The Creative Way Etihad Is Staffing Beijing Flights

Filed Under: Etihad

In light of the coronavirus, we’ve seen many airlines cancel flights to China. Emirates and Etihad, the two global airlines of the UAE, have taken an unconventional approach to China service, and it’s interesting to see how one of those airlines is going about staffing their flights.

Emirates & Etihad maintain Beijing flights

As I’ve written about before, both Emirates and Etihad are maintaining their flights from the UAE to Beijing. Meanwhile all other flights to China have been canceled.

The experience of flying with these airlines from Beijing sounds awful, as passengers are advised to show up at the airport eight hours early for medical exams. Ouch.

UAE airlines maintaining Beijing flights sure seems like a political move, when you consider that it’s the UAE aviation authority that told airlines to cancel all flights to China except to Beijing.

The challenge with staffing flights to Beijing

As you might expect, staffing Beijing flights is challenging for a couple of reasons:

  • Presumably many crew members view this as “risky,” and don’t want to take these flights (whether that’s a rational fear or not)
  • Many countries are asking those entering whether they’ve been to mainland China in the past 14 days, and this could present a big problem for airline crews

When Qatar Airways canceled mainland China flights, they claimed to do so “due to significant operational challenges caused by entry restrictions imposed by several countries.”

How Etihad is staffing Beijing flights

Given the situation, if an airline were going to maintain Beijing flights, ideally they’d have crews dedicated exclusively to this route for the time being. That way crew members won’t face the issue of operating a Beijing flight, and then having big issues when they try to enter another country on their next trip, for example.

But how on earth can you get employees to volunteer to operate nothing but Beijing flights? Well, Etihad has a plan.

In a memo to cabin crew, Etihad notes that “there has been significant roster disruption imposed on crew who have traveled to mainland China.”

For a temporary period, Etihad is offering cabin crew the opportunity to volunteer to exclusively operate flights to & from Beijing to resolve these ongoing roster disruptions.

Why would anyone want to do this?

  • Etihad is offering double the hourly duty pay during this period
  • Meals will be provided in the hotel, up to the value of CNY300 per day
  • The crews will be on three day rotations — they’ll fly to Beijing, have a 15 hour daytime layover (the flight lands at 8:50AM and departs at 1:25AM), return to Abu Dhabi, and then have two days off

Etihad is looking for 70 crew members to volunteer for this special assignment, and the company says “preference will be given to Chinese cabin crew who may wish to support China during this time.”

Note that “double hourly duty pay” doesn’t actually translate to twice as much overall pay. Etihad crew are paid a basic monthly salary, plus flying pay, which is their per hour pay. For most crews, just over half of their pay is made up of flying pay, so in reality their overall pay would go up by a bit over 50%.

Bottom line

If you’re going to fully maintain Beijing flights (which I have a lot of questions about to begin with, because these flights look empty), then this is definitely the way to go about it.

Etihad is creating dedicated Beijing crews who will operate nothing but Beijing trips. They’ll get extra pay and a bigger food allowance so they can have all their meals in the hotel.

I am curious if they’ll get enough volunteers, if they’ll get way more volunteers than they need, or what.

  1. With so many airlines cancelling their flights, it could be very profitable for EY & EK to maintain at least their Beijing flights. They are basically operating without any competition, and the 10-20% of remaining passengers from other airlines will be rebooked on EY & EK.
    For example Lufthansa Group has signed an agreement with EY to accept all their China tickets.

  2. This reminds me of the HBO “Chernobyl” episode with the volunteer miners and the government vowing to take care of their families – you had to have seen the episode. 😉

  3. @ Max — Fair enough, though for what it’s worth the flight shows maximum inventory in just about all fare buckets every day. While seatmaps are never an accurate indicator of availability, it is worth noting that they are consistently empty. Most flights have just a few seats taken in business class. Doesn’t sound terribly profitable to me…

  4. @ Michael — That’s not what I said. Crews *can* be asked whether they’ve been to China in the past 14 days, and could be subjected to additional health screening. I didn’t say they’d be automatically denied, as the US is doing with (non-crew) passengers. That is correct based on all the reports I’ve seen…

  5. For EY/EK to risk their crew when every other western airline has canceled due to the obvious health risks does not give me a lot of trust in these airlines, especially trying to dangle money in front of (mostly ) poor crews seems to be cruel and unresponsible…

  6. Lucky — did ExpertFlyer for EY888 AUH-PEK for today (Feb 7) and 23 of 25 biz seats are full, and 80% in economy. Clearly there is demand to go IN to China…

  7. @Michael, not every country is exempting Crews from entry if they have been to China in the past 14-28 days depending on the country. Get your facts straight ffs.

  8. @Abey It’s voluntary so it’s not cruel. Staff can decline. Cruel would be requiring it or be fired…that would be cruel. But not what they are doing here. However, me, I would feel irresponsible saying yes to this death mission.

  9. As far as I know, a lot of UA crew still want to work the flights to China, Singapore, and Taiwan. They get paid for what the flew.

  10. @tim you cannot know what type of pressure is going on from the executive team behind the scenes for crews to volunteer, in any case it is irresponsible for them to send their crew into a death zone. And shows zero corporate responsibility for the safety of their crew

  11. @Abey

    Death zone?

    Wuhan Carnivorous 600 deaths
    Influenza virus 12,000 – 61,000 deaths annually since 2010.

