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Glass of inflight wine lands Swede in Dubai jail

A Swedish woman travelling with her four-year-old daughter has just returned home after a traumatic month.

The United Arab Emirates’ national airline may be among the best in the world, the US business magazine Forbes writes, but critics say it is misleading its passengers when it comes to drinks.

A free glass of wine on an Emirates flight to Dubai appears to have contributed to the arrest and jailing last month of Ellie Holman, a Swedish dentist who lives in the UK, and her four-year-old daughter Bibi.

The popular tourist destination of Dubai, with its vast array of 21st century attractions, also has the world’s third busiest airport. But it also hides a tightly controlled alcohol policy.

Complimentary wine
On July 13, Holman flew from London with her daughter for a five-day holiday, but on landing an immigration officer questioned her visa and demanded to know if she drank alcohol.

Holman said she had been given a complimentary glass of wine on the flight. She was forced to have a blood alcohol test, which had a reading of 0.04, which Forbes points out is half the limit for driving in the US.

She and her daughter were put in custody and had their passports and phones taken away.

According to the non-governmental organisation Detained in Dubai, they were denied food, water and access to a toilet and kept in a cell for three days. The guards even tried to rip out her hair extensions.

Holman partner, the girl’s father, eventually found out what had happened to them and took their daughter home.

As for Holman, although she was allowed out of custody, she was told to stay in the UAE for almost a month to face charges that could have put her behind bars for a year. She spent all of the family’s savings on legal fees.

However, after media publicity outside the country, the government finally released her. She flew home last weekend.

Jailed for drink
The UAE keeps up a “deliberately misleading façade” that alcohol consumption is legal for visitors, Detained in Dubai warns. But it is “wholly illegal for any tourist to have any level of alcohol in their blood, even if consumed inflight and provided by Dubai’s own airline.”

Detained in Dubai adds: “It is illegal to consume alcohol at a bar, a hotel and a restaurant, and if breathalysed that person will be jailed.”

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