My Love and Hate Relationship with Dubai International Airport (2)

In part 1, I was telling you about my decision to finally write about my Emirates experience and how it felt when I moved to Dubai to start a new life. I shared insights about the training, the living conditions and the good memories from that period. Now, it is time to talk about the ugly stuff, the struggles, the disappointment and the decision to quit.

The point of all this writing is not to throw mud at Emirates or to make you pity me for having to experience all this. For some, it might not look that bad and they will still think that I left too early, that I should have stayed and endure for the sake of my dream. Others might resonate with me and support my decision. My Emirates friends and anyone who has worked for them as an aiport services agent know that this is not a lie, that it is far different from all the shine and glitz Emirates presented to us during recruitment. Unfortunately, not all of them have the option to resign…and yes, I’m looking to those whose countries are in war, face big political and economical problems, corruption and lack of job opportunities, or those who have families and loved ones to support financially. Others enjoy this life and it suits them, which is fine also.

The Mixed Feelings/Love and Hate Relationship

After my move to Al Quoz and starting to work in the airport, the bubble slowly started to have holes and I soon realized that everything was far different than I imagined it.

The airport IDs are those cards employees wear all the times in the airport to be identified, prove they have undergone security checks and are allowed to enter certain secure areas, and in our case to also use the airport facilities for check-in, boarding or other purposes. When I received my airport ID during training, I noticed that me and a few other batchmates had something else written under our names. Most of my group had ‘Check-in and Boarding’, whereas we had ‘Support Services’. We asked the trainers about it and they explained us that after a short period of practice in check-in or boarding, we will be assigned to the EK Special Services lounge to escort young travelers to the aircraft or pick them up on arrival, to assist EK wheelchair or other passengers in-need with all the check-in and boarding procedures. That never happened! Not for me, not for my batchmates while I was there and not long after. Every time I asked about it after training, nobody knew what to tell me.

Accommodation management. When I decided to choose Al Quoz as my accommodation for the 1st year (you couldn’t change before that), I also submitted a request with two of my batchmates to be put together in the same apartment if available. I received a single room and I lived alone in a 2-bedroom apartment for over a month, whereas my friends were assigned with other people in different buildings. Can’t tell you how many times we wrote or went to the HQ until we solved this problem, every time they needed to check, to ask someone and us to wait. My apartment was still empty but we didn’t know for how long, as new batches were doing training every month. Plus we didn’t have internet at home (TV, landline and internet contracts are our responsibility), so we were grabbing our laptops and go to the mall for free wifi at Starbucks or Costa Coffee whenever we had time or weren’t too tired. And I couldn’t sign a contract for my apartment alone because we were short on money until the first paycheck (we received an allowance at the beginning to help us settle) and weren’t sure if we will be together in this location. Besides free WiFi at the mall, we had a certain amount of internet data on our smartphones, but not everything can be done with one. So, this period was pretty much a big pain in the ass until we finally managed to move together towards the end of March.

Accommodation rules. Before I came to Dubai I knew from my cabin crew friend that there are some rules that you need to respect because you are living in a Muslim country. Some made sense, others felt a bit restrictive, but still not that much compared to other Middle Eastern countries. United Arab Emirates, especially the emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, are very liberal, both expat and tourist friendly. So, we had 24/7 security staff at every staff building in Al Quoz, had to sign on and off in the register and had our friends pick us up from downstairs whenever we wanted to visit them (didn’t matter we were EK staff also), visits where allowed only between 7 am and 1 am, you couldn’t have people over at night (not even of the same gender, didn’t matter if your flatmates agreed or weren’t at home). For family members (same gender only) you had to ask for permission at the HQ and later show the approved document at the staff buildings, plus it applied for a maximum of 2-weeks stay. Of course, it was far easier if your friends lived in the same building, nobody came to knock at your door and check what are you doing, unless someone complained about noise or something.

