Cabin crew at Etihad Airways are getting their first taste of freedom after being confined inside for over five weeks following a decision by the Abu Dhabi-based airline to enforce a strict lockdown which went so far as to ban crew from visiting supermarkets to pick up essential supplies. But as lockdown measures are increasingly eased across Abu Dhabi, cabin crew have finally been allowed to go outside.
Travel is still heavily restricted but the relaxlation in rules may be an acknowledgement that Etihad won’t be able to resume normal scheduled flights for some time yet. Initially, Etihad had hoped to restart services by May 1 and was enforcing a lockdown to protect its crew from getting COVID-19.
“We understand that these are extreme measures,” the airline admitted in a leaked memo but insisted the lockdown was necessary because “colleagues in the crew community have not abided by the laws set by the UAE government.” That had been prompted by a party that broke social distancing rules.
Cabin crew were banned from going outside for any reason except to visit an approved healthcare centre. The restrictions even included a ban on going to the supermarket – instead, crew were asked to rely on contact-free delivery and meals provided by Etihad’s own catering division.
“In order to have the maximum number of crew fit for flying duties we must take measures to prevent transmission from all potential sources,” the memo continued, explaining that the extreme measures would “guarantee the safety of our crew until the flight restrictions are lifted”.
At the time, that would have meant a four-week full lockdown but Etihad has since twice pushed back a planned restart of regularly scheduled flights. First, to the start of June and now mid-June at the earliest.
Before Etihad can restart flights, the authorities will need to lift a travel ban on foreign passengers – something that officials haven’t indicated will happen anytime soon. Emirates has suggested it won’t resume some flights until July.
Cabin crew are now being allowed out for short periods but they won’t be able to enjoy the same freedoms as many people in the emirate. The UAE has slowly been easing lockdown restrictions, including the reopening of malls, salons and restaurants.
Mosques and cinemas, however, remain closed and residents are being urged to comply with social distancing guidelines.
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.