Why you may want to think twice about transiting through Dubai, Doha or Abu Dhabi this summer

Apr 22, 2021

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Travel this summer — and through much of the rest of the year — is likely to be very different. Wherein prior to the pandemic, Brits could largely book a trip to a destination, grab their passport and go, now there is much more thought that has to go into a trip. You’ll have to worry about COVID-19 entry requirements, border closures and what your travels may mean for your entry back into the U.K.

More specifically, we know that when travel opens back up for England as of 17 May at the earliest, it will take the form of a traffic light system. The government will categorise destination countries based on their risk level: red for high risk, amber for medium risk and green for low risk.

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The traffic light system will surely play a large role in how Brits determine where they can go on a summer holiday. Those who travel back to England from a green category country will not need to quarantine at all but will still need two COVID-19 test results. Amber arrivals, meanwhile, will need to undergo a 10-day quarantine and take three COVID-19 tests (one pre-departure and two post-arrival). Finally, red arrivals will need to undergo a 10-day quarantine in a government-approved hotel, costing £1,750 at minimum.

Related: What does the ‘traffic light’ travel announcement mean for my summer holiday?

At this time, the green and amber lists of countries haven’t been released. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who heads up the Global Travel Taskforce, said that the government will detail which countries will appear on the green and amber lists in early May. However, at this time, we already know the countries that are on the red list.

Currently, there are 40 countries on the travel ban — or red list — including the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Only U.K. nationals or third-country nationals with residency rights in the U.K. who have come from a red list country are permitted to enter the county. Additionally, any passenger who has transited through one of the red list countries in the past 10 days will be required to undergo a 10-day hotel quarantine on arrival in England.

Related: All 40 countries that are on the UK’s travel red list

The important note here is that although you may not have actually gone on holiday in a red list country and spent significant time there, the government considers even transiting through one and not leaving the airport to be subject to red list restrictions.

At this time, three of the largest airports for transiting passengers are located within countries that are on the red list: Dubai (DXB) and Abu Dhabi (AUH) in the United Arab Emirates and Doha (DOH) in Qatar. As such, if you’re planning to travel farther afield using one of the Middle Eastern Big 3 airlines even just to transit, you will be subject to red list entry restrictions on your return to England — even if you don’t leave the airport.

(Photo by MOHAMAD ALI HARISSI/AFP via Getty Images)

On Wednesday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that the problem with the United Arab Emirates and why the country is still on the red list isn’t because of the number of cases in the country, but rather, the fact that passengers are transiting through its main hub airports. The United Arab Emirates is home to two of the world’s largest hubs to transiting passengers: Dubai (DXB) and Abu Dhabi (AUH).

“We are not restricting UAE because of levels of coronavirus in the UAE,” Shapps said. “The specific issue in the UAE is one of transit. It’s because they are a major transit hub.”

The same reasoning is likely being used to justify keeping Qatar on its list because of the country’s hub airport of Doha (DOH), home to Qatar Airways. Of course, it’s possible that the U.K.’s advice and reasoning could change by the time summer travel is allowed to resume, but at this time, both Qatar and the UAE remain firm red list countries.

“Leaving us on the red list for reasons of transit doesn’t make any sense because [passengers] can just go through other hubs,” Emirates President Sir Tim Clark said in response to a question from The Independent at the World Aviation Festival. “It compromises our United Kingdom operation for Emirates. It’s a real pity if they keep ups on the red list.”

Related: What kind of COVID-19 test will I need to travel and how much will it cost?

TPG reached out to Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways. Qatar Airways declined to comment on the matter. Etihad and Emirates did not reply by time of publication.

Ultimately, featuring the UAE and Qatar on the travel ban list may create some problems for travellers who are looking to holiday in faraway destinations. It’s possible that by summer the U.K. government could revise its restrictions, moving these large transit hubs to the amber — or even green — level.

However, it will be a situation to keep an eye on. All three major airlines — Emirates, Etihad and Qatar — that are based in these countries will be severely affected by the drop in U.K. passengers transiting through their hubs.

As such, passengers travelling from the U.K. on to other destinations may need to look at travelling with carriers that are from countries not on the red list. Currently, that could be such options as Turkish Airways, KLM, Air France or Lufthansa, among others. It goes without saying that this could always change. Ultimately, it will be up to the traveller to best track their travels and the associated risks that come with it.

Featured photo by Exithamster/Barcroft Media via Getty Images.

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