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Emirates CEO issues apology after Dubai flood chaos; says airline has 30,000 suitcases to return

People queue at a flight connection desk after a rainstorm hit Dubai, causing delays at the Dubai International Airport, United Arab Emirates, April 17, 2024. 

Rula Rouhana | Reuters

The CEO of Emirates Airline issued an apology letter to customers over the weekend after historic rains in the United Arab Emirates caused record flooding and mayhem at Dubai’s airport.

Hundreds of flights were grounded and thousands of customers were stranded as a result.

“I would like to offer our most sincere apologies to every customer who has had their travel plans disrupted during this time,” company chief Tim Clark wrote in the letter published on the airline’s website Saturday.

“We know our response has been far from perfect. We acknowledge and understand the frustration of our customers due to the congestion, lack of information, and confusion in the terminals. We acknowledge that the long queues and wait times have been unacceptable.”

While the airline’s service hub at Dubai airport remained open, “flooded roads impeded the ability of our customers, pilots, cabin crew, and airport employees to reach the airport, and also the movement of essential supplies like meals and other flight amenities,” Clark wrote.

A woman and her daughters eat as they wait for their flight after a rainstorm hit Dubai, causing delays at Dubai International Airport, United Arab Emirates, April 17, 2024. 

Rula Rouhana | Reuters

He said that the airline diverted dozens of flights on Tuesday as the worst of the storm raged, and that “over the next 3 days we had to cancel nearly 400 flights and delay many more, as our hub operations remained challenged by staffing and supply shortages.”

Emirates on Wednesday issued a notice urging travelers not to come to the airport, except for in emergency situations. It also suspended check-ins for those meant to fly out of Dubai, put an embargo on ticket sales and halted connecting flights from other cities to Dubai, leaving some passengers stuck around the world.

'We've never seen anything like this': Dubai Airports CEO discusses flood

Social media lit up with angry posts from customers who said they received no help from Emirates staff and were unable to contact anyone at the company.

“12hrs waiting on a cancelled flight and 6hrs waiting at this desk with people fainting, fighting and trying to keep sane and absolutely no communication from Emirates,” one Instagram user posted, along with a photo showing a packed crowd of people in front of Emirates screens at the Dubai airport. The time stamp on the photo was 7:05 a.m. Friday.

Another traveler told CNBC via social media: “It took me 48 hours to get from London to Baghdad via Dubai. Five hours on tarmac in airplane [in Dubai], one hour of which there was no one to open the gates of the aircraft bridge. I made my own way out … found a hotel and went back, waited 12 hours. Got on a flight and they served us almonds!”

Some people said they were stuck at the airport for more than 20 hours, and others, stranded in foreign cities and connecting airports, said they had to book their own return home after receiving no help from Emirates.

TOPSHOT – Cars are stranded on a flooded street in Dubai following heavy rains on April 18, 2024. Dubai’s giant highways were clogged by flooding and its major airport was in chaos as the Middle East financial centre remained gridlocked on April 18, a day after the heaviest rains on record.

Giuseppe Cacace | Afp | Getty Images

Clark said his staff did their best to deal with the unprecedented situation, and that it was “all hands-on deck for thousands more employees across the organisation to get our operations back on track.”

The CEO wrote that the airline “sent over 100 employee volunteers to look after disrupted customers at Dubai Airport departures and in the transit area, prioritising medical cases, the elderly and other vulnerable travellers.” He added that more than 12,000 hotel rooms were provided for customers in Dubai, as well as 250,000 meal vouchers issued.

As of Saturday, Emirates’ regular flight schedules had been restored. In the letter, Clark said the airline still had more than 30,000 pieces of luggage to return to customers.

“We have put together a taskforce to sort, reconcile, and deliver some 30,000 pieces of left-behind baggage to their owners,” he said, adding that it will “take us some more days to clear the backlog of rebooked passengers and bags,” and asking for customers’ “patience and understanding.”

Clark concluded by pledging to improve the airline’s processes and thanking his staff for their work, as well as offering “our apologies to each and every customer affected by this disruption.”


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