Despite the COVID-19 pandemic removing the majority of planes from our skies, Emirates is an airline that's managed to maintain its brand prominence in the New Zealand market.
Known for its massive A380 aircraft, its super luxurious business and first class products and incredibly long non-stop 18-hour flights, the airline says they are in the New Zealand market for the long haul.
Emirates also says its services in Aotearoa are a priority, both during COVID-19 and after it - teasing potential new routes out of New Zealand post-pandemic, when the international air travel market will be filled with new opportunities.
I sat down with the airline's New Zealand manager, Chris Lethbridge, who describes COVID-19 as the "biggest catastrophe" the industry has dealt with in history, to find out what plans the airline has over the next few years - especially for this part of the world.
Commitment to Aotearoa
In 2016, Emirates operated four A380s into Auckland International Airport every day.
Originating in Dubai, there were three services that stopped off in Australia - Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane - as well as one direct service not-stop from the UAE.
A service to Dubai via Bali began in 2018, but was pulled less than a year later and the number of daily flights to Auckland from Dubai was cut back to just the one, direct service. So, would the decline in Emirates services continue after COVID?
"The commitment is still there. I think we've demonstrated that with the fact we are already flying again and we are flying four times a week into Auckland, although some of those flights are cargo only," Lethbridge told Newshub.
He added there would of course be far more flights if people could travel.
Swapping bums on seats for boxes
Many of Emirates' 153 Boeing 777s are being used to carry freight rather than passengers. While cargo is providing much needed income, it's not easy to operate a cargo service on aircraft designed for passengers.
"We've gone from being in a passenger-first scenario to a cargo-first scenario and that's simply driven by the restrictions we have from the governments and how many people we can actually physically move," Lethbridge said.
"The dilemma we've got now is that you take the passenger services away and you've still got to provide those freight corridors to our key trade markets around the world."
Some of the airline's aircraft have had their passenger cabins fitouts completely removed to make more room for cargo.
Will we see the A380 back in New Zealand?
Emirates has 115 of the 'double-decker' mega-aircraft, but just 11 of them are currently being used. The rest are parked in storage at various airports around the world.
Airbus, the manufacturer of the A380, has said production will be wrapping up as demand for the aircraft essentially disappeared. But Lethbridge says fans of the aircraft in Aotearoa will likely see it return to our skies.
"It's our flagship aircraft, our passengers just love it. We've got an awful lot of them, but right now the economics of managing that cargo/passenger mix does create some challenges for us, but I think ultimately, yes, we will see the aircraft here again."
When will we return to 'normal'?
Air New Zealand's CEO Greg Foran said recently that passenger travel to Australia is unlikely before March and that for destinations such as the US, services there won't be operating until late 2021.
Emirates thinks the wait may be even longer.
"Our forecasting suggests 2022 - 2024," Lethbridge said.
"Now I know that's a fairly wide time range, but there's still a long way to go. Will there be a vaccine? Will we come up with a risk based solution that allows people to travel more freely? Will borders reopen?
"These are the questions that we are trying to grapple with now and we haven't got an answer to."
Lethbridge said that despite the disastrous hit to the industry, Emirates is making sure it keeps the wheels turning by not sitting on the tarmac doing nothing, but rather keeping itself at the forefront of the drive to recovery.
"You'd be surprised how many [aircraft] are flying. We've got a fleet of 258 aircraft, and we've got about 115 already flying. It's the restart of the passenger network, we are already flying to 85 destinations and that seems to be growing by the week, and as you start new destinations you create more demand."
Offering peace of mind
Even when the borders do open, there may not be a rush to the gates as many people have built up substantial anxiety about flying. It's something Emirates is preparing for by offering what is essentially free travel insurance in the case of any passengers contracting COVID-19 while on a trip that's booked with the airline.
"It's all about peace of mind for the passenger. It's part of a suite of processes we offer to give people travelling with us confidence to get back on an airplane," Lethbridge said.
"We are the first airline to insist that every passenger that gets on any one of our flights anywhere on the network must present with a negative covid test, so that's number one.
"Number two is we offer free COVID care, so basically anyone who is away for less than 31 days and contracts COVID, we give them full cover.
"The third thing is really creating that safe pathway, that green pathway so when people are travelling through Dubai or on one of our aircraft, they know that they are safe," Lethbridge says.
Emirates Team New Zealand's newest challenger
Before Emirates Team New Zealand can even worry about a challenge from either Luna Rossa, American Magic, Ineos Team UK or Stars and Stripes Team USA, the current holder of the America's Cup and the entire event itself needs to make sure there's a successful defence of Aotearoa's borders and that COVID-19 doesn't foil its way into the country when the event takes place.
"We've been a supporter of the team and naming rights sponsor since 2004. The challenge we have is what challenges COVID-19 will throw at us," Lethbridge said.
"We are working on the basis that the event will go ahead and will most probably be the first global event to be held in the world which is exciting.
"We will have things planned, we need to work within the parameters of what scope we have."
From Middle East to Middle-earth?
In a recent interview on The AM Show, Lethbridge said "all bets were off" when it comes to who will operate international routes into and out of New Zealand in the post-COVID world.
These comments came after Air NZ signalled it would be unlikely to return to all of their previous international destinations. So, would Emirates consider flying between New Zealand and the US or Asia?
"What's interesting is that we are actually already carrying a lot of people to those destinations over Dubai," Lethbridge says.
"To go into what we call the 'freedom routes' requires a fair amount of conversation with governments and I think our focus has got to be getting our network back to its full capacity before we look at anything like that."
Emirates has a strained relationship with the US. In 2017, the airline cut 20 percent of the flights it operated into the US due to what the airline said was a drop in demand over Donald Trump's infamous Muslim travel ban.
"We've operated through Singapore, Australia, Bangkok, through Christchurch. We've often done this to build the network. Our key focus really is New Zealand to the Middle East and New Zealand to Europe and Africa."
However, there was one route that appeared to grab Lethbridge's attention.
I suggested to him: "You could almost do an around-the-world service from New Zealand. Up through North America, over to Dubai then down to New Zealand or via Asia."
"That's a good idea," Lethbridge said with an amused smile.