Expats returning to Dubai after summer break warned over drinking alcohol on flights

Published:  7 Sep at 6 PM
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Tourists as well as expatriates returning to Dubai after the summer break are being warned not accept an alcoholic drink during their flight.

The warning comes after a Swedish expat living long-term in London with her partner and children was arrested and imprisoned for drinking a glass of red wine offered to her by a stewardess. British consulates across the UAE issued the advice via a Facebook post after the story made news worldwide, with many responses asking why airlines are still serving alcohol on flights heading for Dubai as they’re certainly well aware of the UAE’s ultra-strict laws.

Dr Ellie Holman’s arrest and detention made headlines in a number of publications worldwide, with the story changing somewhat over a short period of time. At first, the small amount of alcohol in her blood was given as the reason for the arrest at customs in Dubai airport, with subsequent reports suggesting she’d been stopped as her Iranian passport was out of date, after which she presented her Swedish passport but was informed she’d have to leave immediately because her visa only related to the out-of-date passport. When she refused, citing she and her daughter were exhausted from the long Emirates flight, the situation deteriorated and she was asked if she’d been drinking.

She said she’d had a glass of wine on the flight before trying to photograph the customs officer, at which point she and her daughter were marched away and locked in a holding cell. Having been refused legal representation and any contact with her family, she and the child were taken to a detention centre in the airport, and remained there for three days in appalling conditions. After her partner arrived from the UK to collect the child, Dr Holman was released and allowed to stay with friends in Dubai whilst awaiting legal proceedings. Her passport was confiscated and she was informed her case could take a full year and involve a prison sentence.

Possibly due to the potential effect on Dubai’s growing tourism industry of the worldwide publicity surrounding the incident, she was finally released by direct order of its ruler, Sheikh Mohammed, and allowed to fly home. The Dubai government paid for her flight home, an official apologised for the actions of the immigration officer and she was presented with flowers before she boarded her London-bound flight. According to legal advisory NGO Detained in Dubai, hundreds of thousands of passengers on flights to Dubai drink alcohol served by stewardesses during their flights. It’s a catch 22 situation, with a government-owned airline breaking the rules and government officials arresting those who, often unknowingly, break the same rule.
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