Etihad Airways has already announced its cancellation of all flights to mainland China with the exception of Beijing in response to the Wuhan coronavirus. The reduced UAE-China connections do not appear to have provided Etihad with a surplus of crew for the Beijing bound flight. Rather, it appears to have presented the airline with a roster of employees unwilling to risk contagion on a 15-hour layover every three days. In response, Etihad Airways has offered crew willing to staff the Abu Dhabi-Beijing roundtrip with double-duty pay, but will it work?
Weighing the risks of a Beijing layover
Passengers departing Beijing have been advised to arrive with enough time to be screened for possible symptoms of the coronavirus. The medical screening could last anywhere between six and eight hours and it isn’t exclusive to passengers—crew members are subject to the check-up and will need to undergo inspection every time they exit China for the foreseeable future.
As we know, the Wuhan virus is neither contained to China nor is it contained to the provinces surrounding Wuhan. In fact, Beijing has seen over 200+ confirmed cases as of 7 February 2020, as reported by The New York Times.
However, these Beijing cases of the coronavirus equate to less than 1% of global confirmed cases. Additionally, The Guardian reports the mortality rate of the Wuhan coronavirus at 2% but notes that the rate is most likely inflated by the absence of unreported cases from this statistic.
Factors affecting flight attendants’ decisions
Double pay might sound worth the risk of exposure to a virus with such a low mortality rate. However, since there is currently no cure for this coronavirus, it is understandable that Etihad is having difficulty finding flight attendants willing to operate these flights.
According to One Mile at a Time, Etihad Airways will provide 70 crew members with double hourly duty pay and hotel meals up to CNY300 per day (Equivalent to US$42). Double hourly pay on Etihad, however, does not equate to double pay overall. Etihad crew receive a monthly base rate and their hourly rate, which is about AED44 (US$12). Etihad crew also receive a small hourly layover allowance, but since the double pay for crewmembers in Beijing applies to duty pay, it is unlikely that these 70 Etihad crew members will see double their layover allowance.
Flight attendants who work international flights must take into consideration possible restrictions that entering a country might have on their potential to work. With at least 17 countries imposing travel restrictions related to China and the coronavirus, flight attendants opting to fly to Beijing biweekly may find their other route options limited.
The underlying political motivation
Etihad Airways’ decision to maintain flights to Beijing and offer double-duty pay to Beijing-bound flight attendants might seem illogical considering the limited demand for such flights at this time. However, Etihad’s decision follows the directives of the UAE government, which stated that while closing most flights to mainland China, the connection between Abu Dhabi and Beijing would remain open as an air lifeline to China, as reported by the Khaleej Times.
This air lifeline appears to be a diplomatic maneuver on the part of the UAE and it would seem that it is working since China has been moved to tears in response to the UAE’s support and solidarity, medical supplies and continued airline services.
At a time when numerous countries are shutting their doors to China, the UAE is offering an olive branch that just might set the course for an even stronger alliance between the two countries. While double duty pay might not seem worth risking virus exposure to flight attendants, the political implications of the air lifeline might be worth the potential health risks for the UAE.
Simple Flying has reached out to Etihad Airways regarding this topic and will update the story with any responses.