Etihad Airways – the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and a Virgin Australia partner – will ground all flights globally by March 25 2020, as it responds to the UAE’s ban on international travellers and the closure of international borders around the world.
The airline, which currently flies to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in Australia, will pause its flights for at least two weeks, pending the extension or conclusion of the UAE’s own ban on international travellers.
However, only UAE citizens will be allowed onto the last remaining Etihad flights.
"Effective immediately, passengers departing from international destinations will only be allowed to travel if they are UAE citizens or diplomatic passport holders, and only if their final destination is Abu Dhabi," Etihad says.
"If you are booked on a connecting flight via Abu Dhabi to anywhere else on our network, you will not be able to travel and should not go to the airport."
In recent days, the airline had already temporarily withdrawn all 10 of its Airbus A380s from service – seeing Sydney downgraded to a Boeing 777 – with flights reduced to a range of destinations including Melbourne, where the airline’s double-daily flights reverted to a single daily service.
"These are unprecedented times and unprecedented decisions are being made by governments, authorities and companies, including Etihad, to contain the spread of the coronavirus and to help minimise its effects around the world," said Etihad CEO Tony Douglas.
“As the national airline, we stand in full support of the UAE government’s decision, and are confident that we’re well prepared to weather the commercial and operational impact this suspension will have on our services.”
Even before the coronavirus crisis emerged, Etihad experienced several years of severe turbulence with its investments in airlines like Airberlin and Alitalia contributing towards losses exceeding US$5.6 billion (A$9.7 billion) since 2016.
In recent years, the airline rolled out a series of cost saving measures to help reduce the tide of red ink, such as exiting non-profitable routes like Perth-Abu Dhabi, outsourcing the operation of many outstation airport lounges, reducing frills like in-lounge barber and overseas chauffeur drive services, and more.
Gulf rival Emirates – also based in the UAE but which instead claims Dubai as its home – is similarly preparing to suspend its flights from later this week.
As there are no domestic flights within the United Arab Emirates, once this suspension kicks in, neither airline will operate a commercial flight until at least April.
While Etihad Airways' frequent flyers may be grounded, their precious Tier Miles will continue to pile up over the coming months and ensure the retain their status in the Etihad Guest rewards program.
Between March and June, Etihad will issue free Tiler Miles to Silver, Gold and Platinum members based on " a monthly average of miles members earn flying with Etihad Airways and are required to maintain their existing Tier."
Guest Silver members report seeing 1,500 Tier Miles slide into their account every month, with Guest Golds garnering 3,000 Tier Miles and Guest Platinums pocketing 8,000 Tier Miles.
(Those amounts are in fact slightly off the 12 monthly targets to retain status – which sit at 20,000 Tier Miles for Silver, 40,000 Tier Miles for Gold and 100,000 Tier Miles for Platinum.)
The bonus Tier Miles will be automatically credited into every status member's account by the last day of each month, beginning March 31, and will continue to May 31, with Etihad allowing that an extension of the scheme "will be considered" depending on how the situation with COVID-19 flight cancellations plays out.
Members will receive only Tier Miles which contribute towards status, not Guest Miles which can be used for reward seats and upgrades
As a fillup for when its frequent flyers do start flying again, Etihad is also offering double Tier Miles on every flight up until June 30, 2020.