Dubai: New travel restrictions in the US – the world's biggest aviation market – will deal a major blow to airlines, especially those in the UAE.
The US is the latest to announce tougher travel restrictions to control the spread of COVID-19 virus. President Joe Biden on Thursday issued an executive order directing federal agencies to require international air travelers to quarantine on arrival in the US.
A spokesperson for Emirates, which operates flights from Dubai to all major US cities, said the airline’s US operations were running per normal schedule.
“If the US goes forward with a blanket quarantine requirement for all flights, the impact on all foreign airlines currently serving the US will be significant,” said Brendan Sobie, an independent aviation analyst.
“For Gulf carriers, this is not only about impacting demand for travel from the UAE or Middle East to the US, but also significantly impact 'Fifth Freedom' traffic, which they rely on heavily for US routes,” said Sobie.
Emirates flies thousands of passengers from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh to the US. Maldives, which has emerged as a popular tourist destination during the pandemic, has been open to international visitors, including Americans, since July last.
The sixth freedom lets an airline carry traffic between two countries via the carrier’s home country.
What are fares like?
A one-way ticket to New York on an Emirates flight costs around Dh3,560, while a seat to Los Angeles will be around Dh4,000. An Emirates flight to Chicago will cost between Dh3,600 to Dh3,800.
A spokesperson for UAE-based Regal Tours said that there was a “good” flow of travelers from the US and UK to the UAE. However, bookings have been “moderate” for flights from UAE to those countries, he added.
UK, another major market for UAE’s aviation players, recently removed UAE from its list of travel 'corridors'. It was only recently that the UAE was assigned an 'air corridor' status on flights to the UK, but rampant COVID-19 spread and further lockdowns caused UK government to reconsider the move. (A corridor status means there is no need for quarantine measures.)
A one-way ticket from Dubai to London costs about Dh1,600, while a flight from Abu Dhabi to UK’s capital is priced at Dh1,638.
“Such measures seem almost inevitable not just in the US but in other markets as well; the UK looks destined for such a measure,” said John Grant, Partner at Midas Aviation. “Importantly this has to be a time limited intervention; the airline industry cannot operate with such a long-term restriction.”
This further compounds the challenges faced by the airlines industry, which is expected to lose $38 billion in 2021, according to International Air Transport Association (IATA).