Emirates airplane
If you get COVID-19 while traveling with Emirates, they say they'll pick up your medical bill.
Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Emirates Is the First Airline to Offer Free COVID-19 Travel Insurance

Goodwill from an airline? In 2020?

Dubai-based airline Emirates announced earlier this week that it will now cover medical expenses and quarantine costs for passengers that contract COVID-19 through the end of October, at no extra charge. It’s the first airline to introduce such a program, and it comes at a time when many airlines — both domestic and international — are still struggling (or simply unwilling) to refund canceled flights.

Emirates is prepared to pay up to €150,000 (roughly $175k) for medical expenses, plus a $115 per diem for the ensuing weeks of quarantine. All travelers have to do is book their trip with Emirates, and do so before October 31, when the program ends. (It’s possible Emirates will consider extending it at that time, if COVID-19 is still widespread, and travelers would feel more comfortable having the safeguard.) Every passenger is automatically eligible for the insurance, which is then active for 31 days after the first flight of the journey.

That amount of time is actually somewhat generous, considering that most COVID-19 cases, even those that require hospitalization, stretch less than a full month for recovery. But that’s sort of the point here; for Emirates, this isn’t just a goodwill marketing ploy. It really can’t be. Airlines don’t have to offer a package like this — customers certainly wouldn’t expect them to. But if one is going to, it can’t exactly half-ass the recovery effort of someone’s parent, sibling or child.

And even if most people don’t end up needing the insurance, this is at least a proactive approach by Emirates to jumpstart tourism again. Airlines can clean their cabins all day, and tell people that that recycled air is more sanitary than they think (there is some evidence to that, actually), but if would-be travelers don’t feel inclined to take the risk, that’s that. This way, at least, Emirates has a vested interest in the safety of its customers, and can make smart business decisions throughout the course of the year — like prioritizing routes to areas with lower case rates — that align with public health.

In the meantime, everyone else should keep ringing up United for a refund. One of those calls will get through eventually.

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