One woman's seemingly innocuous in-flight beverage choice landed her in hot water in Dubai.
On July 13, Ellie Holman, a dentist from Kent, England, was flying Emirates with her four-year-old daughter, Bibi, from London to Dubai. On the flight, Holman had a glass of wine, as serving alcohol is permitted on Emirates, despite United Arab Emirates laws being extremely conservative when it comes to drinking.
People over the age of 21 are allowed to drink alcohol at licensed venues (hotels, bars, etc.), and on flights to the UAE, but drinking or being intoxicated in public is strictly prohibited. "British nationals have been arrested and charged under this law, often in cases where they have come to the attention of the police for a related offence or matter, such as disorderly or offensive behaviour," the U.K. government warns on its official website.
Holman told The Sun that when she landed, an official informed her that her visa had expired. Dubai attorney general Essam Al Humaidan said in a statement it was her passport that had expired, but that because she also had an Iranian passport she was told that she was eligible for a visa for a 96-hour stay. Al Humaidan claims Holman "refused angrily to the additional payment fees that the process would require and proceeded to verbally insult the immigration officer and take photos of the officer via her phone."
But Holman says the choice she was given was to return to the U.K. immediately, and as she did not want to get on another eight-hour flight with her daughter, she argued with the officer. She said the officer then began to question her about whether she had been drinking.
Holman admitted she had one complimentary glass of wine on her flight, she said. Her blood test was consistent with that claim, as her blood alcohol was only a 0.04 percent, well below the legal driving limit in the U.K.
However, Holman said the official told her that in the UAE, possession of alcohol is prohibited, even “inside a person’s body.” Al Humaidan disputes this claim, saying she was charged for "profanity and photographing a government official in a restricted area."
Holman says both she and her daughter were detained in a cell for three days. Holman’s partner, Gary, flew to Dubai to take Bibi home, but Holman was told she has to stay in the country until her case is processed, which could reportedly take up to a year. She was released and allowed to return home on Aug. 11, according to The Guardian.
Holman says she has spent £30,000 (just over $38,000 USD) in legal fees and other expenses, and has had to close her practice as a result of her detainment.
Radha Stirling, chief executive of Detained In Dubai, told The Sun that airlines should be held accountable for misleading and endangering passengers by serving free drinks on flights.
“If consumption of alcohol is illegal in the UAE, airlines are complicit in serving alcohol to their passengers and need to be accountable and liable for their actions,” Stirling said. “I expect that we will soon see airlines being sued for damages and losses incurred by their passengers when they are arrested.”