I just got back to Delhi from Dubai a few days ago after a fantastic Dubai Airshow, and oh my goodness, the trip almost did not happen. But eventually, it did. There was only one big reason, fares. Fares to Dubai are currently skyrocketing, and I had no clue why. I thought it was because of the ongoing cricket in Dubai (IPL, followed by the World Cup T20). Until I started digging deeper, that is.
Dubai is limited by the number of seats
As is commonly known, when India resumed the passage of Indians and International travellers abroad, it only allowed, for the longest time, specific categories of people to travel. Travel visas were only allowed very recently. Instead of opening up their old bilaterals where specific seat allocations have been given out to other countries, India has now proceeded to sign up new “transport bubble” arrangements that place limits on who can use the air bubble arrangement many people can travel.
The India – UAE Travel Bubble places some strict conditions and limitations. Here is what is available of the India – UAE “transport bubble” as known in the public domain.
India has created an air bubble arrangement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Indian and UAE carriers are now permitted to operate flights between India and UAE and carry the following categories of persons on such flights:
A. From India to UAE:
i. UAE nationals.
ii. ICA approved UAE residents.
iii. Any Indian national or national of Nepal or Bhutan destined for UAE or any country in South America or Africa only and holding a valid visa of the destination country. It would be for the airlines concerned to ensure that there is no travel restriction for Indian/Nepalese/Bhutanese nationals to enter the destination country before issue of ticket/boarding pass to the Indian/Nepalese/Bhutanese passenger.
B. From UAE to India:
i. Indian nationals or nationals of Nepal or Bhutan stranded in UAE or in any country in South America or Africa;
ii. All Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders and Person of Indian Origin (PIO) cardholders holding passports of any country; and
iii. UAE nationals and foreign nationals (from any country in South America or Africa only) holding a valid Indian visa as per extant guidelines.
Passengers travelling on flights from India to UAE should be destined for UAE or any country in South America or Africa only. Similarly, only passengers originating from UAE or any country in South America or Africa should be allowed to travel on flights from UAE to India.
However, the part not in the public domain is that the number of seats has been drastically reduced on the India – UAE corridor. India had, pre-pandemic, allowed 134,000 seats per week with four of the emirates under separate agreements (instead of the UAE as one country). The capacities were split as follows:
- Dubai: 65,200 seats per week by Indian/Dubai-based carriers
- Abu Dhabi: 50,000 seats per week by Indian/Abu Dhabi-based carriers
- Sharjah:17,481 seats per week by Indian/Sharjah-based carriers
- Ras Al Khaimah: 1,400 seats per week by Indian/RAK-based carriers
Pre-Covid, Indian carriers utilised around 100,000 seats per week while the UAE carriers utilised around 115,000 seats per week. Now, carriers on the India – Dubai route, for instance, can only operate only about 30% of this capacity for the time being, which is around 18,000 seats per week. These are being used on the Dubai end in a 60:40 ratio by Emirates and FlyDubai.
On top of this, there is a limitation that no more than 180 seats can be filled up, per flight, as per our discussion with Emirates. This means that while Emirates can now operate 14 flights to India per day (to 8 airports), and while these flights are all operated by 360-seater Boeing 777 aircraft (Emirates does not have anything smaller!), all the flights are being operated half-empty.
To comply with the 180 seats, Emirates is selling premium cabins while reducing the number of seats on the economy cabin being sold. For reference, each 77W aircraft of Emirates usually flies the following configuration:
- First Class: 8 seats
- Business Class: 42 seats
- Economy Class: 310 seats
FlyDubai, on the other hand, flies 737-8 aircraft on this route, which has 162 economy and 12 business class seats.
On the Indian side, the compression is even more given the limitations with airlines barely scraping by with flight operations to Dubai.
- Air India is flying up to 6 flights a day to Dubai from various airports in India (Hyderabad, Cochin, Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow, Calicut, Amritsar, Trivandrum, Jaipur, amongst others)
- Air India Express is flying up to 7 flights a day from various airports in India (Mangalore, Cochin, Amritsar, Mumbai, Trivandrum, Trichy, Calicut, amongst others)
- Vistara is flying four times a week using their Airbus A321neo from Delhi (which has 188 seats)
- IndiGo is operating up to 9 flights a day from various airports in India
- SpiceJet is operating up to 6 flights a day from multiple airports in India
I also spot some spotty flights from GoFirst Airways on this route.
But, here is the thing, with the limitations being placed, many airlines have decided to optimise for the best revenue rather than the best availability, given they have to lose some seats on a plane (and in the case of Emirates, a lot of seats on a plane). So, airlines are operating by offering their premium cabins for sale first, and as a result, tickets are expensive.
Take a look, for example, at the weekly fares from Emirates in December 2021. Most of the time, the Economy class’ limited capacity is already sold out, so only business and first-class fares pop up in these sectors.
Dubai is home to over 3 million Indian ex-pats, as per recent estimates. Since the reopening of the corridor between India and UAE, people have started to travel to visit their family and relatives. There is also the trade travel which has begun. Not just that, there has been a lot of travel ongoing via Dubai for various other places, such as to jump off to Singapore, the United States of American and other destinations. In this situation, then, airfares have been climbing, no surprise.
Not to forget, there is the Expo 2020 going on, which is receiving a lot of good footfalls.
At least the Indian carriers have now started to counterbalance their Dubai capacity by launching more flights to Sharjah, which sits right next door to Dubai and has flights at half the price.
While Dubai is almost an extension of India, this drastic scaling down of capacity has meant that flights are more expensive than usual. In this case, if you would still like to travel from India to the UAE, then plan your travel well ahead of time so that you don’t have to pay eye-watering fares for your trip.
Have you travelled between India and Dubai recently? What has been your experience pricewise on travel to the UAE?
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Thanks for that, I was wondering why flights to India from the UK are so expensive. I am finding it really difficult navigating what visas I can get and can’t get and when I can fly, even the embassy said flights from the UK were open from mid November but in fact they were not. Also my 5 year paper visa is still nullified so I can’t book a flight until the visa situation is normalised, not to mention the money I spent on the visa which I have only been able to use once as it remains suspended ! I would just like to say thanks China. NOT.
Very nice and correct analysis!
UAE is now pushing India through a quadrant with Israel and USA to recommence regular commercial flights. This should happen at the earliest. Passengers have coughed up enough until now to help the carriers. It is high time Indian Govt understands the financial hardships of the 3 million Indian expats in UAE and of those who wish to travel to UAE for family reunions, EXPO, business, etc. These expats are the highest remitters of foreign exchange to India and who do not have any benefits (PIO, OCI, etc) like those in USA, Canada, Australia or anywhere! A vast majority are hardworking labour class as well. Surely they don’t need to be squeezed of their meagre earnings in the UAE.
On another issue, it is time for UAE authorities to remove the requirement of pre-checkin Rapid RTPCR at Indian airports which is not only adding to the travel cost (3000 to 5500 INR), but also a lot of inconvenience to travellers from India to UAE, as they need to reach the airport 6 hours ahead of their flight timings. To this, they need to add the time needed to reach airports from homes as well. With new Covid cases in India currently being very low and with India doing a great job with vaccinations to the huge population, it is really high time UAE authorities concede to our MEA request to remove the requirement immediately.
This was helpful!.. I was also wondering why are the prices so high. Hopefully these capacity limitations are relaxed soon.
Bang on Ajay. I live in Abu Dhabi, and in the last 10 years, never ever seen such sky high fares. Despite having the affordability, dare i pay close to 100,000Rs for a flight back home! High time the Government of India lift the air bubble and resume regular capacity.