How we were left in Bahrain Airport overnight
How the failure of a PR representative lead to four journalists detained and stuck in Bahrain Airport.
January 20, 2013 12:57 by M. Aldalou
The deafening sound of excited celebration whizzed through the stadium grounds as thousands of Emiratis cheered their Football team on against Iraq in the final match of the Gulf Cup on Friday evening. And four journalists watched it briefly off a 10-inch screen at an airport McDonald’s.
Nothing against the fast food chain or their screens, as I’m sure thousands of fans across Bahrain, the UAE and the rest of the Middle East happily watched it off some sort of cinematic surface but this is the story of four journalists who were detained, ignored and trapped in limbo for the better part of 15 hours as a result of a severe PR misconduct.
While others have encouraged me to ‘name and shame’ the PR company, I’ve decided to take the high road on this one. I’d merely like to note our experiences with the disaster of a journey in hopes that 1) fellow journalists will take extra caution when accepting a press trip; 2) people can appreciate the magnitude of such a failure and 3) you will feel that you’ve had a good weekend in comparison to mine. Very selfless, don’t you think?
I was accompanied by three fellow British journalists – which for the purposes of entering Bahrain seemed rather convenient as we could manage the passport control gate as a group. The PR representative, who’d been assigned to both invite and take care of us was nowhere to be seen. Through no fault of her own, we were separated by two different shuttle buses and so while we queued at passport control, she’d already gone through. But I’d received a reassuring call from her moments before our turn was up, telling me that we could contact her should we face any difficulties with immigration.
When it was our turn to approach the immigration officer, it turned out that four unaccompanied journalists with no official accreditation or invitation were looked at rather suspiciously. What followed were approximately twenty minutes of blunt questioning until we were eventually told we needed to be investigated in the control room – precisely because we had no proof that we were there for the Gulf Cup Final. We attempted to ring the PR rep several times but our calls was never answered.
A number of officials approached us with different requests and questions, all as significantly irrelevant as the next and by the time we’d been given a final form (apparently the immigration one wasn’t extensive enough) we’d given up on entering the country as the match was already underway and we’d lost our only method of transportation in Bahrain.
The 12 hours that followed then were filled with confusion, panic and hopeless boredom. We didn’t mind the wait but we were never given any details for our return flight. We had no idea if our names existed on any list. We had no flight information, timing or code. And the rather bitter employees at the terminal couldn’t help much because it was a chartered flight and they had little to no information; although they did direct us to different gates for different reasons all which did not pan out. We enjoyed the exercise nonetheless.
We began discussing every possible eventuality, while frequently echoing our disbelief at her lack of professionalism. Since it was now clear that the PR (with now no excuse not to pick up as this was hours after the match ended) was dodging our calls and refusing to respond to our text messages; we were entirely convinced that we will in fact be left behind and be forced to stay over an entire day in the terminal.
Eventually, we agreed to take matters into our hands, book our own commercial flights and get back on our own terms, whatever the cost. Well, almost whatever. We hit a wall when we weren’t willing to pay a 12,000 Dirham fare on business class trip to Dubai and every other possible flight was entirely booked. We were once again helplessly back to square one except that by this point we were utterly exhausted.
After a few more hours of pondering our fate and continuing to make phone calls (which remain unanswered) we finally managed to get in touch with another journalist, the only other that actually made it through without us. He proved to be helpful as he badgered the PR and other officials for information while they relayed useless messages to us through him. Eventually, we were told that they would be boarding a plane but from a different terminal – which we obviously had no authority to get to. We couldn’t enter the country and there was nowhere to return to but we were told of a possibility that we could hitch a ride on one of the shuttle buses leaving from a specific gate. We lugged ourselves there only to find a massive crowd of excited football fans (their excitement was dampened later but not yet) and a backlog of flights. Fighting our way through the crowd, the officials confirmed the existence of said shuttle – which to us was more of a miracle than a mere vehicle on wheels – but that we weren’t allowed to be on it.
It boiled down to this: if we were to have any chance of boarding our flight then somebody would have to personally escort us because since we had no boarding passes or evidence of a flight; we belonged to nothing. Another round of calls and text messages later and we eventually got through to the PR rep. She defensively denied all responsibility, said that she was unable to help and ‘washed her hands of us’ before hanging up the phone again. We called again, this time truly panicked and demanded that someone should come and collect us because it was unthinkable that the person who’d been assigned to us should turn her back with no conscience.
We waited at the gate for a good four hours, drifting off into moments of sleep before being miraculously awoken by fate. Karma had revealed its gorgeous head. Evidently there was a mishap with their chartered flight and so all the passengers that were meant to be on it (excluding us) were forced to return to the terminal we were in. We were hoping for one person to come and collect us and instead got 130 people (give or take). Sure, they weren’t there for us but at the time we had to make use of any positive sentiment we could find.
As we rushed through the crowds and spotted the familiar faces of the ones who’d made it through we were beyond relieved. In fact, at that moment it was pure bliss. On the other hand, the PR rep made a point of walking past us several times without so much as blinking, and here we were hoping for a hint of remorse or a supportive syllable. Silly us. If you are unwilling to help, take any responsibility, answer your calls or at least accommodate the journalists that you personally invited then you are in the wrong line of work.
In any case, gratitude and relief sunk in and we didn’t even mind the additional four-hour wait that followed; although to say that the lack of organisation and amount of waiting time had dampened the victory of the UAE fans would be an understatement. We did have the rare chance to be part of interesting conversations with many Emiratis and while we complained about the backlog of flights, one of them told me he didn’t understand the logic behind sending every national that was willing to go to the match without a solid plan to accommodate them later. I agreed and we smiled.