Kampala, Uganda | URN | The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has barred Ethiopian Airlines from operating flights in its country over COVID-19 restrictions imposed on travelers from Uganda.
Ethiopian Airlines operates Entebbe-Dubai flights via Addis Ababa. However, this arrangement is being tested by the latest UAE restrictions because direct flights to Dubai last an average of 5 and half hours. UAE requires passengers from Uganda to present negative COVID-19 certificates issued 48 hours and 6 hours to departing time.
The 6-hour test must however be undertaken by one of the laboratories testing for COVID-19 at Peniel Beach, the centre set up for testing passengers at Entebbe International airport.
Sources at the airport say Ethiopian Airlines carried nine passengers from Entebbe whose six-hour test result certificates had expired by the time they landed in Dubai on Monday, September 13. As a result, UAE directed Ethiopian Airlines to return the affected passengers to Entebbe.
“Next day, the UAE authorities told Ethiopian Airlines to stop flying passengers from Uganda after failing to comply with the new measures,” a source told this publication.
Meseret Tstgay, the country manager of Ethiopian Airlines has however denied that such a thing happened. She however confirms that UAE has stopped Ethiopian Airlines from flying to Dubai. Tstgay says the airline has submitted an application for approval to the Civil Aviation Authority of UAE to resume flights.
Tstgay explains that while the airline was cleared to resume flights from Entebbe on September 9, UAE slapped the airline with a travel ban mid-week.
“We received the communication from UAE at midday and yet 15 passengers going to Dubai had already boarded our 2:45 pm flight for that day,” Tstgay explains, “So we engaged Emirates and they flew our passengers to Dubai on the same day.”
Tstgay says the airline advises passengers who had pre-booked flights to reschedule them because Ethiopian Airlines was still having talks with UAE authorities over the travel requirements.
George Wangaya, manager of Awel Tours and Travel Ltd, says passengers should book with only airlines that have direct flights to Dubai to meet the validity period.
“It is risky to have connecting flights to UAE with such restrictive measures,” says Wangaya.
He explains that one of his clients had paid $200 (about Shs 700,000) for a one-way ticket to Abu Dhabi aboard Egypt Air during the week.
“He canceled the flight because the six-hour certificate would expire before he arrives in UAE. We hope the airline refunds his money. But we have booked with FlyDubai that operates direct flights.”
Another agent, who preferred anonymity, says “I think UAE wants Ethiopian Airlines and all those airlines that do not operate direct flights from Entebbe to ensure passengers test again at their hub before departing for Dubai.”
A salesman at Kenya Airways has told our reporter that all UAE-bound passengers are undertaking the second test at Nairobi at a cost of $60.
“The passengers present their 48-hour negative test result certificates at Entebbe and then we have them tested in Nairobi because the Entebbe flight is at 10 am and the connecting flights to Dubai at 5 pm and 11 pm so it will be useless for passengers to undertake the second test at Entebbe,” said the salesman.
Irene Nalwoga, the managing director for Renewills Tours and Travel says agents have in the last two years opted for FlyDubai and Emirates because the air ticket prices are more competitive.
“Before FlyDubai started flights from Uganda, Emirates used to charge over $700. So agents would book for clients flights on Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways, and Rwandair because they would charge under $500 for the return tickets.”
“But when FlyDubai came on board, Emirates cut their prices and most clients now opt for the direct flights to Dubai because the prices are not very different from those that have connecting flights.”
Wangaya agrees, saying the entry of Uganda Airlines next month could lower the air ticket prices even further for direct Dubai flights.
In the last two weeks, airlines have raised concerns about laboratories issuing 48-hour certificates to passengers without testing them while passengers are irked by the long waiting hours at Peniel Beach.
A hundred passengers missed Emirates flight number EK730 on September 14 because of a delay in the release of the 6-hour COVID-19 results. The affected passengers were tested by Safari Lab.
Dr James Eyul, in charge of port health at Entebbe airport on behalf of the Ministry of Health, says Safari Lab told the team that it tested 96 passengers.
The laboratory said the delay in releasing the results was “due to the introduction of new results reporting tool that generates a report which captures the time of results release,” says Dr Eyul.
Keith Magoola, a graphics designer was however among the passengers who boarded the flight that day. He told our reporter that he was lucky because he also tested at Safari Lab. “I arrived at 10:30 am and was told I was in the first batch. The first batch had 30 people. Our results came out after 2 pm.”
Magoola says; “The check-in for Emirates is 1 pm-3 pm. I’m not sure of the exact number but we were supposed to travel 180 passengers but I think not more than 80 traveled.”