In a rare bit of good news this week, Etihad is heading back to Seoul. The Abu Dhabi-based airline is resuming limited flights to the South Korean capital from 5 April. It the first of several flights Etihad plans to roll out to cater for both cargo and passenger demand.
Etihad suspended all of its flights over a week ago when the UAE government decided to temporarily close Abu Dhabi airport for two weeks. That ban will expire soon.
The flights are presently only available on the outbound sectors
These first flights are designed to repatriate foreign citizens stranded in the UAE and, at the present time, only outbound flights are available for sale.
But with its own citizens stranded around the world, there is hope that the return sectors will soon be opened to UAE citizens. In a statement, Etihad’s CEO Tony Douglas said;
“From 5 April, these flights will initially carry travelers outbound from the UAE. Details will be announced soon. Looks forward to the gradual resumption of passenger services in line with the lifting of travel and operational restrictions, including assurance of health measures to safeguard our people and customers.”
Two flights to Seoul next week
The airline’s first flights will be to Seoul and two flights are on offer over the next week. On both Sunday, 5 April, and Wednesday 8th, an Etihad 787-10 will set off on the eight and a half hour flight to South Korea. The flight, EY876, will depart Abu Dhabi at 07:30 and land in Seoul at 21:00 on the same day.
Unfortunately at the time of publishing, no information was available regarding the return flights to Abu Dhabi. Etihad says that as flights are approved they will be available for sale on its website.
The aim of these flights is threefold. Firstly, foreign nationals stranded in Abu Dhabi can return home. Second, the belly of the aircraft can be filled will cargo, including fresh food, for transportation. Third, it is hoped UAE citizens stranded elsewhere will soon be able to access the return flights to get back home.
Etihad is looking at other destinations
Etihad notes that these flights have been approved by the UAE government. Both the airline and the UAE government are open to approaches from other governments to operate flights into their jurisdictions.
Subject to approval from the relevant authorities, Etihad is keen to get flying again to Melbourne, Manila, Singapore, Jakarta, Bangkok and Amsterdam. It has already operated a few ad hoc repatriation flights to Australia, Sri Lanka, Russia, and the United States.
Between 21 March and 25 March, Etihad operated five return flights between Abu Dhabi and Moscow. These flights were directly targeted at UAE and Russian citizens keen to get home.
Qatar Airways stealing the march on its local competitors
While Etihad’s aircraft have cooled their engines on the tarmac, rival Qatar Airways is fast making a name for itself as one of the few airlines maintaining services to many of its destinations.
Doha, the home base of Qatar Airways, also has strict border policies but is allowing transit passengers to move through the airport.
Dare we say that move is giving Qatar Airways a competitive and reputational edge that may linger long after this crisis passes. That’s something Etihad and its owners will be loathed to see. It may well be a motivating factor in Abu Dhabi and see more and more of Etihad’s planes taking to the skies again over the next few weeks.