UAE airlines are scaling back flights to Pakistan as that country continues to limit the number of inbound international passengers. The Pakistani government began to cap arrival numbers in May in an attempt to halt the spread of COVID-19. With the arrival caps now extended into mid-June, airlines are continuing to cancel their flights into Pakistan.
Pakistan limits arrivals in an attempt to curb COVID-19
On May 1, Pakistan’s National Command and Operation Centre ordered an 80% reduction in international inbound arrivals. At the same time, Pakistan also put a range of testing and quarantine protocols in place. That order was valid until May 20. Major UAE airlines, including Etihad and Emirates, quickly moved to cancel flights. In total, the number of international flights arriving into Pakistan dropped from 590 to 123 a week.
The Pakistani government later altered the arrivals cap to 50% of normal international arrivals. But it also extended the order until June 15. Not helping matters for the Gulf-based airlines, the UAE banned entry to travelers from Pakistan in mid-May. That ban remains in place until June 30.
COVID-19 remains an ongoing concern in Pakistan. The National Command and Operation Centre reported 1,843 new COVID-19 cases and 80 deaths on Wednesday. The vaccination rollout, while underway, has been sluggish.
Pakistan an important market for Gulf airlines
Pakistan is an important market for Gulf-based airlines.
- Abu Dhabi-based Etihad has been flying to both Lahore and Islamabad.
- Doha-based Qatar Airways normally flies to Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, and Peshawar.
- Dubai-based juggernaut airline Emirates flies to Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Sialkot, and Peshawar.
- Bahrain-based Gulf Air normally flies to Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Sialkot, Multan, Faisalabad, and Peshawar in Pakistan.
- Low-cost carrier flydubai has been flying to Faisalabad, Multan, Karachi, Sialkot, and Quetta.
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In response to the difficulties of traveling between the UAE and Pakistan, airlines are extending cancelations and scaling back their schedules. Dubai-based flydubai canceled all their Pakistan flights until at least June 15. Qatar Airways was flying 56 times a week into its various Pakistani destinations. The airline has reduced that to around 12 flights a week.
The Gulf’s biggest airline, Emirates, is no longer flying in passengers from Pakistan to Dubai. Gulf Air was flying up to 35 times a week between Bahrain and its destinations in Pakistan. Now, Gulf Air is flying around eight flights a week into Pakistan. Etihad has slashed its Pakistan flights from 30 plus a week to six.
“The Pakistani government has issued updated travel directives extending the limit on the number of international passengers allowed to travel to Pakistan. As a result, the temporary reduction of Etihad Airways passenger flights between Abu Dhabi and Pakistan will continue until June 15 and may be extended,” said Etihad Airways in a statement.
“This is an evolving situation, and we will update guests as more information becomes available.”
Not just Gulf carriers canceling flights into Pakistan
But it’s not only the Gulf airlines reducing their services into Pakistan. As Pakistan grapples with COVID-19, other countries are also closing their airports to travelers from Pakistan. That results in airlines flying those routes axing many of their flights.
Turkish Airlines and Pegasus Airlines have both dramatically curtailed their flying into Pakistan recently. Thai Airways has also reduced its flights into Pakistan by around 80%. With Pakistan not expected to get on top of COVID-19 anytime soon, passengers can expect the cancelations across various airlines to continue.