Are Middle Eastern Carriers Really Superior to Other Commercial Airlines?
“H ave you flown one of these middle eastern carriers? I’d love to know what you think. Should other airlines be worried? Is the competition unfair?”
George Hobica — the founder of Airfarewatchdog — asked those questions in this article in The Huffington Post pertaining to his experience as a passenger in the business class cabin on airplanes operated by Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.
Why, yes I have, George — and I initially agreed with you on my first flight on Etihad Airways, where I wrote that “this is one of the better economy class cabins I have ever experienced” and that “my first experience suggests that Etihad Airways is a top choice.”
However, things can change rather quickly, as reported by me in this article pertaining to the worst flight operated by Etihad Airways which I had ever taken and why; and also as reported in this article by Kathy Kass of Will Run For Miles — but we were both passengers seated in the economy class cabin. You were seated in the business class cabin; and although you made a cursory reference to the perks of the economy class cabin, you still did not experience it, to my knowledge.
Additionally, customer service seems to be lacking in general by my experience with companies based in the United Arab Emirates such as Etihad Airways. I am not necessarily talking about the service from the flight experience itself; but rather contacting a customer service representative via e-mail message or by telephone. When operations go well, the experience can indeed be exemplary — even in the economy class cabin. When issues arise — such as being credited the amount of frequent flier loyalty program miles earned, for example — customer service can be quite lacking and frustrating…
…and despite paying for a premium experience at At The Top, Burj Khalifa in Dubai, I was on the receiving end of what I consider a deceptive practice, with a dearth of customer service recovery to top off the experience to the point where I advise avoiding paying the extra money for it.
George, you do bring up a very good point about where the Middle Eastern carriers are based — as well as their convenience to other destinations around the world. This is one reason why I believe that the elimination of complimentary stopovers and “open jaws” by airlines such as Delta Air Lines is a mistake which should be reconsidered. I would gladly stop over in two or more intermediary locations over a direct route at no extra charge if I can spend time at them. Ironically, this is one of those times where the marketing departments at airlines such as Delta Air Lines can “spin” the rhetoric — in this case, about the virtues of free stopovers and “open jaws” — about which I would actually agree. It sure would be a good selling point for me while helping to differentiate those airlines when comparing them to the Middle Eastern carriers — but perhaps my way of thinking is merely an anomaly.
Summary — a LONG Summary
In my opinion, George Hobica is correct about how the “little touches” can differentiate between a good flight experience and a great one — some of which do not need to subtract a significant amount of money from the bottom line for an airline such as Delta Air Lines to implement…
…and my experience suggests to me that the customer service component of Delta Air Lines — before, during and after a flight — has typically been consistently exemplary for me and would pit it any day over the customer service of any airline. I am not talking about being doted on and pampered beyond the point of being spoiled as I am served caviar and vintage wine on a platinum platter while laying flat on an oversized mattress fitted with silk sheets and rose petals — rather, I am referring to basic customer service where my requests are fulfilled to my satisfaction as a result.
I believe that my experiences on Gulf Air and Etihad Airways are — in some ways — more luster than substance; and for the aforementioned reasons, I really do not believe in general that a substantial gulf exists with experiences between carriers based in the Middle East and commercial airlines based elsewhere, as each have their strengths and weaknesses. That is not to say that airlines such as Delta Air Lines should not consider improvements to become an even better airline; but I do not think that the experience on carriers not based in the Middle East is horrific in any way.
…but more often than not, my experiences as a passenger in the economy class cabin have ranged from tolerable to actually enjoyable — such as on this flight operated by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines as an example.
For reasons already stated in this article, I also believe that the Open Skies debate is generally ridiculous — as well as the rhetoric being tossed around by the chief executive officers of some of the airlines. Commercial airlines based in the United States are already raking in record profits. As I wrote in this article on Thursday, March 19, 2015:
I have recently flown as a passenger seated in the economy class cabin on both Etihad Airways and Delta Air Lines — both on transatlantic flights. In terms of product and certain aspects of service, I would have to give the nod to Etihad Airways — but it does not exactly blow the product offered by Delta Air Lines “completely out of the water.” In terms of customer service both on and off of the airplane, Delta Air Lines is the clear winner, in my opinion.
What I am attempting to say is that each airline should compete based on its strengths — whether they be service, price, product, frequent flier loyalty program or other factors. Stop involving governments and wasting the time and money of taxpayers to further agendas intended to artificially affect the commercial aviation market and just get down to the business of serving your passengers safely, comfortably and efficiently…
…and this goes for airlines on all sides of the Open Skies debate.
To the airlines based in the United States: how about taking some more of those profits and further reinvesting them back into the airlines for them to be more competitive with the Middle Eastern carriers? I really do not believe that it would be that costly or impossible to implement — but what do I know?
In any case, I do not believe that Delta Air Lines, United Airlines or American Airlines should fear the Middle East carriers as much as has been recently expressed.
Was it worth the extra dollars you paid to experience the business class cabin on your flights, George — that is, if you indeed paid for them? Have you ever flown as a passenger seated in the economy class cabin on any of the carriers based in the Middle East? Do you truly believe that the Middle Eastern carriers are really that much better than their counterparts elsewhere in the world?
If so, George, then I’d love to know what you think.
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.