Stock Dubai airport passengers
Dubai's determined push to open up its airline and travel sectors in double quick time is starting to pay off. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: Demand on the Mumbai and Karachi routes from the UAE have been the quickest to recover as airlines gradually increase capacity on their main destinations. The best part as far as passengers are concerned is that they are still paying some of the lowest ticket rates in recent times.

A one-way ticket to Mumbai and Karachi can be had for around Dh500, while it would be the same for another in-demand destination, Kochi in the south Indian state of Kerala. This is so even with airlines taking in more demand – on flights from Dubai to Mumbai and Karachi, the load factor has risen by more than 20 per cent since July.

“Karachi has recovered the most – Mumbai has got better too, but London is a bit of a U-turn,” said George Ferguson, an aerospace and airline analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.

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Still in need of a lift

Flights to London are yet to shake off the impact from the UK's recent second lockdown. But for those wanting to fly over there, tickets can be had for around Dh1,500, well off from the peak-pandemic rates from Dh2,100 to Dh2,500. Demand for the UK capital have fallen by 10 per cent since July.

Strategy is paying off

For Dubai, in particular, the single-minded focus on getting the airline and hospitality sectors back on their feet after COVID-19 is paying off. While a full recovery is still some way off, the gains to date have still been solid.

Much the same can be said about other aviation hubs that have been quick to react. “Dubai put together policies, guidelines and regulations to fight the epidemic, but also to open up their skies, open up the borders and allow free movement of passengers and goods,” said Muhammad Ali Albakri, Regional Vice-President Africa and the Middle East, IATA.

“They have successfully done so,”

Dubai has removed several travel-related restrictions, including that of compulsory quarantine. As a result, passenger traffic at Dubai International Airport is now slowly inching back to levels seen before the pandemic, market sources say.

Favoured holiday spot

Each passing day brings new hopes of a COVID-19 vaccine and things eventually returning to some normalcy. Whatever be the case, some UAE residents are intent on getting in some bit of holiday travel.

The leading holiday hotspot of choice now, Maldives will cost UAE passengers around Dh2,600 in the next few weeks. Emirates and Etihad had offered special fares of Dh3,000 to fly to the country, while budget carrier Flydubai will operate daily flights to Maldives from December 17 to January 18.

Apart from Maldives, booking enquiries are shooting up for destinations such as Turkey, Serbia, and Uzbekistan, said a spokesperson for Regal Tours Worldwide.

“International travel is taking place for expats, migrants, and labour to move between home and work, for annual visits to friends and relatives - and for some leisure bubbles such as the Maldives,” said Sanjiv Kapoor, senior advisor at Alton Aviation. There will be demand for “other popular destinations with no quarantine requirements, such as the US and the UK (once out of lockdown).”

Passenger capacity on key air routes from UAE is rising as airlines add more flights to their network ahead of the holiday season.

Demand considerations

“With vaccines coming into play soon, we see great pent-up demand for air travel, both for business and pleasure in many global markets we monitor,” said John Boyd, founder of Boyd Company. “This includes travel from key global hubs like the UAE to destinations in India, UK, Pakistan and the Philippines,”

These routes will be crucial to Middle East’s carriers, who are expected to lose $7.1 billion this year. They will lose another $3.3 billion in 2021, according to the latest forecasts from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Bring on the biggest

Introduction of a UK-UAE travel corridor is already bringing in rewards for UAE’s airlines. Days after the announcement, Emirates said it would begin operating its A380 jumbo four times a day to Heathrow and six times a week to Manchester.

China gains

To the east, China’s domestic aviation industry has nearly fully recovered from the pandemic. Etihad will start operating flights connecting Beijing to Abu Dhabi, making it the carrier’s second weekly flight to China.

The airline had earlier resumed services between UAE’s capital and Shanghai in late July. “China continues to be a strategically important market for Etihad and resuming an additional passenger route connecting China with Abu Dhabi is a welcome development,” said Martin Drew, Senior Vice-President Sales and Cargo, Etihad Aviation Group, in a statement.

“Being granted the rights to operate the second weekly flight by the Chinese government was a huge recognition of the unrelenting joint efforts by the airline, testing institutions in the UAE, and authorities in both countries in the battle against COVID-19.”