It’s 1937 and the Dubai locals are aroused from their siesta by a monotonous growling rumble. Standing outside their barasti shacks they gaze open-mouthed at the sky. They’ve never seen a plane before. And there’s a giant flying boat descending towards them. Surely it will crash? Surely it can’t land on Dubai Creek?
It would become a famous day in the history of Dubai. Some 69 years later, we’ve pieced together several historical sources to create an account of this first ever Dubai air transfer.
Dubai in 1937
While the modern skyline suggests otherwise, Dubai in 1937 has no electricity and no roads. Dust swirls through the desert, sweeping around barasti shacks constructed from palm fronds. Goats meander along rutted trails, date palms cluster in small clumps, and small herds of camels dapple the desolate surroundings. It’s mid summer and the afternoon sun is reaching menacing levels. There’s no air conditioning, just a shaded shack or the sanctuary of the tea house. It’s slow and serene, with only the odd animal breaking the silence. Most people are snoozing.
It growls softly at first, a low monotone hum that arrives with the Gulf breeze. As the minutes pass the decibels rise, a strange deep thunder coming from somewhere in the distance. The locals have never seen a car before. What would you make of your first ever exposure to a mechanised engine?
A Flying Boat Dominates the Sky
Awoken from slumber the locals stand in the mid-afternoon heat, gazing up at the sky. A huge flying blimp contrasts the blue, a mass of rumbling noise and silver-grey that is about to become the first Dubai air transfer. It descends towards them, then performs two loops above the small town. Many of the locals in the tea house have agreed that it is a plane. Although most of these have only just been introduced to the concept of a plane, thanks to a vociferous local who claims to have also seen one on his travels to Damascus. But what is it doing? And where will it land?
The First Dubai Air Transfer Touches Down on Dubai Creek
Now the flying blimp descends. After circling the town it’s picked a course directly towards Dubai Creek. Dubai Creek? There’s uproar in the tea house! One local says it can’t possibly be a plane because he once saw a plane in Cairo and it landed on the ground. Another says it has come from space and anyone who has a telescope would confirm it. Nobody knows anything about a telescope so the general consensus drifts towards the denial of any explanation that is offered.
The first Dubai air transfer arrives. Swooping low, grumbling louder, then gliding gently and touching down on the Dubai Creek. To the amazement of locals it hasn’t crashed, nor sunk. And their amazement magnifies as the first passengers open the door and step from the seaplane. Not only does the strange flying blimp land on water. It carries people! Tea is discarded and the race is on, the locals running towards Dubai Creek to inspect the town’s first ever tourists.
Inside the First Dubai Air Transfer
Stepping from the plane in ties and dinner jackets, the passengers are bemused at the sight of Dubai. Stragglers continue to sip on their gin and tonics while some continue to puff on their cigars as they step into the desert heat. There’s women as well, elaborate in dresses and sparkling shoes with small heels. Most are British, wealthy and important passengers with business interests across the island’s colonies.
The Imperial Airways seaplane they travel on is the pinnacle of luxury travel, reserved for society’s absolute elite. 200 passengers lounge across two decks that resembled a gentleman’s club in the sky. Some snooze on day beds, others drunk in the saloon, while the smoking room reveals the crisp scents of fine tobacco. As everyone from the seaplane steps onto land the locals come to their first unanimous agreement. These passengers clearly haven’t been to the desert before; otherwise they wouldn’t be dressed in blazers and woollen waistcoats.
The Purpose of the First Dubai Air Transfer
In the early 1930s it took a month to reach India by land. A journey to Australia was measured in months, not just weeks. These flying boats were the British Empire’s strategy to dramatically reduce travel time to the colonies. Imperial Airways (later to become British Airways) operated a series of routes that hopped from the UK as far as Australia. This first Dubai air transfer had come from Southhampton and was heading to Karachi (part of modern-day Pakistan). On route, it touched down in: Marsailles Rome, Brindisi, Athens, Alexandria, Tiberias, Habbaniyeh, Basra, Bahrain, Dubai and Jiwani.
Seaplanes and Tourism in 1937 Dubai
Dubai in 1937 has seen visitors before. Camel caravans regularly stop off at the oasis as they trade across the desert. Messengers see them coming over the desert horizon, some half a day’s-walk away. So they are always received in the true spirit of Arabian hospitality, with most caravans stopping for over a week as they traded goods and stocked up on supplies. But this Imperial Airways seaplane is different. It brings the first ever Dubai tourists. Stumbling into the desert after their gins, the passengers are transferred across the swamp, where they will spend the night at a hotel on a British army base. The first Dubai air transfer has landed and it will go on to transform the small town, providing the first step on the ladder towards the modernity and affluence of today.
Seaplanes and the Heritage of Dubai
There’s been incalculable changes in Dubai since 1937. Seaplanes started landing four times a week on Dubai Creek, boosting the local economy through landing fees and trade. Money trickled around the town. And remember, this was 29 years before anyone struck oil in Dubai. The BOAC jetty was built on the Creek, creating Dubai’s first ever airport. Although seaplanes stopped calling in the UAE ten years later, trade and infrastructure continued to develop around Dubai Creek. The rest is history.
Back in 1937, the locals enjoyed their first ever look at the future. And tourists received their first ever look at the desert. Scroll forward to the modern day and there’s nothing unusual about a Dubai air transfer. It’s still the pinnacle of luxury travel, a unique journey that lands on Dubai Creek, and a chance to discover the desert from the sky.
Contact Dubai Air Tours to recreate Dubai’s first ever seaplane flight or travel anywhere across the UAE by chartered air transfer.