Welcome to Dubai. Please turn your clock back 200 years.

Given the number of Canadians who travel to Europe or Asia through U.S. hubs such as Minneapolis and Chicago, it’s surprising that plans by a Middle Eastern airline to fly into three Canadian cities a few times a week would turn into a major battle for the hearts and minds of Canadians.

That battle was in full swing this past week, as Emirates Airline, based in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, made its case for increasing the number of flights the carrier is allowed to fly each week to and from Toronto, and for adding non-stop service to its Dubai hub from Vancouver and Calgary.

The added flights will mean jobs and millions of dollars in economic benefits to Canada, said Emirates. This is a one-sided deal where the UAE government wants the Canadian government to make all the concessions while the UAE makes none, said Air Canada.

It’s not as if many Canadians will ever have any reason to fly Emirates. Dubai itself is flowing with oil money, but is otherwise a sterile and stiflingly hot destination. From Toronto, Dubai isn’t on the way to much more than a few Gulf states and a few cities in Asia and Australia.  From Vancouver and Calgary, Dubai is really only a useful hub for the Gulf states and eastern Africa.

Emirates also gets mixed reviews for service according to posters on Skytrax, a popular airline rating web site.

The Dubai-based airline has the upper hand in this battle, however. “More choice” is a phrase that the public loves to hear, even if they had no intention of ever going to Dubai, Khartoum or Hyderabad. Talk to them about the fairness or unfairness of international air travel agreements, however, and their eyes quickly glaze over.

If Air Canada wants to win this war, then, it will need to find a different angle.

Since Emirates is owned by the UAE government, it might be worth Air Canada’s while to point out that traveling through the UAE could open up a different kind of adventure for Canadian travelers — such as a stay in a Middle Eastern jail for doing things there that we take for granted in our day to day lives in Canada.

A British pair learned the hard way this weekend that merely kissing a friend on the cheek in public in the UAE could lead to imprisonment on an indecency charge. The penalty for the two friends: one month in jail and then deportation.

It’s not the first time that travelers have found themselves not enjoying an extended stay in the Middle East for violating the UAE’s super-strict decency laws. An Australian man spent more than two months in custody between late September and mid-December 2009 for blurting out “what the f**k?” to an undercover police officer who grabbed him by the arm after he stepped out of an airport lineup to use an ATM.

Last June, a Lebanese man who had been living in the UAE for an extended period was arrested for wearing a slightly risque T-shirt featuring a nearly-nude Victoria Beckham. The T-shirt has been distributed abroad as part of a campaign to raise awareness of the risks of skin cancer. His punishment: one month in jail and then deportation.

In May, an angry British husband reported his wife and her lover to UAE police for having a tryst at a five-star hotel. The couple were each sentenced to two months in jail on adultery charges, with credit for the month they had already spent behind bars waiting for their day in court. (The lovebirds were deemed so dangerous by a Dubai court that they appeared in court wearing handcuffs.)

Even passengers traveling through Dubai as transiting passengers or who have just arrived have faced their fair share of troubles, including a British man arrested for carrying melatonin jet lag tablets (despite the fact that they can be legally obtained in the UAE).

Another British man was jailed for four years for having three-one-thousandths of a gram of cannabis on the bottom of his shoe. A Swiss citizen was given the same four-year prison sentence for having poppy seeds from a bread roll on his clothing.

Other offences that could get you arrested and imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates: religious proselytization, common-law and same-sex relationships, possession of pornography, possession of pork, or taking photographs of government buildings or military installations.

There is a good chance that Emirates will be allowed to expand its services to and from Canada. The politicians know that more choice in the skies and cheaper airfares are sure-fire crowd pleasers. That’s why re-regulation of the airline industry has always remained a non-starter, no matter how much turmoil the airline industry went through.

If you do find yourself traveling to or through Dubai someday, however, make sure that everything in your possession is squeaky clean and that your lifestyle is as pure and wholesome as a month of Family Circus comics.

Not that I’d recommend carrying Family Circus comic strips into the Middle East, lest the occasional image of someone kissing someone else in the fictitious comic book family land you in hot water for having indecent materials in your possession (to say nothing of the religious themes often found in the strip).

Oh, and one more thing about Dubai: no matter how prosperous it might seem, no matter how shiny and new the buildings look, make sure you turn your moral clock back about 200 years or so on arrival.

Reminder: When traveling, even as a transit passenger not leaving the airport, you are subject to the laws of the host country, including laws that might seem unreasonable or silly from a Canadian perspective. Canadian diplomatic personnel can, at best, only provide limited assistance. You will likely be treated only as well as the host government’s citizens are treated, so be especially cautious in dictatorships, theocracies and countries plagued by corruption and/or human rights abuses. More information on each country is available from the Canadian government’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade web site.

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

One Response to Welcome to Dubai. Please turn your clock back 200 years.

  1. Uptown says:

    Wow, as I’m reading this page, you’ve got hits from Doha and Dubai. 🙂

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