Emirates spreads wings in hardest times

December 04, 2020 | 12:14
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As airlines have been among the hardest-hit businesses during the global health crisis, international carrier Emirates had to find immediate solutions to not only cope with the reduction of revenues for its passenger services but also position itself as a reliable partner. Mohammed Alwahedi, Emirates’ country manager in Vietnam, described to Etienne Mahler the airlines’ approach during these difficult times as well as its strategies in the next year and beyond.
emirates spreads wings in hardest times
Mohammed Alwahedi, country manager in Vietnam, Emirates

During the pandemic, Emirates SkyCargo services have been helping to mitigate the damage to international trade. Could you give us some examples of countries and sectors that Emirates has been supporting?

We started with 35 destinations at the beginning of the pandemic. We realised very quickly that the demand for cargo services was very high. So now, we have more than 135 destinations and increased the frequency in different destinations to meet demand. Moreover, we even fly to new routes amid the pandemic as we saw a surge in demand around the globe and wanted to connect the communities and support economies.

Looking at Vietnam, we had a massive increase in our operations here during COVID-19. Not so much with passengers, since travel restrictions are still in place, but with cargo. Before the pandemic, we used to have seven international flights for both passengers and cargo.

But during COVID-19 we have increased that to seven passenger flights plus two dedicated cargo flights (freighters). Especially in Hanoi, we witnessed a significant increase as the required cargo volume over there grew. At the moment, we have around 15 to 23 flights from and to Hanoi per week. Meanwhile, with Ho Chi Minh City we operate seven passenger and two cargo flights.

As many travellers were suddenly stranded amid the pandemic, Emirates has been participating in the repatriation of stranded travellers and citizens. Could you describe the cooperation with embassies and consulates?

Our job is to connect the world and help people to travel from point A to B easily, with no issues. What we did during the start of the pandemic was to approach embassies and provided assistance if they needed support to repatriate their citizens. We would arrange special flights to bring their citizens home, who were stranded abroad. We would of course work very closely with the embassies to ensure their requirements were fully met.

I got in touch with several embassies here and have been facilitating the process of repatriations across the country. Worldwide and across our network, we had more than 200 repatriation flights to different countries during the period from April to June.

emirates spreads wings in hardest times
Emirates has staged more than 200 repatriation flights from April to June

Since July, Emirates has restored its routes from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi to Dubai. How much demand do you see in the next few months?

Vietnam is an important gateway for us. Before COVID-19, business with the country was booming, and we witnessed an uptick in demand to Ho Chi Minh City in January before the Lunar New Year. We saw a huge demand from Europe and the US to Vietnam, as the latter serves as an important gateway to the region.

However, from March 25, we suspended our operations due to the pandemic. After a few months, we saw that demand came back and resumed some of our operations to Vietnam in July.

There was good demand during that time because there were some stranded visitors in Vietnam. So, we helped to transport them back to their countries of residence. At the moment, there are many restrictions who can enter Vietnam so we can only bring in those who hold special approvals from the government. Only highly-skilled experts and diplomats can enter Vietnam at the moment so we have been helping corporates and embassies to bring their employees to Vietnam.

Travelling has been changed since the pandemic broke out. Which measures has Emirates taken to not only protect its travellers but also make them feel secure and comfortable?

We have implemented comprehensive health and safety measures as we deeply care about the safety of our passengers and crew. As such, we provide complimentary hygiene kits to our passengers, which include gloves, facemasks, hand sanitiser, and tissues.

Moreover, our cabin crew use personal protective equipment and make sure that they keep the required distance among themselves and passengers to minimise interaction and thus infection risks. Apart from that, we use high-performance HEPA air filters, which are proven to remove around 99.97 per cent of germs and viruses, to keep the cabin air free of impurities

As customer satisfaction and their safety is our priority, we have also introduced dedicated COVID-19 cover from July, which covers up to €150,000 ($180,000) in medical costs associated with COVID-19 in addition to any quarantine costs. This cover for COVID-19 related medical expenses and quarantine costs is offered by Emirates free of cost to its customers regardless of class of travel or destination and is a game-changer for the industry during this pandemic as it brings back confidence for travellers to travel if they would like to, knowing that they can be covered in the event they do become infected while away from home. I would like to add that other airlines followed suit with similar cover one they saw the industry’s reaction to the initiative.

Apart from that, we recently launched a multi-risk insurance cover from December, which will cover flight and emergency cancellations that passengers may face, including denied boarding at the airport and the lack of required PCR tests as well as other 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. We are happy to compensate them, based on the case, of course, as there are certain requirements.

emirates spreads wings in hardest times
Emirates has been safeguarding the health of passengers and crew members alike

The demand for urgently needed medical supplies surged during the pandemic. How has Emirates been supporting countries and territories and how significant were these operations?

