x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

At last, the great escape

Emirates and Etihad mount unprecedented airport operation to clear the backlog of some 12,000 stranded passengers.

Jaqueline Wood, left, and Tara Roe Gammon embrace after returning to Heathrow from Costa Rica via Madrid yesterday.
Jaqueline Wood, left, and Tara Roe Gammon embrace after returning to Heathrow from Costa Rica via Madrid yesterday.

As European skies once again filled with planes, the UAE's carriers flew thousands of people home yesterday from their extended, unexpected stays in the country. Both Etihad Airways and Emirates Airline put on extra flights to clear the backlog of some 12,000 stranded passengers. Etihad said that by evening it had flown 31 flights to and from Europe, and was on schedule to clear its backlog of 2,500 passengers stranded in the UAE by today.

Richard Hill, Etihad's chief operating officer, said it was on course to resume its normal operations by the end of today. Emirates, meanwhile, said it had flown 9,000 passengers back to Europe, leaving just 350 to clear. Both airlines said they were not accepting new bookings to Europe. Other carriers were also beginning to clear their backlog of passengers. "We are investigating all possibilities to accommodate as many passengers as possible," said Lauren Cooper, a representative for British Airways.

Meanwhile, the airline industry was counting the cost of the six-day, near-total stoppage of air traffic in Europe, the result of a massive cloud of ash spewed out by the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland. "Lost revenues now total more than $1.7 billion for airlines alone," said Giovanni Bisignani, the director general and chief executive of the International Air Transport Association. "At the worst, the crisis impacted 29 per cent of global aviation and affected 1.2 million passengers a day. The scale of the crisis eclipsed 9/11, when US airspace was closed for three days."

For Etihad alone, Mr Hill said the expense of accommodating and feeding stranded passengers, as well as all the lost revenue, had cost the airline in excess of US$5 million (Dh18m) a day. After initial scenes of chaos in Dubai and airports across Europe, the mood turned to jubilation as stranded passengers were reunited with their friends and families. newsdesk@thenational.ae