Emirates cuts flights, asks staff to take leave over virus

Emirates Airlines asks staff to consider taking paid and unpaid leave as company seeks to manage a "measurable slowdown" in its business due to the spread of coronavirus.

DUBAI - Major international airline Emirates is asking staff to take unpaid leave for up to a month at a time due to the rapidly spreading coronavirus that has led to flight cancellations around the world.

Emirates operates out of Dubai, the world’s busiest airport for international transit. The airline has canceled flights to all cities in China except Beijing. The virus began in China and has infected tens of thousands there.

Emirates has also suspended all flights to Bahrain and Iran, where the virus has infected 2,336 people and killed 77, according to government figures released on Tuesday.

Airlines around the world have taken similar measures as countries place strict restrictions on the entry of foreigners due to fears of the coronavirus spreading.

Emirates has more resources than it needs as a result of cutting frequencies or cancelling flights to some destinations to meet the change in passenger demand, said Chief Operating Officer Adel al-Redha in a statement on Tuesday.

"Considering the availability of additional resources and the fact that many employees want to utilise their leave, we have provided our employees the option to avail leave or apply for voluntary unpaid leave for up to one month at a time," he said.

Emirates Group, the state-owned holding company that counts the airline among its assets, has asked staff to consider taking paid and unpaid leave as it seeks to manage a "measurable slowdown" in its business, Reuters reported on Sunday, citing an internal company email.

The group had more than 100,000 employees, including more than 21,000 cabin crew and 4,000 pilots, at the end of March 2019, the end of its last financial year.

“While we have seen some slowdown in certain markets there has been high demand in other areas,” Al-Redha said. “We have been tested before and Emirates will come out stronger.”

Al-Redha added that the airline was taking extra measures to ensure the safety of its aircraft, including stepping up regular cleanings and making sure staff were “following the most up-to-date medical guidelines and directives.”

He said Emirates had activated its Crisis Management Centre in January to closely monitor the virus outbreak and take appropriate measures in response.

“These measures have included providing medical advice to our staff, implementation of practices at the airport to meet specific country travel requirements as well as adjusting our schedule and amending capacity to meet passenger demand across different regions. While we have seen some slowdown in certain markets there has been high demand in other areas,” he added.

Major concerts and events in the United Arab Emirates, an air transit centre that includes tourism and business hub Dubai, have been cancelled or postponed as the coronavirus spreads in the Gulf. In addition to tourism, the coronavirus outbreak has caused a huge dent in spending on corporate travel, and has prompted airlines including Emirates to refund passengers for their missed journeys.

The airline industry's largest global body the International Air Transport Association (IATA) on Monday urged Middle Eastern governments to provide support to airlines as they try to manage the impact of the outbreak. It said Mideast carriers have already lost around $100 million in revenue due to a drop in ticket sales because of the virus.

Global airlines are forecast to lose an estimated $29.3 billion in revenue this year, 5 per cent lower than forecast in December, due to an estimated 4.7 per cent decline in travel demand, the IATA said in its initial assessment of the coronavirus impact released in February.

The global death toll from the coronavirus outbreak surpassed 3,100 on Tuesday, with the number of confirmed cases surging past 90,000.