Dubai: Pakistan expats in the UAE visiting their home country this Eid holidays have not seen any drastic increases in ticket rates for the period. This despite flights on this sector not having reached full operational capacity post-pandemic and demand remaining sky-high.
Instead, what travelers are seeing for the April 20-24 period are more or less stable rates, of between Dh1,345 on flydubai and Dh1,785 for a seat on Emirates’ flights from Dubai to Karachi. That’s compared to a Dh1,235 average on multiple airlines during January and February.
Fares to Islamabad, Lahore, Sialkot and Multan have risen an average of 10 per cent every month since January this year. (Direct UAE- Quetta flights are unavailable at the moment.)
Dubai-to-Lahore fares are at Dh2, 341 (on Airblue) compared to Dh,106-Dh1,923 in January, while those to Islamabad range around Dh2,225 (on PIA) compared to Dh1,845 earlier in the year, according to travel aggregator Kayak. Sharjah-to-Sialkot airfares are Dh2,774 compared to Dh1,450 in January.
All of which would offer relative relief to fliers after ticket rates rose sharply as soon as services were restored in the post-Covid phase. “Fares to Pakistan have stayed consistently high due to limited flight options and high demand,” said Shabbir Ali, Business Head – GCC at Rayna Tours. “Not too many flights were operating to Pakistan last year due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
“Demand was very high, and supply wasn’t as much.”
Similar issues persist year due to Pakistan’s ongoing foreign reserve crisis causing international airlines to cut down frequencies. “Moreover, Pakistan International Airlines is yet to reach full capacities, adding to the capacity crunch,” said Ali. (UAE and Pakistan carriers operate approximately 300 flights between the countries per week, travel industry sources estimate.)
High demand, lower capacity
According to a note shared by Philip Goh, IATA’s Vice-President for Asia Pacific, Pakistan has some $290 million in blocked funds as of January 2023. The country’s foreign exchange controls mean some airlines still have money held there from sales in 2022.
Data from aviation analytics firm Cirium shows that Emirates and Saudia are operating fewer flights compared to pre-pandemic levels, which have shown up in higher fares on the GCC- Pakistan sector.
The UK carrier Virgin Atlantic suspended its services to Islamabad after the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) raised concerns about Pakistan’s aviation safety standards.
Johan Eidhagen, Officer and Managing Director of Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, told 'Gulf News' the airline has received permission from civil aviation authorities) to fly to Pakistan. “We believe we are taking the right steps to offer operations in the future. There is strong demand for our product in the market.”
Pakistani civil aviation authorities require Fly Jinnah to operate domestically for at least a year before starting overseas operations. The airline commenced operations in October 2022.
Lower flight frequencies
Mamoun Hmedan, MENA's Chief Commercial Officer and Managing Director at Wego.com said, “Very few flights are currently operating in this sector, and the existing carriers operate at lower frequencies compared to 2019, keeping fares high.”
Sharjah’s Air Arabia and flydubai operate the most flights to Pakistan from the UAE, with the former having on average of three flights daily to Karachi.
flydubai, however, has increased its operations to Pakistan by 10 per cent post-pandemic (according to Cirium) and gains in a big way from the interline agreement it signed with PIA in 2021. The UAE airline operates to five points in Pakistan, including Faisalabad, Multan, Quetta and Sialkot.
Tax on premium travellers
Pakistan has a Federal Excise Duty (FED) on air tickets for First and Business Class travellers and wants to increase it further, but has left Economy fliers untouched.
Hmedan advises passengers to book their flight tickets months in advance to give them flexibility on price. “Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, and Ras Al Khaimah international airports offer flights to Pakistan, and sometimes these fares are lower.”