By Gavin Gibbon
Oman is now the only Gulf country Saudi Arabia operates flights to and from
Etihad Airways and Emirates airline have suspended all flights between Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia, as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Middle East reaches around 7,000.
The move comes after the General Authority for Civil Aviation in the kingdom issued a temporary ban on residents travelling to a list of nine countries – including the UAE – in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.
The ban also includes residents from the nine countries looking to travel into Saudi Arabia.
Etihad operates up to 12 daily flights between Abu Dhabi and Saudi.
Seven flights were cancelled on Monday between the UAE capital and Riyadh, Dammam and Medina.
A further four flights, which were en-route to Saudi Arabia at the time of the directive, were allowed to land at their respective destinations. But while Saudi nationals were allowed to leave the aircraft in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, all other passengers had to stay on the plane and return to Abu Dhabi.
A fourth flight operated to Medina to repatriate Umrah passengers.
A statement from Etihad said: “Etihad Airways is working closely with regulatory authorities in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia and is continuing to monitor this situation closely.
“For passengers impacted by the flight cancellations, procedures are in place for fare refunds or for flight changes when services resume. Etihad will continue to provide updates on this situation as information becomes available.”
Meanwhile, Emirates said affected customers with tickets booked on or before March 9 can rebook to an alternative date up to June 30; accept a travel voucher to the value of the ticket; or take a full refund.
A statement said: “Customers across the Emirates network holding tickets for final destination Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not be accepted for boarding at their point of origin until further notice.”
The travel ban from Saudi also extends to Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, Syria, Italy, Egypt, Iran and South Korea.
Oman is now the only Gulf country the kingdom operates flights to and from.
There are currently 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Saudi Arabia.
Mideast, North Africa Breakdown: