For every action there’s a reaction, and about 2,200 travelers are experiencing what reaction can bring, right about now. After a midnight move from the UK Government banning all direct flights between the UAE and UK, formerly the busiest route in the world, a large number of passengers became stranded, with little option to get home.
Add in complexities of evolving government relations between not just two, but three or more countries in the midst of change, an legal inability fly a route, and passengers are currently experiencing what can only be described as a wild saga, which will only give pause to future travel plans.
Passengers Stranded Between Dubai & UK
Some passengers in the UK are hoping to return to Dubai, others are in Dubai hoping to get back to the UK. There are many cases where ‘karma’ may indeed apply, such as the floods of thirsty influencers who flouted ‘essential travel only’ rules just to pose for poolside pictures, but many where they don’t.
With direct flights currently banned indefinitely, a British Airways source tells GSTP the airline doesn’t plan to resume Dubai-London flights until as late as mid April, unless miraculous travel, or pandemic news moves that time table up.
Not only that, British Airways hands to help passengers are being somewhat tied by partner and major BA stakeholder, Qatar Airways, which is under its own pressures on both ends of the busy route, amid complex government relations.
Qatar Airways is fresh off a three year ban from flying into Dubai as a result of the blockade between Qatar and GCC states including the UAE, and only just reinstated flights.
To keep tensions from flaring in Dubai or the UK, Qatar isn’t taking on any new bookings for the route, including rebooking stranded BA passengers, at BA’s behest.
This is a big twist in this dramatic affair.
Qatar Airways is the largest shareholder in IAG, the parent company of British Airways, and therefore a majority shareholder of British Airways. Not only that, it’s a Oneworld partner, which would typically be first choice for any rebooking needs between airlines.
All that’s gone out of the window, and Qatar finds itself caught between two difficult choices, with trouble on both ends.
If Qatar Airways was a near ‘sole’ beneficiary of the direct flight ban, by funneling Dubai traffic via Doha, it could enrage the UAE further and throw a spanner in newly built relations. Things aren’t any better at the other end of the route. Qatar is also refusing passengers to avoid enraging UK officials, who threaten future flight bans.
Qatar Airways is said to be worried that the UK Government might initiate bans on traffic from Doha to the UK as well, given that the justification for shutting down UAE flights was transiting feeder traffic from Africa. Qatar Airways is equally positioned to deliver transit traffic from Africa, and both airlines use home countries as a transit point for all flights, just as British Airways would.
Best option: stay out of it? At least for now, that’s apparently Qatar Airways plan.
So What’s Happening For BA Customers?
British Airways customers are being told it’s Lufthansa Group or bust, for getting bookings moved over and honored. Lufthansa is currently the only airline agreeing to take previously booked BA passengers, and with over 2,000 stranded and limited daily flying, it might be a while before people get home.
Update: Gulf Air has now jumped in to help, ferrying passengers via Bahrain.
This is of no fault to BA, but serves as a real time reminder of just how consequential actions can be, however justified given evolving health concerns. The UK Government has been widely criticized for 180° twists to covid-19 related policies, including border efforts where most changes come without warning, or often, without scientific basis.
Recent moves have devastated the vital travel industry, and crushed future demand for UK trips, adding worry to summer holidays. Today is also the last day of British Airways current sale, for the undeterred.
It may feel like karmic bliss to see “influencers” struggling to return to their point of origin, but for many traveling on legitimate business, including vaccination efforts, it’s yet another headache caused from a move without warning. It remains unclear when a ban on UAE flights will be lifted.