My name is Robert Bishop.
I was born in Ireland on September 7 1967 – I am 47 years old.
I suffer from “Borderline Personality Disorder” – a mental condition resulting from childhood trauma. This results in frequent bouts of profound depression that are utterly disabling. As a result of this illness, I was “Total and Permanent Disability” retired by Education Queensland in May 2003. I now live on a disability pension, my wife has a carer’s pension, and I have two autistic children – two boys ages 16 and 18.
During my 16 years in Queensland, I often felt isolated. However, with the advent of “Facebook”, I could resume contact with many of my school friends from Ireland and several cousins – all of whom helped me through and out of some very dark depressive events including 2 suicide attempts and numerous pits of despair.
Every two weeks, I see a psychiatrist, Associate Professor Brendan Murphy, at Pinelodge clinic in Dandenong.
December 5, 2014 is the date of the 30 year class reunion of “Class of ’84” from Sandymount High School in Dublin. As so many of these people have become vital to my mental health, I was eager to meet them again. Also, my brother lives and works in Dubai and so arrangements were made to spend some time with him.
Professor Murphy approved of the notion and arrangements were made in May to go to Dubai and then Ireland.
My family could not afford for four of us to go and my children cannot be left without a carer so it was decided that I would go alone.
Sunday, November 23 2014 at 15:30 AEST; I am 187cm tall so I took the time to be first in the Emirates check-in line at Tullamarine for my flight to ensure that I would get an “emergency exit row” seat as I was advised that these provide extra leg room. This was successful.
Sunday, November 23 2014 at 19:00 AEST; I boarded Emirates Airways flight EK 405 from Melbourne to Dublin via Singapore and Dubai.
Sunday, November 23 2014 at 20:00 AEST (approximately); I began to feel acute symptoms of what can accurately described as agoraphobic. The turbulence, the noise from the engine, the oppressive heat in the cabin, the lack of airflow, the extraordinarily tight seating conditions, and the unfriendly fellow male passengers jammed into the seats on either side of me all contributed to my ill-feeling.
When the seat-belt lights went off, I got out of my seat and walked around the cabin for a while. Despite my best efforts, tears were streaming down my face and I was finding it difficult to maintain balance.
Eventually, I asked a stewardess for help. She summoned the chief steward and I was placed in the galley at the rear of the aircraft – alone. There, I cried for about 15 to 20 minutes, uncontrollably shaking and feeling utter despair and loneliness.
Eventually, the flight stewards fed me several cups of wine and I took 60 mg of fluoxetine. I also had in my possession 25mg of quetiapine and 20mg of Temazepam but was terrified of what might happen if my self-control was further reduced by taking such strong sedating medication. The cabin crew were obviously untrained to deal with such a situation and were polite but very distant in their approach. There was absolutely no sense of support and no genuine concern on their behalf. The crew, including the pilot, repeatedly referred to my episode of mental imbalance as “fear of flying” despite my protestations that I have flown domestically (on much smaller aircraft) and internationally (even with Air China and Air Yugoslavia) many times before without incident. I felt quite ignored and very much abandoned on the aircraft.
I was asked what I wanted to do. Feeling like a “little-boy-lost”; alone, isolated, and quite frightened, I asked to return home to Melbourne. I also asked what this would entail in terms of my ticket. I was told not to worry – that the airline would “look after me”. This definitely did not happen.
I was disembarked at Singapore and told to follow a man. He informed me the following:
• At my own expense, I would have to consult a doctor before I would be allowed back on any aircraft. He assured me that this would be “very expensive”.
• At my own expense, I would have to stay in a transit hotel overnight in Singapore.
• A return flight to Melbourne would cost about $ (Singapore) 1,000.
When presented with this information, I panicked and begged to be allowed back on the flight to Dubai. My family operate on a very tight budget and I had already stretched that by taking the flight in the first place. Now, it appeared that I would blow our budget right out of the water and put my family in financial dire straits. I tried to appeal, saying that I could not afford all these extra expenses but to no avail.
The demeanour of the Emirates staff was like cold stainless steel – functionary but utterly without empathy, sympathy, or concern for a man deep in a psychological crisis. The man I dealt with repeated the same phrases in broken English over and over again about Ticket policies and various other policies that made sure I felt like I was no more than baggage with a heartbeat – devoid of rights or needs – and my humanity.
I saw a doctor after sitting in a clinic waiting room for over two hours. My blood pressure was 150-odd over 110 and my pulse was racing. A male nurse sat behind a desk and utterly ignored me. The doctor deemed me fit to fly after asking me about symptoms for Ebola. No, I’m not kidding. This cost me approx. $AUD160.
I was then trundled along to the other end of the airport to a transit hotel by a young kid in an oversize suit and scuffed brown shoes – the original Emirates person had disavowed responsibility for me at the earliest point. The hotel staff got me to pay for 12 hours in the room. I found out the next day that the minimum was 6 hours with hourly rates charged after that point. Kicking a man while he is down. This cost me about $AUD150.
I took the sedatives and slept fitfully for nine hours. My anxiety levels were still too high to relax.
The next day, at about 11:00am local time, I spent 1 hour and 18 minutes on the phone to the Emirates call centre – mostly on hold. I know the time because the phone had a call-time counter on it.
Feeling a bit better, and very much wanting to continue my journey, I started with the concept of flying on to Dublin. I was informed that this would cost me an extra $4000-plus as my ticket was now invalid – despite my lack of informed and considered choice in the matter the night before. I pointed out that my next flight from Dubai to Dublin was not until Nov 16 at 14:40 local time. Eventually, after use of mental resources I did not really possess to argue my case and stand at length on hold, I was informed I could take that flight but it would cost me approximately $1500 to get to Dubai from Singapore. The utterly impassionate tone of the person on the other end as he repeated the same lines about policy I heard the night before led me to sinking lower and lower over the phone as I stood there, shaking, tears once again streaming down my face. I was, to Emirates Airlines, not a human but a piece of cargo unworthy of help or consideration of my plight.
I collapsed mentally and just humbly asked to go home. I paid an extra $560 and got a flight back to Melbourne that night.
I have since approached Emirates via the call centre for some flexibility or at least human kindness about my situation but remain without an answer.
The entire experience was terrifying and dehumanising. I would not wish it on anybody. I knew that getting an economy seat would put me in “cattle-class” but I did not expect to be treated as if I was indeed no more than a bothersome bovine. Emirates and their staff were utterly indifferent to my mental illness. I should not have been left alone, or in the care of a child – I had lost rationality and the ability to think straight. I could easily have committed suicide or at least inflicted significant self-harm in such circumstances. This has happened before under similarly emotionally distraught circumstances. I had told the doctor I was not feeling suicidal as I was convinced that if I said such a thing I would have been locked up and all humanity would have been stripped from me, such was the coldness and lack of concern evident around me. I felt inhuman enough – I did not want to end up in a Singaporean mental ward.
I want others to know my story so they can make an informed choice as to which airline they fly in the future and the possibility of being left alone, in shock, and mentally in a very dark place. I have been ill for 12 years and have learnt some coping skills in that time. If this has happened in 2005 or 2006, it occurs to me that I would not have survived the experience and there would now be an inquiry as to how Emirates handled a mentally-ill person so poorly and with such disregard for his humanity that he was desperate enough to take his own life. Given the current situation, such an event is almost inevitable.
My name is Robert Bishop.