Dubai flooding: Everything you need to know if your Emirates flight is cancelled

Helen and Roman from Manchester should be heading home from New Zealand today after visiting family near the capital, Wellington. The couple have been told their Emirates flights via Dubai are cancelled and there is no clear timetable for getting them back to the UK; Helen is running short of medication.

Gwen and her husband are stranded in paradise – Bali, to be precise – with no certainty about when they might leave. “We can’t seem to get any contact with Emirates to be advised of another flight to the UK,” Gwen tells The Independent. She adds: “We don’t want to be stuck in Dubai at the airport. Can you update us on the position and offer any advice?”

They are just four of the hundreds of thousands of passengers who have been stranded by the unprecedented storm and flooding in Dubai.

Going nowhere: A family stranded at Dubai airport after severe flooding and mass cancellations (REUTERS)
Going nowhere: A family stranded at Dubai airport after severe flooding and mass cancellations (REUTERS)

On a typical day, 250,000 people pass through the world’s busiest international airport; Dubai overtook London Heathrow for this title several years ago.

But over the past 48 hours the vast majority have seen their flights cancelled, diverted or heavily delayed due to flooding.

Bizarrely, the way that air passengers’ rights rules are structured means that people who have yet to leave the country are in a far stronger position than those in far-flung corners of Asia, Australasia and Africa.

These are the key issues.

What’s the problem?

A severe storm began in the early hours of Tuesday 16 April. Dubai was drenched in a year and a half’s worth of rain in a single day, killing at least one person and disrupting travel through the airport that handles more international passengers than any other.

Flooding and associated disruption is continuing to cause widespread cancellations.

All airlines using Dubai International Airport affected, with British Airways flights from London Heathrow diverting in successive days to Bahrain and Abu Dhabi.

But passengers on Emirates – which flies more people on intercontinental journeys than any other airline – are collectively facing far bigger problems.

How bad are things?

A snapshot by The Independent of all the overnight Emirates departures due to arrive in Dubai from the UK on Thursday morning shows the scale of the problem. Bear in mind that most of the aircraft used are Airbus A380 “SuperJumbo” planes carrying more than 500 passengers.

  • Cancelled: London Heathrow (three), London Stansted, Birmingham and Glasgow. That represents around 3,000 people who did not arrive as expected on Thursday. Crucially, because the outbound flights were cancelled, a similar number did not fly out from Dubai to the UK.

  • Delayed: The minimum delay arriving in Dubai was two hours, for a single flight from Heathrow. A second Stansted flight was three hours late, while arrivals of another flight from Heathrow and one from Newcastle were four hours late. But the standard delay was six hours, affecting passengers from Gatwick, Heathrow, Glasgow and Manchester.

Once in Dubai, though, their problems could just be beginning. Hundreds of flights are delayed, and onward connections on Emirates to destinations such as Colombo in Sri Lanka, the Seychelles and Kolkata in India are cancelled.

Many Emirates flights are resuming, but with planes, pilots and cabin crew scattered around the world it will be some time before a full schedule is running again.

When flights resume, the passengers who are booked on those departures take priority – with people who may have been waiting for days at the back of the queue.

What does Emirates say?

“Emirates extends our sincerest apologies to impacted customers who have experienced delays and disruption to their travel plans caused by bad weather and road conditions.

“We appreciate how difficult it is for everyone affected. While some customers have been able to return home or reach their destination, we are aware that many are still waiting to get on flights.

“Our teams are working hard to restore our scheduled operations, as well as secure accommodation and other amenities for affected customers at the airport. Our primary concern will always be the safety of our customers and crew, and this will never be compromised.”

The airline adds that Dubai airport “remains congested” and warns: “There may still be delays to arriving and departing flights.”

Emirates says: “Customers impacted by flight cancellations should contact their booking agent, DM us [@EmiratesSupport on X/Twitter], or visit for rebooking.”

What is the position for British travellers due to be flying out to or via Dubai?

Air passengers’ rights rules mean they are in a strong position. Any airline that cancels a flight from a UK airport, for any reason, must provide passengers with:

  • An onward flight as soon as possible, including on a rival airline if seats are available. For example, a passenger from London to Sydney could expect to be rebooked via Hong Kong, Singapore or Doha if Emirates has no room but Cathay Pacific, Singapore or Qatar Airways does.

  • Hotels and meals as appropriate until they can reach their destination.

No cash compensation is payable because the cause of the delay is beyond Emirates’ control.

Passengers in Dubai awaiting an onward connection – what is the outlook?

Emirates says: “While some customers have been able to return home or reach their destination, we are aware that many are still waiting to get on flights. Our teams are working hard to restore our scheduled operations.”

The airline says it is trying to “secure accommodation and other amenities for affected customers at the airport”.

Anyone who arrived from the UK (or anywhere in the European Union) is entitled to a hotel, meals and an onward flight on any airline as soon as possible.

Passengers travelling in the opposite direction have no such legal protection.

Airlines generally provide stranded passengers with accommodation and meals, but such is the pressure on hotels that this may not happen. There is no legal obligation to arrange care.

What about people stranded in Asia, Africa or Australasia with connections via Dubai?

As they are flying on a non-British/non-European airline from outside the UK/EU, they have no formal rights besides the general principle that the airline will get them home when possible.

Travel insurance may cover added costs, and possible make a modest payment (typically £25 for each 12 hours) for the length of the delay.

I’m booked on a package holiday. Does that make a difference?

If you have bought flights and accommodation at the same time from the same provider, you have an extra layer of consumer protection. The Package Travel Regulations mean that the company that sold you the trip is responsible for ensuring the holiday goes ahead as planned – and must take action if it does not. For example:

  • If you are booked to travel to the Maldives via Dubai, the holiday firm could look for alternative flights.

  • Should your short break to Dubai be impossible because of cancelled flights or conditions on the ground, you are due a full refund.

  • Stranded on the other side of the world? The holiday company must find a solution for you, and ensure your welfare while you wait.

If I pay for my own hotel or alternative flight, can I claim it back from Emirates?

That depends. If you are in the UK – or stranded in Dubai en route from the UK to a third country – and Emirates has been unable to provide you with these, then you should be able to claim. In all other circumstances, such as being stranded in Bali, it is unlikely the airline will pay up.

Travel insurance may help.

What about other airlines flying in and out of Dubai?

They are also facing big problems. Flydubai, the short-haul cousin of Emirates, made dozens of cancellations on Tuesday and Wednesday, with many flights on Thursday heavily delayed.

FlyNas, the Saudi budget airline, has cancelled more flights than any other on Thursday.

Other carriers, including British Airways and Royal Brunei, have grounded some UK flights, but operations overall are not as badly affected because Dubai represents only a tiny proportion of flying for most airlines.

I have a flight to or via Dubai next week. Should I worry?

Probably not. Emirates and other carriers should be back on track, and as mentioned anyone with a booking for a flight that goes ahead takes precedence over those who may have been waiting a week after a cancelled flight.