Etihad Airways is one of only a handful of international airlines to continue operating flights to mainland China amidst the Coronavirus outbreak that has effectively cut off the country from much of the world. But with 17 countries now imposing entry restrictions on anyone who has been to China, that decision isn’t without significant operational difficulties.
Some countries that have imposed these restrictions (against the advice of the World Health Organisation) have made exemptions for flight crew but other’s have simply issued blanket bans. So, cabin crew and pilots could operate a flight to China and then the United States several days later under an exemption made available by the U.S. authorities but no such exemption exists for the likes of Singapore.
These varying rules could very quickly make rostering the right crew for different flights a logistical nightmare. For larger airlines with thousands of cabin crew this isn’t so much an issue but carriers on the scale of Etihad, for example, might soon encounter problems.
In fact, Qatar Airways, Qantas and Air New Zealand all cited crew rostering issues in their decisions to temporarily terminate flights to mainland China.
But Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways doesn’t have that option. The government of the UAE, while suspending services to most of mainland China, has decided to maintain an “air lifeline” to Beijing to show its “support and solidarity” for China and the Chinese people.
A government spokesperson said the decision to continue operating flights would allow more medical supplies to be sent to the country in its fight against the Coronavirus outbreak.
So how will Etihad get around the fairly obvious rostering issues that have been such a problem for other airlines? Well, according to an internal memo, airline bosses are hoping cabin crew will volunteer to exclusively operate fights to Beijing and are offering incentives for the job.
While acknowledging the “significant roster disruption imposed on crew who have travelled to mainland China,” the memo offers volunteer crew double the normal hourly duty pay to operate Beijing flights. In addition, volunteers would also receive:
- Meal allowances up to the value of CNY300
- A shorter layover with just 15-hours spent in the crew hotel
- Guaranteed three-day rotations with two days off in Abu Dhabi between flights
According to the memo, up to 70 crew will be required for this new arrangement and company officials are hoping Chinese nationals will put themselves forward to “support China during this time.”
Etihad is already allowing crew to wear face masks on flights to mainland China an is barring staff from leaving the crew hotel during their stay in Beijing.
Other international airlines have recently extended cancellations to mainland China, while American Airlines and United have even axed their flights to Hong Kong as demand for travel to the region plummets.
Finding itself increasingly isolated, Beijing has lashed out at countries who have imposed entry restrictions. On Friday, President Trump said in a Tweet that he had spoken to President Xi Jinping of China.
“Just had a long and very good conversation by phone with President Xi of China. He is strong, sharp and powerfully focused on leading the counterattack on the Coronavirus. He feels they are doing very well, even building hospitals in a matter of only days,” Trump Tweeted.
“Nothing is easy, but he will be successful, especially as the weather starts to warm & the virus hopefully becomes weaker and then gone. Great discipline is taking place in China, as President Xi strongly leads what will be a very successful operation. We are working closely with China to help!”
Tip of the hat to One Mile at a Time
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.