Jetting About, on a Budget: Beyond the GCC's Luxury Aviation Market
December 15, 2009
While the Middle East has a growing reputation for luxury airlines, low-cost carriers are grabbing an increasingly large share of the travel market. Air Arabia, based in the emirate of Sharjah, burst onto the scene in 2003; now, nine low-cost airlines in the Middle East carry more than seven percent of the region’s air travel. In countries such as Kuwait, budget-friendly Jazeera Airways has eclipsed the national carrier, Kuwait Airways, in terms of passenger traffic out of Kuwait International Airport.
The new carriers boast a varied clientele, from businessmen to vacationers, and from diplomats to laborers. They not only attract the occasional traveler, but with fares often below $100 each way, it is now relatively easy to work in one country while maintaining a family in another.
For many, the low cost-carriers are a necessity, not a luxury. More than 2 million Indians work in the UAE alone, and the budget fares mean that family members can see each other more than once a year. Air Arabia flies more than 100 flights to India every week out of Sharjah—a third of its global routes—and it has a more comprehensive network of Indian destinations than any other international airline.
And it goes both ways. More than half of the international flights of India’s biggest low-cost airline, Air India Express, fly directly to the UAE. The world’s largest low-cost carrier, Malaysia-based Air Asia, is building an Abu Dhabi hub.
This piece is a part of Mezze, a monthly short article series spotlighting societal trends across the region. It originally appeared in the Middle East Program's monthly newsletter, Middle East Notes and Comment. For more information and to receive our mailings, please contact the Middle East Program.