The route between Istanbul and Dubai remained closed except for a few scattered cargo operations after Turkish Airlines and Emirates began reviving their pandemic depleted schedules a few weeks ago.
Istanbul and Dubai where for years the two main hubs connecting airline passengers in the Middle East with destinations across the globe.
In June 2020, Emirates announced that the Istanbul flights would resume, but so far hasn’t followed through on that plan.
For now, it doesn’t sell tickets to Turkey before December 1, 2020, while Turkish Airlines posts the flights on its website, but then cancels bookings a few days prior to the travel date.
The Dubai-Istanbul journey, which takes between 4 and 5 hours, constitutes about 50 weekly flights, ranking among Emirates’ busier routes.
For Turkish Airlines, the corridor provided a welcome way to attract budget-minded passengers headed for western Europe or North America through the country’s giant new Istanbul hub. The suspension of the services comes at a time of worsening relations between UAE and Turkey.
The two countries are on opposing sides of a proxy war in Libya and disagree on issues ranging from Syria to Iraq and the eastern Mediterranean.
The UAE supported a 2013 coup in Egypt that pushed out the country’s first democratically elected president, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood movement endorsed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip ERDOGAN. Turkey, meanwhile, backed Qatar in the face of a boycott by three of its Gulf neighbors, including the UAE, in 2017.
Emirates did not provide a reason for not resuming the service. Turkish Airlines and the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
Ryan BOHL, a Middle East analyst at Stratfor Worldview, a geopolitical intelligence platform said: “The UAE is in a competitive space with Turkey for what limited tourism there is”. “In Dubai in particular, they don’t want to give Turkish airlines any advantages”.
For both countries, airlines are powerful assets. Turkish Airlines offers now flights to more countries than any other carrier. Emirates is the biggest long-distance airline in the world, commanding an outsize fleet of Airbus SE A380s and Boeing Co. 777s from its sprawling base in Dubai.
Turkey wants to position Istanbul as another mega-hub alongside Dubai. The new airfield inaugurated in 2018 is designed to serve 200 million passengers annually once all six runways are in use. The airline carried 2.6 million passengers in August, a 64.6% decline to the same period last year.
The suspension of passenger services could not come at a worse time for the aviation industry, which is only beginning to emerge from COVID-induced hibernation and desperately needs every source of revenue. Turkish Airlines and Emirates have been particularly hard hit by the collapse because the long-haul travel in which they specialize has yet to make a comeback.
Turkish Airlines reported a loss of $303 million in the second quarter, while Emirates received $2 billion from its state owner and is eliminating thousands of jobs to preserve cash.
This article was edited using the data from the Aljazeera.com, Thenational.ae, and Bloomberg.com.