Any demand increase for flights to and from the UK to the UAE will be gradual, as travellers still need to make up their minds given the four-week UK lockdown. And the various travel restrictions that come with it. Image Credit: Agency

Dubai: While there has been a sharp rise in booking enquiries, airlines will start to feel the benefits of UK’s no-quarantine deal with the UAE more gradually. And that’s because of the one-month lockdown that’s in place in the UK.

From November 14, UAE-UK flight services will operate on an “air corridor” basis, which means passengers don’t have to go through quarantine.

But “travel corridors have to date not worked - rapid changes by governments around entry requirements have frustrated the airlines attempts to launch operations within corridors,” said John Grant, Partner at Midas Aviation. “While it remains a great sound byte, the reality is that until we have vaccines, common acceptance process between countries and consistent testing protocols, these are just small gestures.”

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Demand from the get-go

In fact, demand on this sector had been growing consistently – since July when Dubai allowed tourists to make a return. And Emirates made one of its first deployments of the A380 on the Heathrow sector to meet rising demand.

This is what the latest lockdown has disrupted. The decision has generated sufficient heat from within the UK, with many believing this is the wrong way for the UK to go about countering COVID-19. And especially what it will mean for the economy and businesses, still far from any recovery.

Emirates A380 made a one-off service to Clark International Airport on Wednesday, becoming the first commercial flight, utilizing the aircraft, to operate to the Luzon-based airport
Emirates was quick to bring in the A380 on its Heathrow trips, citing rising demand as soon as flights resumed in July. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Will fares be hit?

Despite the removal of quarantine needs and the replacement by an air corridor arrangement, UAE airlines will face a hard time filling seats as parts of UK still remain under a one-month lockdown that will last till December.

A seat on a British Airways flight to London costs about Dh1,200, while Emirates charges between Dh1,600 to Dh1,700. Fares are now more or less the same when compared to levels seen in recent weeks. According to travel agents, ticket prices are hardly a good indicator of demand now.

“As for potential increases in fares, there is plenty of capacity around for travellers to select flights without an increase in fares,” said Grant.

Think incremental

“It is not clear how much of a difference this travel corridor announcement will really make in the near term,” said Sanjiv Kapoor, an airline industry veteran and former chief strategy and commercial officer at India’s Vistara. “Especially now as the UK is in lockdown again and, once there, presumably UAE visitors will have to still follow the lockdown guidelines. “However, once the UK lifts its lockdown, one would expect to see a surge of visitors from the UAE who have been waiting to visit the UK for business, leisure, shopping, or to visit friends and family.”

Risks involved

What’s surprising about this lockdown is that the UK allows arrivals into the country, but has cut off all non-essential travel for its own residents. This, Kapoor says, might prove counter-productive.

“Most countries that have successfully controlled the spread of COVID-19 have done in the other way around – allowed people to leave freely, but strictly limited arrivals.”

Kapoor added that the move does not the address the risk of UAE-origin travelers getting exposed to others on the aircraft, who originate their journeys elsewhere and may be asymptomatic carriers.