Why Do People Even Think the Middle East Airlines are Better Than US Carriers?

Qatar Airways is introducing 10-across seating in economy on their Boeing 777s. New planes will come into service 10-across and existing aircraft will be retrofitted to 10-across by the end of 2016.

Emirates is already 10-across on their 777s.

Now, American does this too. And their 9-across Boeing 787 economy is just as tight.

Delta remains 9-across and hasn’t announced plans to change.

So why do we say that the Middle East airlines are better? And why do people think that the Middle East carriers don’t consider economics in their fleet planning thus they’re unfair competitors, offering a subsidized passenger experience that’s supposed to be unfair to US airlines?

Meanwhile, major US airlines are nearly all fully flat in international business class. Here’s American’s Boeing 787 business class seat, which is the same as what they’re putting into retrofitted Boeing 777-200s:

American’s 777-300ERs offer 4 seats across with all aisle access. Emirates’ 777-300ERs offer seven seats across and seats aren’t even fully flat.

The Emirates regional product I flew Male – Colombo and Colombo – Dubai earlier in the year was six seats across in first class.

Unquestionably Emirates’ catering is better than United’s, Delta’s, or American’s. And their cabins are full of bling.

Emirates offers a fully flat business class on their Airbus A380. And an onboard bar.

But an onboard bar isn’t a reason to choose an airline. A first class shower is amazing, of course.

That shower makes us think that the product is better, but in fact across much of the fleet of the big Middle Eastern airlines, and for most passengers on the plane, it isn’t obviously so.

There’s a halo effect from the over-the-top front cabins. But US airlines can compete and win against the Middle East airlines. So they should shut up and stop complaining, they’re subsidized too. Instead focus on their assets and work to do better. Don’t whine to government to try to reduce options and raise prices on US consumers.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Agreed – although AA still has quite a ways to go for lie-flat business class (all of their 757s, many 763s and 772s are still not lie-flat). So many people talk about Emirates and to me their business class hard product is one of the worst in the industry – not a flat bed and very tight. Do they have many true lie-flat biz seats in their planes, besides the A380?

    Qatar is at least doing a good job converting to lie-flat business class – I believe less than 10% of their widebody fleet will still have angle-flat biz seats by the end of the year, with conversions occurring through 2016.

  2. I think the Gulf States Carriers are better, period. They have invested in newer planes, at least half of which are Boeing US made, while some are going to 10 across in some so are US carriers looking at the same. The ONLY thing that will change that are the customers.

    I fly international several times a year and I have stopped flying US metal a long time ago simply for the lack of service, clean airplanes and eatable food and that includes FC/BIZ. Why would I use say DL and old rehab’d 767, food service that resembles a high school cafeteria and FA’s with an aptitude over a clean, current generation metal, very efficient friendly FA’s and good food. ?

    That seems to be a no brainer.

    I fully agree that the US carriers need to stop whining especially Anderson and DL and get on with business. They can compete and I would be more than happy to go back to US metal.

  3. I’m not sure about Etihad and Emirates, but the old Qatar Business class seats (2x2x2 config) were comfortable and lie-flat which was nice. However, what put Qatar over the top was the service and the food quality/selection. Just miles ahead of any US carrier.

  4. The Gulf carriers get the customer service part very right, and as humans, we naturally associate superior customer service with a better product. In my opinion.

  5. Hey Gary,
    Completely agree. I have a kind of unrelated question I was hoping you could help me with.

    I have a trip in Feb REP-HKG-NRT-ORD. I will be in the highest cabin in each plane, economy (DragonAir), then CX business and finally JAL First for the transpacific segment. I know I will be able to access the First class lounge in NRT but will I also be able to access the First class lounges in HKG since my longest segment is First?

  6. US airlines think that food quality is a giveaway
    Put out crap plate it nicely and hope no one will care once they have a few cocktails
    Premium customers want a premium experience
    Some customers also expect reasonable award availability if they are going to purchase tickets as well
    Loyalty is a 2 way street
    Because Domestic carriers don’t have quality food beverages or truly reasonable award availability
    I’m spending tens of thousands out of my country
    I’m on International carriers enjoying a Perrier in a bottle rather
    Drink tap water club soda and crystal geiser
    My 2 cents

  7. As a mostly economy traveler, I’ve wondered the same thing about the ME carriers…not greatly better or worse in Y anyway.

  8. Gary,

    Why *isn’t* an onboard bar a reason to choose a carrier? I want to fly someone that does, ’cause it’s cool. I did Kingfisher J back in the day, and the bar was a nice touch. I like not sitting in my seat the whole f’ing time.

  9. OK. So your next trip to the Maldives why not fly a part of the international leg on AA or Delta? I doubt you will..

  10. one of the reasons I like CX over the ME carriers is that they have the 3-3-3 arrangement in their 777s. In fact, I think even BA has 3-3-3. Though, the A330/A340s in EY are the standard 2-4-2 which is very comfortable too (though they may be getting phased out now?)

  11. No one likes a crying baby. Which is exactly what the US carriers are being.

    Besides that, ME3 usually have better service delivered by people who were born within the last century with an attempt to look like they care. .

  12. I think that overall the Gulf States carriers (GS3). They have heavily invested in newer planes, at least half of which are Boeing US made, and the rest are Airbus made in Europe.

    I think that all this rubbish coming from either fematale organizations, people trying to live of nothing, other for making a career in any of the GS3, I love them all. They have proven to me, that this is more about female career making, rather than under-paid airline work.

    I have dated a few air-hostess in Norway, that have not yet been abled to paid their obligations, based on their minimum pay, however – their flight allowances makes their difference.

  13. Tough to not assume the ME carriers are better than the US carriers when all we hear from the travel blogging world is the crazy awesomeness that is first and even biz class on these ME carriers. With little to no insights coming from the same bloggers about econ travel we’d just need to assume that econ is better than its US counterparts. Halo indeed!

  14. @Sice I’ve written several times about Emirates 10 across in economy, and it’s a sort of ironic thing to comment on a very post where I’m writing about Qatar 10 across in economy 😀

  15. I would say AA 787 at 9 across in Y is fine. So is 10 across in coach. If you’re feeling cramped maybe you should examine your waist line and hit the gym.

  16. False picture. The EK photo you show is in fact the business class cabin.
    Fact check please.

  17. @Mike – read the paragraph immediately preceding that photo. He refers to Emirates 7-across Business class. The photo is of Emirates 7-across Business Class. What’s there to fact-check?

  18. The primary complaint of the USA carriers against the Middle East carriers isn’t that the subsidies enable them to offer better service (although things like private cabins are absurd money losers), its that the subsidies enable those airlines to fly routes that are obviously uneconomical (and thereby drain customer demand from “for profit” airlines). Let’s take a look at Philly today, where AA just announced that they are ending US’s PHL-TLV service. Logic would suggest this is a plausible route: the only flight to Israel from the world’s largest airline, and there is an obvious market for such service: lots of affluent Jews who travel back and forth, good tourism demand to Israel, and a burgeoning Israeli tech sector. With a large PHL Jewish community, a large PHL hub, and few other good USA-Israel connections, this would seem like a plausible ultra long haul flight for AA. But it’s apparently not.
    In contrast, we’re supposed to believe that PHL-Doha (a city that 98% of Americans have never even heard of, with a population less than 1 million) is supposed to be a plausible route? Do you believe this? Why? There’s essentially zero origin/destination traffic in these city pairs, so I guess everyone in Philly s rushing to choose an airline they’ve never heard of (Qatar) for their connecting flight to India — and that this service is surprisingly profitable (given that no other airlines are able to fly ultra long haul routes without strong nonstop travel demand on the nonstop segment).

    Bottomline, to believe what you say about the Middle East airlines, you have to completely ignore every other fact we know about the way int’l aviation works. It’s a position of absolute know-nothingness, which is why it surprises me.

  19. @iahphx AA has never made TLV work. But there’s no beyond traffic. DOH is perfectly located to connect a large portion of the world’s population. Emirates makes money. Etihad barely does. Qatar is probably a loser. But Qatar here is obviously making economic decisions. And serving routes that make zero sense geographically for US airlines.

  20. In my experience, the”customer service” from the Flight Attendants of the 4 Middle East carriers (Qatar, Emirates, Etihad, Kuwait) are far superior than the Flight Attendants of US carriers (UAL, AA, Delta). Lot of times the FA of US carriers are grumpy and their face shows being bothered asking for help. Also, they are not very attractive, mostly middle-aged, which doesn’t help either..

  21. ff_lover

    Who defines what “attractive” is, and what has age got to do with anything?

    All I want is a Flight Attendant who is pleasant, helpful, and cheerful. Nothing more. They are there to help, they are not slaves to do your bidding.

    I will admit to seeing some not very pleasant FA’s on flights in the US. But given the way Americans treat any sort of staff, I am not surprised they get fed up with being treated like dirt.

    And to be even handed, let’s take Qantas, my national airline. Some of their staff leave a lot to be desired. I gave up flying them years ago. I prefer being treated as a human being by the nice people at Singapore Airlines.

  22. @johnny33 I have certainly flown both economy and business class, but my award redemptions TO THE MALDIVES have been in first. I won’t say never will, because of course the opportunity to redeem in first could very well change.

  23. Service before anything else. It got to the point where flying US carriers I get scared of the FA. I mean, we are far from service request, but yet I am afraid if they are in a bad mood they will come and provoke me, aggress me with a bad attitude etc. I am not saying overtime you get a horrible FA but most of the time the service is just bad and 10% of that you get the one that is “actively bad” looking for trouble… But In the US service is bad overall

    And then there is the food.

    To Garrys point, yes they can change that, but it is almost impossible with the culture (not a service culture/everyone is middle class), union, workers right, new safety concerns (they are here for your safety first as an excuse to not serve you).

    Frankly Gary I don’t see it happening, only service getting worst and worst and worst like it has been at an exponential rate (FA in the galley laying down closing curtain playing on their iPad with there shoes off, we have all seen this)

  24. Certainly blogs help to perpetuate the halo effect of the ME3. Frankly, if not for the blogs I don’t think I’d have much of an idea of what 1st, Biz, Economy look like on the ME3. Except for Etihad, which I’ve flown. In economy. But, as blingy and amazing as the A380 1st Class seems to be, my flight was ORD-AUH which doesn’t have F and a kind of dingy looking Biz.

    And I’ll never understand why people get so giggly over an on-board shower.

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