On the apron of Fujairah airport, a Boeing 737-800 has just landed from Warsaw where temperatures can currently reach -6C. Onboard the Enter Air charter are about 200 passengers who’ve escaped this winter freeze for a break in the sun.
As they stream into the terminal after the five-hour flight, the sun is setting over the Hajar Mountains. Shuttle buses pull up outside and tour guides are ready in arrivals.
This scene is a familiar one in Fujairah since direct charter flights between the Polish capital and the emirate were launched in 2016. While the numbers of passenger movements at the airport are low when compared with other major UAE airports, this is the second season of these direct charters. More than 4,000 Polish tourists, including families, couples and friends, arrive in Fujairah every week between November and late March. Some stay in the emirate for two weeks, while others visit Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Oman. Every flight is full.
In the departure lounge are Michael Domagallo, his wife Kate and children Amelia, 3, and Jacob, 6. The family are from Warsaw and have just spent two weeks at the Le Meridien hotel in Al Aqah. It was their first trip to the UAE.
“We wanted to visit the UAE because of the weather. Other destinations we looked at were in the Caribbean or even farther away but [with] children … this is an excellent destination.”
Unlike most of the others on the flight, Mr Domagallo and his family booked their own hotel and rented a car for trips to Dubai.
“We were a little worried before we came as it was our first visit to the Emirates and we were not sure [what to expect]. But it was fantastic and we plan to come back … We liked the people, weather and the atmosphere.”
Sitting a few rows down is Zenon Mileiva. “The country is very beautiful, very nice,” he said. Beside him is his friend Nelnea, who enjoyed the off-roading and the food over the three nights spent in the emirate. “Our hotel was the Royal Beach,” she said. “It is a nice place to spend time. We saw the Hajar Mountains and a wadi.”
Sitting in a corner of the hall with his parents is 18-year-old Wojaek Kielec, who has spent just a night in Fujairah, several in Dubai and Oman. “My favourite part was Dubai because we do not have such skyscrapers [in Poland] so it was quite a new experience.”
The charter flights are part an agreement between Rainbow Tourism Group and the Fujairah Tourism and Antiquities Authority. Rida International Tourism and Travel is the ground handling agent in the UAE for the Polish charter. It takes care of the local tours, bookings and transport. Anna Spora is ground operations manager and was waiting in the arrivals hall to greet the passengers coming through.
“Fujairah was picked for the beach resorts and five-star hotels,” she said.
“Mostly the tourists come to rest and spend time on the beach, especially in the winter when in Poland it’s really cold. It’s a new destination for the clients and most are coming for the first time – but we have a lot of repeat customers – 10 to 15 per cent.”
Back outside on the apron as the passengers arrive into the terminal is the airport’s acting general manager, Charles Hajdu.
“I really like to see this type of activity at an airport like this,” said Mr Hajdu, who is from the UK. “It makes me feel very happy.
“We have feedback forms [from the tourists] and all are very positive. This time of year it’s the weather. Coming from Northern Europe, this is exactly what you want.”