Emirates to operate flight with all Covid-vaccinated crew and passengers

The initiative is aimed at highlighting the UAE's successful Covid-19 vaccination programme and also Emirates' progress in vaccinating its staff

Emirates to operate flight with all Covid-vaccinated crew and passengers
An Emirates A380 at the Dubai airport. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/airliners.net/Konstantin Von Wedelstaedt

Middle East airline behemoth Emirates, true to the major global role in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, has come up with another novel initiative. On April 10, the Dubai-based carrier would operate a special flight carrying only fully-vaccinated crew and passengers onboard. 

The flight EK2021 would depart from the Dubai International Airport at noon (local time), cruise over various UAE locations, and return to Dubai two-and-a-half hours later, according to a  press release by Emirates. The flight would be undertaken on the Airbus A380, which is the largest passenger aircraft in operation at present and the crown jewel of the Emirates fleet. 

The initiative is aimed at highlighting the UAE's successful Covid-19 vaccination programme and also Emirates' progress in vaccinating its staff, especially pilots and cabin crew. 

The UAE has been one of the leading countries to organise Covid vaccinations for its people. It was one of the first countries to start widespread Covid-19 vaccination. It has made four Covid vaccines available free of cost for its citizens and residents. The UAE has administered over eight million vaccines doses so far, thereby protecting over half of its population from the deadly coronavirus. 

Emirates has been associated with the UAE's vaccination drive since the very beginning. It carried the first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines to Dubai on December 22, 2020. The vaccines were brought in from Brussels for the Dubai Health Authority (DHA).

Emirates SkyCargo set up the world's largest dedicated airside storage and distribution hub for Covid-19 vaccines in Dubai with the capacity to store up to an estimated 10 million doses of the vaccine at the 2-8 degree Celsius temperature range at any one point in time. Dubai started a free vaccination campaign using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on December 23, 2020.     

Emirates SkyCargo carries Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine from Brussels to Dubai. Image courtesy: Emirates

Emirates has made Covid-19 vaccines readily available to its UAE-based workforce at multiple locations within the premises of the company. Over 35,000 Emirates employees have received their vaccine shots from one of the company's vaccination centres and over 85% of the airline's pilots and cabin crew have already been administered two doses of the vaccine. 

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) data, there have been 4,57,071 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 1,486 deaths in the UAE from January 3, 2020, to March 30, 2021. There was a big surge in January this year, with the cases increasing threefold, the Hindustan Times reported. The spike was attributed largely to the country's removal of certain Covid-19 restrictions with the exception of face masks in public and social distancing.

Also read: Emirates carries first batch of Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine to Dubai

The UAE's business and tourism hub Dubai also witnessed an influx of visitors in the peak winter season. According to medical professionals, the colder temperatures also made the virus stronger and the human body's immune responses weaker. However, the case-fatality rate still stands at a very low 0.3% in the UAE.

Moreover, airlines looked to shore up their businesses that had been severely dented by the pandemic. Perhaps the advent of vaccines made them a trifle complacent. The Abu-Dhabi-based Etihad announced that adults booking flights to Abu Dhabi or Dubai could take their children for free. "With every adult ticket booked before January 28, 2021, for travel until September 30, 2021, up to two children can travel (for) free. So two adults can bring four children, free..." Etihad said. 

There were efforts to reboot the tourism sector in the UAE, with a particular focus on Indian travellers. “With international destinations reopening for tourists, there has been a significant demand. We have witnessed an impressive growth rate of 25-30%. Destinations such as Dubai and Maldives have seen 100% growth in bookings in December compared to previous months," a SOTC spokesperson told Live Mint.

There was a surge in demand for airline seats in December, fuelled by demand from holiday travellers from India to Dubai and festivals and year-end travel by expatriate Indians from the Emirate to their home states. Air India Express was planning to increase the number of flights to Dubai and also the frequency of flights from some of the cities in India. Another Indian carrier SpiceJet looked to add more flights to Ras Al Khaimah.

Tickets for the special Emirates flight would be available to UAE citizens and residents who have completed the two-week period after the administration of the second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. All customers travelling on EK2021 would be offered free pre-departure rapid Covid-19 testing, the airline stated, adding that customers must observe social distancing and wear their masks throughout the journey.

Customers of EK2021 would be able to experience first-hand the latest measures introduced in the wake of the pandemic to help them enjoy a safe and smooth journey. These include the new biometric and contactless technology which Emirates has recently implemented at the check-in areas and boarding gates at the Dubai airport.

Also read: After Covid-19 lull, Asian destinations go flat out to woo Indian tourists

Emirates also became one of the first airlines in the world that trialled the International Air Transport Association (IATA) travel pass. The travel pass is seen as one of the keys to reopening borders safely. It is a mobile app/digital health pass that helps air passengers conveniently and securely manage their travel in line with government requirements for Covid-19 testing and vaccination. In other words, it helps flyers to ensure that pre-travel tests and vaccination records fulfil the requirements of their destinations.

Additionally, in March 2021, Airbus launched a travel companion app called Tripset. This application aggregates and provides flight and travel information to restore passengers' trust in their end-to-end journeys. Tripset allows for passengers to be informed of the latest and most relevant travel conditions, restrictions and health requirements in place, without having to consult a variety of sources. 

Passengers on EK2021 would also have the opportunity to fly on Emirates' newest A380 aircraft featuring brand-new premium economy seats and refurbished cabin interiors across all cabin classes.

The fares collected for this special flight would be donated to the Emirates Airline Foundation, which is the airline's non-profit charity organisation supporting projects around the world aimed at improving the quality of life for disadvantaged children.

(Cover image courtesy Wikimedia Commons/airliners.net/Konstantin Von Wedelstaedt)