New data has revealed that air travel to the UAE among more affluent Russians has grown dramatically in the first quarter of 2023 following a boom in travel to Middle East destinations after the invasion of Ukraine.

Data from ForwardKeys shows that for the first quarter of 2023, bookings to Dubai on Russian flights for premium class seats, which includes business class, first class and premium economy tickets, are already 103% ahead of the same quarter in 2019.

Q1 bookings to Abu Dhabi are already 238% ahead of 2019 levels for premium class travellers.

There was striking growth in travel between Moscow and Dubai in 2022 in comparison to 2019, with the route from Dubai to Moscow’s Vnukovo International Airport (VKO) seeing 228% more passengers.

Among those travelling to the UAE in Q1 2023 from Russia, Dubai accounts for 85%, while 15% are heading to Abu Dhabi. Data on charter flights and budget airlines are not collected by ForwardKeys, so most Russian flights to airports in Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah are not included in their analysis.

Of Russian premium class passengers travelling to Abu Dhabi, 76% of them were transiting in the UAE capital, said ForwardKeys, rather than arriving there as their final destination.  

A boom in Russian travel to Turkey and MENA countries was identified soon after the Russian invasion, but now the travel data company has seen a trend for travel among more affluent Russian air passengers, while it has been more limited for those of lower income.

Globally, from 24th February 2022 until the end of December, premium class tickets for Russian outbound travel grew, up by 10% on the same period during pre-pandemic levels, ForwardKeys said.

By comparison, global economy class tickets from Russia were down by 70%.

In Q1 2023, travel to the UAE for premium class passengers may have risen dramatically, but premium class flight bookings globally from Russia for Q1 are 26% behind 2019 levels, and economy 66% behind.

Middle East sees Russian travel rise while it falls globally

Air travel seat capacity to Russia to the Middle East was up 27% overall in the period from March 2022 to February 2023, while the closure of airspace to Russian planes in other regions meant travel reduced. For the same period, seat capacity from Russia to North America was down 92%, Africa was down 76%, Europe by 57% and Asia Pacific down 87%.

(Reporting by Imogen Lillywhite; editing by Seban Scaria)