This year my wife and I decided to visit my in-laws now living and working in Kathmandu , Nepal. We visited our usual websites to find the cheapest and best flights and we managed to find a decent price on a flight from Venice to Dubai with Emirates (ca. 5 hours) and then Dubai to Kathmandu with FlyDubai (ca. 6 hours), a company we had never heard of before. It turns out that following our BEAUTIFUL flight with Emirates, drinking cocktails, soft drinks and juices for free during, before and after our meal, the FlyDubai flight was pretty terrible. It felt like flying with RyanAir but for 6 hours. All and any food or drinks, including water, were to be paid separately for the entire flight. But the ticket was cheap right? That consoled us and everything went well. After enjoying our 2 week holiday in Nepal we had to finally and sadly return home. Our FlyDubai flight was scheduled for 11.05 pm on a Saturday night from Kathmandu to Dubai to catch a connecting Emirates flight to Venice.
This is where things started to go awry.
We notice that a lot of flights are being canceled due to the bad weather (a storm in the afternoon). An earlier FlyDubai flight to Dubai, scheduled to depart at 5 pm, is delayed but manages to depart after the storm at around 10.30 pm, so we ask about our flight and staff confirm that our plane has landed and that our flight is not canceled. However, at around midnight our flight is no longer on the departure board. Everyone starts to worry and finally an announcement tells us to go back through security to the check-in area because our flight had been canceled for “operational reasons”. That was the end of public announcements on the intercom, leaving us to rely on incomplete messages from confused employees for any further information.
We reverse back through immigration and passport control, asking for confirmation that we won’t run into problems later since our visa ended at midnight on the day of our flight. The border guard says “no problem” kind of laughing it off. (The next day the immigration officials would tell us it was not “OK” and that we had to go back to the entrance of the airport to get a confirmation of flight cancellation. We strongly refused and luckily they eventually gave up and let us through.) We then wait for our luggage to be given back to us at the check-in area.
Throughout this process, we keep on asking what was to be of us and our flight, and the staff kept telling us to wait here and wait there without really giving an announcement. Communication is not FlyDubai’s strong point.It’s now getting really late and I ask a staff member when the first flight will be the next morning so we can go back to our in-laws and then drive back to the airport early in the morning. He gives a vague answer, saying that assuming the bad weather continues, the first flights might start at 10 am. We realise that all we can do for now is wait and hope that FlyDubai manages to figure out a plan. We are finally told that we will be put into a hotel and that we will be eventually woken up and taken to the airport by bus, in time for the rescheduled flight the next morning and that we have to wait outside for the buses. Figuring out transportation and sleeping quarters for a plane full of people at midnight can’t be easy, and we start to be relieved that they are managing to redeem themselves at least a little. However, this is where the situation starts to get very weird.
All the passengers are milling around outside the airport, divided into two roughly equal-sized groups: the foreigners on one side and the Nepali on the other. I imagine we are just divided like this because we all tend to stay close to people we can communicate with, however, I feel a weird premonition that we will be sent to different hotels. I decide to ask the FlyDubai staff member organizing the crowd about the division. She answers hesitantly “no worries you are all going to the hotel”. I feel like she hesitated because she didn’t want to give an honest answer, and in retrospect I know I was right.
The foreigner group, including us, is the first to be shuttled to one of the best hotels in Kathmandu: the Crowne Plaza Kathmandu Soaltee Hotel. By now it is 3 am and exhausted we collapse into our beds, with still no news of when our new flight will start the next day. Early the next morning the flights have been arranged: our bus will pick us up at 10 am to catch our new flight at 1 pm. While having breakfast at the hotel we notice many fellow foreign passengers from our canceled flight. However, there are absolutely no Nepali passengers. None. From a group of 50–60 people not a single one can be seen at the breakfast buffet.
We get to the airport, reunited with the Nepali passengers, and board the FlyDubai airplane, which takes off with an additional hour of delay. According to the official statement we receive later, we have now accumulated over 14 h of delay.
Trying to solve the mystery of the disappearing Nepali passengers, we decide to investigate. One of our fellow Nepali passengers tells us about the terrible night she went through. The separation that we saw the night before was not a natural grouping of Nepalis vs foreigners, but instead was the manifestation of a subtle and conscious division of the group according to nationality by the FlyDubai staff. She explains to us that she was the only one protesting to the FlyDubai staff last night, without result, when she realised that they were being carted off to a different place than the foreigners. They were not brought to the same fancy hotel, and instead had to spend the night in a shoddy hotel, stuffed in with 5–6 people per room! Moreover, they also waited an additional 2 hours for the bus to come pick them up! My wife is fuming with anger. She talks to one of the stewards who takes her email, tells us he knew nothing about this and promises to make an official complaint.
We arrive in Dubai, having to spend an additional night here on our ever longer journey home. Speaking there to another FlyDubai employee at the connections desk we ask about this racial discrimination. Basically, he laughs us off, saying that we should protest about this on the streets with a sign in our hands and that he loves Europeans and their naive ideals. He also tells us that the organisation of hotels is not a FlyDubai problem, it’s a country problem. He says that in Dubai we would all have been put in the same hotel. We argue back: even though it is possible that this regulation is not made by FlyDubai, that does not legitimise the fact that FlyDubai is following the regulation. He ends our discussion with a very ironic “enjoy your 5 star hotel”.
Upon getting back home I write an email to FlyDubai explaining what happened, and here is how they answer:
Thank you for your feedback, which we will share with the concerned team.
Please note that the hotel accommodation allocation based on availability and not related to the passengers' nationality.
We understand how inconvenient flight delays can be, we’re constantly looking at ways to improve our passengers’ flying experience so will ensure your feedback is passed on to the relevant department.
Should you have purchased travel insurance for your travels, flydubai is able to provide you with a letter confirming the delay of your flight. Please let us know if you require such a letter.
Thank you for your understanding.”
Obviously, it is impossible that it was pure coincidence that the expensive hotel had exactly the correct room availability for 100 % of the foreign passengers. And it is impossible that there was only one other hotel in the large city of Kathmandu, which just so happened to not have sufficient space to enable the allocation of a single room per passenger or couple, for the remaining Nepali passengers.
Of course, the financial and very immoral reasoning for this discrimination is clear: why spend money on a group of mainly poor migrant workers who travel frequently to Dubai and rely heavily on the FlyDubai flights. Instead, FlyDubai opts to spend money on those passengers with a higher likelihood of disposable income and who are more likely to change airlines after the experience of a drastic flight delay. Of course. But since when can rules and regulations take only a company’s economic benefits into consideration? Are we not in 2017, in a time where institutionalized racial discrimination should be a thing of the past?
So… this is our story and the reason we should all try our best to avoid flying with FlyDubai until they change their policies. Have you ever had similar experiences? Any comment is appreciated.
Riccardo and Nadja
Riccardo Bolzan is from Italy and shared his personal experience with Anna Note.