Emirates airlines is encouraging tens of thousands of employees, including its pilots and cabin crew, to go on vacation without pay amid a rising number of flight cancellations and travel warnings due to the coronavirus scare.

The UAE-based carrier, which employs more than 60,000 workers worldwide, is one of the dozens of airlines that have temporarily cancelled services to and from several destinations, including China and Iran, to help contain the spread of the virus.

The reduced frequencies, coupled with the decline in global travel demand, has put a pressure on carriers worldwide, with experts estimating that annual revenue losses could hit $29 billion this year alone.

“The leave we are asking employees to take is voluntary. It is the employee’s discretion if they want to take it or not,” a spokesperson told Zawya on Sunday.

The airline had earlier admitted in an internal email that it is going through a “measurable slowdown” as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and encouraged employees to take a leave of absence.

“A particular challenge for us right now is dealing with the impact of the COVID-19,” the email, according to Reuters, stated.

When contacted by Zawya, the airline’s spokesperson confirmed that it has already notified employees about the unpaid leave scheme. “We can confirm the email was sent to our employees around unpaid leave,” the airline said.

Impact of coronavirus

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) warned last week that the demand for travel is set to decline for the first time since over a decade and, as a result, airlines will lose more than $29 billion in revenue this year.

The Airports Council International (ACI) also said that passenger traffic across airports in the UAE and the rest of the Middle East will be “severely” impacted in the first part of 2020. “A severe drop in passenger traffic is expected as many countries have imposed travel bans and direct flight cancellations in response to the outbreak,” ACI said on Thursday.

The UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has issued travel bans to Iran and Thailand. The UAE Embassy in Rome on Wednesday issued an advisory urging all Emiratis to postpone their trips to Italy, where the number of coronavirus cases has soared recently.

The virus has now spread to every continent and sickened more than 85,000 people. The number of deaths has reached 2,900 worldwide.

Emirates isn’t the only airline that has resorted to a special leave scheme to cope with the coronavirus impact. Hong Kong’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific asked its staff early in February to also take three weeks of leave without pay.

(Writing by Cleofe Maceda; editing by Seban Scaria)



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