Nightmare at Dubai International
December this year had been quite staid in Pakistan. Cold lacked bite and was hardly noticeable. Indeed , climate is changing in our part of the world rather irreversibly; winter rains normally due in November have just begun to pour, that too in fits and starts. Our wheat crop is largely dependent on these rains for the seed to sprout .With this delay and despite bright looking forecasts size of the yield is not difficult to guess. Wrinkles on the farmers’ withered faces have already deepened and their gaze is beginning to drift away more frequently. Customary happy abandon and a sense of anticipation of a good crop are difficult to detect among our steadfast rural folks.
We were in Karachi on our way to Mecca for Umra that one had promised to the family since long. It was 29th of December and a gentle nippy breeze was blowing, adding a pleasant tinge to the port city’s balmy weather. Palms were joyfully swinging with the wind as if trying to reach out to each other. We were to board an Emirate Airline flight that afternoon for Dubai and on to Jedda. I have been a regular passenger on Emirate flights since last few years and had always admired the quality of their service, efficiency and comfort.
EK 607’s brand new and spacious A380 Airbus took off majestically from Karachi runway on the dot. Ambience inside was glorious .We were to catch the next flight from Dubai scheduled to leave within an hour and ten minutes of our arrival. This fine cutting had raised a small doubt in my mind which I dismissed knowing how meticulous Emirates had been. Our flight was late touching down and passengers had to indecently hurry across the sprawling Dubai terminal. That was not the only indignity. Somewhere midway we were intercepted by Emirates ground staff and rake into a corner in order to gather all the Jedda bound passengers. One thought they may have arranged for a different flight as the scheduled one might have had to leave without us. Not quite. We were again herded to the same departure gate that we knew already, having been delayed enroute, quite inexplicably and barely made it to the plane. The natural upshot of this helter skelter and mindless marshaling was that many of us found our checked- in baggage missing on arrival at Jedda. Lost baggage counter was crowded with fellow passengers registering their agitated complaints. As should have been expected our baggage was left behind at Dubai just as we were being impolitely hustled around like school children by the chattering staff. Dubai International is becoming notorious for the loss of checked in baggage in transit. Last time it happened to me was when I travelled from Islamabad to Istanbul via Dubai by EK121 on 12th May 2014.
Friends at Jedda collected our missing baggage the next day and delivered it to us in Mecca. Not a word of regret from Emirates Airline. By then, however, our minds had switched to the pilgrimage mode therefore one had put off expecting mundane civilities of the like until then. Pilgrimage in any religion is designed to test one’s power of uncomplaining endurance. Pain adds value to the pursuit of spirituality, and if one have a 9 years old kid, a daughter and a wife with a lingering knee injury accompanying, then expect to be rewarded more in hereafter.
On 7th January 2015 we boarded EK806 from Jedda for Dubai. Once again it was a luxury on wings. After landing at Dubai, another six hours of rummaging through Dubai Duty Free and we should have been on our flight (EK 614) to Islamabad, but that was not to be. Within hours rumors began to float that our flight might be delayed. During a peak pilgrimage season one could expect anything .Airlines was rushing in to make money by all sorts of monkey tricks convenience of the passengers notwithstanding. One noticed an otherwise placid PIA too having requisitioned all kinds of aircraft from weird airlines to pick up her share of the air bonanza. That evening, it is said, three flights to Pakistan were cancelled due to heavy fog at Islamabad, Sialkot and Lahore airports. Just why the CAA left has these international airports to the elements since such a long time causing huge difficulties to the passengers, carriers and the air traffic is incomprehensible? Incompetence may be a mild description. Back to Emirates; close to one thousand Pakistan bound passengers were estimated to be stranded at Dubai International because of the tyranny of our weather that night.
Meanwhile Emirates slid down to a new level of insensitivity that night which not only surprising but also put one to serious was rethinking about the going sentiment towards them. They thought it was enough to dole out food vouchers to these wretched Pakistanis and then let them figure out how to spend next 18 hours on the terminal. They seemed to have no feelings for the utter discomfort and special needs of women, children old and infirm among the passengers. Dubai International may be a glittering place with all the fascinating shops, restaurants, designers’ displays and its famous Duty Free, but for how long can one let one’s self be entertained hopping shops. People need rest too, which was nowhere to be had.
During my tenure of duty in Saudi Arabia (1998-2002) besides learning about how Saudis regarded various nationalities, one had also discovered the uncharitable sentiment where after Yemenis; Egyptians were the next held in the lowest esteem in the Arab world. Because of the nature of duty and a very privileged position one could not really find out why so, but the lesson stood out in all its stark reality that dreadful night on Dubai airport. Popular regard about nationalities and peoples are formed after years may be centuries of interaction, business and coexistence, and normally hold good. On the Emirates Connections Counter, responsible to facilitate passengers on connecting flights were two Egyptians officials, possibly the ones just above the blue color workmen, at least their rough mannerism and uncouth body language betrayed that sense. Typically evasive, inconsistent and talkative. They wore unconcerned faces before enquiring passengers of the cancelled flights who were worried about their families and friends. Most annoyingly these fellows kept contemptuously throwing up their hands saying ‘the airline was not at fault, weather is in God’s hands’. They had to be explained that nobody was faulting the airline for the cancellation, we were merely asking for facilitations as Emirate passengers particularly for the weaker ones. These two obdurate men did not even have the moral courage to indicate that there were a hotel or so somewhere on the terminal itself, about which we found out very late. It was obvious that these Desk men could not pickup strength enough to talk to their cloistered Emirate bosses about the agitation and discomfort of the stranded passengers and kept manufacturing false responses.
Only last year Emirates posted a net profit of $ 1 billion. Spending a few thousand dollars on their stranded passengers that miserable night would not have caused them a huge loss of revenue. Raking up money at the cost of moral obligation to others and courtesy is exceedingly bad business. But perhaps heaps of wealth and success by default generate isolative apathy which normally foretells a looming disaster. It was patently unexceptionable conduct, one wish it was otherwise.