Meeting and greeting at Dubai Airport

How best to locate your guests at Terminal 1? Forget hand-written signs – Will Milner has a few foolproof alternatives

The Knowledge

It is not uncommon for adult chimpanzees to greet each other by smelling each other’s bottoms. Old friends and distant relatives alike will reunite over a good sniff. It’s a custom I would like to see introduced to the arrivals gate of Dubai Airport; sight and sound, at least for the visitors I’ve collected recently, don’t seem to be working.

Take my dad’s last trip to the UAE. No matter how much I waved and hollered as he took the walk of fame between baggage collection and taxi rank, he couldn’t hear me. Dad isn’t a comfortable flier, so in an attempt to lift his spirits I leapt over the barriers, tipped the peak of his new (and uncharacteristically jaunty) baseball cap down low over his eyes, spun him round and planted a paternal kiss on both cheeks.

The expression of shock and bewilderment on his face was something I won’t forget for a long time. It might have something to do with the fact that he was a bit jet-lagged after a long flight. Maybe there was even a bit of readjustment, because this was the first time we’d set eyes on each other for more than a year. But I think the biggest surprise was because he was still another 20 metres away watching me molest an American tourist.

The case of mistaken identity would never have happened with the sniffing system. Even after a seven-hour flight I’d recognise my father’s smell anywhere. But try explaining THAT to a stranger in a baseball cap as they’re waddling quickly away to the safety of a taxi.

Holding up signs doesn’t work either. The throng of hotel drivers and personal chauffeurs who do this for a living have worked out to the nearest centimetre where to stand for maximum visibility. There is no chance for a casual visitor to break that racket.

With all the best spots taken, I’m usually left standing behind a wedding party, some youthful backpackers and what seems to be a coach-load of elderly spectators who aren’t actually meeting anybody in particular. Even elbowing toddlers off the benches and brandishing a WELCOME BACK DADDY! banner offers no guarantee of being spotted.

If the sniffing doesn’t work out (and I can’t imagine there would be any problems with that particular method), then an extra conveyor belt for visitors would also be worth trying. After passengers pick up their luggage, they should sit patiently on a carousel going round and round until a designated driver comes in to collect them.

I’d just feel sorry for my dad if he got left behind while I stuffed a snappily dressed American into the boot of my car.

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