Throughout the years, we have been carrying many fresh and perishable goods, including medical supplies and technological items to our customer, so it was not something new for us. However, during the pandemic, we put more effort into these operations to carry all kind of perishable goods from and to Vietnam, including medical supplies, gloves, facemasks, and food.

We have been sending medical supplies and other perishable goods to all our customers in all countries of our network. Surprisingly for us, during the lockdown, the trade from and to Vietnam started to boom. We saw a surge in exports here, with lots of demand from overseas.

For example, due to the lockdown, many students had to work from home. As a result, there was a huge increase in the demand for laptops and other electronics items in cities like Hanoi. So, we have been transporting lots of electronics equipment in response to the surge in demand for these items that support studying and working from home.

Some of Emirates’ support measures during the pandemic include free global coverage for COVID-19-related medical and quarantine costs as well as refunds. Could you describe how much of the costs and refunds are covered?

As COVID-19 hit so badly, most businesses wanted to save their capital. Our senior management and our chairman, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, made clear that this was the time to take care of our customers as those companies chose Emirates for a reason. As a well-known company, we wanted to prove to them that they can rely on us during these difficult times.

Over the seven months, starting from April, Emirates received around 1.7 million refund requests, and the airline refunded nearly $6.3 billion to the customers. So, even though it was a huge amount to return to customers, we knew we needed to do the right thing and preserve the trust that our customers by honouring refunds.

Apart from these refunds, we provided several other options to our customers, like travel vouchers for up to two years, free cancellations, and holding on to tickets for future travel.

emirates spreads wings in hardest times
An Emirates plane taking medical cargo to where it is needed

Emirates pursues a responsible consumption and emissions policy. Could you describe which measures are currently taken to reduce carbon emissions and waste like single-use plastic products? And if so, do any of these measures have consequences on the ticket prices for travellers?

At Emirates, our long-term strategy to reduce carbon emissions as we deeply care about the environment. Therefore, we have one of the youngest fleets in the world with engines and systems designed to consume less fuel and reduce emissions.

In addition, as part of our mission to reduce carbon emissions, we have a programme that aims to further reduce fuel consumption and save around 71,000 tonnes of fuel per year, equivalent to a reduction of 224,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Apart from that, we have reducedthe use of single-use plastics onboard. Paper straws have been introduced, plastic swizzle sticks replaced with wooden alternatives, and paper bags used in place of plastic for inflight retail purchases.

These and many more activities are part of our endeavour of becoming eco-friendlier as it is a very important matter around the world that we need to care about.

Emirates efforts to protect and comfort its customers

- Emirates distributes complimentary hygiene kits containing masks, gloves, hand sanitiser, and antibacterial wipes to all customers.

- Passengers arriving in Dubai are required to present a negative PCR test before they can board, and a second upon arrival in Dubai. It is also mandatory to wear masks, except for very young passengers. All crew personnel wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and services are modified to minimise contact and risk of spread.

- Cabin air flows are directed downwards, and cabin air is exchanged entirely every 2-3 minutes. All flights over one-and-a-half hours will have a cabin service assistant who will ensure the toilets are cleaned every 45 minutes.

- Emirates’ re-introduced chauffeur drive services follow the safety regulations in each destination. To keep a safe distance between driver and passengers, the can only sit in the back and the number of people in the car is limited. Cars are also completely cleaned and disinfected after every trip, including buckles, handles, buttons, switches, and blinds.

- Emirates was the first airline offering customers COVID-19 insurance, covering medical expenses of up to €150,000 ($180,000) and quarantine costs of €100 ($120) per day for 14 days, should they be diagnosed with COVID-19 during their journey. This coverage for COVID-19-related medical expenses and quarantine costs is offered by Emirates free of cost to its customers regardless of class of travel or destination, immediately effective for those flying until December 31 and valid for 31 days from the moment they fly, even after arriving at their Emirates destination. Customers do not need to register or fill in any forms before they travel.

- In addition, all Emirates customers can profit from the new multi-risk travel insurance, offered on all tickets purchased on or from December 1, at no cost. In addition to COVID-19 medical coverage, this offer also has provisions for personal accidents during travel, winter sports, loss of personal belongings, and trip disruptions.

Emirates’ environmental stewardship

- Emirates’ environmental strategy focuses on three areas: reducing emissions, consuming responsibly, and preserving wildlife and habitats.

- Apart from operating modern and fuel-efficient aircraft as an effort to reducing its environmental impact, Emirates has been working on various long-term sustainability initiatives. In addition to plastic items that will be replaced with eco-friendly alternatives by the end of the year, from August, plastic bags used for inflight purchases have been replaced with paper ones. These initiatives remove an estimated 81.7 million single-use plastic items from landfill each year.

- As part of its long-term vision and fuelled by a cabin crew member’s suggestion, the airline has been segregating large plastic bottles on board to be recycled in Dubai and the rest of the world. This diverts an estimated 3 tonnes or about 150,000 plastic bottles from landfill in Dubai each month.

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