Afzal KP
Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Being late by 5 minutes probably saved UAE expat Afzal KP from the jaws of death - he missed the fateful Kerala-bound Air India Express flight. For once in his life, the Abu Dhabi resident was grateful for being fined.

At 1:35pm on Friday, 26-year-old Afzal stood at the Dubai International Airport feeling awful that he had missed his flight, because he was late by five minutes to pay an overstay fine. He was supposed to board the Air India Express Flight IX1344 from Dubai to Kozhikode.

The Abu Dhabi resident told Gulf News: “I was supposed to leave UAE by July 10, after my work visa with Royal Dates, where I worked, expired in June. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, I was unable to travel back. At first, I thought of remaining in the UAE till December with a visa extension. But, as flights opened up for repatriation, I decided to apply to return on a Vande Bharat mission.”

After days of waiting, he finally received a ticket for August 7.

He said: “I was happy I was going to return to Mattannur in Kannur, my hometown, after more than a year, I would get to see my mother. I am also engaged, and our families were planning to set a wedding date, after I completed quarantine.”

He went to Tasheel, to check if he had any pending penalties or fines to close, and was told everything was clear.

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Afzal added: “On August 6, I reached Sharjah and stayed there, before heading out to Dubai next morning. At 8:30am, I was in the airport, excited and ready. I gave my blood test at the counter. I got my boarding pass, my seat number was 18C.

Afzal's boarding pass
Afzal's boarding pass Image Credit: Supplied

"The flight was scheduled for 1:30pm, as we waited at the airport, I got acquainted with a co-passenger named Ayesha, and helped her with her luggage once we started queuing up. However, at the immigration counter, she got her eye-test and boarded. But, I was stopped, and the officials told me I had a pending fine of around Dh1000 for overstay, which needed to be cleared before I could board.”

Afzal didn’t have enough money to pay the fines, he was short by nearly Dh500.

From 10am to 12pm, he stood at passport control, trying to convince officials to allow him to board.

Afzal said: “They gave me the option to leave without paying, but that could result in me having issues to return to the UAE. This was not okay for me as I had found another job, and would need to return after two months.

“This is when some Air India staff members at the airport suggested that I try and arrange for the remaining amount, since I had some more time before the flight took off.”

So, around 1:15pm Afzal phoned his colleague, Ibrahim Adkar, who works as a Public Relations Officer (PRO) in his previous company. He added: “Ibrahim told me not to worry, and that he would send someone soon with the money.”

Ibrahim who is amazed at Afzal’s miraculous escape told Gulf News: “He sounded so tense when he called me. I immediately sent a friend. But, by the time he reached the airport, he was a few minutes too late.”

I immediately sent a friend. But, by the time he reached the airport, he was a few minutes too late.

- Ibrahim Adkar

While the friend reached exactly at 1:30pm, Afzal could only get to the counter and make the payment, by 1:35pm. He said: “However, it was too late, I was told the flight is taking off, and I was handed back part of my boarding pass, so I could collect my luggage. They told me I would have to rebook a ticket on another flight.”

After collecting his things, Afzal said he sat at the airport for a few minutes feeling sad that he had missed the flight. “The first thing I did was call my mother, and tell her that I won’t be on this flight, and that Inshallah, I would come after a week. I then informed my father, who works in the Abu Dhabi defence camp. Since I had no more money left, another colleague came to pick me up, and dropped me off at my sister’s home in Deira,” he said.

Tired and feeling miserable, Afzal ate his lunch and slept. It was only close to Maghrib prayers that he was woken up, his phone was incessantly ringing.

“It was Ibrahim and some other friends, they were calling me to tell me that the flight I had just missed, had crashed in Kozhikode. I couldn’t believe it!

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“I am still in shock, and trying to get in touch with the family of the co-passenger whom I had tried to help board, I hope she is alright,” Afzal added.