Air ticket prices to the UK have risen fivefold as British expatriates and tourists scramble to exit Kenya ahead of the suspension of passenger flights between the two countries starting this Friday.
The mad rush for plane seats comes days after the Kenyan government banned all flights from the UK, effective April 9 to retaliate a move by London to add the country on its travel ‘red list’.
Travellers arriving in the UK from countries on the ‘red list’ will be denied entry, while returning Britons must submit to 10 days of mandatory quarantine in government-approved hotels at their cost.
The passenger flights ban by Kenya has triggered a sharp rise in airfare from Nairobi to London as travellers race to avoid being stranded.
For instance, national carrier Kenya Airways is charging up to Ksh290,000 (about $2,679) for a one-way ticket to London on today’s flights (April 7) from the normal average of Ksh59,000 ($545)–a change it attributes to heightened demand for seats on the route.
“There are limited number of airlines flying to the UK currently and this means less seats. Now people have to get out of Nairobi before deadline,” an official of KQ told the Business Daily.
Demand for travel from London to Nairobi, however, remains low, with a one-way ticket retailing for Ksh55,795 ($515), suggesting that few people are exiting Britain in the wake of Kenya’s ban.
KQ on Monday announced that it would suspend flights to the UK effective April 9 in line with the directive by the government.
“Kenya Airways announces the suspension of passenger flights between Kenya and the UK effective April 9, 2021 at 00:00 hours until further notice,” said the carrier in a statement.
KQ says its flights to the UK from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) are fully booked today and tomorrow, with British Airways also indicating that bookings are unavailable for the two days.
With the suspension of flights between Nairobi and London, passengers would have had an alternative connection through Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines.
Unfortunately, Ethiopian Airlines has suspended flights in and out of the UK, too, after Ethiopia was added on the country’s Covid-19 “red-list”.
Rwanda and the United Arab Emirates, which are used by passengers on transit to the UK, have both been on the red list for some time.
The lack of enough capacity has seen KQ increase the number of flights on the UK route. The airline is operating five flights today (April 7) to London, which were fully booked ahead of the deadline.
KQ has been operating daily flights to London until recently when it dropped the frequencies to about three in a week on low demand because of stringent regulations on Covid-19.
JKIA is a major regional hub, with passengers from other regions flying to the facility to connect flights to Asia, Europe or the Middle East.
More than 1.5 million passengers transit through JKIA, according to Kenya Civil Aviation Authority.
British Airways, which is expected to suspend flights after April 9, was charging Ksh59,000 ($545) as at April 6 for a one-way economy seat to London.
However, the carrier’s website indicated unavailability of seats today and tomorrow, implying that it is fully booked on these days.
“Bookings have been very strong as everyone wants to travel out of the country before the deadline,” said an official with British Airways.
At the moment, it is only KQ and the British carrier that are operating direct flights between Nairobi and London.
Besides the passenger flight ban, Kenya has also directed all non-citizens coming from the UK to self-isolate for 14 days before they can be admitted to the country in what will significantly cut on the number of tourists visiting Kenya ahead of the summer holidays.
UK arrivals are also required to conduct two Covid-19 tests, one on the second day of quarantine and another one on the eighth day.
“The decision by the government of the United Kingdom to ‘Red List’ Kenya and to stop all travel from Kenya for those residents in Kenya and those transiting through Kenya to the United Kingdom will have deep and far-reaching consequences on the Kenya-UK trade, travel, tourism security cooperation among other sectors,” said a Kenya government statement.
The UK restrictions are reportedly based on concerns Kenya had not closed down routes through which the South African variant of the coronavirus, known as B.1.351, entered the country.
Diplomats expressed anger at what they feel is wrong-timing.
The latest sharp rise in airfare mirrors the state of travel a year ago when expatriates were caught up in a scramble to exit Kenya amid uncertainty following the outbreak of coronavirus in the country.
Last April, foreigners were paying up to three times normal ticket prices to return to their home countries as airlines provide charter flights for repatriation.