In this week's issue

Airline goof-up: woman flying on emergency offloaded thrice

It took four boarding passes and three different flight options before Indian woman could finally fly home

  • By Muby Astruc, Staff Reporter
  • Published: 21:57 September 26, 2012

  • Image Credit:
  • Grounded: Lidia Rebello was to take the early Sunday morning 0355 flight to Mumbai but ended up taking a late afternoon flight. This picture, taken at the airport, was sent by her to XPRESS

Dubai A two-and-a-half-hour flight home for a family emergency turned into an Indian woman’s worst nightmare.

When Lidia Rebello, 34, heard that her paralytic brother-in-law had suffered two heart attacks and was in the ICU at a Mumbai hospital, she booked onto the first flight, Emirates EK506 to Mumbai on September 23 at 3.55am.

However, at the check-in counter, Rebello was told that she and some other passengers had been off-loaded due to overbooking. “We were informed that those of us who volunteered to take a later flight would be compensated with an overnight hotel stay as well as a free ticket to the same destination valid for 12 months.

“Despite my telling them that I had no choice but to fly, I was issued a confirmed boarding pass, along with a seat number, for the next flight out, at 9.35am. I turned down their offer for a hotel stay, but accepted the flight ticket compensation. The next morning, when I turned up at the counter, the lady told me I didn’t need to check in again since I already had a confirmed boarding pass. I was so sure that if not breakfast, then I’d be there for my family by lunch hour,” says the insurance adviser.

That, however, was not to be. Rebello was again turned away before reaching the boarding gate for ‘trying to access immigration without a confirmed boarding pass’. “By now I was livid. It was insane that despite having a confirmed seat number, they wouldn’t let me through,” she says. “Going back to the check-in counter, the woman said she had no idea why I was sent to her and that I should just go and try again.”

After wasting time explaining that her boarding pass wasn’t confirmed, the airport service agent checked her system, only to find out that in fact Rebello did not have a confirmed seat and since the flight was fully booked, she would have to try again on the afternoon flight that day. “What’s worse is that she then tore up my boarding pass right in front of my eyes. By this point, I’d lost my cool. The Emirates airport services supervisor came up, made some phone calls and issued another boarding pass, which she gave to a staff member who was asked to escort me to the boarding gate. By this point, the flight was only 30 minutes from departure. I wasn’t shown the boarding pass until we reached the gate, at which point I got the shock of my life. It said ‘standby’. And I wasn’t alone in this mess. At least five other passengers were turned away from the gate, and two more were de-boarded due to overbooking once again,” says Rebello.

“I was given a meal voucher at some of the fast food outlets to compensate me for my inconvenience. I was close to tears and seeing my plight, another passenger offered to swap flights with me, only to be told that since his baggage was already checked in, offloading it would mean a flight delay and they couldn’t let that happen. So there I was, stuck at the airport, far from my family, while my brother-in-law was in ICU, awaiting his fate,” said Rebello in a phone call to XPRESS from the airport.

She finally got on the 1.15pm flight, surprised that after all her anxiety “the flight was half empty! I’ve had it with this airline. Three years ago, when my father passed away, I booked on an Emirates flight, but due to delays I ended up missing part of his funeral. To them it’s just a flight, but for people who fly on their airline, time is sometimes a difference between life and death,” says Rebello.

An Emirates spokesperson apologised for the confusion. “Emirates sincerely regrets the unfortunate series of circumstances which led to this customer being unable to fly on her chosen service yesterday morning. Excessive demand, last minute check-ins and a number of other factors led to the understandable disappointment. The customer was able to board a later flight to Mumbai – EK502 – but we fully appreciate the delay was unacceptable. Emirates provided an appropriate goodwill gesture to reflect the level of inconvenience caused.”

Comments (10)

Your comments
  1. Added 14:59 September 27, 2012

    the same happened to me as well when i had to travel on emergency last month. All the problem is with the checkin staff at the counter. Please recruit professionals instead of hiring people on a temporary basis.

    gisha, sharjah, United Arab Emirates

  2. Added 14:03 September 27, 2012

    I just can't believe that such bad experiences can happen with Emirates flights. Need to think of choosing other alternatives.

    kamal, alain, United Arab Emirates

  3. Added 13:40 September 27, 2012

    similer incedent had occured with but in sharjah airport with Air Arabia flight to bangalore (India). i hereby request the Airport Authorities to please contuct a special training to the people who issue boarding passes. my case was a bit weired the lady in the counter made my wife pay for the excess baggage without even bothereing to check my filght details.

    syed touseef ahmed, ajman, United Arab Emirates

  4. Added 13:34 September 27, 2012

    Sorry to know Mrs Rebello had to go through such trauma. I was in similar situation when i wokeup one friday morning to a phone call informing of my mother's demise. Quite contradictory to Mrs Rebellos situation my travel consultant and friend from orient travels had me booked on the next available Jet airways and Emirates flight to mumbai. Dubai Airport Authorties staff were kind enough to accompany me until the boarding gate, and Jet airways was very cooperative in providing me with a staff and special service until I was right out of immigration and out of the airport within a span of 20 mins of the flight landing in mumbai. Not to forget the courtesy of the onfight staff who kept checking on how I was doing on the entire flight. A big thank you to all of them. I could make it much ahead of time for the funeral back home. For Mumbai we have flights every second hour if not every hour with different carriers. Why would one wait for a particular airline to fly them out that too on a standby ticket. People need to come out of their rigidness of sticking to a brand in times of crisis at least.

    SAZ, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  5. Added 13:29 September 27, 2012

    Suprisingly Horrible..... could not belive that it happened with EK.

    Nikhil, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  6. Added 12:39 September 27, 2012

    I love to fly with Emirates. Only concern is their staff. When I was flying to Hyderabad this month I had a mess too. They have missed one of my bags. Then they sent to my place the next day, which is good but the time lost is lost. I could only give 10 points out of hundred to Emirates staff at T-3. Based on the infrastructure they have they must work on a Lean/Six Sigma model!

    Mohammed, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  7. Added 12:25 September 27, 2012

    This has always been the case with emirates they always overbook you and then try to bribe you with overnight stay or free air ticket. I have heard a lot of people fall into this trap. A similar situation happened with us as well. The same excuse was given as was for this poor lady. But we stood by our point and were finally boarded. They upgraded us to Business class!!!!!!!

    Mathangi, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  8. Added 12:20 September 27, 2012

    Nobody is perfect. The situation for the passenger was very upsetting, but sometimes things happen this way too -- this time it has happened with this unfortunate person. The behaviour (most importantly expressionless or sometimes rude faces of check-in staff) giving signal that 'If it is not there, it is not there' is really not called for. Such treatments to passengers cause some kind of dissatisfaction. Counter staff must improve on this. Otherwise Emirates is known for reliability of service and has a good name in the industry.

    Nasir, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

  9. Added 11:11 September 27, 2012

    Lidia is not the only one ... even me and my family faced the same problem with Emirates while travelling to Mumbai in August. But, luckily my husband was adamant and made the authorities to give us the seat. But, with Emirates the Mumbai sector is treated like unwanted ones. They make the boarding passes from Terminal 3, then you go to Terminal 1 Gate to Board the flight, from the gate, you go 2 floors down, then board the bus and go to Terminal 2 to board the flight. This we are experincing from the past 3 yrs. I do not understand why they are treating India like this.

    Fatima, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  10. Added 07:36 September 27, 2012

    this is soo suprising. this may happen in air india but never in emirates. i thought most airlines have stopped overbooking by now.

    reema ahamed, abu dhabi, United Arab Emirates