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Economy flights from Moscow to Dubai hitting $5,000 as Russians flee

The airline industry has been hamstrung by a perfect storm of challenges over recent weeks, from labor shortages and supply disruptions to rising fuel prices.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — One-way economy flights from Moscow to Dubai are going for as much as $5,000 and many have completely sold out in the days following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s declaration of a “partial” mobilization of 300,000 reservists to fight in Ukraine.

The roughly five-hour flight cost around $350 one week before the announcement that was delivered on Sept. 21.

Current prices on UAE airlines Emirates and FlyDubai for the month between Sept. 28 and Oct. 26 are going for between $2,577 and $4,773 for a one-way economy ticket, according to those airlines’ websites. The cheaper of those prices is more than 2½ times the average monthly Russian salary of $965, according to Direct flights to Dubai from St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, were priced at around $2,600.

One-way economy flights to Abu Dhabi from Moscow are around $3,000 on Etihad Airways.

Flights with connections are available for lower rates, but still substantially higher than average, according to Google Travel. An economy ticket to Dubai on Azerbaijan Airlines with a layover in Baku ran for between $988 and $1,040 in the week between Sept. 28 and Oct. 6, about triple its price before the mobilization announcement.

“Russians gettin’ outta dodge,” Ian Bremmer, CEO of risk consultancy Eurasia Group, wrote on Twitter, along with a video from flight-tracking site showing masses of planes leaving Russia over the course of a few days.

For those with more money to spend, seats on private jets are an option, but their price tags have ballooned as well. Russians “are paying between £20,000 and £25,000 [$21,300 and $26,600] for a seat on a private plane,” The Guardian wrote in a report Tuesday, several times more than normal prices, citing the head of a private flying company who said demand has “increased by 50 times.”

Flights out of Russia in general surged in price and many sold out entirely in the days after the news, and satellite imagery as well as footage published on news outlets and social media show long lines of cars backed up for miles on Russia’s borders with Finland, Georgia, Kazakhstan and several other countries. Kazakhstan’s government reported taking in nearly 100,000 Russians in the last week.

A general view of the downtown area in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 08, 2021.

Satish Kumar | Reuters

But the UAE, and Dubai in particular, is a favorite of Russian travelers and expats. Already since Western countries imposed a wave of sanctions on Russia after Putin directed his forces to invade Ukraine on Feb. 24, high volumes of Russians have moved to the sunny desert emirate where they can live sanctions-free.

They are also credited with boosting Dubai’s luxury property sector, as oligarchs and other wealthy business people snap up multimillion-dollar seaside villas, some to live in and some as a place to park their cash.

Before Russia launched its war with Ukraine, the population of Russians living in the UAE was roughly 40,000. It is all but certain to be more now.

“Everyone is leaving. So many people I know,” one Russian national living in Dubai, who spoke anonymously due to concerns for her safety, told CNBC.

“Flights [from Russia] to Dubai are fully booked for the next three-four days and the prices are crazy. Flights to Istanbul are full as well, flights to [Armenian capital] Yerevan are crazy expensive. I know five, six people who arrived in Dubai just a few days ago. They paid insane prices.”

“The problem,” she added, “is that until you receive the document that calls you for military service, you can be allowed to exit the country. However, you can’t just stay outside the country because you don’t have residency anywhere else.”

She said that many Russians arriving in Dubai to flee military deployment are staying in the houses of friends and family members. But after the UAE’s tourist visa period of 60 days passes, the plan is unknown.

One Dubai-based pilot from the U.K. described Russian friends and colleagues seeking ways to get themselves or their relatives to other countries.

“People are saying their friends have already gotten draft letters” despite having no military experience, the pilot said, “so this story that Russia is only mobilizing people with military experience is bulls—.” The Kremlin has tried to dispel Russians’ fears about deployment by insisting that only people with prior training would be called up.

The pilot, who spoke anonymously due to professional restrictions, added he had also received a request from a Russian acquaintance asking to live in his Dubai apartment.

It’s not clear what many of these individuals plan to do once their visitor visas run out, and those who are residents of Dubai now fear going back to Russia. The scenario they dread the most, many of them say, is that Putin closes the borders to prevent military-aged men from leaving before they or their families can get out.

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