My Love and Hate Relationship with Dubai International Airport (1)

Earlier this month, after finding out that CBC is launching the airport series ‘Hello Goodbye’, which takes place in Toronto Pearson International Airport, I got inspired and wrote ‘Stories of My Airport Hellos and Goodbyes’. There I shared stories from different airports around the world, some were funny, sad or dramatic, others might have been inspirational.

While finishing that article, I realized that it is time to talk about Dubai, about Emirates, about how it felt to work for 6 months in that huge airport and, maybe most of all, how it felt to leave much earlier than I anticipated. It was my wish and I have no regrets, but the journey wasn’t easy. I shared the conclusion a few months ago and I am sure that many still don’t understand the WHYs behind this decision.

I was scared to talk about this. I still have doubts. People will judge you no matter what you say…but this event helped me shape who I am today and this ‘new me’ might not exist if I hadn’t followed my dream and gone to Dubai to work for Emirates.

So, I am embracing my past, smile at both my struggles and happy moments, and I keep on writing.

Bye bye Romania! Hello Dubai!

In July 2012, a Romanian recruitment agency organized an Emirates Airline event in Bucharest. It was the first time Emirates was coming to Romania to recruit ground staff and not cabin crew. I found out about it after receiving a newsletter from them and quickly submitted my application. At that moment I was working already for 8 months in a multinational company as an IT helpdesk agent, it was my first job after my return from Barcelona and I was still struggling to re-adjust my international wishes to the Romanian life and mentality. I liked my team and my team leader a lot, but the job not that much. I knew it would be something temporary because it was too technical and not very aligned with my goals. I was missing aviation, the time spent working in Barcelona airport, the international people, even the shifts, waking up at odd hours and having different days off.

The news I got accepted in Emirates blew my mind. I felt special because they are a picky airline and not everyone gets elected. I was so proud of myself when I told everyone about the recent changes in my life. I was extremely happy to finally join my best friend in Dubai, who was already a cabin crew at the same airline.

It was the end of many months of day-dreaming about working in a big airport for a full-service airline and having flight discounts. It was a big step towards an aviation career, something I wished for since 2009, when I heard one of my university teachers talking about the years she worked in Iberia as an airport services agent.

And the moment finally came. The moment to stop dreaming and start living it. I boarded that plane with destination Dubai feeling that I conquered the world and excited to see what life had prepared for me.

The Love/Training Period

The training period was my favorite part from those 6 months and it lasted for about 7 weeks, from late December until mid-February. During this time, I mostly felt spoiled, happy and excited.

During the first 4 weeks of training, I lived in a 3-stars hotel near Dubai International Airport, having my own bedroom and free daily access to the gym, pool or jacuzzi at the upper floors. You can imagine I was going up there to relax quite often. My regular week looked something like this:

  • training days Sunday to Thursday from 8 am to 2/3 pm and transportation by shuttle bus included to/from the Emirates Aviation College

  • at the beginning afternoons were used to finish up with the UAE residence and some Emirates paperwork, but as soon as I was over with that, I generally spent time studying, hanging out with my batchmates and exploring my new home, Dubai

  • weekends were generally for fun, going out, doing different things, getting to know more my new friends and also meeting new people

We started using the EK uniform about 1-2 weeks after our arrival in Dubai. We went to the EK Aviation College to have our measurements taken and a few days later we had the full uniform ready: 2 pairs of shoes (high and medium heels), 5 blouses, a total of 5 skirts/pants (the number of each piece was our option), 1 belt, 1 hat + 2 scarfs (or hijabs for Muslim girls, not compulsory though), 1 bag, 1 name tag, 1 hair scrunchy. Of course, there were rules on how to wear it. We actually had a guidebook with all the rules regarding uniform, hair, make up, jewelry, plus later on an ‘Emirates Image and Uniform’ class where the teachers explained the rules more in depth, showed us how to do our hair according to its length and shared tips about their famous red lipstick, make up, nail polish etc. I was so proud when I first put the uniform on me, it kinda felt like a privilege to wear it!

Our teachers were great! My batch had the same one for the whole training and we were very happy with Mike. He had patience, was explaining really well and he would make us laugh quite often with his jokes and Filipino accent. The best thing of all is that he recognizes most of his students and stops to ask how are you even after you started working in the airport.

After these 4 weeks living in the hotel, we had to move and two options were presented to us shortly after we arrived in Dubai: Al Quoz (the Emirates accommodation for airport staff) or find our own accommodation. We had a week to decide, during which we could visit Al Quoz and the apartments. According to our EK grade, we were entitled to a shared bedroom with someone from the same gender, but we had the possibility to ask for an upgrade to a single room by paying extra money each month. After visiting the accommodation and the neighborhood, I was a bit lost and didn’t really know what to do. The apartments were ok, clean and comfortable, but the area didn’t make a good impression at all. Al Quoz is an industrial area, full of working-class men from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and not far from our location you were even able to see the awful living conditions of the construction workers. Since I didn’t know the city and didn’t have enough time to search for another accommodation, I chose Al Quoz and asked for a single room upgrade. Later on, I knew it was the best decision: regular EK buses to/from airport, regular EK bus to Mall of Emirates and a few not so often EK buses connecting us to the HQ and Aviation College. Plus Al Quoz is situated in the middle of Dubai, not far from the metro, has some city bus stops nearby and taxi rides to the beach/malls/clubs were quite short and not expensive.

At the end of January, I packed everything again and moved to Al Quoz. The training continued until mid-February. For 1-2 weeks, we still had to go to the Aviation College for classes, but its wasn’t that close now: from the hotel it was taking us about 15-20 minutes to reach it, whereas from Al Quoz about 45 minutes to 1 hour to exchange 2 buses. The last 10 days of training, we went for practice in the airport and depending on the hour, we either took a direct bus (25 min) or two buses (1h; EK bus to Super Gate, a far entrance to the airport + an airside bus to take us all the way to the terminals).

Besides training, I was able to also gather other awesome memories in this period.

  • an unexpected and crazy New Year’s Eve party at Barasti Beach in Dubai Marina with some batchmates and other new friends from Jordan (you can’t imagine how tired we were the next day without sleeping all night – yes, on the 1st of January at 7 am we had training!)

  • explore Deira and Garhoud neighborhoods, with Deira City Centre and Dubai Festival City

  • marvel in Palm Jumeirah after seeing the famous Atlantis The Palm Hotel and the luxury residences, plus the nearby Burj Al Arab Hotel and Madinat Jumeirah luxury complex

  • go for sun tanning and picnic in Al Mamzar Beach Park with some fellow batchmates

  • try the nightlife in Dubai Marina, Jumeirah or Downtown Dubai and stare uncontrollably to the number of luxury cars outside the clubs and bars, plus the yachts in Dubai Marina

  • marvel again at Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall and the outdoor fountains with views to the luxury Address Hotel (the one that recently suffered a fire during New Year’s Eve)

  • lots of laugh and cultural exchange with my new friends from Middle East, Ukraine, Indonesia

I will always remember New Year’s Eve and the feelings I had when 2013 started…I made it! I am in Dubai, working for one of the best airlines in the world and living the life I imagined!…I couldn’t assume that all this euphoria won’t last for long and my life will soon change.

Part 2 explains the ugly sides and the decision to quit. Feel free to share the article or comment below.

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[…] is another beginning that I have been secretly desiring since I came back heartbroken from Dubai (part 1, part 2 and conclusion) almost three years ago but the Universe didn’t want to give it to me […]


[…] part 1, I was telling you about my decision to finally write about my Emirates experience and how it felt […]