Having a tipple or two on a long-haul flight is all part of the charm, but for passengers flying to the Middle East, they could end up with something much worse than a hangover.
Swedish born Brit, Ellie Holman, was arrested in July after enjoying a complementary drink on Emirates flights, prompting Government warnings about drinking alcohol flying to Dubai. However, Emirates are insisting that quaffing a few on board is still perfectly safe.
Detained in Dubai
The story of Ellie Holman is almost tailor made to tug on the heart strings. According to Holman’s report and the testimony of NGO ‘Detained in Dubai’, she had only one glass of wine on her eight-hour flight from London. Upon landing, she had her passport whisked away and was detained in a cell along with her four-year-old daughter.
She has said that neither of them were allowed to go to the toilet, or to have water to drink, and that they were made to clean bathrooms while they were held in custody. She was held for three days, after which she was transferred to a private home, according to Dubai officials. She finally received a pardon on the orders of Sheik Mohammed and flew back to London on August 12th.
However, there is a little more to this story than meets the eye, as was later uncovered by the media. The Sevenoaks based dentist tried to enter Dubai on an expired visa and was told to return to London immediately. During an argument with the immigration officials, she proceeded to film the altercation on her mobile phone, something which is a bad idea in any country. It was only after this that she was asked about her alcohol consumption.
Although Holman did nothing to help her situation, the primary reason for her detention was down to drinking alcohol on Emirates. A bizarre situation really, when you consider that the carrier is owned by the government of the Emirate of Dubai. So, should Emirates stop serving alcohol, or is it down to passengers to take responsibility and refuse their free glass of wine?
Drinking alcohol on Emirates flights to Dubai is OK, says the airline
Following the incident, Emirates have reiterated that it is not a problem to drink on board their flights. UK media had questioned the legality of serving drinks on board if, like Ellie Holman, passengers risked arrest when they landed.
The carrier has been answering queries on Twitter with firm reassurances that there is no risk of arrest. Responding to a concerned traveller, they said:
“…alcohol consumption is not prohibited on our flights. Furthermore, alcohol is also served in the lounge in Dubai airport and available for purchase in the Duty Free.”
However, the advice from the British Embassy in the UAE paints a different picture. In a statement issued by them in the last few days, they have said:
“If you are caught with alcohol in your blood in the UAE, you can be arrested. It is a punishable offence to be under the influence of alcohol in public, including when transiting through the UAE.”
Some clued up passengers who are travelling to the UAE may well refuse a drink with this situation in mind. However, for many of us flying Emirates, we’re merely transiting in Dubai on route to somewhere else and will not even give a second thought to whether drinking alcohol flying to Dubai is a good idea or not.
Chances are, if you’re well behaved and avoid anything that could draw attention to you, you won’t be stopped and checked for alcohol at Dubai airport. The drinking laws are often used to detain people for more complex offenses, as it’s the easiest way to get someone behind bars. But having any amount of alcohol in your blood is a risk, and it’s down to you whether it’s one you’re prepared to take.
Is drinking alcohol in Dubai illegal?
If you’re visiting Dubai as a tourist, you’ll quickly notice that, despite the Emirates being largely a ‘dry’ region, there’s plenty of alcohol around. Dubai has a kicking nightlife scene, with plenty of bars, restaurants and nightclubs freely serving alcohol to their patrons. So, will you be arrested for drinking alcohol in Dubai?
The short answer is no. As a tourist, you are allowed to drink in approved venues, such as hotels, bars, nightclubs and restaurants. However, you cannot drink in public, anywhere or at any time, so hold off on taking a few cold ones to the beach. You could also be arrested for being intoxicated in public, so it’s best to enjoy in moderation if you’ve got somewhere to go afterwards.
The FCO says:
“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”.
Despite there being a number of off licenses around the city, you are not allowed to buy drinks in shops at all. Locals who are not of the Muslim faith can obtain a license to buy alcohol to consume at home, but as a tourist, this is not permitted. Whether you can buy it in the airport duty free to consume in your hotel room is a grey area, so do be careful.
It seems that the advice over drinking alcohol flying to Dubai is probably don’t do it, at least not right now. It’s clear that the UAE in general needs to be more specific on the legality and safety of drinking alcohol on Emirates flights, and until that is received, abstinence is probably the safest option.