Fifty years ago, Dubai International Airport was nothing but desert. Today, it’s a major modern transportation hub which sits within one direct flight of 90% of the world’s population. It also still sits in a desert and faces unique problems because of that. In Ultimate Airport Dubai, you get a fascinating look behind the scenes of this amazing airport and I highly recommend it.
Ultimate Airport Dubai is a reality television series that follows a group of employees around the Dubai International Airport (DIA) as they go about their daily jobs. These jobs include managing air traffic, managing the movement of cargo and luggage, customer handling, aircraft maintenance, and the construction of a brand new terminal. See, this airport, already the largest building on earth by floor space (360 football fields in size), is too small to meet Dubai’s ambitious plans for the future, so they are expanding it.
How much are they expanding it? Right now, the airport handles 340,000 flights a year, carrying 57 million passengers and 2 million tons of cargo... making it the third busiest airport in the world. They want to add another 15 million passengers a year. To that end, they’ve hired 18,000 construction workers to build the new terminal. This new terminal will then add to the 60,000 employees who already work at the airport. Interestingly, almost every single employee you see is an ex-pat, and the reason is that over 80% of the people who live in Dubai are ex-pats.
The story is fascinating.
Let’s start with the basics. This one has everything a “reality” show should have. It has amazing imagery; this airport is meant to impress and it does, and Dubai is mysterious. Moreover, the camera work gives you fascinating perspectives you will never get any other way. The writing/editing is solid. The drama is relevant to the topic too; everything focuses on the problems the employees face on the job. This is good because it results in a real feeling that you are being let into the true challenges of running this airport and solving its unique problems, rather than chasing tangential issues like the personal problems of the employees. The pacing is excellent too and the story never slows or drags. To the contrary, the story hits you so hard and fast that it's impossible to turn your eyes away. Additionally, there is such a wealth of detail crammed into the story that you feel like you need to watch it 2-3 times just to get it all. Finally, the people they follow are interesting and likeable, which makes the show enjoyable, and it has a solid, serious narrator who knows when to stay out of the action.
In fact, the people are really interesting and quickly make you interested in them. For example, you have the construction manager who is run ragged and must navigate a series of subcontractors who are much less dedicated than he is. You wonder if he will ever pull off his Herculean task. You have the engineering crew who must tear these planes apart and reassemble them. You have the cargo manager for whom every landing is a race against the clock as he tracks missing bags, the bags of missing passengers, missing cargo and other cargo that has gone wrong in some manner. All the while, he risks costing a plane its takeoff slot.
There are more too. You have the hostess who must juggle a million passenger complaints, violent passengers, sick passengers, missing passengers, and the complexities of rebooking people who often fall between the cracks and find themselves stuck at the airport. You have the customs officer who must be on the look out for drugs and black magic. And so on.
All of that makes for an enjoyable viewing experience. But the topic is the real gem. The story of this airport is a fascinating topic. It is a hidden world you knew nothing about before you set out to watch the show and it is an amazing world... a world of high engineering, human error, rules and the bending of rules, all taking place in this hidden world wrapped in the enigma of being set in Dubai with all of its idiosyncrasies and mysteries. So much of what we think we know about the Middle East isn't true here, but so much also is. And seeing it all take place amidst such intense opulence is just fascinating. This show is enthralling and I absolutely recommend it.
The one word of caution is that it’s not easy to find. It’s on NatGeo during the days right now, but seems to come and go. If you can’t find it there, it is on Youtube: Ultimate Airport Dubai.