Heathrow Airport
Travel industry sources say that waiting periods for UK visas will see heavy piling up, and it's best to start processes early. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: London’s Heathrow has lifted its cap on outgoing daily passengers just in time for Dubai and the UAE’s peak tourism season - and for visits tied to the FIFA World Cup starting November 20 in Doha.

Local travel agents have recorded an instant spike in demand for UAE-UK travel after Heathrow International Airport lifted its outgoing passenger numbers from 100,000 per day on October 30. The daily limit was in place all through summer and later extended all the way up to late October, and was brought on by acute staff shortages to handle travel demand at the premier UK airport.

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Removing the cap will thus ensure that Dubai and UAE will get the full complement of British visitors during the peak season, going all the way to mid-January.

UAE to the UK too

The passenger cap on outgoing travel from Heathrow had dented demand from the UAE as well. UAE residents, unless it was absolutely necessary, preferred travel options elsewhere so as not to get caught in any potential disruptions at UK airports.

Meerah Ketait, Head of Retail and Leisure UAE at dnata Travel, commented: “As the UAE’s longest-standing travel provider, what we can see from our latest bookings and search is that demand for travel is at a high this year, particularly around upcoming holiday periods. International holidays are significantly more popular in 2022, in comparison to the same timings in 2021. The UK has always remained in our ‘top 5’ most popular destinations for international flights and holidays from the UAE, this includes over the summer months, and we are certainly witnessing an increase in demand to London in particular across the festive period.”

The UK Visas and Immigration department (UKVI) said 2.08 million visas were granted to inbound visitors in the year ending June 2022, 34 per cent fewer than in 2019, primarily due to 1.5 million fewer granting of visit visas. That too should change now.

In the year ending June 2022, over 2,300 visitor visas and just over 700 student visas were granted to UAE nationals, revealed VFS Global, the official partner for UKVI.

In a statement to ‘Gulf News’, VFS Global said, “The UK continues to be a popular destination for visitors across categories. UKVI is currently experiencing high global demand, meaning some visa applications take longer to process.”

Take those UK visas in advance

The UKVI is working hard to get all applications back within service standards. Visit visas, including standard visitor visa applications, are still taking an average of seven weeks to process, while some applications might take longer.

At least 3 months

“As we approach the winter travel season, we urge applicants to apply well in advance to avoid any delays. UKVI accepts applications up to three months before the intended date of travel,” said VFS Global. Some travel agents are expecting a threefold increase in demand from their UAE customers. Girish Bhimjiyani, Partner at Sahil Al Bahar Tourism, said, “Ease at Heathrow is a big relief for transiting passengers. We have also increased the number of airlines offering better connectivity to other airports like Gatwick and Birmingham, which are also important factors for ease of travel to London.” Most countries now are trying to ease their border regulations in preparation for 2023 and to recover from pandemic-triggered losses, said Geoffrey Salatan, Manager of Sales and Client Relations at Airlink International UAE.

“The high demand is on account of Christmas and New Year festivities. British expatriates living in the UAE want to head home for the winter break as two years of pandemic-triggered health regulations disrupted their travel plans.”

Students join in

The second highest air ticket demand is from UAE-based students heading to the UK for their higher education. “All universities in the UK have resumed in-person classes, and students who were studying in UK universities from here are headed to the UK,” Salatan said.

Will Heathrow throw down a wet blanket?

Europe’s busiest airport forecasts that the total passenger numbers for 2022 will reach 60 million to 62 million, around 25 per cent fewer than in 2019. However, Heathrow hinted that a ‘highly targeted’ cap would reduce demand on peak days leading up to Christmas. Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said the airport’s priority is to build back the airport eco-system to meet demand at peak times. “To do so, businesses across the airport need to recruit and train up to 25,000 security-cleared people, which is a huge logistical challenge,” he said in a statement.

Airfares to London
According to Skyscanner, a one-way Economy class ticket to London onboard British Airways, for booking after December 15, is priced at Dh1,750. Emirates’ Economy fares are Dh 1,687, while Premium Economy seats are for Dh 5,630, and Business fares at Dh12,170. For now, prices remain steady until New Year. Abu Dhabi–London tickets on Etihad Airways are priced at Dh 2,190 for departure on December 15.

The prices dip to Dh 1,620 until December 21 and back up to Dh 1,750 for Christmas weekend. “Airfare on most flights to the UK are high until end-December -People have already begun booking,” said Geoffrey Salatan of Airlink.