Emirates, the biggest carrier of intercontinental passengers in the world, has belatedly transformed its coronavirus cancellation policy from onerous to one of the most traveller-friendly in the world.
The Dubai-based carrier had expected to fly around 60 million people to, from and through its hub.
Emirates is now flying again – but passengers are allowed to travel only outbound from Dubai, which is of no use to transfer travellers who make up the bulk of the airline’s passengers.
The UK represents a large proportion of Emirates’ worldwide business. When an airline cancels a flight on an itinerary starting in Britain or the European Union, it must refund the fare in full within a week of the planned departure date.
Now the airline has published a global policy that meets its obligations under European air passengers’ rights rules.
Passengers who have tickets issued before 31 May 2020, for travel before 31 August 2020, can apply immediately for a refund.
Travellers are able to ask for their money back, even if they have already accepted a voucher or opted to keep their ticket for future journey.
But for many passengers, Emirates has an alternative offer which may be even more valuable: to keep their ticket for up to two years and five weeks for use on the same, or a similar, route.
Adnan Kazim, Emirates’ chief commercial officer said: “The travel and airline industry have complicated rulebooks for how fares, re-bookings or refunds are applied, which also differ depending on market regulation.
“We understand that explaining and unravelling all of that is confusing and frustrating for customers.
“We sincerely hope that our customers will choose to rebook and fly with us again at a later time, and that is why we’re offering up to two years validity on their current tickets.
“However, if they would still like to opt for a refund, we will process that. We would just like to seek our customers’ understanding that refunds will take time as we have a significant backlog to manage.”
The airline said: “Their ticket will be accepted for any flight to the same Emirates destination or to another city within the same Emirates region with no fees for changes.”
This could benefit anyone who bought a cheap ticket to the Middle East, Asia, Australia or Africa for during the April and May off-peak season. They can exchange it for travel during a very busy time such as Christmas and New Year, and even change the route – for example exchanging Perth in Western Australia for Auckland in New Zealand.
There is no need to make an immediate decision.
Emirates, which previously operated six Airbus A380 jets a day between Dubai and London Heathrow, is currently flying just four times weekly. The only other multi-frequency destinations are Frankfurt and the Afghan capital, Kabul.