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11 December 2023

Etihad to review policy in wake of fog delays; operates relief flights

Greater access to South America thanks to a new “codeshare” agreement. (File)

By Bindu Rai

Etihad Airways is operating four additional relief flights to assist passengers who found their travel plans disrupted this past weekend due to severe weather conditions.

The airline has also stated it is reviewing its policy on the length of time aircraft can remain on the ground, with passengers aboard, while waiting for a take-off slot.

This news comes in wake of a San Francisco-bound flight from Abu Dhabi that was grounded on the tarmac for 12 hours, with passengers complaining they were unable to deplane nor were they provided with food and water during the wait at Abu Dhabi International Airport.

In a statement, the carrier said: “Etihad Airways expects to operate a normal flight schedule by Tuesday January 6, as operations are restored following the major disruptions caused by severe weather over the weekend.

“It is also operating four additional relief flights, Jakarta, Jeddah, Bangkok and Phuket, which will assist passengers whose travel plans have been disrupted.”

The airline further stated: “It is expected that more than 95 per cent of passengers delayed by the severe fog, which caused the closure of Abu Dhabi International Airport, will have departed Abu Dhabi by Tuesday, with the remainder having departed by the end of the day.”

Etihad said it has made efforts to assist passengers originally scheduled to travel January 5 and 6, who took advantage of the carrier’s offer of free flight changes, to shift travel plans to later in January.

In wake of the fog delays, Etihad confirmed it had to mobilise more than 500 additional staff at the airport and city locations over the weekend, to assist guests stuck in Abu Dhabi as a result of the fog.

The airline served more than 15,000 meals to guests at the airport, and provided more than 2,000 hotel rooms across the city.

However, in light of the 28-hour ordeal for passengers aboard EY183 that found themselves 12 hours on the tarmac, claiming they were provided with no refreshments during the wait and a single meal on the corresponding 16-hours flight to San Francisco, minus their luggage, Etihad has confirmed it is reviewing its policy to avoid such concerns.

Etihad stated: “The airline has announced it is to review its policies on the length of time aircraft can remain on the ground, with passengers aboard, while waiting for a take-off slot.

“Whilst the departure of passengers to their onward destinations was a priority over the weekend, it has acknowledged customer concerns and has committed to a review of its procedures as soon as is feasible.”

In a statement to Emirates 24|7 earlier, Etihad said it has apologised to the passengers aboard the flight, stating the delay was further compounded by the requirement to replace the aircraft’s ultra-long haul operating crew who had exceeded their flight time limitations.

The spokesperson further added: “During the time on the ground, awaiting permission to take-off, passengers were provided with refreshments and were updated about the reasons for the rolling delay caused by the extreme weather conditions.”

Abu Dhabi International Airport had to suspend operations for a period January 3, as visibility fell below General Civil Aviation Authority-mandated safety limits.

Meanwhile, according to the latest weather forecast by the National Centre of Meteorology and Seismology, passengers can heave a sigh of relief as the report claims fair weather in general, and partly cloudy at times.