As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on air travel this year, airlines worldwide are creating creative programs and ramping up safety measures to assure customers that flying is safe and still affordable. Most carriers are offering change-fee waivers, enhanced refund polices, complimentary wellness kits and access to free or discounted (and required) COVID tests.
MENA airlines are maintaining a focus on improved customer experience while also navigating the many travel restrictions that may apply to different countries. Since many MENA airlines are government or semi-government owned, as compared to Western carriers, companies are able to easily mesh their policies with official government standards.
Looking ahead to future vaccine distribution, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) this week announced plans to launch a mobile app that allow travelers to verify they have been vaccinated and test negative for the coronavirus.
Here’s a comparison among MENA and Western airlines in terms of customer-service and safety programs during the pandemic.
In terms of safety, Emirate Airlines is flying high. The UAE carrier was recently rated the safest airline in the world with regards to its COVID-safety roll out. The nation scored a 4.4 out of 5.0 on the Safe Travel Barometer, a program that ranks more than 260 airlines based on an independent audit of 26 health and safety parameters.
UAE distributes complimentary hygiene kits, protective barriers at check-in desks and immigration counters, personal protective equipment and new safety protocols for cabin crew and airport employees in customer facing roles.
Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways last month announced a free polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID test with the purchase of an outgoing ticket through Dec. 31 from Abu Dhabi International Airport (except for flights to China). Passengers may get tested between 48 and 96 hours before departure at collection facilities in the UAE. Etihad also launched additional deep cleaning and complimentary wellness kits on board.
Qatar Airways says it is one of “the only global airlines to have maintained a significant schedule throughout this COVID-19 pandemic … and is uniquely positioned to monitor trends in traffic flow and passenger bookings.” A company spokesperson said Qatar is also looking forward to reinstating more routes in a plan to operate to over 120 destinations by year-end.
Jordan resumes regular international flights in September and is requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of travel. Royal Jordanian is waiving reservation date change penalties if flights are cancelled due to airport closure. A 5-percent discount on the difference in fare will be applied
Air France KLM
Air France KLM is issuing 100-percent changeable and refundable tickets. Travelers can postpone a trip for any reason and receive a refundable voucher. The airline is also offering complimentary face masks and has enhanced cleaning measures in place.
German carrier Lufthansa is offering a unique customer-facing experience. Passengers concerned about being too close to others can reserve the adjacent seat for 35 Euros on continental routes. The seat is guaranteed to remain free. The carrier also issues disinfectant wipes.
Betting on a more radical customer-service measure, United is permanently eliminating change fees for most economy and premium cabin tickets for travel within the U.S.,or between the U.S. and Mexico or the Caribbean. For all other destinations, change fees are waived through Dec. 31. The airline also announced a corporate partnership with Clorox to “redefine our cleaning and disinfection procedures and working with the experts at Cleveland Clinic to advise us on policies that prioritize [passenger] well-being,” a United statement noted.
Delta Air Lines
Delta recently created an interactive map that allows travelers to easily discover travel restrictions and local health information. The tool empowers travelers to search for destination and find vital travel updates. Available via the Delta website or the Fly Delta app, the map includes data about quarantine and testing requirements, required travel forms, local health information, local COVID-19 protocol and other resource links.
American Airlines, British Airways and oneworld® recently partnered to offer an optional coronavirus testing trial on select flights from cities in the United States to London Heathrow. The company also eliminated change fees.
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