Emirates schedule. I was lucky when I received mine. Firstly, because I had 2-3 days off between the last day of training and the start of my shift, and secondly, because I got a day shift. For beginner airport services agents and check-in and boarding departments, these were the options:

  • day shifts (3/2 – 3 days 5 am to 3 pm, 2 off, total = 30 hours/shift; 4/2 – 4 days work, 2 off, but there were different start/end hours in this order: 2 days 5 am to 4 pm, 1 day 12 pm to 9 pm, 1 day 5 pm to 10 pm, total = 36 hours/shift)

  • night shifts (3/2 – 3 days work, 2 off, total = 30 hours/shift; starting at 10/11 pm or midnight and finishing up at 8/9/10 am; some colleagues had the same start/end hours each shift, others had all three options in the same shift)

  • mixed shifts (4/2 – 4 days work, 2 days off, with different start/end hours in this order: 2 days 11 am to 10 pm, 2 days 5 pm to 10 pm, total = 32 hours/shift)

Of course, there were many types of shifts in the huge Emirates Airport Services department, but those aren’t relevant to the story. I got the 4/2 day shift and I was happy with it because I function better during the day, plus I was able to maintain a certain level of normal in both my sleeping and eating patterns, which was not the case for other types of shifts, especially the night shifts, known to damage your body severely if doing it for extended periods of time. So, for a while it was ok.

Forced overtime. Emirates had a bad habit of introducing forced overtime due to the lack of airport staff and busy operations. I hope they don’t practice it anymore! I was already working for 1 month and a half when I saw the forced overtime popping up in my monthly schedule, instead of 36 hours/shift I had to work 38 hours, which is not that bad at first impression but the reality wasn’t like this. The extra hours were added to my last 2 days (now, 11 am to 9 pm and 4 pm to 10 pm), which meant I had to spend more time coming and going from the airport. Remember I told you in part 1 that at certain hours we had direct buses (25 minutes journey) while at others we had to exchange two buses (1 hour journey)? Well, guess what, on my last day of shift instead of being all dressed up and ready around 4 pm to take the bus at 4:15, I had to be ready by 2:30 pm to take the bus at 2:40 and start working at 4 pm. Suddenly, my half day off was almost screwed up, not to talk about lunch and eating for the rest of the day.

Daily tasks. I was assigned to work in the check-in area, where I remained until I resigned, despite my attempts to figure out after how much time I will be moved to the Support Services department written on my airport ID. Here, we have all sorts of tasks that we can have assigned on a daily basis.

  • Sitting tasks – regular check-in counters (3 to 5 hours straight, long queues of passengers, more stress), baggage drop-off counters (3 to 5 hours straight, less passengers, fast service), car-park check-in counters for groups (3 to 5 hours straight), special check-in counters for Silver/Gold card members (3 to 5 hours straight, similar to baggage drop off)

  • Standing tasks – assist people at the self-check-in machines (3 hours straight, less passengers and normally knowledgeable ones, who are able to do the check-in procedures without assistance), guiding passengers towards the proper area in the terminal (usually 3 hours; if it is crowded, it is super stressful and tiring; when it is not, you might be able to sit in the nearby self-check-in area), hand baggage check point near the security screening area (3 hours)

  • There were also the US/Canada check-in counters (special procedures, different baggage rules) and the denied boarding counters (special procedures for passenger compensation), where you normally had to do further training or even have a higher grade before being assigned there, but in reality it wasn’t always the case. Lucky me, I ended up only in US/Canada ones where I managed to provide a good service with the help of my colleagues because I didn’t get any training before having this task assigned.

For us women, standing tasks were tiring, we often had foot pain due to wearing high heels and also lower back pain from standing too many hours straight. We sometimes alternated with the medium shoes and it felt better, but honestly the best option were the flat shoes. The thing is that we weren’t entitled to those unless we provided a medical certificate saying that we weren’t allowed to wear any heels (which many brought even if it wasn’t the reality), plus it wasn’t fair because cabin crew members received them by default, but were allowed to wear them only during flights.

The breaks, oh the breaks! For 5-6 hours shifts we didn’t have any official break, so no food during this time and add at least 1-2 hours going to/coming from the accommodation, reaching a total of 7 hours without eating. From 9 to 12 hours shifts we had 45 minutes official break. The point is that it wasn’t enough, nor in chill days neither in tough days, that is why many staff asked the supervisors for extra time (not often though since they rarely gave us), went for break without asking when it wasn’t busy or extended their 45 minutes break. At first, I respected the rules, but shortly after I understood them better, I started take care of my health and did what others did.

Company provided training. While in training, we were told we will be called one or two times for extra training in the following 3 months. The purpose was to learn boarding, US/Canada and other procedures. Shortly after I started working, my airport colleagues laughed when I told them that and said to be patient because it doesn’t work like that. And they were right because it happened after almost 1 year from our joining date and my batchmates weren’t called at the same time. Of course I didn’t get the chance anymore due to my earlier resignation. The lack of further training or too much postponing really stands against your rotation through different departments. Trust me, check-in gets boring after a couple of months! I felt stuck, I wasn’t able to use anywhere my previous aviation experience, I had no direction regarding career advancement.

