I was scheduled for a 8.5 hours of layover yesterday - my flight from MAA landed in Dubai close to midnight, and my connection from DXB to Houston was not until 9:30 in the morning.
I had called up Emirates the day before departure and asked about my eligibility for DubaiConnect - the program under which Emirates arranges free hotel stay + meals for travelers. The rep had explained me the rules which included a minimum basic fare (total basic roundtrip fare less taxes and levies should be >$900 for economy, and stopover time should be 8+ hours). I was of course eligible, and I was glad to have called them up to enquire about it.
Now after having landed in DXB, and took a lengthly walk down to the immigration area. There were close to 50 queues, with each queue having 50-60 people, and I was not sure what I should do next. I approached the main information counter next to this area and told them that I had a coupon for the hotel, and enquired where I can collect my visa and what should I be doing next. I was told to join the immigration queue. There were 8 meant for visitors requiring visa-on-arrival (lines # 34 to 42). I joined one of the lines with ~50 people, but the line was barely moving. I thought if I am going to wait this long, I better double check if the line was meant for me.
Someone on the line then told me that I had to collect my visa before joining this line. I then reached out to a couple of folks with 'May I help you' tags, but they were not able to provide clear instructions. I then went back to the main desk, and they directed me to another counter far off this time. It took me a couple of hops before I could find the right counter. I was to collect it from Emirates NBD, a small bank counter that looks more like a forex desk - and not the counter for immigration, and not the counter meant for 'Visa Collection'. I hope you now get why it was confusing ... I finally collected my free visa.
I then joined the Immigration line once again. And there the wait started. It took more than 1.45 hrs before my turn came. When I cleared immigration, it was already 3 AM.
Then I went searching for the hotel booth (Copthorne hotel) within the airport. I found it close to the exit gate, and a gentleman asked us to wait for a bus. After 20-30 minutes, the bus came, and I boarded with 20+ passengers. The hotel was thankfully just a 4-5 minutes away. It was already 3:40 in the morning, but at least I thought 2 hours of staying in a room would be better than nothing.
But that was not how it was supposed to be, To my horror I found another 50-60 people standing in a line at the hotel waiting to be checked in. Some folks couldnt take it any further, and slumped in the couches. There was a gentleman with his aged parents who opted to go back to the airport.
There were four members from the hotel staff handling check-ins. They were quick enough, but the process still took time. By the time I got my room keys it was 4:40 AM. I was told I'll be given a wake up call at 6 AM (a little over an hour and 15 mins), and I had to check out by 6:30 (3 hrs before my flight). But then my main attention now was the breakfast - i thought at least I should catch it right to avoid any unnecessary waits.
I was told the restaurant will open at 5:30 AM for breakfast. I considered going to the restaurant at opening time. But first things first - so I walked up to my room - but wait, the pain was not yet over. The staff was there still cleaning my room. Someone from the staff had flagged the room available even before it was cleaned. I considered going back to the lobby to enquire, but I was too tired and jetlagged at that time. Since I was told that they'll get it ready in 5 mins, I decided to wait. I was fully sapped. Thankfully the wait time was the smallest (10 mins) and I got into the room at 5 AM.
I took a quick shower, stretched my legs, and went to breakfast at 5:35 AM.. There were already 8 people standing in line to enter.. but there was no wait time for this. Nice. I chugged down some heavy breakfast (it was decent with plentiful eggs, pancakes, bread, sausages, fruits, etc. no hash browns though. decent coffee & orange juice too.).
I then went back to my room and checked out at 6:15 AM. When I came out, about 15 people were already waiting for the mini-bus. I had to skip the first one and got on to the second bus some 20 mins later.
Upon arrival at the airport, I counted some 100-120 cars in the departure area alone. It was too much busy at that time, even for a airline hub. I havent seen even so many cars in JFK, supposedly one of the busiest. I decided I wouldnt take the stopover option next time - and that I would rather pay up some $$$ and spend my time peacefully in one of the lounges.
But all was not over. It took another hour to clear immigration (again many lines, but each line having 35-40 people). I was finally in at the gate by 7:45.
So all in all, I waited for about 5+ hours in various lines, to stay in a hotel room for 30-45 minutes. It would have been a terrible experience save for the copious food I had. But still, looking back, it was not worth it. A hotel would be welcome if you stay for 24+ hours, and next time, I'll just catch a quick connection and if it comes to 8+ hours just like I had this time, I'll just spend some money or get priority pass to use one of the lounges. 6 hours of slouching in a chair with free food & drinks anyday would beat 5+ hours wait-time & 30 minutes of stay in a hotel.
During my interaction with one of the hotel handlers, I was told it was usually this crowded. I'm wondering why is Emirates even arranging for a hotel purpose if the very purpose of staying in the hotel (relax for a few hours) get defeated. On top, they are also wasting a ton of money on passengers that they could have otherwise saved. Just a special lounge for long layovers for Dubaiconnect passengers would solve a lot of issues. Is someone listening?...