Passenger Gets 3 Months In Dubai Prison For Swearing While Requesting A Wheelchair

A British tourist requested wheelchair assistance for his mother while transferring between terminals in Dubai. He didn’t like the answer that a wheelchair would be provided but that he should wait for an inter-terminal bus without him, since he saw another passenger already had one. Trying to escalate his request for assistance, things got heated. Police were called. He used swear words.

He was fined $2,723. He appealed the verdict, and a court found that it was too lenient. He is instead sentenced to 3 months’ incarceration.

“I saw the traveller repeatedly asking an airport desk employee about the wheelchair and expected that he might have not understood her explanation,” the airport employee said in court.

“When I tried to explain it to him [the defendant], he insulted me using very bad language.”

The passenger was told not to use that sort of language, that it wasn’t allowed in the airport, but he responded that he did not care.

I was just in Dubai about a week ago, and have been many times. In general tourists are fine, even when their behavior runs afoul of local custom. But when they call attention to themselves, those otherwise-dormant laws can be enforced. For instance, while Emirates serves alcohol public intoxication is a crime. An American was once arrested in Dubai for smoking pot in Las Vegas, before his trip.

Several Mideast countries can be criticized heavily for this, but it’s hardly unique to the Gulf region. Americans violate laws all the time, usually without consequence, however once you’re the target of an investigation everyday lawbreaking becomes an issue.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. I agree with Gary that Dubai has it’s own laws and customs that are less tolerant of coarseness, rudeness, and uneducated and uncultured behavior that have become de rigueur in Europe, Australia, and N. America.

    But it’s also true that these cases are a bit of a shakedown by airport employees who will often press these criminal matters because they can call off the prosecutor at any time if a financial settlement is reached. I think there are actually a lot of benefits to this sort of system which actually compensates crime victims rather than provide them with the hollow “justice” that the perpetrator is incarcerated, but these sorts of cases illustrate a problem with this approach. The simple solution though, is don’t act in Dubai the way you act in London.

  2. Dubai has the right idea. If we are ever to improve the level of politeness in western culture, we need to do something tangible about impoliteness. Swearing isn’t inherently impolite but in this case it was, obviously.

    Imagine if raising your voice or rolling your eyes got you 3 months in prison. The whole city of Miami might be incarcerated!

  3. Why any sane person travels to these hypocritical Neanderthal countries where misogyny and racism rules, homosexuality, gambling and alcohol are all either banned or shunned yet have huge rates of sodomy, illicit gambling and alcohol consumption beats me … and that’s before we even get to discuss their human rights records or burning of fossil fuels.
    I’ve seen more culture in a yoghurt.

  4. I’ve noticed this in recent years. Words that people would only use in situations among acquaintances in a private setting have become part of the everyday public discourse. I blame social media. In this case, if you want to verbally abuse an airport employee in Dubai using bad language, you might want to think twice about it. Part of going to another country is being able to abide by local expectations, or simply don’t go.

  5. @Olaf U. Fokker-Sergei

    I really dislike what Western Culture has become. But I think I would dislike politeness enforced by prison sentences even more. There are places in the world where people behave and act nicely towards each other out of a sense of ethics and morality. That should be the goal.

  6. @polly

    “Why any sane person travels to these hypocritical Neanderthal countries where misogyny and racism rules”

    Pot. Kettle. Black.

  7. @Polly – please don’t impose your morals on other countries. If you don’t want to travel somewhere for whatever reason (moral, political, economic, etc.) then just don’t go but don’t expect others to agree. I look forward to a trip to the Middle East as it is one of the few areas of the world I haven’t been to yet. I’ve got another on my bucket list (Singapore) scheduled for February and given your view of things and biases I seriously doubt you would want to go their either as they have very clear crime and punishment rules for things many Americans take for granted. However, it is an extremely orderly society and one of the safest places in the world.

