Since the invasion of Ukraine started, a number of sanctions have been in place against Russia. On the one hand, Russian aircraft have been banned from entering European airspace and, on the other, European airlines are not allowed to operate routes to and from Russia.
Wizz Air has found a way to bypass the ban, by flying from Abu Dhabi. Wizz Air Abu Dhabi is a subsidiary of Hungarian based Wizz Air, founded in 2019. The majority of the Emirati company belongs to the state-owned Abu Dhabi Developmental Holding Company (ADQ), while Wizz only has 49% shares, so the subsidiary does not have to comply European regulations.
“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”, an airline spokesperson said.
Soon after announcing the restart of the flights to Russia, Wizz Air has also revealed it will offer 100,000 free tickets to Ukrainian citizens, available over 800 routes operated by the airline. However, people pointed out that the generosity might be just a distraction. “Oh, is it your karma reimbursement for starting flights to Russia?”, a Facebook user commented.
Crisis public relations consultant Mark Borkowski told CNN that Wizz’ decision to restart flights to Russia is a risky one, as customers might not fully understand, or care about, the difference between the airline and its subsidiary. Boycotts have already started online with people saying they are cancelling their reservations.
Borkowski also pointed out that the near future will be crucial for Wizz Air, which he expects will be closely watched by rivals. While restarting the flights to Russia will bring obvious financial benefits, it might not be enough to cover the loss of the upset European customers. “Certain commercial interests will prevail. Nevertheless it’s a risky move that could turn into a profound PR own goal”, he remarked.