Ultra-low-cost air travel lands in the Middle East

The Middle East is home to some of the world’s most famous airlines, but until recently, was not home to ultra-low-cost air travel. These airlines have set the benchmark for service for long haul travel in recent years. The Middle East’s flagship airlines have in the last two decades played a major role in connecting all corners of the world. Due to the geographical advantage of Dubai, Doha & Abu Dhabi, these airlines have been able to profit greatly from the demand for trans-continental travel.

The Middle East transit hub model 

The business model of these airlines focuses greatly on connection-based flight travel, for example, Sydney to London via Dubai. The market for the Middle East’s airlines is far greater outside of the cities in which they operate. The UAE has a population of roughly 10 million people. A number which is dwarfed by the comparative figure of potential customers in destinations they fly to.

For example, as of March 2021, Emirates operates to 161 destinations in 85 countries across six continents from its hub in Dubai.

Emirates' destination map
Emirates’ destination map


This enormous network means their target market is huge and the number of potential connection combinations is massive.

For residents in Dubai, this provides an excellent breadth of options when it comes to travel. Emirates also has a sister company FlyDubai, which often operate Emirates advertised flights. FlyDubai offers slightly lower cost flights and operates on a more regional basis.

One of the main reasons Middle Eastern airlines have become so important for travel is due to Russia and their airspace rules. Flying in Russian airspace, unlike most other countries, comes with a significant fee. Meaning connecting via the Middle East allows a significant reduction. This is why it’s often far cheaper to fly from East Asia to Europe via the Middle East, rather than directly across Russia.

Micheal O’Learys revolution 

One thing that strikes a European expat on arrival to the Middle East is the lack of ultra-low-cost air travel options which have dominated European air travel for roughly two decades.

Ryanair & EasyJet the Irish and British low-cost carriers irreversibly changed European travel by offering ultra-low-cost flight options. Stripping away every possible luxury, Ryanair created a new age for air travel. This included offering tickets without in-flight entertainment, checked luggage, free boarding passes, allocated seats or refreshments. These carriers also removed business and first class tickets, making the entire cabin, economy. A world away from the service offered by the likes of British Airways.

This system has become the norm in Europe and Asia, where Air Asia dominate. But the Middle East has always lacked an ultra-low-cost carrier, until now. Getting a flight from Dubai or Abu Dhabi, generally comes with a minimum fare which sets the customer back usually at least 1,500 AED/£300 to reach any destination.

However, recently, Wizz Air, the Hungarian ultra-low-cost airline has arrived in Abu Dhabi and opened the doors of its new regional hub. The airline operates on a similar model to EasyJet or Ryanair.

Wizz is now flying from Abu Dhabi to a range of destinations across Asia, the Middle East and Europe. These include the popular Mediterranean Islands of Mykonos, Cyprus & Sicily. European mainland destinations including Sofia, Bari, Belgrade, Budapest and Katowice. Middle Eastern destinations including Tel-Aviv, Baku, Yerevan, Bahrain, Muscat and Alexandria. Most of these, as return tickets are on sale for less than 300 AED/ £60.

Return flights from Abu Dhabi to Mykonos from 250 AED

The ticket purchase process is a minefield of potential add on purchases including seat choice, in-flight meals, travel insurance, car rental, checked baggage and so on. This system is a tried and tested method of producing additional income on top of the ticket price. Meaning that it will certainly not appeal to many travellers who prefer the additional comforts that go with the higher-priced Middle Eastern carriers. However, for the more budget-conscious travellers, Wizz’s arrival will come as a welcome surprise.

Wizz’s Abu Dhabi deals can be found here.

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