Uganda Airlines has recorded an increase in the number of bookings on some flights ahead of the festive season. It is a few days to Christmas and a week to the new year. Usually, this is a peak season for airlines because people would want to travel home or go on holiday to various places across the world.
This festive season however comes at the time countries are responding to the newly discovered Omicron COVID-19 variant, with some imposing travel bans while others have reinstated lockdowns, mandatory testing, and quarantine among other COVID-19 containment measures. Uganda Airlines operates flights to ten destinations namely Johannesburg, Juba, Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, Nairobi, and Kilimanjaro. Others are Dubai, Mogadishu, Bujumbura and Kinshasa.
Shakira Rahim, the Corporate Affairs and Public Relations manager of Uganda Airlines, says that some routes are fully booked until early January. Rahim says the busiest routes are departing flights from Entebbe to Mombasa, Zanzibar, Nairobi Kilimanjaro, and Johannesburg to Entebbe. The airline operates four flights weekly to Johannesburg and by December 7, sources within the marketing team told our reporter that the seats were fully booked until January 3rd, 2022.
Rahim confirmed that all flights from Johannesburg are fully booked this festive season. “This is a good thing for the airline because it shows that passengers trust us and also love the airline,” she noted. She adds that the airline plans to acquire mid-range aircraft that can carry between 120 to 150 passengers because it currently has four CRJ900 Bombardier aircraft that carry a maximum of 76 passengers each and the two Airbus aircraft that carry 258 passengers each.
Mombasa, the closest available dates are departure flights on December 26 and December 28 while return flights with available seats are on December 26, 28, and 31st followed by January 4th and January 7th, 2022. The rest of the dates when the airline operates these flights are fully booked. The closest available dates for departure flights to Zanzibar are on December 24 and returning on December 31, 2021. A traveler has the second option of departing on December 27 and returning on December 31 or January 7th, 2022.
Claire Nakaayi, the officer in charge of sales-commercial in Uganda Airlines, says that their bookings have increased because of people who want to return home, do business or go on holiday. Nakaayi says that Dubai flights usually have about 40 percent of the seating capacity filled in the 258 seater Airbus aircraft but the numbers have increased ahead of the festive season with an average of 200 passengers departing Entebbe.
Doreen Kiiza, the Managing Director Xplorer Travel Uganda agrees saying travelers from Uganda are finding difficulty in flights to Europe particularly London, Paris, and the United States of America and Asia namely Malaysia, China, Singapore because of COVID-19 restrictions. She notes that most EU member states are not issuing tourist visas during this season while those who want to travel to the United Kingdom should have secured business visas two months ago.
The earliest one can get a tourist visa interview at the US embassy in October next year. Kiiza says that “most countries where Ugandans love visiting are not allowing non-essential travelers so they are hardly issuing visas.” Adding that “So those who want to travel for holiday have limited destinations this festive season. These destinations include Dubai that has packages for families and various age groups, Mombasa, Zanzibar, and Kilimanjaro because the region is still open to tourists despite the rising number of COVID-19 cases.”
Matthew Mukisa, a travel agent in one of the agencies in Kampala concurs with Mivule and Kiiza, saying the ever-changing travel measures are affecting bookings. He says COVID-19 cases are increasing in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Kenya, and even in Uganda. The Netherlands on December 19 imposed a lockdown while the United Arab Emirates -UAE suspended flights from Kenya and reinstated the six-hour COVID-19 test for travelers from Uganda. As a result, Mukisa says most travelers are canceling or rescheduling flights to these destinations. He agrees with Mivule on the cost of traveling to Dubai, saying passengers have to pay over Shillings 500,000 for the two COVID-19 tests before they board their departure flights. Those who were to travel in mid to end of December have rescheduled to February next year, mostly to visit family and for holiday.
Air ticket prices have remained the same for those who booked and were issued tickets by end of November. However, those who would like to book will pay higher rates. For instance, Mukisa says someone who will travel on December 26 and return on January 2nd, 2022 aboard Uganda Airlines to Mombasa will pay US$ 380 compared to under US$ if they had booked and got a ticket by end of last month.
Those booking for Zanzibar and Kilimanjaro will pay US$ 400 for return flights yet they could have got cheaper tickets of US$ 300 if they had booked in October and early November.