Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

MET#6: Dubai airport

Dubai Airport

For the last blog post on my Middle East trip, I thought I’d spend a bit of time writing about Dubai, or specifically its airport. As I flew with Emirates, I passed through Dubai airport both on the way out and coming back.

The travel agents we use at work offered Emirates as one of three airlines to fly with. The others were Etihad, via Abu Dhabi, and British Airways via London Heathrow. Having asked for advice on Facebook and Twitter, British Airways was discounted pretty quickly. Eventually I chose Emirates for the more convenient flight times – the late finishes and early starts that I had on my trip would have been even worse if I’d flown with Etihad.

One of the world’s biggest

Dubai airport is big. It’s the world’s busiest airport when ranked by international passenger numbers, and third overall when you count all passengers (domestic and international). Last year, over 70 million passengers passed through Dubai airport – more than the entire population on the UK, and 35 times more than Dubai’s total population.

Despite being busier than London Heathrow (ranked second globally for international passenger traffic), Dubai has three terminals compared to Heathrow’s five. Terminal three is the biggest of these and is split into two halves, connected by an automated people mover. It’s basically an underground metro train, but it’s driverless and runs on pneumatic tyres, rather than steel wheels on rails, and only runs between the two halves of the terminal.

Coming back, my flight from Muscat arrived into terminal three, but my onward flight to Manchester departed from terminal one. The concourse of terminal one is connected to terminal three, but I still had to use the people mover and then had a long walk. At least it was all indoors, and all ‘airside’ so no need to go through immigration. Terminal two is completely separate though, and a shuttle bus can take 20 minutes.

Altogether, terminal 3 is the second largest building in the world by floor space. It’s big, and is almost exclusively for flights with Emirates, with just a few Qantas services calling there

Dubai Airport

Shopping

Modern airports aren’t just designed to help you get on and off planes, and in parts Dubai airport feels more like a shopping mall than an airport. Most shops exist in multiple locations in each terminal, because of the size, and are generally run by the airport operator with just a few branded concessions like Starbucks and Boots. In all, Dubai Duty Free makes over £1billion a year from sales. Outbound I didn’t buy much apart from a couple of drinks (which were far cheaper than in the UK) but coming back I picked up a couple of things having forgotten to buy any souvenirs whilst in Jordan or Oman.

As with most airports free wifi was available, but only for one hour. Thankfully I had a phone and two iPads (one work, one personal) to stretch this out.

Coming into land in Dubai

Dubai

I didn’t leave the confines of the airport but it’s worth talking about Dubai itself. Dubai is an ’emirate’ – essentially a city-state within the larger nation state of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Abu Dhabi is another emirate, and there are several others that are less well-known. Originally a series of sheikhdoms under British control, independence was granted in 1971. The majority of sheikhdoms joined together to form the UAE, but two – Qatar and Bahrain – split off to become independent nations. Dubai residents are known as Emiratis, along with those from other emirates.

The UAE is an Islamic country and so there are restrictions on alcohol – in the airport, there were just a handful of Heineken-branded bars were drinking was permitted. There are also dress codes; these primarily relate to women and oblige them to dress modestly. Not doing so is a criminal offence.

Qatar has been in the news for the deaths of hundreds of migrant workers who have been building venues for the 2022 Fifa Football World Cup. Migrant workers in the UAE also suffer from a lack of rights and are forbidden from unionising, despite the huge amount of ongoing construction.

Flying back

My outbound flight from Manchester to Dubai was on a Boeing 777, but on the return I got to travel on one of Emirates’ Airbus A380s. These are the largest passenger planes in use today, with the cabin spanning two levels. Dubai airport has specially-adapted airbridges that connect to both levels, with those travelling in Economy using the lower level and first class passengers going upstairs. In-flight Wifi is available, and it starts at just $1 USD for up to a gigabyte of data, which is far cheaper than many hotels. The downside is that it’s so slow to be almost unusable, but better than nothing I suppose. And you have the opportunity to post a boastful tweet that you have internet access whilst in the air, which, for people like me who grew up with dial-up internet, is pretty amazing.

My return journey from Salalah back to my flat in Sowerby Bridge took the best part of 24 hours, in all. I woke up at about 10pm UK time on the Thursday, and was home at a similar time on the Friday. In all, it involved a minibus, three flights, a people mover, a train, a taxi, and a fair bit of walking.

I haven’t been asked to do any more overseas events for work as yet, and with a baby on the way I’m not sure if I would agree to any if offered. But it was a good experience in all, and one that I’d consider doing again in a few years time perhaps. With less overnight travel, hopefully.

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