Residents looking to fly to the UK from the UAE this autumn said limited availability of flights and rising airfares were forcing them to think twice about travelling.
Travellers told The National they were put on waiting lists for flights on Emirates this month as seats in some classes were fully booked.
Travel experts said rising airfares on the route were a culmination of passenger demand, fuel costs, and earlier imposed passenger restrictions at Heathrow Airport, which limited capacity for airlines.
While availability for midweek economy flights direct to London airports from Dubai on Emirates remained relatively easy to come by for September, weekend slots are few and far between.
A quick browse on the airline's website showed that availability to fly economy on a Friday or Saturday was limited, despite the airline operating nine flights per week to the city. These include flights six times daily to Heathrow, two to Gatwick and one to London Stansted.
Prices are also up, with the cheapest weekend ticket in September costing about Dh4,350 ($1,184) for a return journey. This is about Dh1,000 more than the average price before the summer travel peak.
On days where only business and first class tickets are available, prices will set passengers back upwards of Dh15,000. They rise to the mid-20,000s for some flights.
Emirates said it would temporarily operate a third daily flight to Gatwick from October 15-29 to serve market demand during the school midterm break.
British resident Mandip Dulay, who works in marketing in Dubai, has noticed a steep increase in the cost of flights to her home country.
“I have taken three flights in the past week out of Dubai, going to the UK, Saudi Arabia and Paris for business,” she said.
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“I noticed flights to the UK have gone up in cost. Business class seems to have increased from Dh15,000 to Dh22,000 [on some flights] and economy has risen from around Dh3,000 to Dh4,000.
“For the first time in 10 years, I have been put on a wait list for a business class seat on Emirates.”
She said the prices of other locations she had travelled to in recent weeks had remained stable in comparison.
“The flights I took to Paris and Saudi Arabia were not impacted by price or availability,” she said.
“I am due to fly out again to the UK [on Thursday] and am on an Emirates wait list again. If the seat does not become available, I will have to fly into Paris and then to the UK from there on a low-cost European carrier.”
Another Dubai resident said he was struggling to find economy tickets to any destination in his native UK over the coming week.
“I have been trying to book a flight for days but only business class seems to be available to any destination in the UK,” said Dan Perry, who runs his own business in the UAE.
“I finally managed to get on a waiting list to Birmingham on the 21st but it will cost Dh6,300.
“I have lived in the UAE for 20 years and have never seen prices for economy tickets to the UK this high.”
Impact of UK passenger cap
Mamoun Hmedan, chief commercial officer and managing director for Wego’s Middle East, North Africa and India office, said there was an increase in prices on several airlines for September between Dubai and London in comparison with August.
In the first week of September, Wego recorded about 7,500 online searches from Dubai to London, down slightly from the summer.
“People who couldn’t travel during the Europe heatwave are now searching for flights to London to benefit from the good weather,” Mr Hmedan said.
“Given that the passenger cap imposed in July has been extended and due to increased fuel prices, the airfares between Dubai and London have soared as a result.
“Currently, the average airfare is $1,116 (Dh4,100).
“Once the passenger cap is removed and more flights resume to London, we will see a change in airfares.”
Aviation consultant John Strickland said flights were still not back to full capacity ― either on the London-Dubai routes or on all other routes to the Gulf, India, Africa and Australia.
“But demand is extremely strong,” he said.
“With Emirates serving multiple destinations via its hub as well as Dubai itself, overall capacity still being down and airlines dealing with high fuel prices, this is creating inevitable upward pressure on last-minute prices.”
Airlines were forced to consolidate some of their quieter daily flights to reduce footfall at the airport, but they could still retain their slots for next year.
David Tarsh, who works with Forward Keys, which provides travel intelligence for companies, said the slot alleviation measures gave “pricing power" back to airlines as demand for flights remained.
He said it was a great moment for airlines because they no longer have to carry half-empty flights. And now they have demand and supply on flights that are 80-90 per cent full, which means they can ask what they like, in terms of pricing, for the last tickets.
Olivier Ponti, vice president of Insights at ForwardKeys, said flight capacity between Dubai and the UK in September was currently 30 per cent down compared with the same time in 2019.
Capacity from Dubai to Heathrow is 3 per cent greater, he said. However, capacity to Manchester, Gatwick, Glasgow and Stansted is down by 64 per cent, 63 per cent, 58 per cent and 49 per cent respectively.
"A major factor affecting air travel between the UAE and the UK right now is capacity constraints at UK airports, imposed because of post-pandemic staff shortages," Mr Ponti said.
"To help manage the capacity constraints, airlines have been allowed to cancel some departures and consolidate bookings on fewer aircraft, immune from the penalty of losing a slot.
"The rise in oil prices following the outbreak of war in Ukraine and having fewer seats available have both contributed to a substantial increase in fares.”