'I asked a man to stop tapping his foot mid-flight. When we landed, police were waiting.'

The journey started off well enough.

Me and my (now ex) boyfriend were flying from our Sydney home back to London to spend some time with our families. We’d boarded the first leg of our flight, which would take us to Dubai – we’d had our ‘evening meal’ and were settling in to watch a couple of movies.

We were seated in a row of four in the centre of the plane. I was on the far right with my boyfriend beside me. To his left, a young, quiet man wearing headphones. And then on the far left of the row, another man, probably in his fifties. He was also quiet – for now, at least.

A couple more hours went by and I began to feel sleepy. Grateful for any rest during what was going to be almost 24 hours of travel, I closed by eyes and reclined my seat. But as I started to drift off, I felt a rhythmic thudding, like someone was kicking my seat.

The man on the far left was tapping his foot. Thud, thud, thud.

After 10 minutes of trying and failing to sleep because of the vibrations, I turned to my boyfriend. “Do you think you could politely ask that man to stop tapping his foot?” I asked.

My boyfriend leaned across, lightly touched the man’s arm with this index finger.

“Excuse me, mate.. would you mind not tapping your foot?”

The man leapt up like he’d been shot out of a cannon.

“This man hit me!” he yelled.

My jaw dropped as a flight attendant rushed over. “Please calm down, sir,” she said.

“I won’t calm down, you c*nt,” he bellowed. “I was struck by this man!”


“Mate, I just tapped you…” my boyfriend said, horrified.

The man continued his tirade as passengers and staff looked on in horror.

Eventually, me and my boyfriend were moved to two vacant seats further down the plane. We were shaken but relieved.

“Thank god that’s over,” I sighed.

But it wasn’t. Far from it.

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Next a flight attendant came to us with an incident form. We were to write down exactly what happened. The same form was given to the quiet man seated in our row.

Then the pilot came to speak with us.

“I have tried to calm the gentleman down,” he told us. “But I am afraid he wants us to involve the police and we will have to honour that.”

“You’re kidding?” my boyfriend burst out. “I tapped him on the arm!”

“I hope common sense prevails, I really do,” the pilot said. “But he wants to report the incident to police when we land in Dubai. Officers will be waiting there to meet us.”

I felt like I was going to throw up. It was like we were on one of those prank TV shows – I kept waiting for a camera crew to emerge, for one of our friends to appear, laughing at us.


But there was nothing funny about this.

For the remainder of the flight, we sat, holding hands in complete disbelief.

We had a two hour stop over in Dubai before our connecting flight to London. I just prayed we could get this ironed out as quickly as possible.

When the plane landed, staff escorted us and our “accuser” off first – uniformed officers were waiting for us. We were being treated like criminals!

My heart thudded in my chest as we were taken to the police station in the airport.

It was stiflingly hot and the all-male officers spoke fast, in Arabic.

I was wearing a strappy singlet because I’d been hot on the plane and now I felt exposed and vulnerable. I folded my arms across my chest.

A police officer spoke to my boyfriend in broken English while our “accuser” sat opposite us glaring. The officer was trying to get my boyfriend to sign a document admitting he hit the man. “Then you can go,” he said.

“I’m not signing that,” my boyfriend said. “I didn’t do anything!”

Next a different officer took him into a separate room and tried again to make him sign the false confession. Again, he refused. As officers spoke amongst themselves, gesturing towards my boyfriend, ice cold fear spread inside me.

My boyfriend whispered to me: “If I get arrested, promise me you will get on the next flight.”

“But I can’t leave you!” I hissed back.


“Promise me,” he said. “I don’t want you here in Dubai alone. Please say you’ll get on the plane.”

I nodded, bile rising in my throat.

It wouldn’t come to that. It couldn’t.

jetlag plane
All I wanted was to spend my flight like this... Alas. Image: Getty.

The minutes ticked by.

"What do you do for work?" one of the officers asked my boyfriend.

"I'm a firefighter," he said.

I felt sure this would work in our favour - a respectable and honourable job. But the officer didn't understand.

"You're a fighter?" he said, making boxing motions in the air.


"No!" we both gasped.

I looked at my phone. Our plane was due to board in 10 minutes. I had no idea where our gate was. We were going to miss our connection - and that was far from the worst of it.

I'd held it together up until that point, but in that moment I dissolved. Tears spilled down my cheeks.

I looked up and into the face of our "accuser". To my surprise, his entire demeanour softened.

"When is your flight leaving?" he asked me.

"Any minute now," I sobbed.

"Let's get these people out of here," he said.

I didn't dare move or react. There was a sudden flurry of activity. My boyfriend wrote his details on a piece of paper - not the one they'd been asking him to sign - and a security guard came to escort us to our gate.

I was shaking uncontrollably as we boarded the plane. My boyfriend and I barely spoke one word to each other for the next 12 hours, we were just utterly traumatised.

Even once we were safe at home, the experience kept replaying over and over in my head. It's something I think about every time I get on a plane; it terrifies me the way conflict can escalate in such a confined space. And how much worse the consequences could have been.

One thing's for sure, the next time someone is tapping their foot or kicking the back of my seat on a plane, I will be staying silent.

Do you have any travel disaster stories to share? Group therapy is open in the comments.