Interview: Neerja Bhatia, Vice President, Indian subcontinent, Etihad Airways

30 Sep 2020 by Business Traveller India
Neerja Bhatia, Vice President, Indian Subcontinent, Etihad Airways

Maintaining passenger confidence in air travel by implementing high standards of safety is the top priority of all airlines currently. We speak to an industry expert to understand the new initiatives and measures being adopted by one of the leading carriers, Etihad Airways.

How is Etihad Airways redefining the concept of wellness onboard? 

For Etihad Airways, the wellness of our guests and employees will remain an utmost priority. Earlier this year, we launched ‘Etihad Wellness’, an expanded and more comprehensive health and hygiene programme and customer guide. This builds on the stringent measures already put in place by the airline to deal with Covid-19.

  • Dedicated ‘Wellness Ambassadors’: Etihad Wellness is being championed by the introduction of specially trained Wellness Ambassadors, a first in the industry, who will provide essential travel health information and care so guests can fly with greater peace of mind. Present on every flight, they will provide an enhanced level of customer care. For those needing more specific and personalised information, our Wellness Ambassadors can also be contacted directly 24/7 via email.
  • Cabin air filtration: Many guests have raised concerns about the risk of contracting the Covid-19 virus while travelling on flights. We would like guests to know that our aircrafts have HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters which can filter more than 99 per cent of airborne microbes in the air.
  • Wellness kits: Etihad Airways has introduced special wellness kits onboard that comprises a face mask, gloves and hand gel. We provide these to all guests flying with us to ensure a stress-free travel journey.
  • Wellness onboard: Our teams will be wearing surgical face masks and other protective gear at all times. We also advise guests to wear a face mask throughout the journey. If any passenger or crew member begins to feel unwell, our teams will create an onboard quarantine zone and inform medical authorities prior to arrival at the destination.
Etihad Wellness Ambassador

What are the initiatives being adopted by the airline to ensure maximum passenger safety?

We continue to abide by the UAE and international government, regulatory and health authority directives and have taken multiple measures to limit the spread of Covid-19. Some of our key initiatives include:

  • Mandatory Covid-19 PCR test before the flight: Any guest flying with Etihad is required to undertake a mandatory Covid-19 PCR test carried out a maximum of 96 hours before their flight departure time at an Etihad approved medical facility. If their test is positive, they will not be permitted to travel. However, we have introduced flexible booking options to provide maximum support; guests can rearrange their flight for free or use the value of their flight towards their next trip with Etihad Credit.
  •  Aircraft deep cleaning: Etihad undertakes detailed cleaning of its aircraft on arrival at each destination. This practice was already in place prior to the outbreak of Covid-19. In addition to the conventional cleaning and disinfection, every Etihad Airways aircraft is then ‘fogged’ using an approved disinfectant.
  • Risk-assessment tool with Medicus AI : We have partnered with Austrian-based healthcare technology company Medicus AI to launch a Covid-19 risk-assessment tool, empowering guests to make informed decisions about travelling. Available on our website etihad.com, it will guide guests in evaluating the probability of having contracted Covid-19 by responding to a set of 22 questions.
  • Covid-19 global wellness insurance: Guests who are diagnosed with Covid-19 during their trip won’t have to worry about medical expenses or quarantine costs when they fly with Etihad as we have announced Covid-19 global wellness insurance cover as part of Etihad Wellness, in partnership with AXA.

What safety measures are being implemented at the airline’s hub in Abu Dhabi?

To ensure guests can fly with added comfort, security and confidence, we have introduced our Wellness Ambassadors at Abu Dhabi International Airport. This will also help us to maintain same levels of care and support at every point of the customer journey through the airport, from check-in to lounges and boarding.

Etihad is also the first airline to trial an innovative airport technology to help identify medically at-risk travellers. This has been undertaken with an Australian company, Elenium Automation. These contactless devices will monitor the temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate of any person using an airport touchpoint such as a check-in or information kiosk, a bag drop facility, security point or the immigration gate.

At Abu Dhabi International Airport, strict measures are in place at check-in counters to practice social distancing. These include floor marking to ensure social distancing, check-in teams wearing gloves and face masks and regular sanitisation of check-in counters.

Thermal cameras have been installed at the airport that will measure the temperature of guests at immigration. Self-cleaning escalator handrails have been installed at the airport wherein the escalator handrails get completely sanitised as they cycle through. APT surface swab technology is also being used to measure the amount of bacteria or virus on a surface in the airport as well as in the aircraft.

Tell us more about the Covid-19 insurance cover introduced recently?

We introduced the Covid-19 global wellness insurance in September 2020 to extend maximum support to guests, so that they do not have to worry about medical expenses or quarantine costs if they are diagnosed with Covid-19 during their trip.

All Etihad tickets regardless of the date of booking, travelling between now and December 31, 2020 will include Covid-19 insurance. Guests with existing bookings won’t need to do anything as they will be automatically enrolled into the programme. The initiative, as well as our overall focus on wellness, has been very well received by guests.

Is limited interaction between guests and crew impacting the airline’s signature inflight experience?

During every cabin service, the crew will limit their direct interaction with guests and restrict their presence in the cabin at all times, unless to carry-out safety and cleanliness checks, or if called by a guest.

This is an essential protocol to be followed for the safety of the guests and crew members onboard and is exactly what guests would also prefer at a time like this. We have also introduced the Wellness Ambassadors onboard, complementing the roles performed by other cabin crew, and providing an enhanced level of customer care focused on health and wellness inflight.

What are the alterations being made to the inflight offerings?

Several changes have been made to inflight offerings. We have removed all reading material including magazines, duty free catalogues and newspapers and safety cards are sanitised prior to each flight.

All soft furnishing remains available and are packed in protective packaging. We have also revised our meal service to ensure we uphold Covid-19 precautionary requirements, and our acclaimed inflight dining experience. In economy and business cabins, we have introduced a revised meal delivery service to ensure that customers are well cared for, while maintaining minimal physical interaction.


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