Emirates, Etihad prepare for summer travel surge despite warnings over the delta Covid variant

  • Dubai's Emirates airline expects more than 450,000 passengers to pass through Dubai International Airport in the coming days.
  • The summer travel surge comes amid fresh warnings over the delta variant of the coronavirus, which makes up more than one-third of infections in the United Arab Emirates.
  • Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways also extended its "verified to fly" travel initiative on Wednesday as travel demand intensifies.

Emirates airline is preparing for a summer travel surge over the next two weekends, despite growing concern over the delta coronavirus variant responsible for more than a third of infections across the United Arab Emirates.

Emirates is expecting more than 450,000 passengers to travel from, to and through Terminal 3 at Dubai International Airport (DXB) on over 1,600 flights in the coming days.

"The busiest days for the airline will be the next two weekends, 2-3 July and 9-10 July, although high passenger traffic is expected to start today, and will run through 12 July," Emirates said in a statement on Wednesday.

Close to 100,000 passengers will be arriving into Dubai on Emirates flights to start their summer vacations during that same period, the airline added. The seasonal travel surge comes as temperatures heat up in the UAE, where July can see the mercury soar to 40 degrees Celsius (104.0°F) and above.

Emirates, one of two national flag carriers in the UAE, plans to ramp up its flight capacity to 90% of pre-pandemic levels through July. Dubai Airports also reopened its Terminal 1 and Concourse D on June 24, after a 15-month closure due to the pandemic.

"All Emirates and DXB touchpoints are fully prepared to manage the increase in passenger traffic, with measures and protocols in place designed to enhance safety as customers move through Terminal 3," Emirates said.

The more than half million people expected to transit the UAE in the coming days is almost equivalent to the entire passenger traffic of London's Heathrow Airport in May this year, according to Heathrow Airport data.

Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways also moved to extend its "verified to fly" program on Wednesday. The program allows travelers to validate Covid-19 travel documents before arriving at the airport to improve passenger processing time.

"We appreciate these are challenging times for travellers and this has been a key initiative to simplify our guests' journeys as much as possible," John Wright, Etihad's vice president for global airports and network operations said in a statement.

Delta concerns

The expected summer travel surge comes despite new warnings about the delta variant of the virus, with evidence showing it is more transmissible, causes more hospitalizations and reduces the efficacy of vaccines. The delta variant, first identified in India, makes up 33.9% of cases in the UAE, according to the UAE Health Department.

The U.K. variant makes up 11.3% of cases, while the South African variant still has the largest infection rate at 39.2%. The UAE reported 1,747 new cases of the virus on Tuesday.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moved to reissue a Level 4 "do not travel" warning for the UAE on Monday, the highest possible category, citing concerns about the virus. The UAE is also still on the U.K.'s travel "red list," where it has been since late January.

Brits living in the UAE have expressed confusion and anger over the decision, particularly over the red list's hotel quarantine requirement.

Forty percent of the UAE's approximately 10 million population are now fully inoculated, according to Johns Hopkins University. The high local vaccination rate, new flight routes and easing restrictions on vacation hotspots have given locals and residents the confidence and desire to travel again, even amid warnings about dangerous coronavirus variants.

Emirates has vowed to maintain strict safety measures for those traveling. The airline was one of the first globally to pilot the IATA Travel Pass, which will be extended to all routes across its network in the coming weeks. Emirates has also partnered with Al Hosn, the UAE Covid tracing app, to support safe passenger movement.

"Emirates customers can travel with assurance that the airline and its partners have spared no effort to make the airport journey as safe and smooth as possible," the airline said.

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