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Rumours and refunds: Gulf airlines evaluate schedules as coronavirus restrictions are eased

Emirates is dealing with a backlog of refunds [Getty]

Date of publication: 29 April, 2020

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Some Gulf airlines were forced to deny rumours they will resume commercial flights from June, whilst others are edging to get operations up again.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, some Gulf airlines have been forced to deny rumours they will be commencing commercial flights in the coming weeks.

Both Saudi Airlines and Kuwait Airways denied that they will be allowing customers to book new flights in June.

Kuwait Airways released a statement on Tuesday saying they will only resume flights under government instruction.

"Rumours circulating that Kuwait Airways will start to resume commercial flights are incorrect," the airline said in a statement, adding that flights showing on the website for June were scheduled before the coronavirus pandemic.

"The announcement to reopen flights will be made officially by Kuwait Airways, as decided by the relevant government authorities."

The Saudi Airlines website is also showing flights with an open booking window as of June, prompting rumours that booking will commence from the first day of that month.

Read also: Coronavirus: Travel restrictions, border shutdowns across the Middle East

"Allowing booking on the company's website from 1 June does not mean ending the suspension on flights because of the coronavirus pandemic will end," Fahad Bahdailah, vice president of corporate communications at Saudi Airlines told Al-Arabiya.

"Reservations closing happen automatically on our online system. May reservations currently closed and so will June reservations," he added.

Easing restrictions

As the UAE eases lockdown restrictions, Etihad Airlines is trying hard to commence flights. Originally announcing that they hope to resume commercial flights by 1 May, they had to postpone the reopening. 

On Saturday, the airline explained they initially aimed to "resume a reduced network of scheduled passenger services from 1 May, subject to UAE government imposed travel restrictions being lifted".

 The date has been postponed to 16 May the airline added "due to the ongoing situation".

"Some fights remain bookable from 16 May. However, as the current suspension remains in place, this situation may change, and Etihad will communicate any changes in due course," the Abu Dhabi airline said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Qatar Airways on Sunday added 28 additional flights to Australia and launched its first route between Doha and Brisbane.

Read more: A tale of two outbreaks: How Gulf countries succeeded where Iran failed on containing coronavirus

"Qatar Airways wants to ensure no Australians are left stranded overseas, that's why we have just added an additional 28 weekly frequencies to the main gateways of Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and now Brisbane," the carrier said in a statement. 

Refunds

The Dubai-based Emirates Airline said it will use cash reserves to increase refunds for passengers.

Before the pandemic, the airline approved an average of 35,000 refund requests per month. It now aims to deal with 150,000 refund requests per month, with the aim of clearing the backlog of refunds by early August.

"The situation was dynamic in the early weeks of the pandemic, but we have since re-written our Covid-19 waiver policy into a simple, globally-applied approach that puts customers first," said Tim Clark, president of Emirates Airline in a statement posted on the airline’s website. 

"We've also proactively contacted those of our customers who had submitted earlier requests for refunds or booking changes, to let them know of the new options available to them."

Strict lockdown measures and an early response to the pandemic have helped Gulf Arab countries flatten their coronavirus curve early.

The United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is part of, has reported 10,349 virus cases and 76 deaths. This is the second highest number in the Gulf region after Saudi Arabia.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks.

For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness.

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