Stuck in the Abu Dhabi airport for six days, senior Hira Khan finds her way back home


Courtesy of Hira Khan

Standing next to her mother, senior Hira Khan smiles, showing her relief to finally be back in St. Louis. Because of her airport experience, Khan realized that she will have to be more independent. “I now know that I won’t always have my siblings or parents to do everything for me and that there are some things you have to learn to do on your own, no matter how difficult it is,” Khan said.

Peeved, anxious, alone and sick with food poisoning, senior Hira Khan awaited her flight from Pakistan to Abu Dhabi; however, the flight was overbooked, leaving Khan flightless without any explanation.

“I stood in line for two hours and felt even more sick as time passed by. Finally, I reached the front of the line just to find out that the airline had overbooked the flight, and I was one of the passengers who would not be flying that day. I immediately waited for a few people behind me to see if they had the same issue, but they hadn’t,” Khan said. “The airway was doing nothing to help me and declined any offer I made. I argued by saying I was an 18-year-old woman traveling alone, and I could not stay in a hotel myself. They shrugged it off and offered a flight for the next day and gave me a boarding pass.”

Luckily, her parents sorted out the hotel and Khan’s uncle, who recently moved to Abu Dhabi, helped her out. Khan came back the next day to reschedule her flight, mainly due to her illness.

“My illness began to get worse as did my symptoms. I vomited seven times in total that night and the next morning. I [woke] up early the following day and [went] straight to guest services. I knew I was far too sick to fly so I asked them to change my flight for two reasons: one, because I was extremely sick, and two because they gave me an indirect flight [instead of the original direct flight],” Khan said.

However, the airline did not cooperate with Khan.

“The airline had completely dismissed the fact that I was sick and made me walk all the way back through border patrol, security and then to the transfer desk. I asked for a flight for Friday because I knew I would not be well enough to fly the next day,” Khan said. “The staff member told me that Medline had cleared me to fly the next day, which made me extremely angry because I had no clue who these Medline people were and they had no idea what I had been going through.”

I cried a lot because I was stuck in a country alone. I missed a lot of school so that was stressful, and when I got sick, my parents couldn’t help me because I was by myself.”

— senior Hira Khan

Two days later, Khan received her boarding pass and finally had the chance to get back home. Unfortunately, regardless of how much she wanted to go back home, Khan couldn’t control her sickness. She warned the airline about how severe her sickness had progressed, yet they remained unsympathetic.

“As soon as I got my boarding pass, I began to vomit. I went back to the desk and told them that I explained all this yesterday and they shouldn’t have given me approval to fly,” Khan said. “But of course, they blamed me and said that there was nothing they could do.”

With her missing nine days of school, stuck in a foreign country, and missing home, Khan broke down into tears.

“I cried a lot because I was stuck in a country alone. I missed a lot of school so that was stressful, and when I got sick, my parents couldn’t help me because I was by myself,” Khan said. “During all this time, I realized the importance of my parents because all I wanted was my mom to help me when I’m sick, and my dad to hold me when I cry. There was this constant cycle of ‘you can’t fly today’ and all I wanted to do was get back home.”

Soon, Khan realized that tears would get her nowhere and learned to remain resilient.

Hira Khan
Senior Hira Khan sits in a hospital room while being treated for her food poisoning in a hospital at Abu Dhabi.

“I learned a lot about myself and how strong I really am since I was able to find a solution for every problem that came up,” Khan said. “But most of all, I realized that I won’t always have my parents around and that it was time for me to grow up and become independent.”

Despite recovering from her illness, Khan still felt like she was mistreated and that everything was against her, not just because she was sick but also because of her ethnicity.

“I also got scanned through security too many times. Every single time, I get secondary screening which happens to be at random. [Unfortunately,] I was used to it because every flight I’ve been on through the US I’ve gotten “random” secondary screening. That’s something I will never understand. How is it that of all people, I, the immigrant, Muslim and hijabi get asked aside for random screening. That cannot be a coincidence,” Khan said. “I tried asking them why they had to scan me so many times but they said that it is a random selection. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Everything was being tested with me.

Eventually, Khan ended up in Chicago. It seemed like everything was over when she made that phone call to her parents—except it wasn’t.

“But of course, another problem came up. My brother and dad were unable to drive up to Chicago because of the weather so I had to stay a night there. They had arranged for someone to pick me up and for me to stay at their house,” Khan said. “I called my family crying because all I wanted to do was go home, and that was the one thing I was unable to do. I immediately booked a flight for Sunday night hoping that I’d be able to make it home in one piece.”

Grow some courage and be confident in yourself. Stay strong and know your place. Don’t let anybody stop you. You have rights so use them. Use your voice and stand up to those continuously do you wrong.”

— Khan said

Even when Khan made it back to St. Louis, she was met with even more stress from missing school.

“Finally, I made it. I got home late on Sunday and prepared to go to school the next day,” Khan said. “I was hoping I’d be able to take a day off [from school] to recover from the week of hell that I was put through, but unfortunately, I had missed too much school because of the repeated events of the week. I went to school the next day, hoping my absences would be excused, only to find out that they weren’t.”

Fortunately, Khan was relieved to figure out that her teachers were totally understanding.

“Thankfully, I have the greatest teachers, who are so understanding and gave me more than enough time to recover from my god awful experience,” Khan said. “Although this was an awful experience with terrible compensation, much less than what is stated on the website, I learned so much from it. I grew courage, strength, independence, patience and willpower. So many things I didn’t have much of before.”

Khan realizes that she has the authority to punish them for it legally. Instead, she is simply asking the airway to provide better customer service so that others will not have to experience the same troubles she did. Khan grew from this adversity. It was just another obstacle she had to overcome and by doing so, she transformed her situation into something better, something she realizes that everyone must learn: use your voice.

“I can confidently say that I can take on any problems that come while flying, except for the one where I get extra screening. I guess being a hijabi, Muslim and immigrant can really bring out the worst from people,” Khan said. “For those who fear flying alone, don’t let my story frighten you. This was one incident, and I’m sure it is one that doesn’t happen very often. Grow some courage and be confident in yourself. Stay strong and know your place. Don’t let anybody stop you. You have rights so use them. Use your voice and stand up to those continuously do you wrong. In my situation, it happens to be the airline, but long story short, in six long days, I finally made it home where I belong. Shoutout to Etihad Airways for showing me the worst travel experience, but helping me gain the most out of it.”