Emirates is committed to restoring its U.S. network as soon as feasible, according to the carrier's head of North American sales.
"From a sales perspective I want to open them all up, but I am still realistic that there are some immigration regulations and border regulations that are against in that respect," Andrew Bunn said in a Travel Weekly interview.
The Dubai-based airline is currently flying to half its dozen pre-pandemic U.S. gateways, including daily service to New York JFK and fewer frequencies to Chicago O'Hare, Washington Dulles, Boston, Houston Bush and Los Angeles.
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The carrier's service from Dubai to Orlando, Seattle, San Francisco, Dallas and Fort Lauderdale remains suspended. So do its one-stop, Dubai-Milan-JFK and Dubai-Athens-Newark routes.
Emirates currently flies 27 weekly frequencies from the U.S., compared with approximately 100 before Covid-19.
Bunn noted that as of the second week of November, Emirates will be flying approximately two-thirds of its pre-Covid global routes, even as travel restrictions and quarantine requirements continue to be a major impediment.
"It's a very strong message that we are opening our network," he said.
Stateside, he said the Emirates team is talking regularly about the metrics of reopening the San Francisco, Seattle and Dallas routes in particular. The one-stop routes are also a priority, though they will likely come back slower due to the complications of dealing with extra borders.
Like other international airlines, the flights Emirates is operating are mostly peopled these days by individuals visiting family and friends, known in industry parlance as the VFR market.
"It's a kind of an urgent VFR market," Bunn said. "There's a necessity to it because people haven't been able to travel. They want to travel home. People want to see family."
India is a common destination for U.S.-originating traffic. Dubai itself is also open to U.S. visitors.
The carrier is supplementing passenger loads with a heavier focus on cargo than it had before the pandemic.
Bunn wouldn't reveal information on load factors for its U.S. flights, though he said passenger counts are highest out of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. He also wouldn't specifically say whether the flights are making money.
"I think it is fair to say we are not in the business of operating loss-making routes," Bunn offered.
As with executives at airlines around the world, Bunn took pains to explain that Emirates has stepped up cleaning protocols and is requiring masks. Dubai-bound passengers must provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test completed within 96 hours of travel. For passengers transferring through Dubai, requirements vary by country and region. For the U.S., transit travelers from Texas, California and Florida must show a negative test result before flying.
Nevertheless, the Western Australia Department of Health is currently studying a July 1 Emirates flight from Dubai to Perth, Australia, that has been linked to 20 Covid-19 cases. According to a passenger who says he and his wife contracted the virus on the plane, Emirates did adhere to its safety policies in-flight. For example, the mask-wearing was enforced and flight attendants wore protective clothing. The passenger asked that his name not be used in order to protect his privacy.
Bunn said Emirates is doing everything it can to minimize the chance of onboard virus transmission.
"The only thing you can do is put the protocols and the procedures in place and make sure that they're followed as strictly as possible to minimize risk and maximize confidence," he said. "And I don't think you can ever say never. But what you can say is we are doing our utmost to put these steps in place onboard and on the ground."
On Monday, Emirates announced that, beginning Nov. 1, onboard dining will return to pre-Covid levels, except with stricter hygiene protocols. In addition, business and first class social areas will begin reopening on Emirates' Boeing 777 routes.
Bunn said that even during the pandemic flyers can expect the high-end service that Emirates is known for.
"Perhaps now more than ever, that's what people will be looking for. They'll be looking for that additional comfort," he said.