Sometimes you have to travel by other airlines to realize that despite all the complaints we share about Emirates, the Dubai based airline, is still one unbeatable show in the air. Recently I ranted about my experience about Turkish airline (see the posts in August) and last month I had the dubious pleasure of traveling for work on Saudia, an experience that made me rethink all my biases and prejudices about Emirates.
As I have grown older, my appetite for adventure has been replaced by a desire for consistency. I no longer like surprises when it comes to food, hotel rooms, my airplane seats and airports. And while Emirates has recently started having issues with age, it has done a remarkable job of delivering consistent services to its frequent fliers. Beginning with food, economy class seats, skywards program, the ease with which you can upgrade and check in online and ending with their travel schedule and lounges across the world, there is no other airline that comes even close. Etihad is catching up and I hope will quickly define new boundaries but for now there is only one ruler of Middle Eastern skies. I am not saying that Saudia, Turkish, United, Gulf, Virgin, American or PIA are necessarily bad airlines (they may very well be) just that Emirates has established a completely different class of service when it comes to air travel when it comes to frequent fliers.
Which brings me to this post. Once upon a time it was fashionable for all airlines to simply dump our airports and walk away from the terms Civil Aviation Authority came up with in their dreams. I used to get upset every time I read about KLM, Lufthansa, Singapore airlines and Air France walking away from our airports and cities. I used to think that it was a reflection of our stupidity and incompetence. Never in my wildest thoughts did I ever think that it had something to do with the competition and the fact that Middle Eastern carriers like Etihad and Emirates were eating their lunch. And now with the diplomatic crisis between UAE and Canada getting uglier by the day the truth is finally out there. New Middle Eastern carriers have eaten everybody’s lunch. Largely on account of their deeper pockets but mostly on account of service that is in a different dimension compared to what we used t get 20 years ago. And everyone else is running scared to the extent of paying US$ 1,000 in visitor visa fees and losing the immigrant vote bank.
Let me give you a simple instance. April of last year a work related engagement required me to head to the US while Europe was blanketed in volcanic ash. A number of my colleagues coming via Europe couldn’t make it. Courtesy of a non-stop, 13 hour relatively painless flight to NYC, I made it in time and headed back home in time. Two decades ago you couldn’t think of skipping Heathrow, Amsterdam or Frankfurt. Forget the idiocy of travelling to Islamabad and standing in line for a day to get your US visa, you had to repeat the experience just for the honor of transiting through Schiphol where you were treated like the third world citizen you were (and btw this is before 9/11 and TSA travel safety requirements, imagine what it was like in a post 9/11 world).
Saudia, Kuwait, Oman and Gulf are all airlines that belong to the past because they have not changed fast enough. Gulf at the rate its going will hopefully be put out of its misery sooner than later. While the others may not necessarily fade away and oblige us like Gulf but they are all relegated to the also ran category. Emirates, Etihad and Qatar have given a new meaning to consistent travel experience and will carry on reducing the distances that exists between the worlds we know and travel across.
And no it is not because they get subsidized fuel. I have checked. For the top three airlines mentioned in this post, it gets priced in at market. It truly is a service game.
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