Stock Dubai Airport
Dubai International Airport is back to being the world's busiest as Expo and the T20 World Cup draw in the visitors. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Anywhere from Dh500 to Dh5,000 – those are the rates that expat Indians in the UAE are looking at to catch a flight to India. For flying out on Diwali, which is being marked today, from Dubai to Delhi, rates have touched, or even crossed, the Dh5,000 level.

A trip to Mumbai ranges around Dh500 to Dh1,700, - on this particular sector, the cost to passengers had been as low as Dh200-Dh300 during the peak of the travel ban imposed by India to tackle the COVID-19 spread. With India having again delayed the full restoration of international flight services to the country, rates will continue to see heavy fluctuations, particularly on the higher side.

“In 2019, every flight operator used to operate around 4-5 flights to Dubai every day - the accessibility was much better,” said Nishant Pitti, CEO and co-founder of the online travel booking portal EaseMyTrip.

Now, while there has been much improvement in the number of flights between the UAE and India – with Air Arabia Abu Dhabi being the latest to launch flights, starting with Kerala – seat capacity is gradually getting back to 2019 levels. But demand is such that the current capacity is still not sufficient, which explains the rate volatility.

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Will ticket rates drop?

The only way ticket prices will fall is through the introduction of new flights – and the one obstacle to that is India’s ban on international flights. Last week, India's civil aviation regulator extended the ban on scheduled international flights until November 30.

Regardless of the Indian government’s next move, fares will eventually drop. “The rise in fares is a temporary phase due to limited flights and certain other restrictions,” said Pitti. “We are confident that fares will stabilize and come down in the near future - the availability of more flights and seats will help in meeting the demand and reduce the airfares in the time to come.”

India currently has an ‘air bubble’ agreement with UAE, which limits the number of flights operated on the route. It has also added an extra layer of bureaucracy to the proceedings, posing operational challenges to foreign airlines.

Under the current arrangement, airlines get monthly or bi-monthly approvals from the Indian regulator to operate routes, said an industry source. “Depending on the approvals, they (airlines) clean up their schedules and that often means not operating as many flights as were being sold –leading to schedules being disrupted.”

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The UAE-India sector needs to get back to 2019 levels at the earliest when it comes to flight schedules. That year, major airlines were operating between "4-5 flights a day". Image Credit: Supplied

Searching for solutions

Last month, officials from India and UAE discussed increasing the number of flights under the existing bubble arrangement. “There is a possibility of increasing flights under the air bubble, particularly (because of the) Dubai Expo,” said Piyush Goyal, India’s Commerce Minister, during a visit to the UAE.

“There are certain issues in the long run, which still need to be sorted out on expanding our bilateral air transport elements, which require the civil aviation ministries of both governments to engage more deeply.”

A bustling city

As for tourists making their trip to Dubai, they will come across a city that is busy with a host of major events. While the Expo is up and running, there will be the Dubai Sir Show, the Motor Show and Cityscape running this month. The T20 Cricket World Cup is already running through a packed schedule of matches.

Dubai, one of the first destinations to open up to tourists last year, is back in full force. “Holiday season is around the corner, Dubai has had good vaccination rates, (and) is relatively lax in terms of restrictions - Dubai has always pushed its tourism and it is amazing,” said a user on Reddit. “Many Indians are planning vacations in Dubai too due to the reasonable prices along with the distance - up until January, it will be lit.”

And this elicited a response from another user: “As someone desperate to return to Dubai for a holiday - having been trapped at home in Australia for 2 years - this is music to my ears.”