An Emirates airline Boeing 777 at Sydney’s International Airport on May 01, 2021 in Sydney, Australia.

James D. Morgan | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Emirates airline is preparing for a summer travel surge over the next two weekends, despite growing concern over the delta coronavirus variant responsible for more than a third of infections across the United Arab Emirates.

Emirates is expecting more than 450,000 passengers to travel from, to and through Terminal 3 at Dubai International Airport (DXB) on over 1,600 flights in the coming days.

“The busiest days for the airline will be the next two weekends, 2-3 July and 9-10 July, although high passenger traffic is expected to start today, and will run through 12 July,” Emirates said in a statement on Wednesday.

Close to 100,000 passengers will be arriving into Dubai on Emirates flights to start their summer vacations during that same period, the airline added. The seasonal travel surge comes as temperatures heat up in the UAE, where July can see the mercury soar to 40 degrees Celsius (104.0°F) and above.

Emirates, one of two national flag carriers in the UAE, plans to ramp up its flight capacity to 90% of pre-pandemic levels through July. Dubai Airports also reopened its Terminal 1 and Concourse D on June 24, after a 15-month closure due to the pandemic.

“All Emirates and DXB touchpoints are fully prepared to manage the increase in passenger traffic, with measures and protocols in place designed to enhance safety as customers move through Terminal 3,” Emirates said.

The more than half million people expected to transit the UAE in the coming days is almost equivalent to the entire passenger traffic of London’s Heathrow Airport in May this year, according to Heathrow Airport data.

An Etihad Airways Boeing 787-9 “Dreamliner” aircraft displays Israeli and Emirati flags after landing upon arrival from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, on the company’s first scheduled commercial flight from Abu Dhabi, on April 6, 2021.

JACK GUEZ | AFP | Getty Images

Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways also moved to extend its “verified to fly” program on Wednesday. The program allows travelers to validate Covid-19 travel documents before arriving at the airport to improve passenger processing time.

“We appreciate these are challenging times for travellers and this has been a key initiative to simplify our guests’ journeys as much as possible,” John Wright, Etihad’s vice president for global airports and network operations said in a statement.

Delta concerns

The expected summer travel surge comes despite new warnings about the delta variant of the virus, with evidence showing it is more transmissible, causes more hospitalizations and reduces the efficacy of vaccines. The delta variant, first identified in India, makes up 33.9% of cases in the UAE, according to the UAE Health Department.

The U.K. variant makes up 11.3% of cases, while the South African variant still has the largest infection rate at 39.2%. The UAE reported 1,747 new cases of the

Etihad’s Vincent Frascogna discusses:

  • Staying on top of health passport initiatives
  • Corporate customers; current requests
  • Opportunities with Israel

Throughout the pandemic, Etihad Airways has been ahead of the curve with some of its health initiatives, including early moves to make Covid-19 testing mandatory for travelers. More recently, it moved to ensure rapid vaccination of its on-board employees, as its home country, the United Arab Emirates, boasts one of the world’s highest vaccination rates. With a “complete turnaround” a few years away, the carrier now is building back capacity while trying to adapt quickly to ever-changing travel restrictions, border closings and quarantine requirements. Etihad Americas VP Vincent Frascogna recently spoke with BTN transportation editor Michael B. Baker about the carrier’s recovery strategy and signs of corporate demand’s return.

BTN: How has Etihad fared during the pandemic so far?

Vincent Frascogna: We’re more or less one year on from when we had to ground our entire fleet at the end of March last year. Heartbreaking as it was to see our aircraft parked on the runway, engines covered up, it also gave us a good opportunity to take a step back and look at how this fits into the strategy we already had in place for the redesign of our airline going forward, which was already two years in the making. We’d already made significant changes to our business, our operations, our network and fleet, so it almost put us in a better position than most airlines when the pandemic hit. 

Of course, the whole aviation industry has witnessed unthinkable challenges over the past year. While it gave us an opportunity to look at bringing forward heavy maintenance on our aircraft while they were on the ground, we also had to cope and contend with every day something new taking place: a border reopening, a border closing down, new restrictions being put in or new requirements regarding testing put into place. What we’ve been able to do is work hand in hand with our home market, with the UAE and Abu Dhabi, on what those processes look like and try to look ahead. We were the first airline to implement the requirement for PCR testing for all passengers flying with Etihad. Back in August last year when we did that, we were the outlier, but as time has progressed a lot of destinations have required this sort of testing just to enter a country. We put ourselves in a very strong position not just from a testing perspective but also [regarding] what the future of travel will look like.

BTN: What about the various health passport initiatives in the works?

Frascogna: Health passports are something we’ve been looking at for some time. It’s still difficult at this stage to determine exactly how Covid is going to play out. We know from previous experiences when things happen within aviation, whether it’s a pandemic or a security issue, there are certain things we need to harmonize on when it comes to transportation standards, working