Holidays. I forgot to mention that during the 6-months probation period, you are not entitled to holidays (general UAE working rules, also written in the contract). I joined in late December, started working in mid-February, forced overtime hours since April and in May I already felt tired. Take into consideration that I had about 5-6 days off at the end of March, when I managed to find replacements for my work days and left to Thailand to relax. And I was lucky to enjoy them, because while I was away the company sent an email and let us know that starting April 1st employees in probation period won’t be able to make replacements anymore. So, they practically screwed everyone’s plans and had them wait until their official holidays were approved. There is an internal system that opens every once in while and you have to apply only during that time for a certain period, for example it opens in March to schedule leave in June, July and August, and it is not 100% sure you will get it. So, there is a possibility to remain without holidays for a longer period than initially estimated!

Medical insurance. When we signed the contract we knew we had medical insurance included, but we didn’t exactly know what is included and what is not, it was explained at some point during training. Any previous conditions weren’t covered for the first 2 years or not at all, general check ups weren’t covered, emergencies weren’t covered (unless you stayed minimum 1 night in hospital), so you could say we had a bullshit medical insurance. We had to pay for everything and later submit the documentation at the HQ for reimbursement, wait for the file to be analyzed and receive the answer, which could have been negative also. Until then, pray to not have medical issues or have enough money to pay for it because hospitals and clinics in Dubai are very expensive.

My state of mind not long before resigning

I shortly started feeling tired, having pain in my body, having less and less energy to do other things besides working and sleeping. I sometimes had to force myself to stay awake and go out to the mall/beach or to hang out with my friends because I simply felt the need to do other things besides working. I noticed my hair falling a lot (caused by stress and Dubai desalinated ocean water as the main water supply in homes) and my clothes not fitting me properly because I had lost weight. I started having stomach issues due to irregular eating. I had troubles sleeping, I was even having nightmares that I overslept and arrived late for work. I experienced a couple of panic attacks before my morning shifts, maybe the worst part was that I was realizing they were panic attacks and I couldn’t control them. I didn’t want to go to work anymore, even felt disgust when thinking about it. I was extremely happy to have days off and not put that uniform on me, the one that I was so proud to wear at the beginning. I was desperately in need for some time away from everything.

Bye bye Dubai! Hello Romania!

The decision to resign was very hard. I thought about it for a month and even when I boarded that plane with destination Romania I wasn’t sure if I made the right call. I knew how much I wished to be in Dubai and work for Emirates. Sometimes it felt I was quitting too early and like a massive failure. At the time, I had an amazing boyfriend, also EK staff but from a Middle Eastern country, who loved me, supported me emotionally a lot and taught me how the system works during this time. I didn’t want to give up on us or to make things more complicated by having a long distance relationship until we figure out solutions to be together again in another place, as he also had a deep wish to resign. Another job meant more complications: changing the company sponsor on my visa, find another accommodation (at the time, the prices started to rise a lot), find solutions for transportation (either live near the metro stops or have a car, but I didn’t have a driving license), plus many other stuff.

With a broken heart, I submitted my resignation a bit before the end of my probation period to be able to catch the 1-week notice period (after 6 months it is 1-month notice). I didn’t want to experience the upcoming conditions of living and working during Ramadan in a Muslim country, nor wait for the 1-week holiday time I had received in July, neither to go home and try to recover my strength in just one week. I was exhausted, disgusted and I simply wished to run away for good.

‘Emirates left a vision of future whose contributor I don’t want to be’ – a former colleague

People are different, their dreams and beliefs about life are different, so please try to understand and not judge. I am not telling you to not fly with them or not try to obtain jobs there anymore. This was about finding out more about Emirates, about what I experienced there, about the benefits and problems of working for this airline in Dubai. I hope it will help you take better decisions for yourselves, to stop and think whenever you see all the glamour thrown at you by big companies.

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1 Comment on "My Love and Hate Relationship with Dubai International Airport (2)"

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Hi Andra! Your story with the Emirates is amazing and I totally understand you. Sometimes things that look shiny from the outside turn out to be not that good on the inside. I love the way of your writting and the details, so I was wondering what happened with your relationship with the boy from the Middle East country? What country was he from? Are you still together and how are things working now that you are so far from each other? What future plans you have for your relationship? Thank you and keep the good job with the blog!