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Fly better. That’s Emirates‘ marketing slogan. It’s the same marketing campaign that has featured the likes of Jennifer Anniston, onboard bars, showers, all-aisle access and swathes of space. The problem is, Emirates has – since the A380 entered its fleet – offered two products, a 777 and A380 business class product that couldn’t be more different.
Emirates has always marketed its A380 product as its point of difference, but is going to find itself struggling against its ME3 competitors Etihad and Qatar unless it brings back the behemoth A380s quickly. As Qatar Airways‘ CEO has already suggested, the double decker isn’t currently suitable for immediate travel demand post-COVID 19 and both Qatar and Etihad haven’t announced when theirs will return.
The Emirates 777 business class product, which is currently flying the majority of its routes – at best – offers a fully flat bed, but all of them lack all-aisle access, let alone a walk up bar, and First Class might have a swanky new cabin on certain 777s, but there’s certainly no showers across the Boeing fleet.
While the airline has taken the correct commercial route to a return to service by parking the whale jets, this week it has finally returned a handful of A380s to the skies. The fact it has left its 777 business class product behind its airbus counterpart while Qatar and Etihad have invested in leading products means that it has a difficult choice ahead if it wants to continue to offer an industry leading product.
This is the problem many airlines face. New aircraft invariably gets the best, shiniest new product, and airlines naturally will market their best product, rather than the existing one, even if it features on most of the fleet. British Airways, United, Delta even Qatar to a certain extend see retrofits taking years not months, and this means that passenger perception vs reality is often marred.
But when the proposition is more than just a seat, but a customer experience difference, i.e. all-aisle access or a walk up bar passengers are naturally less forgiving. Yet Emirates has stripped out a lot of the soft-product services too, from chauffeur drive to some of its Dubai lounges and even in the one lounge that has reopened, areas such as the spa, champagne bar and children’s area remain closed (which are obviously sensible decisions based on today’s pandemic).
So where does this leave Emirates? Right now, Qatar which is mainly flying its latest generation aircraft, either featuring the QSuites or it’s still-impressive reverse herringbone all-aisle access seats offers much greater comfort than the 2x3x2 or 2x2x2 configuration that Emirates’ 777s afford. Etihad also offers a very impressive product with all-aisle access across its fleet, once its schedule increases to match.
This is the problem that all airlines face when bringing a new product to the skies, and why consistency in passenger experience is key. While Cathay Pacific had problems with its brand new seats at first, at least they were an evolution of the existing product, meaning while better in many regards, it didn’t feel a million miles away from its predecessor. Even Qatar Airways have suggested that its new 787 business class product will be an evolution of its QSuite product, which helps create consistency in its passenger experience across its fleet.
Emirates has two apparent courses of action, one is to bring back the A380 (and actually its one of our favourite aircraft types to fly) with its bells and whistles, or start the long and winding road to retrofitting its 777 fleet with a comparable – if not better – product than its competitors. Maybe that’s why it has decided to help win back market share by starting to fly its A380s once more, even if it means for the meantime, at great cost.
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