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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 expedia.com 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.
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.