Photo: Emirates Airlines.

MIAMI – One of the Middle East’s busiest routes, Dubai–Istanbul, has suffered a huge drop in flights. The Dubai-Istanbul journey, which takes between four and five hours, was a major route for both Emirates (EK) and Turkish Airlines (TK).

However, despite both EK and TK increasing their flight operations in the last few weeks, the Dubai–Istanbul route has remained closed except for a few cargo flights.

Emirates announced it would resume flights to Istanbul in June; however, it does not have tickets available for sale before December 1. TK, on the other hand, allows bookings on its website but then cancels them a few days prior to travel, according to a report by

Photo: via Wikicommons

Diplomatic Tensions

The suspension of the route comes at a time of diplomatic tension between Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The two nations are on opposing sides of a proxy war in Libya and disagree on issues ranging from Syria and Iraq to the eastern Mediterranean.

The UAE supported the 2013 coup in Egypt that pushed out President Mohamed Morsi, who had ties with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey, on the other hand, backed Qatar in the face of a boycott by three of its Gulf neighbors, including the UAE, in 2017.

Relationships between the two countries took another hit after the UAE and Bahrain agreed to normalize relations with Israel. For years, Israeli travelers relied on Istanbul to connect them farther east and west, but the new deal may now help Dubai win more of TK’s former business.

Steffen Hertog, a professor in comparative politics at the London School of Economics commented that, “the relationship is still very strained, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Covid was used as cover for a quasi-boycott. The UAE have been pretty hawkish, and are economically less vulnerable than Turkey.”


Both Airlines Are Suffering

Airlines are powerful assets for both countries, and neither EK nor TK are benefitting from the diplomatic tension. TK reported a loss of 2.23 billion liras (US$303m) in the second quarter, while Emirates received a 7.3 billion dirhams (US$2bn) bailout from its state owner and is eliminating thousands of jobs.

Therefore, the suspension of a hugely profitable route could not come at a worse time for the two airlines, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the airline industry. TK and EK have been especially affected by the pandemic, as they both rely heavily on long-haul passengers but whose numbers have remained particularly low. Neither airline has released an official comment.

Featured image: Emirates Airlines