I was detained in Abu Dhabi. Shouldn’t American pay my expenses?

On her way back from Sri Lanka, Caroline Martorano was detained in Abu Dhabi. She says she was detained for not being appropriately dressed, causing her to miss her connecting flight. But she places the blame for this detainment on American Airlines. Huh?

Have you ever heard a story that didn’t make sense, no matter how hard you tried to make the pieces fit? This is one of those stories.

Being detained in Abu Dhabi

Martorano purchased round-trip tickets through American Airlines and flew without incident to her destination on a combination of American Airlines and Etihad. Unfortunately, her return flight was interrupted when she was detained in Abu Dhabi.

“I was stopped at 3 a.m., as a woman traveling alone in clothing not adequate for that part of the world,” she says. “I was forced to miss my flight, leave the airport and purchase $1,300 airfare, including the flight I already took, and $170 for two nights in a hotel.”

From this part of the story, and several other emails, our advocate concluded that Martorano was detained because she was not dressed according to local custom. Martorano admits she was wearing “jean shorts” and her knees were exposed.

It is the responsibility of every traveler to ensure he or she is appropriately dressed for upcoming travel. This sometimes involves research on the country to which you are traveling.

For example, in Thailand you cannot wear clothing with a picture or drawing of a Buddha, and if you have a Buddha tattoo it must be covered, and shoulders and knees are required to be covered when visiting temples. In most areas of the U.A.E., including Abu Dhabi, women are usually allowed to move about without any trouble, as long as their knees and arms are covered.

Related story:   I don't want to go to England anymore. Can I skip that flight?
U.S. Department of State guidance on traveling abroad

The U.S. Department of State offers this warning on its site:

Codes of behavior and dress in the UAE reflect the country’s Islamic traditions and are much more conservative than those of the United States. Visitors to the UAE should be respectful of this conservative heritage, especially in the Emirate of Sharjah where rules of decency and public conduct are strictly enforced.

It doesn’t offer any specific clothing suggestions or requirements, but a quick search of TripAdvisor does:

Visitors are not expected to cover their heads or wear traditional clothing (except in mosques). However, it is advisable to wear long, loose clothing made from natural materials containing cotton or linen. It is one of the best ways to cope with the heat.

Skirts or pants/trousers should be knee-length or longer. Don’t wear tight form-fitting clothes or expose thighs, cleavage, midriff or upper arms. Short sleeve tops are acceptable. It is a good idea to have a loose shirt/jacket or shawl with you at all times even in hot weather as the mall, restaurant and cinema air conditioning can be extremely cold.

Abu Dhabi dress codes

There is a multitude of other sites that provide advice on dress codes in different parts of the world. Even if Martorano only expected to change planes in Abu Dhabi, she should have dressed according to local customs. Planes can be delayed for a multitude of reasons and without warning — it’s best to be prepared.

Martorano claimed that she was detained by “flight attendants and TSA.” But TSA is a U.S. government organization, so its representatives could not have detained her, and our advocate tried to explain that.

Related story:   Travelocity says you’re flying on Dec. 20, whether you like it or not

Our advocate also noted that Martorano was claiming that American Airlines owed her money because it was that airline’s employees who were responsible for her being detained in ABu Dhabi.

How can American Airlines be responsible for a passenger being detained in Abu Dhabi by Etihad? Martorano claims it’s because American Airlines tried to charge her canceled credit card after she left Sri Lanka on her way to Abu Dhabi.

Did a canceled credit card cause this detainment?

Now we may be getting somewhere.

After Martorano purchased her ticket and months before departure, her credit card was compromised and a new one was issued. According to American Airlines, it was contacted by Martorano’s credit card company: The company claimed the ticket was fraudulent, and asked American Airlines to prevent Martorano from traveling.

So this is why she was detained.

She was required to leave the secured area, purchase a new ticket, and return through customs and immigration. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time before her original flight departed and there wasn’t another flight until the following day. At some point, employees of the airline or the airport commented that she wasn’t dressed appropriately.

After also purchasing what is considered appropriate clothing for the area, she left the airport and checked into a hotel for the night. She returned the following day, boarded her flight without incident, and returned home.

She contacted American Airlines and requested a refund of the $1,300 she paid for a new ticket, plus the $170 she spent on the hotel and the $200 she spent on food and clothing. American had already refunded $570 for the unused portion of her original ticket, and refused to do more.

Related story:   Why did you copy me on that?
Does American Airlines owe her anything?

American insists that Martorano’s credit card company contacted it and requested that Martorano be prevented from continuing on the fraudulent ticket. Martorano insists that she has been in touch with the credit card company and it contends it never called American Airlines and requested that she be detained. American is standing its ground about the call, and Martorano never provided us with any of her correspondence with the credit card company. We have only her word that it denied that it ever called American.

Martorano filed a chargeback request with her credit card company for the $1,300 ticket and also requested the refund from American Airlines. Even if she were entitled to a refund of the $1,300 from one of the companies, she wouldn’t be entitled to a refund from both companies.

American refunded the unused portion of the original ticket, complied with the financial organization claiming fraud, and isn’t responsible for her decision to dress in shorts while traveling through a Middle Eastern country. This may be a case for the credit card company that seems to have called American Airlines, but it’s definitely not a case for us.

Michelle Bell

Michelle worked in the travel and hospitality industry for almost two decades. Born in Germany, she has lived in 15 states and two foreign countries, and traveled to more than 35 countries. After living and working in Southeast Asia for several years, she now resides in New Orleans. Read more of Michelle Bell's articles here.

%d bloggers like this:
Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.