Dubai residents planning to make last-minute reservations out of the emirate this holiday season risk being left stranded, travel experts are warning, as the airline industry prepares for one of the busiest times of the year.
With passenger movement numbers at Dubai International Airport growing annually by the millions, agents say securing seats for customers has become increasingly difficult, especially during the festive season.
“It has become a nightmare,” says Mario Pinto, the branch manager at Al Futtaim Travel in Al Ghusais.
“Last year during Christmas you could get seats. But this year, it is almost impossible,” he says.
According to official statistics, more than 28 million passengers passed through the gates of Dubai International Airport last year.
In 2005, the number stood at more than 24 million, while the highest number of passengers in the past two years was recorded in December. Travel experts say expatriates planning to spend the festive season at home should simply follow the cardinal rule: Plan ahead and book your tickets in advance.
“The only solution is to book early. We will soon send out e-mails to our regular clients to ask them to start booking for the summer,” says Pinto. “There are cheap flights and flights via other destinations, but most of them come with hassles.”
Manuel Rodrigues, the head of operations and product development at the Ajman National Travel Agency (ANTA), says last-minute travellers have to be flexible if they want to reach their destination of choice.
“We can come up with various solutions if customers insist on getting to a place for a set time. We can arrange stopovers at another place or find business-class tickets at lesser rates for example,” he says. “But if the customer is very rigid, it becomes difficult for us.”
According to Al Futtaim Travel’s Pinto, there are two types of last-minute travellers. “The first one is the traveller who is ready to accept the available situation because it is more important for him to reach a particular place than how he gets there. Those are the nice guys,” he says. “The other traveller is the one who only travels with a preferred airline and on a particular class. They can make our lives difficult.”
Both agents say establishing a good relationship with airline companies is crucial.
“In case of emergency and for our regular clients, we can push for special seats with the airlines,” says Rodrigues of ANTA. “They are our suppliers and we are making money on their products.” He says flight availability is also dictated by the destination of choice.
“There are many options depending on where you are going. For instance, if you cannot book a direct flight to London from Dubai, you can travel via Paris or Milan.”
As the number of visitors to the UAE continues to rise, Pinto is pinning his hopes on the current expansion of Dubai International Airport.
“The country is booming and there are more people coming in. More flights and bigger aircrafts will mean more options,” he says.
The Dh16 billion Dubai International Airport Expansion Programme will see the construction of Terminal Three, which, when completed, will expand the airport’s facility and enable it to handle 75 million passengers per year, according to officials. The new terminal will exclusively host Emirates, often referred to as one of the fastest growing airlines in the world. The expansion also includes a dedicated super-jumbo A380 terminal.
Also planned is the ambitious Dh36 billion Al Maktoum International at Dubai World Central (DWC) in Jebel Ali, which will become the world’s biggest airport once completed and 10 times the size of the existing Dubai International Airport.
Paul Griffiths, the CEO of the recently formed Dubai Airports, the authority that manages both the airports, told Emirates Business recently that the Dubai International Airport and Al Maktoum International will work well together.
“Dubai is going to need every spare bit of airport capacity that it can generate and I think it will be a successful operation between the two,” he says.
But according to Al Futtaim Travel’s Pinto, it all boils down to the issue of demand over supply. “It’s just that so many people are coming in. And they also have to leave,” he says.
“Take Mumbai for instance. Most airlines operating to that destination have increased their frequency. But since the population has increased, it’s still not sufficient. Instead of peak seasons, we now have super-peak seasons.”
191,974 - Number of aircrafts that landed at Dubai International Airport between January and September, 2007
25m - Number of passengers that came through the Dubai International Airport between January and September, 2007
Dh16bn - Cost of the Dubai International Airport Expansion
Name: Shanti Mukherjee,
Job: HR manager, Elapco-OGeneral
“The family of my CEO recently changed their mind and decided to spend Christmas in Geneva. It has been two weeks now and I still have not been able to secure a reservation for them for the desired date. Moreover, the sales director has just decided to take his family to Malaysia because the company announced an extended weekend during Eid.
“I know how difficult it is because of the holiday season. We usually plan in advance but since these decisions were made at the last minute, we are in a bit of a situation. But my travel agents have promised to do their best and they usually come up with a solution, so I am hopeful.”