When I'm in Dubai International Airport (DXB), I'm impressed not only by the fact that it has camel's milk chocolate bars for sale—gamy, but tasty—but also by the of-the-moment design of the place, which features international brands such as Shake Shack, lots of tinted glass, and shiny metal columns.
Today, what's impressing me the most about DXB, which handled 89 million passengers last year, is how cutting-edge its response to Covid-19 has been. Every week, it seems, comes an announcement touting the creative, innovative steps being taken by the airport—and the United Arab Emirates' national carrier, Emirates Airlines—to protect passengers from the virus.
Back in April, we reported that Emirates began offering rapid coronavirus tests at the Dubai Airport as part of the boarding procedure—the first airline in the world to do so (Lufthansa has since followed suit, through a partner). The airport also began requiring negative test results for entry to its terminals.
Since then, the airport has installed acrylic sheet barriers at all check-in desks and immigration stations, marked the floors to make social distancing easier, and mandated that all passengers wear masks as well as gloves.
Those are all fairly standard ideas. More surprisingly, the airport started employing specially trained coronavirus-detecting dogs last week.
It turns out that in addition to all their other wonderful and indispensable talents, dogs are able to correctly identify people infected by the coronavirus 92% of the time.
The animals never come into direct contact with travelers. Instead, they sniff saliva-dabbed swabs collected from passengers, and when one smells like it's positive, the dog sits down in front of the sample. This compelling video from the Emirates News Agency shows how it works:
What if all the safeguards fail and a passenger accidentally takes off from Dubai Airport carrying the virus? Emirates has a plan for that, too.
Now, Emirates tickets automatically include a free insurance policy that covers medical expenses up to US $176,000. That includes about $115 per day for up to two weeks of quarantine, should that be necessary, and, morbidly, another $1,765 for a funeral if the worst comes to pass.
As governments and corporations dither on coming up with working systems to restart travel, Dubai's airport has emerged as the world's leader in proactive safety measures. If travel is ever going to have a chance at a comeback during this pandemic, we need more role models like DXB.
What will they come up with next?