Q. How has COVID-19 changed air travel?
A. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought significant challenges to the global travel industry and as the world adjusts to the next phase of the pandemic, Emirates is optimistic that this will bring some stability for travel demand to return and economies to begin recovering.
For us, we are committed to serving our customers and we hope to resume our full complement of services and destinations as quickly and safely as the situation allows. We will continue to work closely with international and local authorities to responsibly and gradually resume passenger operations to meet travel demand.
Emirates is leading the way in boosting confidence for international travel. Our top priority remains the health and safety of our customers, crew and the communities we serve. We have implemented a comprehensive set of measures at every step of the customer journey to ensure the safety of our customers and employees on the ground and in the air, including the distribution of complimentary hygiene kits containing masks, gloves, hand sanitiser and antibacterial wipes to all customers.
We know people are yearning to fly, and we are proud to lead the way in boosting confidence for international travel. Emirates was the first airline to offer its passengers free, global cover for COVID-19 medical expenses and quarantine costs, when they fly to any destination, in any class of travel. The airline covers medical expenses of up to 150,000 euro and quarantine costs of 100 euro per day for 14 days, should customers be diagnosed with COVID-19 during their travel, while they are away from home. We also revised our booking policies to provide customers with more flexibility and confidence while planning their travels.
Q. When do you expect the airline industry to go back to normalcy?
A. It is difficult to predict when the industry will return to pre-pandemic levels, but most forecasts estimate it to be in 2022 or 2023. For now, Emirates remains focused on gradually and safely restoring our network, keeping the safety and wellbeing of our customers, crew and communities as our top priority.
Q. How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Emirates’ business?
A. Emirates was performing strongly up until end of February 2020, when the pandemic situation rapidly escalated leading to wide-spread travel restrictions and the suspension of passenger flights. That effects of the pandemic have hit us hard, however we are confident in our business model and Emirates will continue to lead the aviation industry with superior products, service, comfort and network.
Our network continues to expand and we currently serve 99 destinations, across six continents. As more airports and cities reopen – we remain focused on fully restoring our network, and we’re working hard to rebuild it to pre-pandemic levels in the coming months.
Q. Have you made any changes in your business model in wake of the pandemic?
A. Our brand strategy has always been built on being innovative and placing customers at the heart of everything we do. We are confident in our business model and with Dubai as our hub, our proposition is as strong as ever. Dubai was one of the world's first cities to obtain the ‘Safe Travels’ stamp from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) – which endorses Dubai’s comprehensive and effective measures to ensure guest health and safety.
Customers can currently travel to more than 95 destinations via Dubai within the airline’s growing network. We will continue to innovate and invest in our products and services to provide customers with a safe, and unmatched travel experience in the air and on-ground.
We also recently introduced Emirates Gateway, available via the recently launched Emirates Portal (a one-stop shop for travel industry partners to quickly and securely access the full range of information on Emirates’ latest products, services and policies) - offering our trade partners the ability to enhance travellers’ journeys with customised products and services.
The global pandemic also led us to innovate in the way we operate cargo - such as operating cargo-only flights on passenger aircraft, in addition to dedicated freighters and belly-hold cargo on passenger flights. We also modified 10 Boeing 777-300ER aircraft to carry more cargo. In India, Emirates SkyCargo operated scheduled freighter services and several chartered flights to nine cities, to ensure an adequate flow of vital commodities such as pharmaceutical products and perishables.
We remain committed to serving our customers and we hope to resume our full complement of services and destinations as quickly and safely as the situation allows.
Q. Are operations in Pakistan back to normal? What is the current flight frequency?
A. Emirates offers passenger services to/from five cities in Pakistan. The airline currently operates 21 weekly flights to Karachi; 10 weekly flights to Islamabad; 7 weekly flights to Sialkot; 10 weekly flights to Lahore; and 5 weekly flights to Peshawar.
Pakistani customers can enjoy enhanced connectivity and greater access to our growing network of more than 95 destinations worldwide via Dubai.
Q. What are the prevailing challenges of operations for Emirates in Pakistan?
A. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the aviation industry are unprecedented. However as the world adjusts to the next phase of the pandemic and global economies slowly recover, we are confident travel demand will return. For now, we will continue safely expanding our network, providing Pakistani customers with a safe and seamless travel experience to Dubai and beyond.
Q. With many foreign airlines operating in a limited capacity currently in Pakistan, does Emirates plan on increasing their operations here?
A. We currently serve five cities in Pakistan, offering customers 53 weekly flights to/from the country and beyond – offering safe and convenient connections to destinations across Europe, Middle East, and the Americas via Dubai. The airline currently operates 21 weekly flights to Karachi; 10 weekly flights to Islamabad; 7 weekly flights to Sialkot; 10 weekly flights to Lahore; and 5 weekly flights to Peshawar.
We look forward to continue working closely with our partners, airport authorities and stakeholders and will make a formal announcement should anything develop in this regard.
Q. What potential do you see in passenger and cargo markets from Pakistan? And what's your specific plan to tap on any potential?
A. Pakistan is a very important market for us and we are very pleased to be marking 35 years of operations to the country this year. We currently operate 53 weekly flights to Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, and Sialkot – connecting Pakistani customers to more than 95 destinations via Dubai. Emirates SkyCargo also operates two weekly freighter flights to/from Lahore – carrying essential items and maintaining vital trade links.
We remain committed to Pakistan and look forward to continue working closely with our industry partners to provide the best possible services to our customers.
Q. How have Emirates’ cargo operations been in Pakistan during this pandemic?
A. Emirates rapidly adapted its operations and expanded its cargo network to meet the needs of the changing business. From just over 35 destinations at the end of March, Emirates SkyCargo quickly expanded its network to over 120 scheduled cargo destinations across the world by July. From transporting urgently needed medical supplies and food, to materials required for manufacturing and other industries from origin to destination, Emirates SkyCargo continues to help reconnect cities to international trade lanes as manufacturing and other economic activities recommence.
In Pakistan, Emirates SkyCargo currently offers cargo capacity on 53 weekly flights including passenger services from Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar and Sialkot. We also operate 2 weekly freighter flights from Lahore. Despite the operational challenges faced by the COVID-19 pandemic, Emirates SkyCargo continued its unwavering commitment to Pakistan by maintaining a steady flow of essential commodities into the country, including food and medical supplies.
The main exports from Pakistan mainly include meat, fish, vegetables, fabric, courier and sanitisers. These connect to Emirates SkyCargo’s network and find ready markets in London, Dubai, Jeddah, Riyadh, Bahrain and Muscat. The main imports into Pakistan include essential medical supplies such as pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, face masks, and electronics.
This season, Emirates SkyCargo also transported over 10 million mangoes from Pakistan to destinations around the world.
Q. Emirates will mark its 35 years of operations in Pakistan this month. How has the journey been and what are you future plans in the country?
A. Emirates and Pakistan share a special relationship, which goes back 35 years when its first ever flight from Dubai landed in Karachi on 25th October 1985. Since then, this historic partnership has continued blossoming with Emirates currently offering services to five Pakistani cities including Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar and Sialkot.
Following the launch of its operations in 1985 in Karachi, Emirates began service to Peshawar in 1998. In 1999, Emirates became a part of Islamabad and Lahore’s skies before the commencement of its Sialkot service in 2013. Emirates SkyCargo continues to also play a vital role in maintaining trade links and carrying essential items and commodities to/from the country.
We are very pleased to mark a major milestone in Pakistan and look forward to exploring opportunities to grow in the country.
The writer is a freelance contributor