    There are very few places I wouldn’t go (would love to go to Russia for example) but I also have my restrictions. Obviously wouldn’t go to North Korea or Iran right now but I also won’t go to Argentina (a country I went to in 2019 and loved) mainly for economic reasons. Sure Americans can have an incredible trip really cheap (like 1000 Pesos/$ on the secondary market versus 50/$ when I was there) but with almost 150% inflation and 40% poverty I would feel like I’m taking advantage of the situation while others suffer. We all have our biases and places we prefer not to travel but to say you don’t understand why anyone would want to go somewhere shows a total lack of comprehension. BTW Lucky at OMAAT recently was in the Middle East and has been multiple times – he is an out gay, married man and has no problem traveling there (he heading to Jeddah soon based on his latest blog which is even more restrictive than the UAE or Qatar) so anything is manageable even in the ME.

  8. My god @Polly, all of those fossil fuels. The horror! The horror.

    In my observation, people who complain about the way gays are treated in UAE usually have no problem with the way gays are treated in Iran or Gaza. Am I right @Polly?

  9. My wife and I are currently in the Middle East and thoroughly enjoying the trip. But we also respect the people and their beliefs, as we would anywhere. I think though that coarseness has increased and that will create problems for those who don’t pay attention. Chinese travelers have received instruction from their government on behaviors abroad, though how much those work I don’t know (someone just told me about finding footprints on the toilet seat in his plane).

    Years ago the writer Tom Wolfe gave a speech about how the biggest difference he saw in America over time was the lack of shame. Someone is caught taking/giving bribes, having affairs, whatever (inciting an insurrection?), and likely as not they will just go on in politics, entertainment, sports, or business. A couple of generations ago they would quietly slink away and maybe think about what they had done. Or as I mentioned in another post, when my wife was getting her MBA the interest that the other students in the ethics class had wasn’t in staying honest, it was in how not to get caught. We really can do better than this, and not by swearing at the native people!

  10. First rule of travel: don’t mess with the locals.

    If you can’t be arsed to read the room, as it were, and insist on acting like you never left home, it’s hard to sympathise.

    Second rule of travel: don’t make enemies of the customer service people in a position to solve your problem for you.

  11. AC, I know this is totally off the subject of this forum but why do you feel going to Argentina you are hurting someone and taking advantage? If anything you are helping people spending money and especially if you continue the custom of tipping Uber drivers, taxis, waitstaff etc you are giving them money they would not have.

    Staying away because you feel guilty that our dollar is going further is crazy. They need every outside dollar they can bring into the country at this time.

  12. @Leroy – 100% agree. I’m planning to go to Argentina, and I’m sure local people would be grateful for the business tourists bring.

    We had similar issue recently with Maui, after Lahaina fires. I think it was obvious locals wanted tourism (and dollars it brings).

  13. I’m not sure why people fly through the Middle East. If we jailed everybody who swore in our society, much more than half of our population would be in jail. Fragility.

  14. @Leroy – I agree they need income and travel helps but personally I prefer not to go somewhere with high levels of poverty and economic suffering. Just like I wouldn’t go to Maui after the fire even though they, also, need income. Just a personal choice on my part.

  15. @Gene – First of all what does “so 2000” even mean? If you mean not the hottest new destination that is certainly fine with me. Both are very interesting and places I want to see. BTW, going to Singapore not only to visit but to fly the longest flight in the world (JFK-SIN). Did DFW-HKG a few years ago on AA which was a little over 16 hours and curious how an 18 1/2 ish hour flight will compare. As for places to visit I spend a decent amount of time in Iceland, just got back from Paris (probably “so 1980” by your standard), went to Sweden and Denmark in the past year plus have a recent visit to Dubrovnik so get around. My trip to Argentina wasn’t to BA but to Cordoba so even then got off the beaten track a little.

  16. “He didn’t like the answer that a wheelchair would be provided but that he should wait for an inter-terminal bus without him.” ??? He can’t wait without himself. Wheelchairs are a him or you mean it? Or his mother is a him? Wouldn’t you say “they” instead of him in that event?

