Etihad Airways, the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), confirmed late on Friday night that it will continue operating flights to mainland China amid a novel Coronavirus outbreak that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has now declared a global health emergency. The confirmation from Etihad came just a few hours before Chinese authorities announced the number of deaths from the virus had leapt by 46 to 259.
There have now been more than 11,000 confirmed cases of the new illness and more than 100 cases have been detected in 22 different countries.
On Wednesday, the UAE’s Ministry of Health and Prevention revealed it had diagnosed its first case of the coronavirus in a family of four Chinese nationals who had travelled from Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak. Emirati authorities did not state how the family arrived in the UAE but neither Etihad or Emirates fly to Hubei province.
A spokesperson for Etihad said they had already put in place “extensive measures” to protect both passengers and crew on flights to mainland China but remained ready to “take more actions based on informed advice” should the need arise. Both Etihad and Emirates have told their crew and pilots to remain confined to their hotel rooms during layovers in China and will be providing personal protective equipment such as face masks, gloves and antibacterial hand gel.
Etihad said its flights to Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai would continue operating as normal, although a connecting service between Beijing and Nagoya had been suspended due to a significant drop in demand.
On Sunday, Australian flag carrier Qantas finally relented and followed the lead of European airlines such as British Airways and Lufthansa in announcing a suspension of mainland China services. However, Qantas said it would continue to operate its flights between Sydney and Beijing and Sydney up until 9 February because of “high passenger numbers” on these services.
Qantas cited new travel restrictions imposed by the United States and Singapore as the main reason for suspending its mainland China flights, saying the restrictions “pose significant logistical challenges for rostering crew”. Air New Zealand also announced Saturday it would be temporarily suspending its Auckland/Shanghai service from February 9 to March 29.
On Friday, American Airlines announced it too would suspend mainland China flights after the U.S. State Department took the drastic decision to issue a Level Four: Do Not Travel notice for the country. It’s the highest available travel warning and puts China at the same level of risk as Iraq and Afghanistan.
American faced the prospect of being sued by its own pilots after first failing to react to the warning. Both United and Delta Air Lines have also cancelled their flights to China following the updated travel advisory.
Within the region, flight attendants at Cathay Pacific are calling on airline executives to do more to protect them despite a drastic reduction in flights to the mainland and the decision not to allow any crew to layover in the country. Cathay said it had modified its service routine on flights to the mainland in an attempt to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus.
Trolley services in all cabins have been suspended, Duty Free sales are forbidden, hot towels have been banned and amenities such as pillows, blankets and magazines won’t even be loaded on Chinese flights.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.