At a moment the trade union for the airline industry, International Air Transport Association (IATA), has issued a dire prediction laying out that it doesn't expect air travel to recover to pre-pandemic levels until at least after 2024, one major foreign carrier is rolling out with an unexpected, deeply unorthodox policy to gem up business and attention.
Emirates, the Dubai-based state-owned airline and flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates, is now offering passengers a 'safety net' of sorts, telling customers that if they catch coronavirus while traveling on their flights, the airline will cover all costs related to medical treatment, hotel quarantine, and even their funeral in the event of death.
The desperate measure — and no doubt costly in terms of the airline's insurance premiums — comes as Emirates says it expects to cut as many as 9,000 jobs in the coming weeks.
Billing itself as "the first airline in the world to offer free, global cover for COVID-19 related costs," it announced the policy on its website late last week:
Emirates customers can travel with confidence, as the airline will cover medical expenses of up to EUR 150,000 [$175,000] and quarantine costs of EUR 100 per day for 14 days, should they be diagnosed with COVID-19 during their travel, while they are away from home.
Emirates Group Chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum described that the measure can give travelers some assurances during extremely unpredictable times, hopefully getting them back to flying long distance routes.
"We know people are yearning to fly as borders around the world gradually re-open, but they are seeking flexibility and assurances should something unforeseen happen during their travel," he said.
The airline said the policy will remain in effect through the end of October, and is valid for up to a month from the beginning of a passenger's journey. Though it's only been in effect for a few days at this point, it's unclear if anyone has made a claim yet through the "free" COVID-19 insurance policy.
The New York Post notes that the available medical coverage for passengers who become hospitalized for the virus is significant: "Even sick passengers who don’t pass away after traveling with the airline can receive up to $176,000 in expenses as well as $118 per day to cover quarantine accommodations for up to two weeks," according to the Post report.
And given the resulting positive media coverage the Emirates is getting from the unusual initiative, it's likely other international carriers will follow suit, though most may not want to take the hit insurance-wise.