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Any drop in ticket rates from September will depend on governments allowing in more commercial flights. Travel industry sources say that airlines are willing to offer aggressive discounts to convince fliers to return. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: There could be some relief for UAE expats wanting to fly out in September, with airlines and travel portals listing rates much lower than what they are now.

According to the travel website Skyscanner.ae, a one-way trip to Kochi in the middle of September can be booked for Dh298 on Spicejet, while Emirates is offering Dh900 to the same destination. Tickets to Mumbai are from Dh329, while Dubai to Lahore are at Dh740.

Going forward, airfares from UAE to destinations in Europe and Asia are expected to come in lower than the seasonal average as countries ease COVID-19 measures and airlines offer deep discounts to attract customers.

But for this to pan out, authorities in those countries must permit more flights. Even though many governments are yet to approve schedules for September, airlines have taken it upon themselves to list flights on important routes - at much lower fares.

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For now, rates are heavy

UAE residents catching flights now are shelling out more to go back as COVID-19 related measures restrict commercial flights.

For instance, travellers wanting to head to India can only opt for a repatriation flight or a chartered one. The latter option is proving to be quite expensive due to demand as well as additional costs arising from COVID-19-related precautionary measures.

According to Al Abbas Travels, India-bound chartered flight tickets have become more expensive by up to Dh400, compared to commercial flight fares before the pandemic. India’s subsidized “Vande Bharat” flights cost around Dh900 per ticket on an average.

“Overall prices have been higher as supply has not been able to keep up to demand,” said Neeraj Goswami, associate director at Cleartrip.com, an India-based travel website. “Airlines’ cost of operations has increased as they introduce new safety equipment and adhere to social distancing norms.”

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Raising hopes for lower rates is the fact that many airlines are now offering tentative rates for September and beyond. And these are much lower than the current going rates. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Mirrored on other routes

Emirates and Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) are the only airlines operating between UAE and Pakistan at the moment. Coupled with demand, this has resulted in prices shooting up 40-50 per cent from last year.

A seat on a PIA flight heading to Pakistan costs between Dh1,400 and Dh1,500, multiple travel agencies confirmed. Pakistan’s air travel market witnessed a price war last year, but in the absence of “fierce competition”, prices have undergone a correction, Goswami said.

Further to the east, Philippines has enforced strict regulations around landing rights. The nation is only permitting repatriation and some charter flights into its territory, which has resulted in fares rising to an average of Dh2,500, compared to about Dh1,450 at the start of the year.

For British expats looking to head back home, a ticket will cost in the range of Dh2,000 to Dh2,700, agencies say. Sources add that fares to fly to other destinations in Europe have not dramatically changed from last year.

“We’re going to see air prices become quite competitive in an attempt to lure travelers back,” said Jamie Larounis, an industry analyst at UpgradedPoints.com. Upcoming fares need to “grab the attention of flyers” since it is viewed as “non-socially distant”.

Not going down too well

The unusually high rates have provoked resentment among Indian and Pakistani expats, who claim these are way too high for what are essentially repatriation services.

In a statement to Gulf News, Air India Express urged passengers taking these flights to do their due diligence and check the authenticity of the travel agents they deal with.

“We request all passengers to visit our website and follow us on Facebook and Twitter as we share a lot of real-time information for the benefit of our passengers on these platforms,” the Indian carrier said. “In order to avoid any confusion, we keep updating our website and blog page as well as social media channels with repatriation schedule and fares.”

Travel Agencies say they hope to see the Indian government approve more commercial flights in September. As of now, the only flights operating between UAE and India are the ones under the “Vande Bharat Mission” and charter flights organized by private companies and organizations.

If the government does not approve more flights from September, chances are that ticket prices will remain the same. Currently, a one-way ticket to Kochi, a hub in the south Indian state of Kerala, is priced between Dh1,350 to Dh1,450.

If those rates prevail, then expats’ hopes of picking up cheaper fares from September onwards will take a hit. And all those discounts airlines were hoping to offer to get fliers back will have to wait.