks for your reply, I’m a big fan of your site and you raise some good points.

      I don’t blame Emirates for the fog or my sickness, unfortunately (for us) these things happen. This post explains the entire nightmare which was our holiday.

      Whilst I understand the length of delay on the tarmac is beyond Emirate’s control. The decision by Emirates to offload the passengers (whom simply no longer wanted to go) just as we got the go-ahead to take off was most frustrating. But I was still OK with Emirates up until this point.

      It was as you have said the lack of support on the ground. The miscommunication, errors and hand-balling of responsibility between departments is where I felt Emirates let us down.

      I’ve been delayed by fog at large international hubs like Heathrow for BA and JFK with AA before, although there are long delays, there is correct contingency plans to process passengers. It felt the process (or lack thereof) that Emirates had in place had imploded by the time we came on the scene. Having kids exacerbates the situation.

      I think all it would’ve taken was open, honest and timely communication. Rather than false promises and directing us to a centralised faceless email system that didn’t respond for over a month.

      Apart from suspending our rebooking causing a 2 hour delay at check-in. The actual return flight onboard was good. It’s when things go wrong that Emirates can’t seem to manage the situation as expected by a award winning airline.

      You seem like you’re a pretty connected guy, if you have Tim Clarkes email, please forward him my post 😉

      • Hi Rene, many thanks for your kind words about my site 🙂

        I understand your frustration and the faceless e-mail is undoubtedly a breaking point, it would be for me. Many organisations nowadays seem to revert to e-mail correspondence then a “do not reply” e-mail address response. I suspect they know the frustration of customers and daren’t face the music via phone call or face to face meeting.

        I’m afraid that I’m not as well connected as to knowing Tim Clarke’s e-mail address. I would suggest frequent tweeting of this article with a #emirates will get their attention. A while ago my site received a comment response from Etihad after Shane Todd posted an article as to why he didn’t enjoy his trip with them.

        Social media is becoming a powerful too nowadays. These travel companies want to know what people really think of them.

        With the freedom of expressing your opinion through your blog they will understand, even if Customer Service may not.

        Safe travels.

  • oh no. sometimes there are really unexpected things happening that’s beyond our control. I remember that also happened to me before but not as bad as this one. Hoping you’ll have better experience next time.

  • Holy cow! I’m SO sorry your trip went this way. Kuddos to your husband, because if mine had been left to his own devices we would’ve had another crisis on our hands. lol. If it’s any consolation, you write beautifully. So much in fact, that I felt like I was there with you going through the trauma. You have a BEAUTIFUL blog. Keep doing what you do. 🙂

  • quite a unique experienced for you and family. Indeed, when travelling, anticipate this will happen in no time without warning. Always be ready and be smart with your ordeal. As far as I knew, Emirates airlines is the best plane in the ME. Glad you’re all fine, and your helpful comment and suggestions for them could eliminate future delay.

  • Hi, I’m sorry to hear about what happened to your recent trip. Halfway reading your post I was really hoping that you made it Maldives despite of the hassle. I felt the disappointment too when I saw the words, “flight cancelled” I hope you’ll have a wonderful trip next time. God Bless you and your family. 🙂

  • That’s really a lot of hassle. I think Emirates should be prepared for events like this by now since anything can happen in the airport and they should always have a contingency plan.

  • All that waiting is really stressful and the anxiety that comes with it feels like torture. At least you’re safe and I’m glad your kids are also okay now.

  • Isn’t it amazing how one act of kindness during an ordeal can help so much. I think it’s crazy to turn back the plan just because of one family. Sorry you had such a bad trip. Hopefully next time it will be smoother. I

    • Thank you for reading. That one pot of tea restored our faith in humanity. Maldives just wasn’t meant to be. xoxo

  • Oh my. No wonder your trip was miserable. You never made it to the Maldives. I’d find another way there if you try to go again. I’m also sorry you had gastroenteritis. I’m just getting over a norovirus version of that myself.

    • Thanks Denise. You poor thing, nothing like being sick with kids is it? Just have to keep on going. Hope you get some much needed rest and thanks so much for your well wishes. Means the world to me. xo

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