The removal of eleven African countries from the United Kingdom’s Red List is resulting in a return of air travel by many Africans, particularly from Nigeria and Southern Africa. UK carriers British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have reestablished services and are seeing strong demand. Reopening African air travel comes at a price.
On December 14, the UK Government removed the eleven from the red list after it concluded that upholding restrictions was meaningless, now that the Omicron variant of the Covid virus was already inside the country. The UK has seen soaring infections rates coming from Omicron in the past few days.
The mutation was first found in South Africa, after which the government advised the World Health Organization (WHO). Although WHO advised keeping borders open, many countries were quick to ban any travel from southern Africa.
Rise of inbound travelers
Although many of the Southern African nations originally put on the UK’s Red List do not have strong carriers to operate outside their territories, British Airways has made a full return to Johannesburg, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and other destinations. Virgin Atlantic, another airline operating in Nigeria, is also seeing a rise in inbound passengers.
BA in a message to its trade partners said: “This is to inform you that all types of visa are NOW permitted to travel to the UK on British Airways with immediate effect as Nigeria has now been removed from the Red List. (…) We will be sending more information on necessary guidelines later, in the interim kindly follow guidelines on the UK government website.”
The surge in travel bookings seems to come from Nigerians who had earlier canceled their flights in the face of face-off between Nigeria and the UK over the decision by London to restrict Nigerians from traveling to the UK. The lifting of the travel ban led to what a travel agent described as a ‘mad rush’ to make bookings to visit home for the Yuletide.
President, National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), Mrs. Susan Akporiaye said the scrapping of the red list is a huge reprieve for airlines and travel agents. She said that she had to advise thousands of people who wanted to cancel their bookings in the heat of the face-off to hold on till December 20 when it was initially agreed that the travel ban would be reviewed.
Akporiaye further stated that for those who went ahead to cancel their journeys, it would be extremely difficult for them to get seats, adding that where they find one, it would be very expensive because of travel demands on airlines.
Demand pushes fares up
Managing Director, Tour Brokers International (TBI), Mrs. Uloma Egbuna who spoke to AirInsight from Canada, said people are coming back to travel, adding, “The planes are getting full again and people are making travel plans again”.
To underscore how desperate Nigerians are to visit home for the Christmas festivities, airlines may have capitalized on that to adjust airfares. Airfares in December are high because of the demand for air travel at that time of the year. The lowest fare for an Economy Class ticket with British Airways from Lagos to London went as high as N1.114.818 million while Business Class tickets sold for N2.1 million. It is almost the same for Virgin Atlantic Airways.
The fare from Abuja to London is lesser than from Lagos. Economy Class ticket from Abuja to London went for N583.350 while Business Class sold for N2.67 million.