One woman claims her decision to drink a free glass of wine on a plane ended up costing her three nights in jail.
Ellie Holman, a 44-year-old dentist who is originally from Sweden but lives in Kent, England, indulged in one free glass of wine on her eight-hour flight from London to Dubai, but says upon landing, an immigration officer informed her that her visa had expired, which is when things escalated, The Sun reports.
The mom-of-three told the outlet she was traveling with her four-year-old daughter, Bibi, and the idea that she would immediately have to get on another plane back to the U.K. was “unthinkable,” so she pushed back.
Holman says the officer then asked her if she’d been drinking, and she told him she had “one glass of wine on the flight, given to me free by Emirates Airline staff.”
Holman claims the officer then said that possession of alcohol is a criminal offense in the United Arab Emirates, even if it’s already been consumed, and when Holman pulled out her phone to film the interaction, she said she was immediately surrounded by armed police officers.
Dubai Attorney General Essam Al Humaidan said in a statement that Holman attempted to pass through immigration with an expired Swedish passport and was told she could not enter the country. He said Holman then produced an Iranian passport and the immigration officer said she qualified for a temporary visa that allowed for a 96-hour stay, which is shorter than the five days she had originally planned. Because of this change to her travel schedule, she would have to pay to change her departure flight.
According to the statement, she “refused angrily to the additional payment fees that the process would require and proceeded to verbally insult the immigration officer and take photos of the officer via her phone.”
The attorney general’s statement also said the charges brought against Holman were for “profanity and photographing a government official at the border crossing, a restricted area,” but did not acknowledge her claims that she was detained for drinking a glass of wine.
According to the U.K. government website offering advice to people traveling to the UAE, although people over 21 years old are allowed to drink at licensed venues such as hotels, bars and on flights into the country, being intoxicated or drinking in public is illegal. “British nationals have been arrested and charged under this law, often in cases where they have come to the attention of the police for a related offense or matter, such as disorderly or offensive behavior,” the website says.
Holman claims she and her daughter were led to an airport holding cell following the initial altercation, where their phones and passports were confiscated, before they were transported to a local jail.
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“Bibi was asking me why we were in a police car and I had no answer,” she told The Sun. “My daughter is a happy, smiley girl, but now she was terrified.”
The outlet reports that officers tested Holman’s blood alcohol content, which came back as .04 percent, noting it was lower than the .08 percent limit for drivers in the U.K.
Holman claims she and her daughter were then transferred back to the airport holding area, and Holman’s husband was able to come pick up their child.
“The woman and her child remained together in the airport security office for less than 24 hours while services were provided to them, taking into full account and consideration of her 4-year-old daughter,” the attorney general’s statement explains. “Her father received her immediately upon his arrival and they subsequently departed the country.”
Holman claims she stayed in jail for three nights before being released on bail. She then stayed with friends in the country, since she was not allowed to leave, and faced up to one year in jail while awaiting a court hearing, according to The Guardian. However, Holman was able to return home to her family on Sunday after the government dropped the charges against her.
“I am shocked and excited to be returning home to England and that this nightmare is coming to an end,” Holman told The Guardian.
She claims the government apologized on behalf of the immigration official and said she was free to leave on Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum‘s orders and “welcome to return to Dubai” in the future. Although she says the government helped her arrange flights back to the U.K., the incident in total has cost her “tens of thousands. “We have had to use all of our savings, which is devastating to us,” she said.
The attorney general confirmed that the Dubai Public Prosecution office had closed their investigation into Holman and said, “The prosecution decided to drop the charges against Ellie Hollman and to deport her instead.”