Airline prefers safe resumption of air travel rather than imposing mandatory vaccination to fly
KUALA LUMPUR – It’s true that a global roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines is the only way for the world to leave this pandemic nightmare behind and resume normal life – including the freedom to fly.
Despite some countries making headway in their vaccination campaigns, the road to achieving herd immunity globally is still far ahead, leaving industries like aviation to remain grounded.
Since the beginning of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has hit airlines hard with revenue collapsing and more than 40 airlines forced to pause operations or shut down.
The world’s fourth largest international airline Emirates has not been spared from what it describes as the worst crisis ever experienced in this industry.
Emirates country manager Mohammad Al Attar told The Vibes that the airline was performing strongly up until the end of February 2020 when the pandemic situation escalated leading to wide-spread travel restrictions and the suspension of passenger flights.
“The revenue impact was estimated at AED3.5 billion (UAE dirham, or RM3.93 billion) up to the end of March,” he said.
Emirates has had 32 consecutive years of profit up until March 31, 2020. The picture for our current financial year will be much less upbeat.
In November 2020, Emirates Group announced half-year net losses of US$3.8 billion (RM15.6 billion) due to the forced suspension of airline operations, honouring of booking cancellations and paying out of refunds.
Mohammad said the company still had a long way to go before it could get back to profitability, which they hope to happen by 2022 as the impact of the global vaccination programme begins to kick in.
Till then, some airlines including Australian flag carrier Qantas revealed that vaccination would be required for international travellers on its flights.
Korean Air and Delta Air Lines have both hinted that they will require vaccination as a prerequisite for travel in the future.
Fostering confidence among passengers
Despite mandatory vaccination offering passengers more peace of mind and potentially a return to flying, imposing it as a prerequisite for air travel will only bring down a sector that is already on its knees, damaging the industry as much as lockdowns have done.
Instead of making vaccination mandatory for flying, international bodies – including the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) – are calling for a safe resumption of air travel.
This puts Emirates in the front seat, with the airline working closely with authorities and governing bodies to introduce innovative measures that would provide confidence to travel for passengers.
“We commenced trials of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Travel Pass – a mobile app to help passengers easily and securely manage their travel in line with any government requirements for Covid-19 testing or vaccine information.
“The IATA Travel Pass app will have an integrated registry of travel requirements to enable passengers to find accurate information on travel and entry requirements for all destinations regardless of their itinerary.
“Eventually it will also include a registry of labs – making it more convenient for passengers to find testing centres and labs at their departure location which meet the standards for testing and vaccination requirements of their destination,” said Mohammad.
Additionally, Emirates and the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) have begun to implement full digital verification of Covid-19 medical records connected to testing and vaccination for travellers based in the UAE.
“Customers who have undertaken a PCR test in Dubai can choose to check-in without presenting their physical Covid-19 PCR test report and customers who have received their vaccination at a DHA health centre in Dubai can, together with their PCR test results, have their documents synchronised during flight check-in.”
Other measures undertaken by Emirates to ensure passengers are safe from the pandemic include the implementation of the world’s first biometric path using facial and iris recognition at Dubai International Airport, as well as contactless check-in kiosks providing a frictionless experience for customers with virtually no interaction.
“We have accelerated these types of technologies with the health and safety of our customers in mind,” said the country manager.
Multi-risk travel insurance and rebooking option
Mohammad also said the airline has been making Covid-19 vaccines readily available to its UAE-based workforce at multiple locations within the company’s premises, with priority being placed on the cabin crew, flight deck personnel and those in other operationally focused roles.
To date, Covid-19 shots have been delivered to over 35,000 Emirates employees across its vaccination centres and over 85% of the airline’s pilots and cabin crew already receiving two doses of the vaccine.
In addition to ensuring that travellers felt safe when they fly, Mohammad said Emirates introduced the airline’s industry first, multi-risk travel insurance and Covid-19 cover.
This generous cover is offered by Emirates on all tickets at no cost to customers. In addition to Covid-19 medical cover, this latest offer also has provisions for personal accidents during travel, winter sports cover, loss of personal belongings, and trip disruptions due to unexpected air space closure, travel recommendations or advisories, similar to other multi-risk travel insurance products.
Emirates’ booking policies have also offered customers flexibility and confidence to plan their travel.
Mohammad said customers who purchase an Emirates ticket are entitled to rebooking terms and options to change their travel dates or extend their ticket validity for two years.
Due to the increased confidence of passengers to travel, the airline therefore sees itself bouncing back with scheduled passenger and cargo flights to over 130 cities, hence returning to 70% of its capacity by the end of the year.
“It is fair to say that the pandemic has impacted travel. However, we are optimistic that passenger demand will return to pre-Covid levels eventually.
“During pre-Covid times we had 3 flights a day to Kuala Lumpur, meaning 21 flights a week, while we are now operating 5 flights a week,” he said.
Increased cargo destinations, new standards for passengers
In order for the airlines to stay afloat, Mohammad said Emirates has adapted its operations and cargo network to meet the needs of customers and communities.
He said that from just over 35 destinations at the end of March 2020, Emirates SkyCargo has expanded its network to over 135 scheduled cargo destinations across the world.
“As of April 4, Emirates SkyCargo delivered 50 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, about 220 tonnes over 150 flights to over 50 destinations.
“The carrier has transported six different kinds of Covid-19 vaccines.”
The airline has also set new standards for the industry, by offering first class passengers a private suite with seats that recline to a full-flat bed and a personal electrically controlled mini-bar.
Features also include touch screen Wireless Integrated Passenger Seat Controllers for Emirates’ in-flight entertainment (ice) and seat functions, as well as a 32” HD LCD screen.
“With electrically-operated privacy dividers, first class suites offer passengers maximum exclusivity – even from an adjoining suite.”
On December 29 the airline unveiled its premium economy cabin offering 56 seats similar to business class in a 2-4-2 cabin layout.
As the airline celebrates 25 years in Malaysia this year, it also promises to contribute to the country’s tourism and business sectors through new route launches and resumption of routes.
“We have grown by leaps and bounds since 1996 when we launched the route to Kuala Lumpur – and despite current challenges, we are optimistic of the growth and will continue to reaffirm our commitment to this very important market in our network,” said Mohammad.
Asia as a whole is Emirates’ largest region, with 14 million seats this year, well ahead of the almost 10 million in Europe. This is due to big cuts in flights to Europe, which is normally the largest market for the airline.
Updates on travel restrictions across Emirates’ network, can be obtained through its special Covid-19 Information hub.