BusinessDay

UAE, Nigeria: A game of ‘Ping-Pong’

To a large extent, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to restrict cross-border migration. International travel restrictions may remain in place for a while with vaccination still at a low level and as the virus continues to spread and mutate across various climes of the world.

This has also resulted in the introduction and implementation of new travel policies across various jurisdictions and has made migration more complicated.

A recent statement issued and published by Emirates Airlines on Monday, June 21, 2021, stated that “In line with government directives, passenger flights to and from Nigeria (Lagos and Abuja) are suspended with effect from 21 June 2021 until further notice.

Read Also: Nigerians bypass Dubai ban, travel through Ghana

Customers travelling to and from Lagos and Abuja will not be accepted for travel. Customers who have been to or connected through Nigeria in the last 14 days are not permitted to board from any other point to the UAE.”

Many countries have continued to regularly review their travel policies and introduce travel bans on migration from countries labelled as high-risk areas due to the high incidence of COVID-19 cases.

These frequent changes to travel policies and rules impact the ability of companies to effectively relocate assignees and meet urgent business needs.

Bilateral service agreements are between nations but are recently operated by airlines. Enter the covid protocol and it becomes a tripartite relationship between the Ministries of External Affairs, Aviation and Health.

Earlier in the year, United Arab Emirates barred transit flights to Dubai, as it only allowed passengers to fly on direct flights to Dubai. This meant that passengers originating from Nigeria to Dubai via any transit point were not going to be allowed to enter Dubai. This was disclosed by Rwandair via its Twitter handle; the airline explained that it will continue to operate Kigali – Dubai flights 4x a week but will not lift passengers from Nigeria to Dubai.

It stated, “Effective February 1, 2021, the United Arab Emirates will only allow passengers travelling from Nigeria to fly on direct flights to Dubai. Passengers originating from Nigeria to Dubai via any transit point will not be allowed to enter Dubai.

Also, in February, Air Peace in a statement shared via its Twitter handle disclosed that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had suspended the airlifting of passengers from Nigeria to UAE to curb the spread of COVID-19. The Emirates stated that airlines can airlift passengers from the country to Nigeria.

In their statement, it stated, “The Management of Air Peace wishes to notify the flying public that the UAE Government has stopped the airlifting of Nigerians from Nigeria to UAE as part of its COVID-19 measures.”

This disruption became very complicated because Dubai is a favourite destination for Nigerians both as a final but more of a transit point. In the last 6 months, Emirates airline had insisted on a strict Covid testing protocol for Nigeria. The FGN baulked and suspended flights between Nigeria and the UAE. Recently, hopes were raised and then dashed by the tit for tat game. So, passengers originating from Nigeria would have to resort to other carriers to fly to the Middle East and beyond.

 

The crux of the matter – a diplomatic spat on PCR testing

Emirates airline is one of the most flown airlines by Nigerians, with three flights daily from Nigeria (1 from Abuja and two from Lagos). Emirates’ affordable fares and the level of comfort it provides, gives it a competitive edge over other airlines.

Other airlines from a competitive standpoint will benefit from the ongoing diplomatic spat as their position is enhanced. In addition, Delta airline seems to be enjoying a solo run currently, as it is the only carrier with direct flights to the US.

 

Implications

Emirates is one of the preferred airlines by Nigerians, with three frequencies daily from Nigeria (1 from Abuja and two from Lagos).

Dubai airport has retained its position as the world’s busiest airport for international passengers for the sixth consecutive year, with annual traffic reaching 86.4mn in 2019.

Emirates’ affordable fares and the level of comfort it provides, gives it a competitive edge over other airlines. Other airlines from a competitive standpoint will benefit from the ongoing diplomatic spat as their position is enhanced.

In addition, Delta airlines seems to be enjoying a solo run currently, as it is the only carrier with direct flights to the US. With the indefinite suspension, passengers who have flown from or through Nigeria within 14 days would not be allowed to the UAE.

Passengers now have to fly to Accra and therefore travel revenue meant to accrue to Nigeria is diverted to other countries. Also, the intention by the government to regulate, especially following the Twitter ban imposed earlier, could lead to a diversion of revenue away from Nigeria.

The two countries are important travel partners and stand to lose from the ongoing diplomatic spat. Therefore, analysts expect that there will be a meeting within the next couple of weeks to resolve the disagreement, and all will be well with the world again.

 

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