Thursday, September 03, 2009

DXB T3 - what really happened

I'm in the UK but thought I'd give you a quick update on what really happened yesterday morning at Terminal 3.

The papers are dismissing the incident with just the short 'it was nothing' official statement:

A water leakage occurred in Concourse 2 of Dubai International Airport at 6:50am on Wednesday, an official source said. (Gulf News)

The water leak that occurred at Dubai Airports Concourse 2 at 6.50am affecting six remote gates has been rectified, an official source from Dubai Airport has said on Wednesday. (Khaleej Times)

Here's an eyewitness account - mine.

There was 'water leakage' but that doesn't quite explain what happened.

We were sitting having a coffee before going to Gate 209 for our Emirates flight, due to open in ten minutes.

There was an announcement that a fire had been detected and the building was to be immediately evacuated.

Lights simultaneously stated flashing a warning on all the fire alarms.

The problem was that the announcement, presumably automatic, kept stuttering like a jammed record, stopping and starting.

Sprinklers started pouring water into one small section of the terminal. That was the 'water leakage'.

I could see no fire nor smell any smoke.

It had all the makings of a system malfunction rather than a real emergency so while people did get ready to move we all stayed put.

There was no evidence of any fire or safety people hurrying about.

Then the extractor fans, again presumably as part of the automated system, started going full bore.

The noise from the fans was so loud that it was impossible to hear any announcements. In the abscence of visual electronic instructions that could be a real problem in a real emergency. A part of the fire safety system that needs to be looked at I would suggest.

Then people in uniform started running - but it was the cleaners!

A hell of a lot of water comes from sprinklers and the area was starting to flood. So the cleaning machines, the mops, the plastic barriers were rushed to the scene.

A crowd had gathered to view the new water feature and that's when Security got involved.

Yep, you guessed their priority: "No Photos! No photos!"

A hopeless cause, there were hundreds of people with digital and phone cameras.

Here are a couple:

Gate 209 and several others were affected by the water so the aircraft had to be moved.

But to where?

There weren't many Emirates or airport staff around, apart from the cleaners, so milling around was order of the day. Hundreds of passengers who wondered which gate they now needed to go to plus hundreds more rubberneckers looking at the water.

Eventually some uniforms started shouting the destinations and their new gate numbers ("Birmingham Gate 150" for example)

We walked for, I'm not exaggerating, forty minutes (noticing by chance by glancing at the Flight Departures board that 150 had quietly changed to 144).

Good thing I noticed that.

Then a bus to the end of the airport where a line of planes was parked near the exhibition centre and we were dropped at one of them.

Fortunately it turned out to be the right one.

Interestingly the cabin crew I spoke to had no idea what had been happening.

Considering the chaos behind the scenes that must have been going on they actually handled it pretty well I thought. It can't be easy to re-organise several flights and hundreds (thousands?) of passengers at the last minute at a busy airport.

But instead of explaining exactly what had happened, what action they needed to take and how well they handled it, in other words transparency, we've got the inevitable obfuscation.

Just like the security guards trying to stop photography it's the usual pretend nothing happened mindset.

Tell us nothing. Keep it all secret. Everything's perfect, nothing ever goes wrong.

They missed the opportunity for brownie points by not explaining what a difficult situation they faced and how well they handled it.

Having said they handled it well there are a couple of things that obviously need looking at.

There's that very dangerous question of the extractor fan noise drowning out any announcements and, as there always is, the problem of lack of communication.

If you have to close a gate at the last minute and transfer the aircraft to a new one, station a staff member on it to advise passengers that a) they'll shortly be told which gate to go to; b) when the information is available WRITE IT ON A BOARD and place it at the closed gate.

With the only signs to Gate 150/144 pointing to the flooded closed-off area, meaning we had to go in the opposite direction to the signs, it would have helped to have a few more staff members directing traffic. As it was we walked to the far end of the terminal, down some stairs, back the length of the terminal again like a herd of gnu on migration, all following the leaders and hoping they knew where they were headed.

So yes, there was a problem with water but that was far from the whole story.

And the UK is cold, wet and very windy.


boxster said...

sh!t happens

Anonymous said...

SeaBee: as usual the best ever coverage and I am glad you were there to give us some insight of what usually does not get covered or explained well in this part of the world; I am sorry though for you going through this experience but if not without it I would not be laughing now; not at you ofcourse but of your funny and nice descriptions.
I can't recall the UK without the wet feeling:) enjoy your stay.

Anonymous said...

as Jassim mentioned.. great coverage by you :)

and glad you made it safe to UK and glad it was not real fire in T3.

aslihan said...

thats quite a story =)
thank you.

Anonymous said...

You are under arrest. Please make arrangments to return to Dubai for sentencing. Thank you. LOL...just kidding!

Keith said...

So what? I'm always having trouble with my water; especially when I've had a few beers.

My sprinkler is always giving me bother. . .

Seabee said...

We drove past your place last week Keith - which some people say is the best thing to do :-)

Cat Russell said...

Hmmm not comforting when the issue isn't even mentioned or addressed. My hubby flew back from JHB about 10 days ago and, due to some issue at Dubai International, their plane circled for some time and then had to land and refuel at Al Ain! He got home 4 hours later than he should, not very impressed and none the wiser as to what went on. Not great is it?