  17. Earlier this month I encountered extremely bad and disappointing treatment of reduced mobility passengers at two of the world’s leading gateways, and intervened on behalf of a beloved family member, my partner’s 90 years old father, who I accompanied from Manila to RDU via Seoul/ICN & ATL aboard Korean Airlines (MNL-ICN) and alliance partner, Delta (ICN-ATL-RDU).

    The first incident occurred at Seoul Incheon Terminal 2 when an entire golf cart full of reduced mobility passengers connecting at ICN was left unattended (as in abandoned by the driver) in an isolated area of the terminal for a relatively short (80 mins) connection for at least 10 mins by the time I saw the abandoned golf cart.

    The second incident was in ATL where no wheelchairs were allowed onto the fairly steep and long jetbridge to meet reduced passengers as they disembarked from the plane, and instead were told they had to walk to a vestibule inside the terminal building to be seated in a wheelchair (I know, patently ridiculous, and perhaps even downright cruel and insensitive).

    It goes without saying that I was extremely disappointed (but NOT surprised) at the abuse and neglect reduced mobility passengers faced at both airports.

    And my displeasure at how poorly both situations were initially handled was made clear – especially in Seoul/ICN when our flight was already deep into the boarding process while there was an abandoned golf cart filled with reduced mobility passengers stranded far from the gate and no one was willing to answer my repeated inquiries about whether anyone was aware of that wholly unacceptable situation that were asked calmly and discreetly?

    So I “escalated” the problem by very loudly & publicly asking if others at the gate were aware that there was a golf cart full of reduced mobility passengers left stranded far from the gate?

    Trust me, my voice can get extremely loud.

    And it did.

    But, what I did NOT do was disparage the airline(s) or the reps who passed the buck when asked calmly and discreetly if they were aware of the abandoned golf cart hauling reduced mobility passengers destined for our flight, or use any profanity.

    I stuck to the facts (that there were reduced mobility passengers for our flight who were left stranded aboard a golf cart in a remote area of the terminal), and when asked what my relationship was to the reduced mobility passengers marooned in the abandoned golf explained that there was a family member aboard it.

    For sure I was – and still am – unhappy at how the reduced mobility passengers were treated in Seoul & Atlanta, but using profanity and/or disrespecting airline (or airport) personnel are NOT going to be constructive tools towards remedying problems, even if the fails are as disappointing and unacceptable as abandoning a golf cart filled with reduced mobility passengers or demanding them to make their way up a fairly long and steeply inclined jetbridge to be seated in a wheelchair most definitely are.

  18. @AC, did that JFK-SIN flight a few months ago. Nothing special, just long. BTW, business has lie flat beds, but they are angle. Unfortunately that was miserable. Back to a carrier with true lie flat beds. And they don’t have a lounge at JFK and the offered choices were pedestrian. And their amenity kit sucks. Did like the free wifi. Meals were good.

    Now, as to Dubai, we are there quite often. Quite a lot to see. People friendly,no crime, is expensive. Never seen any harassment of the LBG group and they were at the mall in full force and glory.

    BUT, obey the culture. And I agree that rules get selectively enforced. Make a stink about something in an obnoxious way and they’ll find a law to use against you.

  19. This happened in February 2022, it seems. Presumably the tourist wasn’t still in Dubai when the appeals court handed down its judgment and isn’t going to show up to serve the sentence. It’s unlikely any other country would extradite him over this. So it’s likely this is a de facto ban from Dubai but not more than that.

  20. Behind the veneer in the UAE, there is also uncivilized behavior that is part and parcel of the authoritarian state structure.

  21. This is just right, just because you are British you disrespect other race? 3 months is too lenient, I wish it is 1 year to learn his lesson. Who they think they are, British travelling to another country other than his own is not United Kingdom, same with American, travelling to another country other than their own is not United States. It doesn’t mean you can do it to your country that you can do anywhere else. Have some level of respect. Don’t always look down to other people, get off that grandiose mentality

  22. I have serious disagreements with any number of the policies. laws. customs, etc., one finds common in middle eastern countries. However, it is not my place to try to change them. I simply choose to spend my tourist travel and money in places where I can feel conformable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *