Serious Question: Would You Rather Fly United or Emirates?

Emirates sees fewer bookings on their US flights as a result of travel restrictions and the electronics ban on US flights from Dubai (and other airports in the region) so unsurprisingly they’re reducing the number of flights they operate to the US by 20% over the coming months.

Emirates had too much capacity flying to the US for the number of passengers willing to fly. Some of that could be that they grew too aggressively, even apart from security restrictions. Although what’s different now are the travel restrictions and electronics ban. Either way Emirates has determined that the current level of flying doesn’t make economic sense for them.

Delta, United, and American have unsuccessfully lobbied for two years to get the government to limit flying by Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar — reducing consumer choice and raising prices. Delta’s CEO actually said his goal was a government rule against lower airfare prices.

The US airline lobbying machine managed to get the Obama administration to open a formal rulemaking, but they didn’t actually win their case and the government took no action. However immigration and security moves over the past few months gave them the win they couldn’t get through earlier politics.

And now that Emirates is cutting US flights, does the airline lobbying outfit quietly revel in its victory over American consumers? Nope.

Here’s Delta News Hub:

“The fact is, market demand has never played a role when the Gulf carriers decide where to fly. It is well known that the Gulf carriers, including Emirates, lose money on most of their flights to the United States and are propped up by billions of dollars in government cash,” said Jill Zuckman, chief spokesperson for the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies.

“Their business model is based on growing their networks without regard to profitability in order to serve their governments’ goals to dominate global aviation. A perfect example is Emirates’ most recent route between Athens, Greece and Newark, N.J., a money-losing flight that is only possible because of government subsidies. That Emirates would refer to itself as “profit oriented” is simply laughable.”

In other words, “we claim they aren’t interested in profit and we’re going to publicly say we’ll ignore facts that contract that — even when we’re winning.”

They’re like small children continuing to complain they don’t like broccoli even after mom and dad scraped their plate into the trash and served dessert.

Except they’re coming out with this whining now just over a week after Delta’s entire operation collapsed on its customers cancelling over 4000 flights, operating most flights that did fly late, and even losing a dead body. And the week after a United passenger was dragged off a plane by police and bloodied. And right as United rolls out Basic Economy fares, offering consumers less at the same price.

I have a serious question for my American readers. Leave aside the myriad subsidies US airlines have gotten over the years.

  • Let’s even pretend that Gulf airlines are subsidized and US airlines aren’t (for instance, that it wasn’t the end to US government payments that caused United to stop flying to Kuwait City, that airline pensions didn’t get dumped on the federal Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, that American’s original aircraft order financing didn’t come from the Roosevelt administration, that United and Delta didn’t operate Tokyo hubs whose rights came as spoils of World War II, etc).

  • And that US airline employment isn’t at an all-time high

  • And that the Gulf airlines aren’t bigger buyers of Boeing planes than, say, Delta is

  • And that there’s some credible economic theory supporting protectionism for mature, profitable industries (US airlines are the world’s most profitable, too)

Let’s put aside the real arguments here. Pretend that the self-serving claims that Delta, United, and American are making are true and even relevant.

Would you rather fly United right now — or Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Is this a rhetorical question? Surely u know most (all?) of the knowledgeable readers would fly almost any eairline over the american ones!

  2. Certainly any of the Gulf Big Three in terms of service, food and often seats. But I’ll quality my answer just a bit. I believe that on some Emirates (and maybe Etihad?) long-hault flights, business class is not lie flat. Under those circumstances, and if I can avoid getting stuck in the middle four seats on United’s cattle car business class, I just might opt for United. (Or at least it would not be such an easy decision for me.) But for economy (which I’m fortunate enough to never fly long haul) or certainly first class, it’s any of the Gulf Big Three.

  3. Emirates offers an inferior business class seat on their 777s, absolutely. And their 777 economy product is 10-across, while Delta is still 9-across.

  4. I always pick foreign carriers before AA,UA,DL. There’s no reason not to. Even in economy, foreign airlines are better.

  5. Having flown both I’d pick UA every time. Emirates lied about seat pitch to WSJ (UA was lie-flat at the time, EK wasn’t), the food is too spicy (most customers want something mild), and the advertised car service repeatedly did not show up. By contrast UA delivers what is promised and takes much better care of customers in the event of irregular ops. UA mileage program and elite status is an easy winner too. Honestly the only thing I like about EK are the awesome lounges, and that would be easy for UA with a little more spend.

  6. I agree , Emirates 777 product can be a little Crappy, I’ve flown the Emirates suites numerous times and I’ve noticed a lot of wear and tear in them. There’s lots to break in there and that’s exactly whats happened, but even with all that , they still spank Uniteds ass like a mean stepmother . I’ve yet to experience United’s new Polaris product. If it turns out to be more than blue disco lighting and a rolling Bloody Mary station, I’ll be suprised.

  7. lol fk the US 3 for longhauls, id take either ME 3 flights in a heart beat even if it means long layover/stopovers. Ive boycotted United since ’98, never again will i take United economy, unless someone pays me atleast $1k. otherwise ill take a connection or 2.

  8. No brainer this one. QR followed by EK and then ET. Last week, to avoid the stupid and unwarranted electronics ban, I re-routed my Business flight DOH-ORD to LX. It was QR to FCO, then LX to ZRH and onto ORD, all in J. I was careful to avoid US based airlines. I am personally boycotting them. ( Like thy give a fuck LOL ). LX very ordinary, so made me realise how great QR are. It was a deadset pain in the arse to go through Europe and I won’t do it again. I will go back to Sri Lanka end of this wk and then 4 days later QR back to BOS via DOH. I am going to run the gauntlet because QR’s A350 to BOS and the superior service are worth it. I received an official email today, I can pack my electronics at the gate in DOH and get the receipt and pick up at the other end. Minimising the risk of theft I hope. Anyone done this yet? Would be interested in your experience.

  9. I flew QR doh-JFK in J class and the laptop collection was no big deal at all. Baggage personnel check your receipt before you can take your laptop which helps eliminate theft.

  10. I’ve never flown the Gulf carriers. The only route that would make sense for me would be to India. But United flies to BOM/DEL – the only two routes where a US carrier goes head to head with the ME3 – so I stick with them (and sometimes get upgrades). So I get one stop to India from PDX (okay via EWR) so no advantage with EK.

    Looking at the Gulf carriers’ hard products I’d fly United over Emirates in Y and J (especially with the new Polaris soft product which is great). I might be tempted by QR’s new business class but I’m a Star Alliance flier so that’s probably out. And (though off topic) certainly United over LH and BA, in both Y and J any time.

  11. Doug, I’m well aware that they no longer have non-stops, but they have plenty of connecting options via European partners.

    There’s no place I’d rather be editing photos than in a business class seat on an airplane with bad wifi. The laptop ban is a deal breaker for me as it ruins my plane time. Instead of being an oasis of productivity in an ADD world, one is forced to do other things like watch movies which one may or may not be interested in spending one’s time upon. I suppose reading Kindle books on my iPhone is a second best option. But even then, it’s a deal-breaker.

  12. @hans
    to each it’s own, but with 500 movies, superb food and service (and not to mention hot dutch stewardess…) EK is a much better choice

  13. “Emirates had too much capacity flying to the US for the number of passengers willing to fly. ”
    You know why that is? It’s called “dumping”.

    Their objective is not to make money, it is to create overcapacity in order to drive pricing down to the point where it is unprofitable for anyone to operate in their routes.

    You say US carriers are whining about the Gulf carriers not being profitable, but see…you can’t know that because the Gulf carriers are all wholly owned by their Governments and don’t have to report their financials to anyone.

    All I have to say is that faulty narratives like this have made me finally realize why lobbyists are a necessary evil.

  14. @USBT
    “certainly United over LH and BA, in both Y and J any time”
    It’s a off topic but I flew LH last weekend MUC-EWR and for Y cabin the crew was everything you could ask for, nowhere near the old grumpy hags UA has working its TATL. Soft and hard Y product at LH is light years better than UA. In J it’s all about the seat, why I avoid LH as well but UA offers nothing ground breaking either.

  15. @ Boraxo – I had just 3 UA flights this year and the only one that didn’t involve an overnight delay was a short 1 hour hop. So, that gives a 67% irrops rate. Not a very scientific number, but I’m betting that if I fly with any of these ME carriers, there would not be anything close to the pitiful experience I had with United.

  16. I’d pick Qatar last given the over bearing restrictions they place on their employees, which have been well covered on the various points/miles blogs we all read.

  17. ME3 all the way! Thank you for your analysis of the problems protectionism brings to the consumer, most journalists covering this are not experts on the economics of it all and readily amplify UA/DL/AA talking points without much deliberation. Of course those PR departments and CEOs are only happy to oblige, spewing disinformation to try to limit competition. It’s sad really, where this industry is going.

  18. My first ORD-DEL choice would be QR.

    However, if I have to choose between Emirates and United, then Emirates without hesitation.

  19. USBT – The crappy 3 American carriers love people like you, you’v never flown the ME Carriers, but you’re casting opinions on them? Go figure….

  20. I’m on the floor laughing at the question……….I’ve flown UA FC, AA FC, BA FC, LH FC but never the Gulf and only because they didn’t have a direct flight to France…………I have a UA Red Carpet Lifetime pass that will never be used again………and I’d never fly AA international unless forced…….so Emirates, Qatar, and Etihad are all ahead of ANY US flag carrier for international flights………The US carriers treat their employees better than their customers and it shows in how we feel about them……..we all have battered spouse syndrome from their treatment and I will NEVER get over it……..

  21. I’d never consider flying United anything other than domestically, and even then I’d have a good look at my options.

  22. Excellent points future President Leff…esp about the govt subsidies of U.S. airlines throughout the years. This stifling of competition & unfair pricing will eventually backfire because even that is unattainable.

  23. I’d rather fly in the wheel well of an Etihad or Qatar airplane over ANY US carrier.

    I have no love for Emirates, there hard product is worse than the ME2 and US2 (AA, Delta).

  24. Neither.

    Commercial flying is just a form of transportation; a means to get where I actually want to be instead of something I really want to experience for it’s own sake.

    The day someone invents instant teleportation no one is going to give two shits about commercial flying; just like what happened to taking the bus or the train across the country.

    In the mean time I put up with flying because it’s the fastest method to get where I want. I have no love or loyalty for airlines. For domestic flights I expect it to resemble a dirt flying New York subway car. On international flights I expect it to match the culture of country running it: India drunk pilots; Asia great service; America old ones arrogant people; Europe disinterest.

    No amount of regulations or freebies is going to change this industry.

  25. I’m on a United Express flight at work at the moment. I’d rather be at the dentists office getting a root canal but the dentist office is closed right now.

  26. I would rather fly just about anyone other than American legacy carriers. JetBlue or Southwest for domestic if its possible. Going to Asia? Obviously just about every single carrier is miles better, except for arguably a few Chinese carriers. European carriers all better as well. As are ME3.

  27. Hah, what choice: United First where the geriatric flight attendants wake you by yelling “I can feed you now!!” or any one of many foreign carriers where they seem to appreciate your patronage, treat you as a world traveler paying for premium passage, and provide understated service on well-maintained aircraft with superior seats and amenities. No contest: DL, UA and AA provide the Southwest of international travel, while QR, EK, EY, NH, JL, CX, SQ, BA, LH, AF, KL and most non-American carriers have provided me a memorable “experience” rather than an extended ordeal.

  28. I’d fly Emirates any day. The overall in-flight experience, IFE, service, everything is way better than any of the Big 3 US carriers. I fly frequently to S and SE Asia and only fly Singapore or Emirates.

  29. Emirates, Etihad and Qatar – no question. I would rather tolerate the electronics ban than fly on any of the US Carriers internationally.

  30. I’d take any foreign airline with an A380. Flew Qantas A380 First London-Dubai, then Dubai-Sydney end of last year, it was fantastic. Generally, 777s seem to be better for efficiency, while A380s are better for comfort. Which is why airlines have bought way more 777s than A380s, and why I prefer flying the A380.

  31. The US airlines are beyond saving (at least for a generation) as the their anti-consumer attitude is so ingrained. There is no comparison between them and the ME3.

  32. Tough question because the two don’t compete head to head much at all really so direct comparisons are impossible.

    Emirates wins on IFE hands down. In coach it probably wins on food too. But its 777s in Economy are 3-4-3 while most United 777s are 2-5-2. I did EK SFO-DXB in a middle seat. That was rough.

    I’m not going to get into the differences in First/Business class because the vast majority of the flying public can’t afford to fly EK or United in business/first. So we’re really talking

    Emirates route network makes it a natural for most of Asia save for the Eastern coasts where United has a decided edge from the US.

    So since we’re on hypotheticals, if I’m flying to East Asia I would like to fly a United 777 in Economy that’s equipped with Emirates IFE. But if I’m flying into central Asia or Africa…it’s Emirates because that’s the shortest most direct route there. Food isn’t a deciding factor for me. It’s gravy.

  33. “USBT – The crappy 3 American carriers love people like you, you’v never flown the ME Carriers, but you’re casting opinions on them? Go figure….”

    What a nice comment!

    If you read my post you’d see thst I declared I’ve never flown them. and that the only route I’d have reason to fly any of the Gulf carriers is covered by United. There’s **no advantage schedule wise** to me flying the ME3, in fact UA is better for me. Yes in case you hadn’t noticed there’s one US3 carrier (UA) competing against the ME3, on (only) two routes, but both of which I happen to fly.

    And despite all the crap being thrown both ways. …,

    1) Coach is coach.

    2) My company books me into coach do I have to rely on upgrades to get anything better. So I make my 1K work for me.

    3) From what I’ve seen, EK isn’t all luxury across all business class.

    4) When I fly J I want to rest, not hang about in a pseudo bar hoping to meet Jennifer Aniston.

    5) The UA J seat/flat bed is pretty comfortable. Yes the 2-4-2 on some aircraft isn’t great but it’s comfortable. And see (2) above.

    For me it’s route coverage. And no ME3 carrier offers me anything better than United.

  34. It’s hard to believe that is a serious question. The US legacy airlines treat their customers with outright contempt pretty regularly. And they continue to focus on ways to give you less for the same amount of money (though BA just upped their game on this account with the no meals on long-haul econ tickets) and just pretend that you are too stupid to realize that any time they use the word “choice” in their marketing it means they want to charge you extra for something that was previously included in your ticket price. With consolidation at high point for US airlines it would seem that they have successfully created enough of a monopoly that they feel no compulsion to meet their customers needs beyond the most basic elements of their contract of carriage (and sometimes not even then). So as long as the US carriers know you really don’t have much choice they will continue to treat their customers poorly.

  35. From a website I trust: “As for Israeli citizens, entering the UAE on an Israeli passport or applying for a UAE visa is not normally permitted, but Israeli citizens can transit through the UAE … usually.” EAL is wholly owned by the government of Dubai’s Investment Corporation of Dubai. Unless this information is mistaken, sorry, if Israelis cannot fly on EAL, I won’t fly on EAL. United for me.

  36. Once you flew Economy on EK A380 longhaul with amazing legspace you never want to fly any US3 or European carrier in Y ever again!

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