Passenger decries rough flight

Since I had checked in online, the checking formalities at the airport were smooth — our baggage was checked in and boarding passes issued. We went through immigration and our passports were stamped appropriately. We were asked to wait in the waiting lounge at gate number eight for boarding at 6.45pm. Like all other passengers we waited patiently. No announcements of any anticipated delays were made.

It was past 6.45pm and no Emirates staff was present at the boarding counter. We later observed on the monitor that the flight was delayed by two hours and the boarding would be at gate number three. Two hours later no staff was available at the counter. We learnt from other passengers that the flight was indefinitely delayed as the Ahmedabad flight bound for Mumbai had still not arrived at the Mumbai airport. No airport or Emirates staff kept us posted of the inordinate delay whenever asked, they informed us that they do not have any information and will let us know as soon as they know of confirmed details.

The lack of communication from the airport and Emirates staff was totally unacceptable. I did highlight to the airport staff that my daughter is sick and both of us need to be accommodated on the earliest flight available, but this plea fell on deaf ears.

At 4.30am we were asked to board informing us that the flight would take off at 6.30am. The pilot and other crew members informed us that they were all exhausted after working for 14 hours and flying further extended hours was against the airline rules. When on board, we were informed that the nearest destination the pilot and crew could fly to was Karachi, Pakistan, and from thereon arrangements would be made for passengers to board the next flight to Dubai. This resulted in a verbal tussle between passengers and the crew most passengers voiced their opinion against the proposal of flying to Karachi as it would involve visa issues, availability of next flight and fear of being stranded in a foreign country.

At 6.30am, we were offloaded from the plane and taken to a hotel close to the airport. Despite my daughter’s condition I was asked to follow the long serpentine queue to be allotted a room. We were informed that passengers who had checked in baggage could not leave and should stay at the hotel till further notice.

Having checked into the hotel, I requested for a doctor to be called and attend to my daughter. Given those 18 hours at the airport, her condition had worsened. The hotel asked me to pay Rs1,500 (Dh120) as doctor’s fees. I also had to make emergency calls to Dubai for which I was asked to pay Rs160 (Dh12.8) per minute. The food at the hotel was terrible and this made my daughter all the more sick.

All through those hours of stay at the hotel, from 6.30am until 2.30pm, there was no communication from the hotel, airport or Emirates staff regarding our flight.

At around lunch time, I was informed by one of the passengers that we need to assemble in the lobby at 3.30pm to head for the airport as the flight would take off at 6.30pm (July 5, 2009). Such lax and casual behaviour by hotel and airport authorities is unwarranted, unethical, unprofessional and unacceptable.

I have been flying Emirates for the past eight years without any problem, but this has been the worst experience. Over the years Emirates has always been the preferred airline by my family, my colleagues and friends because of the pleasant experiences in the past.

Moreover, I booked my e-ticket in March, 2009 and had to pay Dh4,240 for two tickets. Most passengers on the flight chose to avail of the promotion later, which cost only Dh1,000 to fly from Dubai to Mumbai and back. Despite paying a higher amount this was what we got for our money’s worth. This trip, which covers 2.5 flying hours, was an experience of a life time. It has got us to conclude against flying Emirates. The callousness and unprofessional approach to the problems and woes of the passengers is unpardonable. This was least expected by an airline of international repute.

My daughter and I have suffered immense physical and mental trauma. When on board, I asked the flight staff for medicines for my daughter, but they didn’t seem to care much. I was told my daughter would be alright and there is no cause for concern. I found myself completely helpless and uncared for. It is appalling to know that an international carrier like Emirates do not have an alternative or back up plan to accommodate passengers for unforeseen delays or contingencies of such nature.

In addition, I was expected to resume work on July 5, failing which could have cost me my job. Ever since I have joined office, I have been extremely busy with the backlog and urgent issues, which is one of the reasons for the delay in bringing this grievance to your attention. I wish to leave no stone unturned to ensure that such an incident does not recur and Emirates takes all actions possible to tackle this issue and give this incident the attention it deserves.
From Ms Jennifer Noronha

Emirates Airline customer affairs  responds:

Emirates was disappointed to learn of the inconvenience that Ms Noronha and her daughter experienced due to the delayed departure of flight EK503 from Mumbai to Dubai, on July 4, 2009.

Our records show that the inbound flight was diverted to Ahmedabad airport due to adverse weather conditions in Mumbai and runway closure at Mumbai airport, as another aircraft burst a tyre on the runway, leaving debris which needed to be cleared.

During the interim period that our aircraft was in Ahmedabad and after the runway in Mumbai was cleared, other airlines were given clearance by air traffic control to take off and land. Although every effort is made to achieve on-time departures, which is an integral part of our product, there are occasions when flights are delayed due to circumstances beyond our control. These flight disruptions were due to a ‘force majeure’ situation, which was beyond the control of Emirates.

According to our Conditions of Carriage, which may be viewed on our website, ‘Force Majeure’ means unusual and unforeseen circumstances that cannot be controlled and the consequences of which cannot be avoided by taking reasonable care. Emirates agrees that our passengers are inconvenienced when flights are delayed. Whilst we make every effort to transport passengers according to planned schedules, operational necessities or technical difficulties cause changes to these schedules as on this occasion. When this happens, we do our utmost to minimise passenger inconvenience.

We note that Ms Noronha and her daughter were offered complimentary hotel accommodation at the airline’s expense in Mumbai and were re-booked on flight EK8503 from Mumbai to Dubai on 5 July. With regard to her comments that our ground staff in Mumbai did not transfer her and her daughter from flight EK503 to flight EK509, we would like to advise her that our staff checked with local immigration authorities. However, they were unable to obtain last minute approval from them.

It is of concern to learn that her daughter was suffering from food poisoning, prior to her arrival at the airport. A detailed report from our Airport Services Manager in Mumbai states that her daughter was offered medical assistance by our doctor at the airport, before she was transported to the hotel.

Furthermore, we regret any rude behaviour and lack of assistance from our cabin crew members towards Ms Noronha onboard flight EK8503 on July 5.  We have since contacted our Senior Manager concerned and he will investigate her comments and take remedial action as deemed necessary.The disruption to Ms Noronha’s travel plans is regrettable, but was something entirely beyond the control of Emirates. We thank her for bringing her concerns to our attention and for allowing us to respond.