These surely are unprecedented times and unprecedented decisions are being made world over. At Etihad Airways, the national airline of the UAE, the safety and well-being of our customers and employees will continue to remain an absolute priority. The impact of the global pandemic will not deter our commitment towards India, a country we’ve operated in for over fifteen years now and one that is Etihad Airways’ largest market outside the home market.
– Neerja Bhatia
One cannot deny that the global pandemic has surely affected several industries globally, including aviation. This industry that usually connects people and nations across the world is now witnessing minimal movement. Etihad Airways is following all the guidelines laid down by the UAE and international governments, and will continue abiding by regulatory authority directives. We are doing everything possible to limit the spread of the COVID-19 and protect citizens, residents, international travellers as well as all our employees.
With restrictions on international flight operations and travel at an all-time low, we are navigating through these times by being adaptable and responding quickly. We have ensured that we are prepared to weather the impact of this ongoing situation. Etihad Airways’ transformation over the last three years has positioned the business well; it has given the business the agility to better manage its operation, even through the unexpected coronavirus crisis, and to position it for when air travel markets reopen.
As the world continues to change due to the pandemic, we are beginning to adapt in more ways than one, redeploying the fleet and right-sizing as the market changes. Etihad Airways has deployed some of its 787-10 aircraft on cargo routes to supplement Etihad Cargo’s fleet of Boeing 777 freighters. Etihad has been operating special cargo flights from Abu Dhabi to several destinations on its global route network including Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kochi and Bengaluru. Working closely with the UAE government and global aviation authorities, our aim is to gradually return to a fuller schedule as soon as circumstances allow. Etihad Airways is utilising this time to ensure that the airline is in its best shape for when it returns to flying.
Let’s have a look at some of the other measures that Etihad Airways has currently undertaken.
Uncompromised assistance with travel planning
We understand how hard the past few weeks have been and we have been touched by the support received from our customers and partners. Our teams have been working around the clock to assist our guests and trade partners, and to make sure they are the first to know about our new policies, procedures and travel news. Our priority at Etihad Airways will remain providing continued support to guests and we have introduced a range of travel waivers, solutions and benefits to help ease the burden. Customers can also change the date of their trip for free or pick a different destination within the same region.
Most extensive aircraft maintenance programme
Etihad has embarked on the biggest aircraft maintenance programme in its history. We are refreshing the interiors and exteriors of our aircraft, from laundering and replacing seat covers and backrests, to replacement of carpets as well as bringing forward scheduled engine changes. To date, this work has seen almost 19,000 seat covers laundered, and over 40 rolls of new carpets and 367 metres of leather used.
Aircraft and cabin deep cleaning
Etihad undertakes detailed cleaning of its aircraft on arrival at each destination, a practice that was already in place prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. On flights deemed low-risk, a general clean and disinfection is conducted in Abu Dhabi when ground time exceeds two hours. On any aircraft arriving from a territory deemed medium or high risk by the relevant international health authorities or if a suspected case has travelled on the aircraft, Etihad is deep-cleaning and disinfecting all cabin areas, cargo holds and crew rest areas.
Cabin air filtration cleaning
Many guests have raised concerns about the risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus while travelling on flights. To minimise risk, significant measures have been implemented prior to departure, in flight and after arrival. In flight, modern aircraft including the entire Etihad Airways fleet are equipped with cabin air filtration systems of similar quality to those used in hospital operating theatres. In any confined area, there is a risk of contracting illnesses from other people. However, the risk is considered lower on aircraft because of the use of high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, which are effective in capturing more than 99 per cent of airborne microbes in filtered air. As well, cabin air flow is continuous, and delivered at a rate equivalent to up to 30 changes per hour.
Testing contactless airport technology
Etihad Airways is the first airline to trial an innovative airport technology that will help identify medically at-risk travellers and this has been undertaken with an Australian company, Elenium Automation. These contactless devices will monitor the temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate of any person using an airport touchpoint such as a check-in or information kiosk, a bag drop facility, a security point or immigration gate. This innovative technology, which is currently being tested at the Abu Dhabi airport, would screen every individual, including multiple people on the same booking.
Special flights across the globe
Etihad Airways is continuing to increase the number of special flights that are being operated from Abu Dhabi to several key destinations around the world, as it prepares for an eventual return to scheduled flights, subject to the lifting of current travel restrictions. We have deployed some of our 787-10 aircraft on cargo routes to supplement Etihad Cargo’s fleet of Boeing 777 freighters. These services not only give foreign nationals in the UAE the opportunity to travel out of the country, but also allow Etihad to carry essential belly-hold cargo such as perishables, pharmaceuticals, and medical supplies.
Providing meals to communities
Etihad Airport Services Catering (EAS Catering) has prepared and delivered over 15,000 meals a day to people self-isolating or under quarantine, frontline medical staff, humanitarian drives and for various businesses across the capital. EAS Catering, which due to its stringent food handling procedures has been selected to support initiatives, has increased microbiological swabbing of surfaces and hands to validate disinfection and hand washing efforts, which are direct indicators of virus viability. We have also partnered with Zomato to launch the Etihad Ramadan Box initiative to bring Iftar meals to homes across the UAE, including hospitals, essential workers, volunteers and communities in need.
Etihad Airways will continue to assess and adapt its procedures as the situation develops and will apply changes as and when it begins to resume a normal schedule of flights across its global network. We want to reassure our guests and trade partners that when this pandemic is over, Etihad will still be standing, our aircraft will still be in the skies and we look forward to, once again, bringing the world closer together.
Neerja Bhatia is the Vice President Indian Sub-continent at Etihad Airways