Bizarre: Emirates Forced To Cancel Flights To Tunisia Indefinitely

Filed Under: Emirates

This whole situation is just very strange. This past Friday the UAE issued a temporary travel restriction banning all Tunisian female nationals from traveling to or transferring through the UAE. So Tunisian females couldn’t even book a flight on Emirates connecting through Dubai to somewhere else. As far as I know this is a first time a country has banned a gender from entering a country. This policy was added for security reasons, though no further explanation was provided by the UAE as to the specifics of why this was necessary.

The UAE’s minister of foreign affairs said on Twitter that “we have contacted our Tunisian brothers about security information that necessitated taking specific and circumstantial measures,” and said that the UAE “appreciates and respects Tunisian women,” and that “we should avoid attempts at interpretation and errors”.

Apparently not happy with the answer, on Sunday the Tunisian transport ministry has decided to suspend all Emirates flights to Tunisia “until the company can find a suitable solution to operate its flights in accordance with international laws and treaties,” per Al Jazeera. As it stands, Emirates is the only UAE-based airline operating flights between the UAE and Tunisia, so their daily 777 flights aren’t operating at the moment.

This is a very strange situation. What’s especially weird is that typically men are considered to be more likely to pose “security concerns,” at least if history is any indicator, so specifically singling out female travelers is unprecedented. However, Gulf News has a possible explanation for what happened, per the Tunisian presidential spokeswoman:

“We have summoned the UAE ambassador and we tried to get an explanation why those women were not permitted to travel on Emirates airlines to Dubai,” she said, noting that the decision was “a UAE sovereign decision based on credible security information.”

She said security agencies in some countries have warned recently that a number of Tunisian women or women who carry Tunisian passports have returned from Syria and Iraq where they had fought with Daesh.

“These women pose security threats accruing to those agencies,” she added, without confirming if that was the reason behind the UAE decision.

One interesting side effect of these Emirates suspensions is that Tunis has some of the most attractive premium cabin fares of any airport in the world, so it’s a great place to start an Emirates first or business class ticket. With Emirates no longer flying to Tunis and Qatar Airways no longer flying to Cairo, the cheap premium cabin fare pickings are getting slimmer. Now let’s just hope that Sri Lanka doesn’t start kicking airlines out of Colombo. 😉 Of course this isn’t actually significant in the grand scheme of things — much more important is the policy itself, and what this means for travelers.

I’m curious to see how this unfolds. You’d think they’d resolve this pretty swiftly, but if history is any indicator in the region lately, a lot of these things seem to linger for a bit.

Comments
  1. I think I read that Tunisian men need to be over 40 years old, too to apply for UAE visas. An interesting situation indeed.

  2. Tunisia is politically closer to Qatar than to Saudi / UAE. Whatever UAE’s intelligence (if any), in the context of the GCC ganging up on Qatar this was always bound to be treated by Tunisia as an aggressive act.

    Your statement that traditionally men are the terrorists was what the Israelis believed, and started acting upon, whereupon they rapidly started encountering women terrorists. I think Peru had similar problems. States like the UK don’t discriminate – everyone is treated equally as a potential terrorist. It’s the only way to avoid creating self-fulfilling regulations.

  3. Quoting Gulfnews:

    “”Speaking on the issue to Tunisian local media, Saida Qrash, Tunisian Presidential Spokeswoman, said she understood the UAE security concerns.

    “We have summoned the UAE ambassador and we tried to get an explanation why those women were not permitted to travel on Emirates airlines to Dubai,” she said, noting that the decision was “a UAE sovereign decision based on credible security information.”

    She said security agencies in some countries have warned recently that a number of Tunisian women or women who carry Tunisian passports have returned from Syria and Iraq where they had fought with Daesh.

    “These women pose security threats accruing to those agencies,” she added, without confirming if that was the reason behind the UAE decision.””

  4. Using this same logic, shouldn’t every Mideast country and many in Europe have women banned from flying?

  5. Just throwing this out out there; How is woman’s traveling wearing a niqab handled by Emirates?

    Specifically if they refuse to remove it for border crossings, security controls, check in, etc? A full face wail does making a positive id of a traveler impossible.

    A Danish Muslim woman was deported back to Tunisia by Belgium for refusing by to remove her niqab while trying to enter the Schengen at Brussels airport area back in September.

  6. RE: No Name.

    Dubai airport has private “search” booths at security to handle the situation you described.

  7. Ok, I’m booked departing TUN in F to Australia in a few months. The booking is active and unchanged. I wanted to book my flight to TUN from Europe this week, but with things like this…. are there already news about how ek handles this? Alternative routing for tun-dbx or can another departing city be chosen?

  8. @Lucky: Yes this is bizarre indeed. However, to another point you raised, is CMB still alive for great Biz class fares? CAI seem on its way out. However, I have only looked at OneWorld carriers.

  9. It is reported today on BBC that the reason is, that intelligence information received by EK is that the next terrorist attack will be conducted by Tunisian women. It does seem bizarre , but I suppose they are just being careful to protect passengers , and I like that .

  10. To get around this, they instead could have marketed the flights as “Men’s Only Executive Service” a la United from NYC-Chicago in the 50s and 60s.

  11. There have been plenty of female suicide bombers over the years. The extra layers of non-shapely clothing does a great job of hiding the explosives.

  12. If what UAE said was true and they did get a serious terrorist threat they could’ve contacted the Tunisian government to reinforce their safety measures at the airport or even cancel flights. These are more suitable decisions in such cases. Banning women of all ages and status is just so wrong, sexist and unjustified. Also, UAE embassador did not give any reason for their sudden decision at first when he was invited to tunisia because UAE was not expecting that tunisia would suspend emirates flights from and to tunisia. They claimed that it was due to security reasons to ease the public outrage in Tunisia and north African countries. UAE was mistaking in thinking that a country which started a revolution to seek democracy would take such humiliating decision and sit back.

  13. This has absolutely nothing to do with security threats or terrorism. First off, not all Tunisian women were banned, only solo female Tunisian travelers without an accompanying male relative were banned from flying to Dubai. It is more about the recent political developments in the region. Tunisia refused to boycott Qatar after the UAE and Saudi Arabia pressured them to do so. The UAE is retaliating by implying that many young Tunisian females travel to Dubai to work in prostitution. This is what really pissed off the Tunisians. The same policy was imposed on Moroccan female travelers after Morocco refused to boycott Qatar as well. The UAE has a history of bullying other countries for their political stands especially in the wake of the Arab Spring.

  14. @Chris,
    I have no idea what they will do in your case, but I had a booking from Tunis to Bangkok in F for February and I just received the cancellations for outbound and return flights from and to Tunis without further consultation (with the flights to and from Dubai still intact)

  15. According to Tunisian media, Salem Zeabi, the UAE ambassador to Tunisia, was asked to “provide clarification on the measure banning” Tunisian women from flying to or transiting through the Gulf state’s territory.

    Zeabi reportedly said the measure was “temporary and relating to security arrangements”.

    According to reports, the ban only applies to Tunisian women under the age of 30.

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