Economy flights from Moscow to Dubai hitting $5,000 as Russians flee

The airline industry has been paralyzed by a perfect storm of challenges in recent weeks, from labor shortages and supply disruptions to soaring fuel prices.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — One-way economy flights from Moscow to Dubai cost as much as $5,000 and many were in Ukraine in the days after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statement about the “partial” mobilization of 300,000 reservists for the fight completely sold out.

The roughly five-hour flight cost around $350 a week prior to the announcement, which was made on Sept. 21.

The current prices of UAE airlines Emirates and FlyDubai for the month between September 28 and October 26 range from US$2,577 to US$4,773 for a one-way economy ticket, according to these airlines’ websites. The cheaper of these prices is more than two and a half times the average Russian monthly salary of $965, according to Statista.com. Direct flights to Dubai from St. Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city, cost around US$2,600.

One-way economy flights from Moscow to Abu Dhabi cost around $3,000 on Etihad Airlines.

Flights with connecting flights are available at lower prices, according to Google Travel, but these are still well above average. An economy ticket to Dubai on Azerbaijan Airlines with a stopover in Baku for the week between September 28 and October 6 cost between US$988 and US$1,040, about three times the price before the mobilization announcement.

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“Russians are dodging,” Ian Bremmer, CEO of risk consultancy Eurasia Group, wrote on Twitter, along with a video from flight-tracking site Flightradar24.com showing masses of planes leaving Russia over the course of a few days.

For those looking to spend more, private jet seats are an option, but their price tags have also skyrocketed. Russians “are paying between £20,000 and £25,000 for a seat on a private plane,” The Guardian wrote in a Tuesday report, several times higher than normal prices, quoting the head of a private airline who said demand had risen by 50 times.

Flights from Russia generally soared and many were completely sold out in the days following the news, and satellite images and footage released to news outlets and social media show long lines of cars backing up for miles along Russia’s borders with Finland . Georgia, Kazakhstan and several other countries. Kazakhstan’s government reported taking in nearly 100,000 Russians in the past week.

A general view of downtown in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 08, 2021.

Satish Kumar | Reuters

But the United Arab Emirates, and Dubai in particular, are popular with Russian travelers and expats. Ever since Western countries imposed a wave of sanctions on Russia after Putin ordered his forces to invade Ukraine on February 24, many Russians have moved to the sunny desert emirate where they can live sanction-free.

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They are also credited with boosting Dubai’s luxury real estate sector as oligarchs and other wealthy businessmen acquire multi-million dollar seaside villas, some for living in and others to park their money.

Before Russia started its war with Ukraine, about 40,000 Russians lived in the UAE. There will definitely be more now.

“Everyone goes. So many people I know,” a Russian national living in Dubai, who spoke anonymously out of concerns for her safety, told CNBC.

“Flights [from Russia] to Dubai are fully booked for the next 3-4 days and the prices are crazy. Flights to Istanbul are also full, flights to [Armenian capital] Yerevan is insanely expensive. I know five or six people who arrived in Dubai a few days ago. They paid insane prices.”

“The problem,” she added, “is that you are allowed to leave the country until you receive the document that requires you to do military service. However, you can’t just stay out of the country because you don’t reside anywhere else.”

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She said many Russians who arrive in Dubai to flee military action are staying at the homes of friends and family members. But after the UAE tourist visa deadline of 60 days expired, the plan is unknown.

Putin calls 300,000 reservists and Russians to protest and leave the country

A Dubai-based pilot from the UK described Russian friends and colleagues who were looking for ways to take themselves or their relatives to other countries.

“People say their friends already got draft letters,” the pilot said, although they had no military experience, “so this story is that Russia only mobilizes people with military experience, bullsh.” To disperse Russians by insisting that only those with a formal education be drafted.

The pilot, who spoke anonymously due to work restrictions, added that he had also received a request from a Russian acquaintance asking to stay at his apartment in Dubai.

It’s not clear what many of these people plan to do once their visitor visas expire, and those based in Dubai are now afraid to return to Russia. The scenario they fear most, many say, is that Putin will close the borders to prevent military-age men from leaving before they or their families can leave.