India-UAE ticket rates are dropping since last week despite steady travel demand

Dubai: Return fares on some India-to-UAE flights are starting to drop as the former rolls back COVID-19 related travel requirements.

According to travel industry sources, return fares on select routes are now at around Dh1,200 on average compared with Dh2,500 just a week ago. “The Pune airport is also open, which means people no longer have to travel all the way to Mumbai to board a Dubai flight,” said one travel agent in Dubai.

Dubai, Doha and Sharjah were the top international destinations from Mumbai airport last year, replacing previous placeholders such as London Heathrow and Newark.

Last week, India said that passengers from more than 80 countries would be allowed to travel to the country with just a negative RT-PCR test report or a certificate of completing the primary vaccination schedule. The list features travelers from the US, the UK, Switzerland, Australia, Sweden, Spain and Sri Lanka, but does not presently include UAE.

“At present, we haven’t heard anything on this from the authorities,” said a spokesperson for Dubai Link Tours. “We usually get a circular from Emirates airline notifying us of any changes, but this time there was nothing. Demand is strong with a lot of people traveling over weekends – and yet fares have come down quite a bit.”

Fares take a drop

A ticket from New Delhi to Dubai can be between Dh1,000-Dh1,600, while from Mumbai, a flight can cost more than Dh2,000. The Kochi-Dubai sector has some economical options with tickets going for less than Dh700. Bengaluru also has tickets for Dh600-Dh800.

Reciprocal arrangements

Industry sources say UAE’s exclusion from the revised list on COVID-19 test requirements is in line with India’s reciprocal policy. “India is recognizing vaccine certificates of various countries on the basis of reciprocity,” said an aviation consultant. “The UAE doesn’t recognize India’s vaccine certificates as yet.”

Passengers arriving in Dubai from India must have a valid negative COVID 19 PCR test certificate for a test conducted within 48 hours. They must also have a rapid PCR test report for a test conducted at the departure airport within six hours of departure.

India, which suspended normal commercial flights in 2020, has been signing ‘bubble’ agreements on a bilateral basis with countries. Although most major airlines now operate between the two countries, they face severe capacity constraints and longer times to get approvals. All this has resulted in a surge in airfares.

The ‘India-first’ approach on certain routes ensures that India’s carriers do not face direct competition from operators in the UAE or other countries. Despite these obstacles, airline seat capacity between UAE and India has reached almost 90 per cent of pre-COVID-19 levels, according to CAPA India. “Prior to India’s third wave, the traffic between India and UAE reached about 70 per cent of pre-Covid levels.”

Expats offer mixed reactions

Most UAE-based Indian expats do not see the testing regime as a big hindrance to travel. Ansh Parteek, who works for a UAE-based construction firm, is heading to Chandigarh in April to meet his family after almost a year. “It doesn’t make a difference; I would have still taken the test for the safety of my parents.”

Not everyone shares the same viewpoint. Jeffrey George, who is waiting for his college in Maharashtra to re-open, believes the lifting of certain requirements would have definitely made travel easier.

“The uncertainty around the re-opening of my college has been hard as it is – this will result in higher traveling costs for me,” said George. “I can get a refund on airline tickets, but the same can’t be done for a PCR test.”

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