The COVID-19 pandemic and associated travel restrictions have hit the airline industry hard. The pain deepened further today for employees of Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways after it announced significant redundancies “across several areas.”
Meanwhile, long-haul competitor Qatar Airways announced cabin crews would begin wearing full personal protective (PPE) gear to protect and reassure passengers as the pandemic wears on.
Etihad Airways job cuts
State-owned Etihad Airways told American news outlet CNBC that it had no choice but to lay off employees as the majority of its fleet is still grounded due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“The coronavirus pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to businesses around the world, and Etihad is no exception,” an airline spokesperson told CNBC on Tuesday.
“It is clear the demand for travel in the near future will be significantly reduced and as a result we must make difficult decisions to ensure Etihad will weather this storm,” they added.
Two separate sources told Reuters that hundreds of jobs had already been cut and more losses were expected in the coming days and weeks.
In a positive development for Etihad staff, the company announced late on Tuesday afternoon that it had signed a six-month strategic partnership agreement with Global Aerospace Logistics (GAL) that may help it retain employees.
According to Emirati state-run news agency WAM, “GAL offers aircraft sustainment and servicing solutions for military and civilian clients.”
Under the new arrangement, Etihad staff can be seconded to GAL to provide “expertise and experience” in the areas of maintenance, operations, and supply chain and commercial management.
Etihad CEO Tony Douglas said he was delighted by the new partnership, initiated by GAL Vice Chairman Mohammed Bin Hamad Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan.
“Like airlines the world over, Etihad Airways is having to review its current structure and resources and this partnership allows us the opportunity to retain talent for the future; while supporting colleagues in another Abu Dhabi aviation organisation,” Douglas told WAM.
New coronavirus look for Qatar Airways crews
Qatar Airways provided a glimpse into the future of aviation in the time of coronavirus when it said on Monday that all cabin crews will begin wearing full PPE.
Cabin crew members were already required to wear masks and gloves but the airline said fully suiting up will help “reassure” passengers, encouraging them to keep flying despite the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“Cabin crew will wear the PPE suit over their uniforms in addition to safety goggles, gloves and a mask to provide even greater reassurance to customers in addition to enhanced hygienic measures already in place,” Qatar Airways said in a media release.
The Doha-based carrier also advised that from May 25, passengers are required to “wear face coverings inflight,” and is recommending people bring their own for “fit and comfort purposes.”
Qatar is one of the few airlines that has continued to fly throughout the coronavirus crisis.
In-flight social distancing not practical
CEO of Australian long-haul flyer Qantas, Alan Joyce, said on May 19 that social distancing during flights will drive up prices and push customers away.
“Social distancing on an aircraft isn’t practical,” Joyce said in response to suggestions that keeping middle seats empty could help ensure passenger safety when the industry restarts.
Keeping the middle seat empty would mean only 22 passengers could fly on a small 128-seat aircraft, a proposition Joyce decried as impractical and costly.
“That means airfares are going to be eight to nine times more than they are today,” he said.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) backs Joyce, and said it supports mandatory face-coverings for passengers and crews, over social distancing, as a way to kick-start the industry.