How Etihad and Emirates spared the UAE summer travel chaos

Long-term planning and investment by the carriers mean the country will not be seeing the chaotic scenes that are unfolding at European airports

Sushmita Kotian, Etihad cabin crew. Victor Besa / The National
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Users of Etihad's website currently see a banner asking travellers to arrive at Abu Dhabi International airport earlier between June 29 to July 31, due to the airline "expecting to welcome a large number of guests". It is a normal request for an airline to make during the summer months, and a welcome sign that demand for air travel is picking up after the pandemic.

Regrettably, many airports around the world are issuing far more dramatic warnings to travellers this season. A lack of planning after the pandemic, particularly the inability to hire and re-hire staff, is causing logjams in Europe. Cancellations represent 11 per cent of British Airways's schedule between May and October. The flagship German carrier Lufthansa has cancelled nearly 3,000 flights. Ireland has even put its army on standby to help with security at Dublin Airport, as one of the country's biggest airlines, Aer Lingus, cancelled a raft of flights last Sunday and Wednesday.

The UAE's airlines have avoided difficulty on this scale by preparing in advance and appreciating the strategic and reputational importance of long-term investment, particularly in airport infrastructure and national carriers. Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways, for example, began a major push to recruit staff as far back as October 2021.

This week, The National saw how it is carrying out this rapid wave of training, when it filmed inside an advanced learning centre in Abu Dhabi, as applicants undertook a six-week programme to prepare them for working on flights. The same facility is also offering refresher sessions to hundreds of rehired pilots, after they were either furloughed or let go during the pandemic.

Capt Jihad Matta, head of crew recruitment, performance and support at Etihad Airways, said of the drive: "We were more optimistic in seeing a recovery and we wanted to make sure that we didn't lose any chances of the recovery coming and us not being ready."

In Dubai, Emirates airline is planning to fly 550,000 passengers out of the UAE in June and July. It will be operating at almost 80 per cent pre-pandemic capacity. In preparation for the general surge expected at Dubai International Airport this season, its second runway was reopened last week after upgrades that started in May.

Work across the country's aviation sector has been intense, but effective planning has put it in a far better position than other hubs. Holidays are on track, chaos is being averted and, perhaps most importantly of all, the UAE is showing the world that it deserves its reputation as a leader in aviation. Significant investment on the part of both companies and government might seem costly in the short-term, but it paves the way for profit and major dividends, reaped from the global desire to travel as the worst of the pandemic subsides. It is this co-operation that helps UAE carriers thrive.

Customers deserve good service, and citizens, even those who are not travelling this summer, deserve to feel proud of their flagship national airlines, some of the most symbolic soft-power assets a country can have. Global travel will eventually get back to normal. The countries that lead the way will find themselves on the forefront of one of the most important and rapid industry comebacks of all time, with great symbolic and economic benefits to match.

Published: July 01, 2022, 3:00 AM