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.”