Thousands of passengers have been caught up in a mad dash to get out of Pakistan ahead of a ‘Red List’ travel ban by the British government. Passenger flights will be banned between Pakistan and England from 4 am on Friday, after which travellers who manage to get out of Pakistan and into England via a third country will have to pay £1,750 per person for a mandatory 10-day hotel quarantine stay.
In the last week, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Pakistan International Airlines have all put on extra flights to ferry passengers home before the deadline kicks in while hiking ticket prices for those lucky enough to get a seat onboard.
The airlift has been supported by a fleet of specially charted planes, including two Polish Boeing 737 single aisle aircraft that flew from Islamabad to Birmingham with a refuelling stop in Moscow.
An Air Senegal Airbus A330 aircraft that is registered in Malta has also been roped in to operate flights from Islamabad to Manchester five times in the last week. A whole raft of other airlines from Spain, Bulgaria and Iceland are also helping to repatriate passengers before options become a lot more limited.
Not everyone will, however, make it home in time. Despite non-essential international travel currently banned from England, passenger loads to Lahore and Islamabad are down just 20 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels meaning some will have to find another way home.
Some Brits who can’t get out of Pakistan ahead of the deadline have decided to travel via Turkey which isn’t currently subject to a ‘Red List’ ban. Having done their sums, families have worked out that it’s cheaper to stay in a hotel in Turkey for 10-days before travelling onto the UK instead of paying for a government-approved quarantine hotel.
Other routes back home are severely limited – Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways are all banned from flying passengers to England because both the United Arab Emirates and Qatar are already on the controversial ‘Red List’.
Unlike other travel bans, travellers in Pakistan were at least given more notice – nearly a full week between the government announcing its inclusion on the Red List and the ban coming into force. Other countries to be added include Kenya, Bangladesh and the Philippines.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains hopeful that non-essential international travel could be allowed to restart from May 17 but only a handful of countries with high vaccination rates and low case numbers could be initially approved.
While the UAE might go straight from a ‘Red List’ to a ‘Green List’ country based on the success of its vaccine rollout, it’s not known how long Pakistan could remain on the Red List.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.