    Funny when people say they won’t fly to China but decline a flu shot

  12. Not creative. Selfish. And typical of the ME carriers.
    And if nobody volunteered, they’d hold your UAE visa and job over your head.
    No altruism here by asking people to fly into an epidemic zone.
    EY was bleeding cash before Wuhan and probably figuring they can make bank when post-CNY cargo rates skyrocket as space tightens drastically…

  13. Question: how are airlines that are still operating PRC – USA (and other countries that have restricted entry of those that have been in China recently) flights dealing with these restrictions for crew? Are crew exempt from the temporary restrictions for PRC nationals entering the US? Am I not reading the restrictions closely enough? I am very curious how the logistics are working.

    I know a lot of flights have been cancelled but I can see on FlightRadar24 there are still a handful of active flights between Mainland China and the US.

  14. @Abey and Josh, If you don’t want to volunteer then don’t volunteer. Its not cruel when they are asking for volunteers and offering incentives. I’m sure some people don’t actually mind. There are people who NEED to get to and from China, despite the virus. Now, forcing people to go would be cruel and I imagine would raise a lot of eyebrows, but as of now I don’t see how its cruel. There are millions of people around the world working in much crueler and deplorable conditions than being put up in a luxury hotel, getting extra money and being asked to go. Some people want to help in anyway they can, but I imagine neither one of you know anything about helping your community.

    On the flip side, is there any award space? I’m looking for a way to burn Etihad miles 😛

  15. Those of you who understand China will know that some patriotic crew will volunteer for the sake of the country.
    EK will get credit in due course from the Chinese government and probably seek extra slots when things get back to normal. Having supported China at its worst time , it will get rewarded by China .

  16. I’m quite sure they will get takers – money speaks and if they deem it to be low risk then I’m sure it will work and let’s face it whose actually going to be on those flights anyway ? Minimal exposure- well not me !!!!

  17. My husband is crew for Emirates and has a Beijing flight coming up later this month. He doesn’t want to go but also doesn’t want to risk his job. I am a teacher in UAE and schools have just announced that any staff who have family members who have travelled to China will not be allowed on school property for 14 days after they return from China. So his trip to Beijing would mean I wouldn’t be allowed to work for two weeks. I hope Emirates also asks for volunteers rather than forcing crew to risk their lives and those of their families by operating that route.

  18. Hi Guys
    This is just a flu outbreak that’s dangerous to the elderly (l am 63) but my best friend is 65 in Malaysia and suffers from asthma. The bubonic plague killed a third of the world’s population for Gods sake. The emerging disaster appears to be from global warming. That’s where worry should be – although nature has been the most brilliant solver of these tiny matters in the whole concept of creation.

  19. @Tim, don’t be so dramatic.
    You may only have issues if you have a prexisting condition or are very young.
    Same as the flu.

  20. About volunteers: they got them even too many, they had to close sign in form earlier :))) There are always a lot of greedy people…

  21. There is something everyone is missing: EY and EK are having Shared Accommodations for the staff. That means that crew “dedicated” for China flights are leaving in the same flat with the ones flying to countries with restrictions. How is that making sense? And how is that safe for the other crew/passengers?

  22. Lucky, you are forgetting the other big airline revenue source.

    This is all about the cargo, not passengers.

  23. Just to answer your worry, yes they received more volunteers than they asked, they asked for 70 they received 300.

  24. The people saying it’s “voluntary” for crew definitely either have never worked in a gulf airline before or doesn’t know anyone who did. The pressure of operating flights to danger zones, even ones that had just had terrorist attacks in airports, or zones where crew are told they are not even safe to leave their hotel and their buses accompanied by some sort of safety escort, is great and daily implied that of crew don’t step forward to help “their company” repercussions are going to happen. Crew can’t just choose not to do it. Because simply of not enough volunteers come forward, they will schedule these flights to crew anyway. Giving crew extra money to operate doesn’t make this “right” or “ethical” at all. These crew will come back and see their family and be in contact with other people. It doesn’t make sense for efforts to try to control an out break are being pretty much cancelled out by measures like this. I don’t understand how is it okay for airlines to still be operating to China. This is exactly what spreads disease. Why can’t they just be patient until this threat is controlled? Limit travel that isn’t necessary or life or death.

    The people saying that it affects and may kill the elderly not young people , there are reports of young healthy people dying from the disease. On top of that, if a young healthy person travels and acquires it and comes back transmits it to 2 more people, it will affect these elderly or young children with health problems too, while that person may recover, they probably won’t. In what way is this ethical and okay when even the Chinese government itself is telling its people to remain indoors and striving to control this.
    Money wins after all!

  25. The risk is high. 8 hours arrival before a flight does not mean that passengers who do not show symptoms are not carrying the virus. Emirates makes enough money. Why don’t they start putting people first. I am flying business class to south america at the end of Feb, but will fly with other airlines in the future that have showed and acted more responsibly with regards to this outbreak and putting people and their safety first.

  26. Very interesting story. I have a question on what Max said (Feb 7th):

    “For example Lufthansa Group has signed an agreement with EY to accept all their China tickets”.

    I do not understand who accepts what. Is EY accepting Lh tickets to China? Thank you

  27. I just flew SFO-TPE in their version of PE….Business had 7 ppl and PE had 6, the back end was half full…I don’t think United made a lot of coins on this flight…

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