x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Human touch not lost in corporate age

Focus: Emirates has been one of the fastest-growing airline in the world for the past several years, but amid its world-beating expansion, it has not lost the all-important human touch, writes Frank Kane.

Aren't they great, those people over at Emirates Airline?

Never ones to make a drama out of a crisis, as the old insurance industry slogan went.

I (recently) found myself on an enforced and elongated stay in London and, due to a number of things forgot to postpone my booked return flight to the UAE. Then, suddenly having to be back in Dubai, was faced with stumping up for a new ticket for the return trip.

My own fault, I know, but the kind of thing that could happen to anyone in extremis.

I explained my extenuating circumstances to the London booking office of Emirates, and was cheered to get an email from Boutros Boutros, the veteran communications adviser to Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the head of the airline.

Not only was my ticket reinstated, but the check-in staff at Heathrow (thank you, Maria Bissett) had been made aware of my circumstances, and were thoroughly sympathetic and helpful.

Emirates has been one of the fastest-growing airline in the world for the past several years, but it's pleasing to know that in all its world-beating expansion, it has not lost the all-important human touch.

 

¿¿¿

 

While in London, I had an awful glimpse into the practical realities of a collapse of the euro. It was a preview of financial anarchy.

Portobello Road street market, in Notting Hill in the west of the city, is as cosmopolitan as can be on a Saturday afternoon. The locals are cosmopolitan any day of the week, but on Saturday the street has become a "must see" for the French, Germans, Dutch, Spanish and other euro-zone tourists who flock there.

With increasing numbers of Asian and American tourists thrown in, Portobello is a Tower of Babel, as well as a microcosm of the world financial system.

A couple of weeks ago, after a downward plunge in the price of German bonds seemed to presage the end of the currency, the queues at the local ATM were longer than ever, mainly with tourists trying to get sterling on their euro-denominated bank cards. I joined the back of a long queue, but noticed lots of consternation at the front, with many people walking away with no money.

I asked a Dutch tourist what was happening. "They are not giving sterling out if you have a euro cash card," he said. I stood there watching for another 20 minutes, and it was true: if you had a sterling card, you got your cash; if a euro card, nothing.

For the rest of that day, in that one part of London, the forex market had collapsed and the euro and sterling were not "fungible", as the currency dealers call it. The UAE financial authorities will be pleased to know, however, that my dirham-denominated cash card still produced a healthy flow of sterling.

 

¿¿¿

 

Back in Dubai, I notice some worrying developments in the hydrology of the Marina area, where I live.

The Infinity building (known locally as the "Twisty Tower") has suddenly had a swimming pool dug next to it, or at least that's what it looks like from my 44th-floor balcony.

Just a few weeks ago, the site was definitely earmarked by the developer Arabtec for a multi-storey car park, maybe even another high-rise. You could see the deep and elaborate foundations taking shape every day, and hear the work going on around the clock.

Now it's a big, flooded hole in the ground. Definitely a swimming pool, if they can fish out all the flotsam and jetsam - timber, cement bags, builders' equipment - swirling around in it.

It's the second such disconcerting event in the past couple of months. In late summer, the undeveloped plot in front of my building (which had been used as an ad hoc car park for the Marina Walk) was transformed overnight into a vast lake, with a few vehicles abandoned in the middle of it.

The coming winter rains will make the situation worse. Somebody from the Municipality should find the obvious hole in the Marina wall, and put their finger in it, like the little Dutch boy and the dyke. Or whatever engineers use these days.

* Frank Kane