By Sebastian Modak. Photos: Getty.
Today, Emirates announced it will be reducing flights to five of the 12 U.S. destinations it currently serves—perhaps the first sign that a series of policy changes affecting the ease of travel from the Middle East to the U.S. is having tangible effects on passenger numbers. An executive order banning entry into the United States for citizens of certain Muslim-majority countries remains suspended under a restraining order issued by the courts last month. Just two weeks later, after a Department of Homeland Security rule banned large personal electronics from the cabins of flights originating in eight countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Gulf airlines were quick to respond with new policies of their own including free loaner laptops (and some social media cheekiness).
Now, airlines are being forced to make more substantial changes. The Dubai-based airline announced today that daily services to Fort Lauderdale and Orlando would be cut to five flights a week starting on May 1 and 23, respectively. Seattle and Boston, which are currently served by two flights a day from Dubai, will be reduced to a daily service on June 1 and 2. Lastly, Starting on July 1, Los Angeles will also become a daily flight, a reduction from the twice-daily service currently on offer.
An Emirates spokesperson confirmed to Condé Nast Traveler that the move "is a commercial decision in response to weakened travel demand to U.S." The spokesperson went on to link the downtick in demand directly to U.S. government policy decisions: "The recent actions taken by the U.S. government relating to the issuance of entry visas, heightened security vetting, and restrictions on electronic devices in aircraft cabins, have had a direct impact on consumer interest and demand for air travel into the U.S.," they said.
While exact numbers are not available, it appears that the hit to demand has been felt all the more drastically because of the growth the airline was enjoying leading up to inauguration day. The spokesperson told Traveler that the airlines had experienced "healthy growth and performance" on U.S. routes until the start of 2017. "Over the past 3 months, we have seen a significant deterioration in the booking profiles on all our U.S. routes, across all travel segments. Emirates has therefore responded as any profit-oriented enterprise would, and we will redeploy capacity to serve demand on other routes on our global network."
Emirates still operates 101 flight departures a week between Dubai and its 12 destinations in the U.S. and will be looking to reinstate the cut-down flights as soon as its economically viable, which if more recent policies are any indication is unlikely to be anytime soon. As the New York Times reports, yesterday President Trump signed an executive order calling for a reexamination of the U.S.'s H-1B visa program that currently brings in 85,000 skilled foreign workers a year. The order, in line with his "America First" campaign theme, is intended to end the "theft of American prosperity," he said.
This story originally appeared on Conde Nast Traveler.
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