Australians scrambling to fly home were left in limbo on Tuesday after Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports announced they would suspend all passenger flights, including transfers, from 25 March.
However, the decision from the United Arab Emirates was followed hours later by news that Etihad would, effective immediately, stop passengers flying if they weren’t UAE residents.
The news comes after Singapore made a similar decision to stop transfers on Monday, effective 23 March. The three airports are some of the most popular for passengers flying from Europe, where many Australians live or are travelling.
The news comes alongside the enormous reduction in international flights seen over the last few weeks. Tracking website Flightradar24 estimates there are 66 per cent fewer planes in the sky now than this time last year.
The closure of the two transport hubs, lasting two weeks, began with an announcement from the UAE’s Civil Aviation Authority, which said, “Additional examination and isolation arrangements will be taken later should flights resume in order to ensure the safety of passengers, air crews, and airport personnel and their protection from infection risks.”
Soon afterwards, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad took quicker action, immediately halting flights for non-residents.
At 7150 flights, we're currently tracking just 44% of the total flights we were tracking 1 year ago at the same time. pic.twitter.com/wxRetruND4
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) March 23, 2020
There was confusion as to what Emirates would do, however, the airline appeared to confirm its suspensions won’t kick in until 25 March, in line with the wider government deadline.
Emirates said, “These measures are in place for the protection of communities against the spread of COVID-19, and we are in full support. We look forward to resuming passenger services as soon as feasible. Affected customers should visit emirates.com for more information on rebooking or contact their travel agents for assistance.”
Travel Update: Effective immediately, passengers departing from international destinations will only be allowed to travel if they are UAE citizens or diplomatic passport holders, and only if their final destination is Abu Dhabi. (1/3)
— Etihad Airways (@etihad) March 23, 2020
On Monday, Singapore also banned anyone from using its airports to transit from 23 March.
Alongside the US travel ban, which now includes most countries in Europe, it will cut the vast majority of options for Australians trying to return home.
Qantas did indicate last week that it was in discussion with the national government about laying on special flights, beyond the end of March, to get Australians home.
Speaking to ABC’s Leigh Sales, chief executive Alan Joyce said, “We’re just going through those details with the government at the moment. There could be some international operations that will go past the end of March.”