Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 3 April 2020

Coronavirus: Passengers take last flights out of Dubai ahead of border shutdown

A two-week suspension from Wednesday is designed to tackle rising cases, which number 380,000 worldwide

Tom Grasser faces a long trip home. He left Jordan when the borders closed last week and came to Dubai. He will board a flight to London on Tuesday night, then hopes to take the Eurostar to Paris and another train home to Munich. Nick Webster / The National
Tom Grasser faces a long trip home. He left Jordan when the borders closed last week and came to Dubai. He will board a flight to London on Tuesday night, then hopes to take the Eurostar to Paris and another train home to Munich. Nick Webster / The National

Airline passengers boarded the final flights from Dubai International Airport on Tuesday, ahead of a two-week suspension to tackle the spread of coronavirus.

A rush to book tickets was triggered on Monday when embassies warned flights would be grounded within 48 hours. Limited services were due to depart on Wednesday.

The country's immigration authority said it would not penalise those who overstay to help tourists or residents currently on visit visas.

Terminal 1 at Dubai International Airport was largely empty on Tuesday, as most airlines had cancelled flights.

I’m looking forward to getting back to the family, although Germany will be a very different place to when I left

Tom Grasser

British photographer James, 39, from Brighton, arrived in Dubai in February for several months of work, but changed his plans to head home early.

“I tried to amend the pre-booked flight I have for May 23, but the phone lines with British Airways went unanswered,” said James, who asked his surname not the published.

“I could get no information on that flight continuing, or being cancelled. I decided to come to the airport on Monday to speak to someone on the BA desk directly as I could do nothing online either.

“The staff member I spoke with said he did not know what was happening - or even if he would still have a job by the end of the week."

On Tuesday, scores of flights were cancelled including routes to Muscat, Lahore, Islamabad, Mumbai, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Paris, Karachi, Beirut and Kuwait, as countries closed their borders.

James bought a standby ticket and hoped to make it on the BA flight to London Heathrow at 2pm.

“I am owed money for work I have already done in the UAE," he said.

"I should get paid but I won’t be here to chase it up if I need to."

Another British traveller on the same flight was anxious about how she may be received by security staff at London Heathrow.

“My colleague and I booked tickets to fly back only yesterday after we read the government advice to return home,” she said.

“I have elderly parents to consider so I need to check on them.

“My only concern now is being quarantined once we land, as restrictions are likely to be in place for those flying into the UK."

The pandemic has forced tourists worldwide to cancel holidays.

Tom Grasser, a carpenter from Germany, visited Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Israel and Jordan in the past six months.

“I had to come to Dubai when I was told the borders in Jordan were being closed on March 17,” said Mr Grasser, 32.

“I have been saving my money for a whole year for this trip. I had a flight booked from Amman to Sri Lanka, and when the border closed there I was told I would need to book another ticket.”

He rebooked but found his Emirates flight to Paris was cancelled, as was a second ticket he purchased with Air France.

With few options remaining, Mr Grasser booked a 270 euro (Dh1100) ticket with British Airways to London Heathrow.

From there, he plans to take the Eurostar to Paris and then onto Munich - if trains to Europe are still running when he lands on Wednesday morning.

“I was one of the lucky ones to get a ticket at that price - the same ticket was being sold for almost 8,000 euros this morning,” said Mr Grasser.

“I’m looking forward to getting back to the family, although Germany will be a very different place to when I left.”

Updated: March 24, 2020 06:49 PM

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