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Middle East Airlines And Terminals Becoming Hubs

Stop mouthing off about Gulf carriers - go match them

Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN  May 30, 2011

(eTN) - In recent months, more than the usual periodical spats have been observed between European airline chiefs and CEOs of some of the Gulf region’s leading airlines. Using different forums, suggestions were made by the Europeans about the growing "threat" by Gulf-based carriers, siphoning traffic from the traditional aviation hubs by using their government ownership and backing to implement strategies of global expansion with and through lower fares, increasingly bypassing the traditional Euro-American traffic flows and re-writing the aviation history books for the 21st century.

The Gulf airlines in turn, sitting pretty as they are, countered the arguments by suggesting to their European counterparts to start lowering their cost structures on a broad basis and, more important for travelers, to start looking into their service structure, on the ground and in the air, and make improvements rather than just mouth off.

This correspondent, by all standards a seasoned traveler, recalls past trips through some of the European hubs which were marked by congested lounges, once a haven of peace and tranquility, back in the old days anyway, but now crowded by travelers holding C-class tickets and joined by others with the privilege of access courtesy of their frequent flyer cards. Considering the fact that these lounges are the showcases in the very home hubs of the respective airlines – and I want to exclude the Brussels Airlines lounge at the Brussels Airport’s international departure gates, which while it could still be larger at least resembles the classic lounge even during peak traffic times (I am told that an expansion may be on the cards) – some of them nevertheless now appear quite hectic and overcrowded.

Why am I writing about this? Well, a recent simple and relatively short trip to an assignment turned into something quite different, and I found myself bound for Dubai, once again having the opportunity to sample the Emirates Terminal 3 and doing some comparisons.

Our aircraft parked on an apron position and by the time Business Class passengers disembarked, the First Class passengers had already been whisked off to the terminal. Our bus was dedicated for C-Class passengers only, and when the last of my fellow travelers were on the bus the doors closed, we drove off, and other busses then rolled up behind us to take care of the rest of the passengers. I say this, as in many European airports there is little distinction being made between premium and economy class passengers when being bussed to or from an apron position, but showing that it actually can be done proves that the very substantial difference in airfare does actually bring equally substantial results in customer care while still on the ground.

Hence, the terminal entry was swift, and the comprehensive security check on arrival, thorough as it was, went quickly in the absence of queues at this point. This central entry-point screening probably also explains why at the boarding gate no more security checks are needed, something which has been witnessed all too often at European and other gateways, where the added layer of repeat checks tends to upset travelers, in particular the frequent travelers who know that elsewhere it is less of a hassle and CAN be done in a more user-friendly fashion.

While at the main level of terminal 3 in Dubai, the usual shopping frenzy went on, and just a floor up, Emirates has its lounges for their First Class and for their Business Class passengers. The facilities in these lounges are legion and have been described many times before, so I do not need to go into that but for a different aspect of these lounges. It appears that Dubai is becoming a hugely popular hub for corporate meetings where face-to-face is required to ensure privacy, and such meetings do take place not only in Dubai proper but evidently now also at the airport itself, where the two premium class lounges for First and Business expand across the upper level of Emirates’ own Terminal 3. Associates from different flights can meet in privacy "airside" and then fly on or back to where they came from and no one is the wiser for it.

Even during the "rush hour," there is still still plenty space to be had and quiet corners can be found, and meeting rooms are available as are, of course, food outlets, bars, business centers, and the quintessential shower and changing rooms where one can, on arrival, or again before boarding the onward or return flight, make oneself presentable.

So while the former "mainstream" airlines are now mouthing off and to an extent are staring at Emirates, Qatar, and Etihad like the proverbial rabbit stares at the snake, it is probably time to examine and re-assess service levels and the service quality vis-a-vis such airlines and get even or better instead of exhibiting a sulking mood. And as an advert in Kampala tells "why go East first when you can go West directly?" – sometimes there are amply and convincing reasons to do just that. Few would, after all, consider flying to a European airport for such meetings but willingly consider Dubai, which beckons on the horizon with superior facilities and often double daily flights from most regions of the world. A case to ponder, while travelers watch, wait, and decide which of the contenders is really going to be the next "world’s favorite airline."

Stop mouthing off about Gulf carriers - go match them
Emirates airport lounge / Image via

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