The ME 3
In this article, I explore the uprising of the 3 biggest Middle Eastern airlines over the past decade, Emirates, Qatar Airways and Eithad.
Emirates. Qatar Airways. Etihad. These are the three names that come to mind when you think of luxury travel. These airlines have managed to recreate a 5-star experience 40,000 feet in the sky that will make you forget than you’re floating on air in a metal tube. These are the three big middle eastern airlines, or commonly nicknamed the ME 3. They have dominated the international sky for decades winning multiple awards year after year. From a history perspective, the middle east is a fairly unexplored and lacklustre place, their culture not as well-known as the Europeans, but recently, the tourism industry there has exploded and their airlines have become a global phenomenon. Why exactly are these airlines the frontrunners in the industry and what makes them so great.
1. Rich owners
This is the first reason that comes to mind since these middle eastern countries have an exuberant amount of wealth. The ME 3 are backed by the government of their countries who pour billions of dollars into their development and take humongous efforts to create a premium onboard experience. This is because the airline defines the country. Think about it this way, what is Dubai without Emirates? Their airlines have put their countries on the map and the countries have profited to a huge extent both directly and indirectly from investing heavily into their national carriers. However, this is only one of several reasons why the ME 3 are successful and once you dig deeper, the others become more evident.
The ‘middle’ east is positioned in one of the most convenient and central locations in the world. It is 6 hours away from over two thirds of the planet (6 billion people), including most of continental Europe, the Indian subcontinent, major parts of Russia and South East Asia. Being this close to so many people has its advantages and puts the middle east in almost every major travel path in the world. As a result, these carriers are built on the connection model and are now known as ‘super connectors.’ This leads into the next point about their locations being the ideal place to connect.
3. Connecting is comfortable
For example, a flight from Paris to Bangkok is normally twelve hours, but a stop in Dubai breaks the journey short into two flights of six hours each. This gives passengers time to stretch their legs, walk around, eat a proper meal and simply relax on land. The high influx of connecting passengers has forced these countries to create state of the art airports and they have most certainly delivered. Doha Hamad International Airport is one of the most exuberant and facility packed airport with spectacular lounges, multiple hotels, a recreation area, a swimming pool, a trampoline park, theatre and a variety of duty-free shopping options. In fact, Abu Dhabi Airport lets passengers travelling to the United Sates clear Immigration before boarding their plane. As a result, these passengers are able to exit the airport in the USA through the domestic terminal, avoiding the hours of waiting in rush hour queues. The airport itself becomes an attraction and traveler's plan their trips in a way that they get to spend at a few hours at the airport, giving the national carrier more customers.
4. Banked hubs
To make connecting easier, flight timetables are specifically curated to leave and arrive at particular times. This reduces the waiting time at the connecting airport and helps passengers get on with their journey as fast as possible. To explain this in detail, let us look at how Etihad Airways operates. Abu Dhabi Airport has 2 major banks. In the first bank, flights from the west arrive between 7 and 8:30 pm. Eastbound flights depart between 9:30 and 10:30 pm. Hence passengers connecting from places like Europe or the United States who want to travel to East Asia have faster journeys with reduced waiting times. In the second bank, flights arrive from the East between 11:30 and 12:30 pm. Westbound flights depart between 2 and 3:30 pm. This is beneficial for passengers who originate in East Asia and want to travel to Europe or further west.
The fuel burn of an aircraft is primarily dependent on the weight it carries. The more you carry, the more you burn. This applies to medium and long-haul flights. For every aircraft, there is a sweet spot where it burns the least amount of fuel per minute. For most aircraft models, this lies between 2000 and 3000 miles. This is roughly 6 hours of flying time and the plethora of important destinations and people within 6 hours from the middle east is vast. The Americas, for example, are very disconnected from the rest of the world, the closest other continent to them is at least a 7-to-8-hour journey. This makes the middle east a very efficient hub in terms of both time and money.
6. Appeal to all customers
There are two primary kinds of travellers, cost sensitive passengers and luxury passenger. First, let us talk about the cost sensitive ones. For these passengers, the primary concern is money and they will choose whichever route is cheaper for them, regardless of whether it is nonstop or direct. Most airlines charge a premium fare for direct flights since they are more convenient. This makes European or American carriers very expensive. The middle eastern carriers, on the other hand, are able to charge a lower price because the passengers have to be inconvenienced by increasing their travel as a consequence of the break in their journey. Not only that, as mentioned above, they are highly efficient and heavily subsidised by their governments. This reliance on price efficiency is also the reason the economy class of the ME 3 is not as revolutionary as their business or first class. Still, a lot of people say that the ME 3 have a better economy class than most airlines but this is only because they have newer aircrafts like the Airbus A350 or the A380 as compared to the old 777’s, 747’s and the A330’s that other carriers operate.
On the other hand, there are the luxury passengers, to whom money is not as much of a concern and are willing to pay the greater fare for the direct flights. This becomes a problem for the ME 3 since these luxury travellers would much rather prefer flying point to point than stopping at one of their hubs.
As a result, the ME 3 have focused on creating an absolutely stunning on board experience that is more luxurious than any other airline. For example, Qatar Airways has introduced their new Q suite business class suites that outshines all European and American first-class products. Emirates has included a shower and spa onboard, and Etihad has a private apartment in first class. Their catering is from Michelin star chefs and the service is personalised to a whole other level. These products have become so good that luxury travellers just cannot pass up a chance to try them.
In conclusion, the way that the middle Eastern airlines have wreaked havoc in the aviation industry is a spectacular achievement, considering it was all done in just over a decade. With enough financial backing, and the proper utilisation of their geographic advantage, they have managed to convert the barren desert into an aviation powerhouse. While European and American carriers will still carry on with their legacy, they are outshined by the sheer quality that the ME 3 provide the customers with. However, not any country can start an airline like this, it requires luck as well as massive amounts of money, a combination which only the middle east possesses.