that time I spent the night in the Dubai airport

I’ve traveled quite a bit in my 26-years. From road trips through the winding mountains of Mexico to 3-hour panga rides through the high seas of the Pacific. I’ve taken ferries, bajajis, bancas, buses, trains, sketchy planes, and everything else you can think of. But nothing has been more horrific than my recent journey from Dar es Salaam to Venice on Emirates Airlines.
I don’t even know where to start.
When I arrived at the check-in counter, they couldn’t find my daughter’s ticket. She was a lap infant, and we added her to my ticket after purchasing mine (not at the same time). I had my itinerary printed out, but my ticket number didn’t match hers. They sent me back out through security (you have to go through security to get to the check-in area of Dar es Salaam) to purchase another lap infant seat from the travel agents outside. The travel agents couldn’t figure out how to simply add a lap infant to my ticket without upgrading my seat to First Class (mm-hmm). I couldn’t afford to do that, and I thought for sure I was going to miss my flight. I went back to the Emirates check-in counter to see if they could check one last time. “Oh, I’m sorry madam, it’s right here.” (Duh.) With 7 minutes to spare before check-in closed.
Then they informed me, “Oh, you can’t take your pram on the plane.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because there are prams available in the Dubai airport when you arrive,” they replied.
“So because there are strollers in the Dubai airport, I can’t use my own stroller to get through the next security checkpoint and to the gate with my toddler and two large carry-ons in the Dar es Salaam airport?”
“Yes. I mean no,” they replied. “You cannot take the pram. You have to check it now.”
I was so sick of arguing at that point that I just said whatever. I didn’t have the baby carrier I normally take through the airports because I figured I’m too tired and pregnant to carry around a 27lb toddler for that long. I thought I’d have the stroller this time. Apparently not. So I tied Eva on my back with a kanga and waddled my way to passport control, then up the stairs to the next security check-in.
I was the last person to check-in on the flight so when I got to my gate all the seats in the waiting area were taken. Nobody offered to give me theirs, so I walked over to the boarding area since I knew they would be boarding any minute. According to Emirates written policy, those traveling with small children are allowed priority boarding. But the guy at the gate wouldn’t let me board first.
“We board from the back of the plane first, you wait until your zone is called.”
I explained to him that I was pregnant, that I had been on my feet for a good two hours, that I was traveling alone with a toddler, that it was written in Emirates policy, and that I needed to get on that plane and sit down immediately. My stomach was cramping at that point and I was getting worried. My eyes welled with tears.
“No, please step aside,” he said.
The people around me were shocked. Voices in all sorts of accents rang out,
“Are you kidding?”
 “It’s the policy, mate.”
“Just let her on the plane.”
“No,” he said. “If I let her go I’ll be in trouble with my station manager.”
That’s the reason he won’t let me go? I took matters in my own hands and just went. Was anyone going to tackle me with an infant on my back? I hoped not. And nobody did. I took my seat and was simply relieved to be on the plane at that point. “Everything will be easier from here,” I thought. I was dead wrong.
I won’t even talk about traveling with a 1.5-year-old who might as well be 2 on my lap for 5 hours. That was my own damn fault, and I’ll never do it again.
But I will talk about what happened when I arrived in Dubai.
First off, when I finally got off the plane all the strollers that would supposedly be there were taken.
I had to walk a long ways with my cranky toddler and two heavy bags before I found an abandoned one.
Then, when I got to the hotel/visa area, I was informed that a hotel hadn’t been booked for me. Normally, if you have a layover in Dubai longer than 12 hours, Emirates sets you up with a visa and hotel room. I’ve done it twice before and it was easy. But this time my hotel wasn’t there. I was told I could purchase overnight visas for $300 (not including a hotel room) and I was like, “Um… no.”
So I turned around and went back up the escalators feeling like I was in The Terminal.
I went to the Emirates business lounge and explained my situation. I threw out the pregnancy card. I even offered to pay for entry. But no. I wasn’t allowed in there.
I walked around for half an hour, searching for a comfortable looking chair. The only chairs I could find had those divider things between them so you can’t lay down. I gave up and sat in one. I spoke to a friendly lady from Melborne that told me about these “sleep cubbies” you could pay for in the airport. So I went off for a search. Eva did not want to go back in the stroller, which didn’t recline, so I wore her on my back and put my bags in the stroller instead.
I trudged through the airport, feeling like a zombie, until I found it. All the cubbies had been booked until 4:45am. It was about 1am at that point, but I still reserved a cubby and decided to look for somewhere to go for the next 3.5 hours. I finally found a spot behind a row of chairs. I took all the extra clothes I had out of my backpack and made makeshift pillow for Eva and I. I tried to get her to sleep, but she fussed. She fussed and fussed and fussed until she finally gave into her exhaustion at 2:30am. I set my alarm for 4:40 and tried to get some sleep. It was terrible.
Smiling on the outside, screaming on the inside.
When my alarm went off I was ecstatic. I headed over to the sleep cubbies eager for my 3 hours of sleep. And of course once I got in there I couldn’t fall asleep. Despite my exhaustion, it took me longer than ever. But once I woke up, I felt like a new person. I was optimistic and ready to start the rest of my journey. The cubby was so worth the $50 I had to pay.
Inside the sleep cubby.
And the worst of it really was over at that point. I didn’t mind the next 6-hour plane ride with a toddler on my lap because I was just so happy to be out of the Dubai airport.
I don’t know. It might not seem that bad on paper, but it was just so incredibly horrible. The stress and exhaustion were so bad that I became very worried about my pregnancy. I cried a lot (mostly hormones, I think). People probably thought I was crazy or just had a death in the family or something. But I was just an emotional mess. And I’m so glad it’s over.
The drive to Aviano… gorgeous.
Have you ever had a terrible travel experience?
A Compass Rose


  1. OMG I felt your frustration and exhaustion reading this! I would have been a sobbing mess too! I am heading to Melbourne Australia from Florence Italy in a few weeks (via Dubai) and found your post while searching for the strollers at Dubai airport. We will be travelling with a 3 year old and a 5 month old baby. Let’s hope it goes more smoothly and the staff are nicer than your experience!


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