Based in the Persian Gulf at Dubai, one of the seven emirates that comprise the United Arab Emirates, this airline has made a Hollywood splash, some might say spectacle, of itself ever since it started flying. It is the current record holder of the largest order for the largest airplane, the A380, in the world with at least 54 confirmed copies under contract. This for an airline serving a home population of less than 2.5 million.
The answer to the "What are they thinking" question is the strategy to position itself as a viable connecting point between Europe and India, southeast Asia and Australia/New Zealand. Add on to that their pricing strategy of undercutting the established carriers by up to 20% and so far the plan seems to be working. The story goes they are out-carrying the Indian airlines despite being four hours flying time off shore!
On the occasion I experienced them I bought an $88 one-way ticket between Auckland, New Zealand and Sydney, Australia as part of a vacation tour of the region. I sacrificed any frequent flyer miles I might have earned on oneworld via Qantas but felt it was worth it to try both the airline and the airplane, the new A380 for the first and possibly only time. Uh..was it ever!
The entire main deck of the Emirates A380 is coach so I was able to sit in front of the wing just beside the staircase leading to First Class on the 2nd level. Mood lighting soothed passengers during boarding and changed during our short 2.5 hour flight to fit the position of the sun and whatever service was underway at the time. Hot towels were passed out and the crew even came around with a camera offering to snap commemorative photos of their journey, cruise-ship style but for free!
I lost count at the number of languages represented by the cabin crew, covering bases from Tagalog and Mandarin to Farsi, Portuguese, German, Korean, Japanese, English, Spanish, Arabic of course and French. The A380 at nearly 500 seats is far too large for the Tasman market - see if you can spot the guy at the back of the plane loading cargo containers - but was respectably booked at nearly 180 passengers. What Emirates has put IN to this airplane, though, defies all imagination, starting with ten inch monitors in each seat back, individual 110v lap top power for each passenger, individual telephone/game controller and even a USB port to charge up the iPod or view vacation pictures right from your camera before you even get home! Could it get any better?
Yup. A full meal was offered on the short leg which included complimentary wines and spirits but the showstopper was the entertainment system. A few hundred movie, TV and concert performances to choose from, several hundred COMPLETE CDs and, unbelievably, tons of video games to play that could even be networked with other seats on the plane! Since all this was in "steerage" I didn't see the stand-up bar or private showers upstairs for the First Class folks but at least my lavatory was trimmed in wood paneling so I wouldn't feel too left out.
The state of the Dubai economy is presently not what its visionary leaders envisioned. Whether or not Emirates itself ends up a modern day Braniff International because of it - too much, too quickly - remains to be seen. For now they offer the pinnacle of service and comfort to a degree neither seen or expected, for economy class, certainly, and at exactly the right combination one could wish for: luxury for less.