Young, Single, Female: (Un)safe to Travel

Dubai.
No means NO.

As it happened: I had landed in Dubai a couple of hours before the incident, and I was waiting to board at the Emirates Lounge. When boarding time drew nearer, I moved to a seat by the A14 gate. It was at this point that a man approached me and asked me innocuous questions such as whether I was Korean or Chinese, whether I was going to the Philippines, what I was doing there, and whether I was married. I answered back as simply as I could— not wanting to engage in conversation— though I refused point blank to answer the last question which was my first warning sign that something was wrong. He, perhaps not getting the hint, then invited me to sit with him, to which I gave a firm “no.”

He returned a short while later to invite me to board with him — I was still sitting in the same chair, by the same gate— and I once again said “no.” It was at this point that he stroked the back of my head, and ran his hand down my hair. I immediately recoiled and said “Please don’t touch me!” which I believe was witnessed by the fellow passenger who was seated opposite me in the block of chairs, as well as perhaps heard by the others standing nearby. He then invited me again to board with him though at that point I had simply stopped responding.

It was after getting up and seeing him standing by the A14 boarding gate that I felt afraid. I didn’t want to be near this man, much less be with him in a confined space of an airplane. I could not even bear to be in the same waiting area as him, so I walked to the front desk. Once I got there, I didn’t know what I wanted the staff there to do, so I began by telling them what the man did and then started crying. I could not help it. It only hit me then, standing in front of two Emirates staff and telling them this, the enormity of the situation. A man, a fellow Emirates Business Class passenger, sexually harassed me right in the Emirates lounge— as I was alone, on a flight back to the Philippines where the first thing I had planned was to attend the wake of a friend.

The two desk staff, male and female, then called over the floor manager, who I spoke with near the entrance, and she and three other female Emirates staff accompanied me back to A14 to identify the man. He was still there, standing right up at the A14 counter. The Emirates staff took him aside to speak with him, at which point he denied knowledge of any wrong doing as well as (pretended to?) not understand English— even though he was speaking to me in English just awhile back. The man was apparently Korean. The staff then instructed me to stand up and show myself, in order to jog his memory, and at that point he tried to (1.) present me with his business card which I refused, and (2.) offer his business class seat for my economy one— at which point the Emirates floor manager told him I was in business class. He said little else after that.

I was told by the staff that I could press charges, but that meant both he and I would miss the flight which had nearly finished boarding at that time. I just had had enough and did not want to stay in Dubai a minute longer, so instead he was told in no uncertain terms not to come near me and that the cabin crew would be watching. The Emirates staff then let me board first and held him back, so I could board in peace.

No incidents happened on the plane, except my hesitation to sleep for fear that I would wake up to him nearby. I did run into him at the toilets once— there are only one set of toilets— but a crew member immediately engaged me in conversation and the man walked away.

Upon landing in Manila however, he defied the conditions put on him by the Emirates staff in Dubai and approached me once again. I told him loudly, twice, to stay away from me, and I inched closer to fellow passengers who were also waiting. He said “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” and then walked a few feet away and stayed there. The passengers asked what was wrong and I told them. They then told me he was probably afraid, now being in the Philippines where matters such as this are taken seriously. To quote, “takot na yan, hindi yan makakalusot dito.”

As a young, female traveler I know that there are many dangers that I have to be careful of. I know that my safety is not always guaranteed. But this was the Emirates Lounge in Dubai, the home of the airline. I thought at the very least this place would be safe, but it was not.

I wrote to Emirates stating that I would like to press charges if this was still possible. If the man continues to deny what he did, accessing the video surveillance in the Lounge from 2:30am local time onwards and focusing on the A14 waiting area would let them bear witness to everything. If there is audio, even better. If they can access the Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s Terminal 3 footage of the luggage carousel for when our EK 332 flight arrived, they will see exactly what I narrated. They would also see me taking photos of the man, though only of him facing away as I was still too scared at that point to confront him.

I do not know the man’s name, I did not want anything to do with him so I never asked the Emirates staff. I only know that he is Korean and that he was traveling to Manila on business (at least, that is what he told me). That said, I am terrified. I have a return flight from Manila to Dubai (and onwards to Brussels) on the 31st of August and I do not relish the possibility of encountering him again. What if the next time we meet, there are no Emirates staff or friendly fellow passengers nearby to stop him?

To whom it may concern at Emirates: I do not know his name, but I am sure the floor manager or any of the other three other staff— whose names I cannot remember, I was too distraught at the time— would be able to identify him as they took his boarding pass.

I have never felt fear flying with Emirates, but now I do and that is very sad. Emirates has always been my favourite airline, as everyone who has ever had a conversation with me involving travel knows. I do not want to associate it with incidents such as this.

I have now landed in Manila and have had some time to think, and have decided to file an official complaint if it is still possible­— either here or in Dubai. Sexual harassment of fellow passengers— or anyone!— is unacceptable. Just because I am young and female does not mean men are free to touch me without my consent, and to get away with such actions with no consequences. As a passenger of Emirates, and indeed as a passenger victimized in the Emirates’ own lounge, I ask them my safety and the safety of other female passengers be guaranteed— at least while under their care.

If I had been traveling with my partner, or a male friend, or any male family member, this would never have happened. That is not to say that young women should not travel alone. No. I’m saying that some men only respect women as property of other men (as evidenced by one of his first questions, “are you married?”) and this is fundamentally wrong. Young women already have enough to be cautious about in the world. Let us fly in peace.

Finally, my eternal regards to the Emirates staff who stayed with me and calmed me during the ordeal. I am very grateful to these four ladies for being there.

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