Emirates plans to celebrate the UAE’s impressively fast vaccination rollout by operating a special flight on which only passengers and crew who are fully inoculated against COVID-19 will be allowed onboard.
Airlines are hoping a global mass vaccination drive will quickly restart restriction-free international travel but for now, even Emirates’ fully vaccinated flight will be limited to flying passengers on a sightseeing ‘flight to nowhere’ around the United Arab Emirates.
Emirates flight EK2021 will depart Dubai International Airport (DXB) at midday on April 10 and land back right where it started just two and a half hours later after taking in some of the iconic sights of the UAE including the Burj Khalifa and Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
Tickets for the flight to nowhere will start from AED 1,000 ($272) but only customers wielding an official vaccination certificate that proves they’ve had their final COVID-19 shot at least two weeks ago will be allowed to board. Tickets in Business Class will cost AED 4,000.
Proof of vaccination, however, won’t exempt passengers from wearing a face mask or from needing to observe social distancing in the airport or onboard the aircraft. All passengers will also have to take a rapid antigen test on arrival at the airport.
Last month, Emirates operated its first long-haul flight with a fully-vaccinated crew of pilots and flight attendants. The airline launched a vaccination drive for all of its employees in mid-January and more than 35,000 staffers in the UAE have had at least their first dose of the two-shot vaccines currently approved for use.
Around 85 per cent of the airline’s pilots and cabin crew have received both doses of the vaccine. Employees who choose not to get vaccinated are required to take regular PCR tests to prove their negative status.
The UAE has steamed ahead with its vaccination programme, administering around 81 doses per 100 people according to the latest stats provided by Our World in Data. In comparison, Qatar has administered 25 shots per 100 people, while the United States has administered nearly 43 shots per 100 people.
Despite the apparent success of the inoculation drive, Coronavirus cases remain stubbornly high across the UAE. On Monday, they recorded another 1,874 new cases and five deaths.
The country has been hit with travel restrictions in recent weeks over fears that its tourism-focused economy could be a breeding ground for vaccine-resistant variants of the virus.
By Joe Cusmano