Etihad Airways has become the first international airline to address the travel trade in India directly via a webinar. The airline, along with Abu Dhabi Tourism, discussed its readiness as well as new services for passengers – both visitors as well as transit. A set of stringent guidelines for the safety of all has also been put in place.
In an hour-long webinar titled ‘Flying Through Covid-19’ under the TRAVTALK Agent Connect series, Etihad Airways and Abu Dhabi Tourism explained to the travel agents joining in about the readiness of both the airline as well as the destination in receiving not just visitors but also transit passengers. Etihad Airways is the first international airline in India that has come forward to speak to the trade directly at a public forum.
Duncan Bureau, Senior VP, Global Sales & Distribution, Etihad Aviation Group, said, “We have been touched by the support we have received from our trade partners in India in these difficult times. We have therefore introduced a range of waivers to help ease the burden of travel and provide maximum flexibility. We want our trade partners to book with us with full confidence.”
Explaining this further, Bureau added that the airline offers flexible travel for the future. Unlimited date changes are permitted on all new flights but before August 31. If the guest is unable to travel, they will receive Etihad credit that extends tremendous flexibility and will have life beyond the next 12 months. If the guest is to travel before November 30, they can rebook their flight for free or use the credit for their next trip. Tickets should have been issued before August 31. In terms of flexibility with rebooking, guests can change their date flight for free and rebook before November 30. This will apply to any destination in its network.
Also part of the panel were Neerja Bhatia, Vice President (Indian Sub-continent), Etihad Airways, and Saeed Al Saeed, Destination Marketing Director, Department of Culture & Tourism (DCT), Abu Dhabi. The webinar saw more than 1,700 participants signing in. Attendees were also given prizes based on their questions. There was also a lucky draw for those who watched the entire webinar. The winner receives two air tickets plus a three-night stay in Abu Dhabi courtesy DCT. The second lucky draw winner receives a goodie bag.
Sharing details about the health safety and hygiene protocols put in place, Bhatia said, “On that front, Etihad has put together an entire health and hygiene proposition into a wellness programme called ‘Your Wellness, Our Priority’. This takes care of everything – whether it is at Abu Dhabi airport or on board the flight. Under this, we have introduced an industry-first initiative called ‘Etihad Wellness Ambassadors’. They have undergone specialised training in Abu Dhabi and are present at every touchpoint to help passengers. Flyers can even email their queries once their booking is done.”
Etihad has also recently opened a webchat on its website as well as Etihad Hub which will resolve all queries. Wellness Ambassadors will be present on every aircraft to look after passengers as well as across the Abu Dhabi airport. Bhatia continues, “We have recently announced our expanded network for July and August. This takes us close to 58 destinations across the globe wherein we will be connecting East and the West via our home Abu Dhabi, which is open for transit.” She adds that since India is a very important market for the airline – it is by far one of the largest markets for Etihad outside its home market today – the airline has been repatriating Indians who want to return to India. “We are doing this even to cities that we don’t even have a scheduled service to such as Bhubaneswar, Lucknow, Kannur and Gaya,” Bhatia says.
A touchless environment
Speaking about creating a touchless environment for the passengers, Bureau says, “We are blessed with the kind of partnership we have, whether it is Abu Dhabi Tourism or the Abu Dhabi government. There is a lot of collaboration going on in terms of creating a safe environment for everyone. For instance, the Abu Dhabi airport has created a touchless environment and some of our technology partners have come up with a way of using cameras as a screening mechanism to determine people’s temperature and heart rate. So we are creating a very fast process through the airport which greatly improves customer experience. It is this same for inbound as it is for outbound traffic.”
From an on-board experience, one of the things that is aligned with DCT is its ‘Go Safe’ certificate which ties very nicely with the Etihad Wellness programme. “Even if you look at HEPA filters on board the aircraft, they filter the air every three minutes, making it cleaner than the air in any building by cleaning 99.9 per cent of any allergen or viruses,” he adds.
Aligning with consumer behaviour
Speaking about safety on ground, Saeed Al Saeed says, “One of the main things that we did over the past few months is work on a certification programme to get hotels and attractions certified as per specific guidelines that we have put in place along with our Department of Health. It is called the ‘Go Safe’ certificate and is one of the most stringent guideline policies that I’ve seen. This is to ensure that the risks of this pandemic are mitigated to the nth degree.”
He adds, “We are not waiting for a vaccine. We are dealing with what we are facing as we speak. Consumer behaviours have already shifted. There are certain things we will have to adapt to as part of our daily lives now whether it is wearing masks or scanning through heat detection units at malls and hotels. These are things we need to adapt to. Even in terms of testing, all our front-facing staff is tested every two weeks. We do not open any attractions unless these systems are in place. We have conducted almost 10,000 tests for 2,000 people within an 11 km radius on Yas Island called Covid-free Safe Zone. So we are taking extreme measures and investing a ton of money for it.”
An evidence of this investment is the free-of-cost treatment that Abu Dhabi offers its visitors. “Every single person that tests positive for COVID-19 on UAE soil will be taken care of from A to Z by us. They have been put up four- and five-star hotels and provided breakfast, lunch and dinner, and if they need to be hospitalised for any symptom they are being taken care of at our hospitals, all free of charge. I don’t know how sustainable that is to keep going in the absence of any vaccine. But that’s where we are at as we speak. If by the off-chance you are unlucky enough to test positive for the virus, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else other than Abu Dhabi,” Al Saeed assures.
Addressing the question on visa policy, he says, “The visa policy remains the same for now. With regards to weddings, at this point of time we follow the mandate set by the government and there will be a limit to the number of people that can gather. We’re playing it by ear. But for now, there is a restriction on the number of people that can attend any kind of gathering.”
Reassurance to passengers
Speaking about offering ancillary services, Bureau says, “All airlines will look to monetise anything that is deemed important by the customer and is separate from the seat. We will be looking at travel insurance which is something we are working with our insurance partners on to make sure that our guests are covered. Also in terms of space, real estate on board an aircraft is very valuable. So, seats with extra space or seats that are empty besides people – they would be willing to pay for that.”
Codeshare with Air Arabia Abu Dhabi
Etihad has a new asset in Air Arabia Abu Dhabi. The airline will place its ‘EY’ code on to Air Arabia Abu Dhabi’s inaugural services to the Egyptian cities of Alexandria and Sohag effective July 9. Abu Dhabi’s first low-cost airline is based on an agreement between Etihad Airways and Air Arabia and will also operate into India in time.
Special services to 6 Indian cities
Following the partial lifting of international flight restrictions by UAE and Indian authorities on travel for eligible individuals to and from Abu Dhabi to India, Etihad Airways will resume a limited number of special flights to six Indian gateways from Abu Dhabi: Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kochi and Mumbai.