Gay couple left 'humiliated' after Emirates airline staff ask if they are brothers

Lee Charlton says staff laughed at him and partner Jason when they said they were couple

Gabriel Samuels
Thursday 16 June 2016 15:02 BST
Mr Charlton says his family were locked in a secluded room for two hours and told their documents were not valid
Mr Charlton says his family were locked in a secluded room for two hours and told their documents were not valid (Getty Images)

A British gay couple say they were left feeling “humiliated” after airline staff asked if they were brothers, before they were allegedly shut in a secluded room for two hours and told they were no longer allowed on their flight.

Lee Charlton, 42, from Manchester said Emirates check-in staff laughed at him and his partner Jason when they confirmed they were a couple while travelling from Dubai to Durban with their son, Kieran.

He said a woman working behind the check-in counter at Dubai airport gave him “quizzical looks” and summoned her manager after asking Mr Charlton whether either Jason or Kieran were his brothers.

The family were then allegedly shut in an airport back room for two hours without explanation told their documentation would not allow them to enter South Africa, according to Mr Charlton.

Emirates said the delays had been caused by an error in the passenger's paperwork and insisted the family had been invited to sit in one of the airline's offices until the matter was resolved.

But the couple said they nearly missed their connecting flight and were forced to rush across the large airport to catch it just in time, despite originally having a three-hour stop over.

Mr Charlton told The Independent: “This was absolutely about our sexuality, there is no doubt about that. I was shocked, it was a horrible and stressful situation and I felt humiliated.

This was absolutely about our sexuality, there's no doubt

&#13; <p>Lee Charlton</p>&#13;

“We were very excited to travel long distance for the first time with our son Kieran and it was effectively spoilt by the staff from Emirates.

“I came out as gay aged 16 and I have never encountered this kind of behaviour towards my sexuality in the 26 years since.

“The Emirates manager looked at our documents and then said we may not be allowed to travel. He said ‘It’s South Africa, not us’.

“Without a doubt we were treated in an aggressive and demeaning way, and I just don’t understand why Emirates, a huge international corporation, doesn’t give cultural training to its staff overcome these kinds of prejudices.

"I am really not one of these people to jump on a political correctness bandwagon, but I felt I had to say something."

Mr Charlton filed a lengthy letter of complaint to Emirates last Thursday and is yet to receive any reply from the airline.

He then posted the complaint on his Facebook page, which can be seen below.

Mr Charlton continued: “The most annoying thing about this is that I have to travel to South Africa a lot for work meetings - and I am forced to fly with Emirates.

“The whole thing has really left a sour taste in my mouth and I’d think twice about visiting Dubai again in the future.”

Homosexuality is illegal in Dubai and gay people have been handed jail sentences of up to two years in the past.

An Emirates spokesperson said in a statement: "At Emirates we do our best to provide our passengers with the very best customer service and travel advice and we’re sorry to hear about Mr Charlton’s complaint.

"Since 1 June 2015, according to South African regulations, anyone travelling to the country with a minor under 18 needs to prove parenthood or guardianship – while adults travelling alone with their children need to show that they have the consent of their non-travelling partner.

"Like all airlines, we must comply with the laws of every country in which we operate and this is a shared responsibility with passengers, who are required to hold valid travel documents for all countries on their itinerary.

"We note that the Charlton family continued on Emirates flight EK 775 to Durban, as booked. We regret any inconvenience caused, however, compliance with international laws concerning child protection will not be compromised."

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