As its invasion of Ukraine ticks towards its sixth month, Russia remains isolated from the international community. International brands are still boycotting the country, while airlines and nations are imposing flight bans and sanctions.
But one airline has decided to start a route back up to Russia, in response to what it says is passenger demand.
Wizz Air Abu Dhabi has announced it will recommence flights from Abu Dhabi to Moscow, with tickets now on sale from October 3.
Founded in December 2019, the company is an Emirati subsidiary of Wizz Air, one of Europe’s fastest-growing budget airlines, which is based in Hungary. Wizz Air owns a 49% stake, with the majority 51% going to state-owned ADQ. Wizz has one other subsidiary, Wizz Air UK, which was originally set up to mitigate problems deriving from Brexit.
A spokesperson for Wizz Air said in a statement:
“Wizz Air Abu Dhabi is a national UAE carrier that operates in line with the UAE’s national regulations and policies. The airline is resuming its operation to Moscow to meet travel demand for passengers wishing to fly to and from Russia from the UAE capital. All UAE national airlines are currently operating direct flights to Russia.”
It added: “Wizz Air Hungary and Wizz Air UK are not currently operating flights to Russia.” Flights to Russia from the UK and EU are currently banned.
Etihad, Emirates and FlyDubai are among the airlines operating to Russia from the UAE. Wizz had initially launched the route in December 2021, before suspending it when Russia invaded Ukraine.
Whether passengers will understand the difference between the airlines has yet to be seen, however. Mark Borkowski, a crisis PR consultant, told CNN that it could go wrong for the airline – and he said that Wizz’s rivals will be watching closely.
“We now begin to see a number of brands beginning to check their resolve, and as events drag on the virtue-signaling will give way to commercial intent,” he said.
“I expect this decision will be viewed with great interest. It could be a disaster – however the bigger issue is fatigue. Certain commercial interests will prevail. Nevertheless it’s a risky move that could turn into a profound PR own goal” – a soccer term, meaning a self-inflicted disaster.
The airline is having a difficult summer. In June, Wizz Air CEO József Váradi was recorded telling airline staff to push through fatigue during the summer chaos. Pilot unions were up in arms about what they said were the potential safety risks of his comments.
Wizz Air Hungary – the umbrella organization – is currently offering 100,000 free flights for Ukrainian passport holders across its network.