The continuing rise of Gulf state carriers

gulf state carriers

The rise of Gulf state carriers continues to impress. These airlines, which have defined themselves in part as hub-and-spoke carriers linking Europe (and the eastern coast of North America) to Asia, have developed exciting route maps over the last several years with a particularly strong reach into the Arabian Peninsula and India.

While other airlines have recently attempted to develop their hub airports for intercontinental hub-and-spoke connections as well – Finnair‘s recasting of Helsinki as a northern Europe-Asia hub is one example – the Gulf carriers really stand out in global terms.

Yet, awareness of their services remains far lower than it should be among Americans, despite the presence of Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways at a handful of major US airports.

The Gulf state carriers’ key consumer product is a luxury flight with premium class service and a truly over-the-top experience on all three airlines. On Emirates, first class passengers are treated to private suites. Etihad’s Diamond First Class features flatbeds, personal mini-bars, and anytime dining, while Qatar Airways’ First Class offers turndown service with an amenity kit including products by Prada. With perks like these, it is clear that these carriers are establishing new standards for premium class service.

Even in coach, however, these airlines are delivering a decent product. I experienced the Qatar Airways economy treatment on a recent mid-haul journey from London, via Doha, and back. There was more legroom than in standard coach and the ongoing parade of meals and snacks was, if not exactly delicious, then without question, a cut above average airplane food.

Route maps, however, provide the most interesting dimension of the rise of the Gulf state carriers. While there is quite a bit of overlap between airlines, each airline covers some original territory. Let’s look at where these airlines fly.Etihad flies from Chicago, New York, and (as of March 31) Washington, D.C., to Abu Dhabi. Etihad also flies direct routes between most major European hubs and Abu Dhabi, in addition to a few surprising ports of call (Minsk, anyone?). In addition to eight destinations in India, Etihad’s more popular Asian destinations from Abu Dhabi include Bangkok, Colombo, the Maldives, and Seychelles.

Qatar Airways links Houston, New York, and Washington, D.C., to Doha. The airline flies to 31 destinations in Europe (including 2012 launches), 12 destinations in India, four in Pakistan, and four in China. Other destinations of note include Zanzibar, Ho Chi Minh City, and Denpasar.

Emirates boasts the best links to the US of all with direct connections from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas, Houston, and New York to Dubai. Of these, Seattle and Dallas are new routes. The former begins on March 1 and the latter route kicked off on February 2. Emirates’ reach is particularly remarkable. The airline flies to 28 destinations in Europe, 15 destinations in sub-Saharan Africa, 10 destinations in India, and four in Australia; all but a handful of these routes are direct.

With beefed up links to major US airports, premium services to lure business and moneyed travelers, and route maps that show no sign of contracting, the Gulf state carriers look set to be important long-haul standbys for some time to come.

[Image: Flickr | jmmcdgll]

VIDEO: Curb Your Enthusiasm coachy vs. first class

On this week’s episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David returned to New York, home of Seinfeld. On the plane, he got into an argument with a coach passenger on using the bathroom in different classes. Larry claims to still be “coachy” even when flying first class. This isn’t the first time Larry David has tackled the class issue, here’s a classic scene of Elaine suffering in coach on Seinfeld, and here’s why you can’t just move up to an empty seat up front.

Do you consider yourself first class or coachy? What other sitcoms have had great airplane scenes?

Blinged-out amenties kits from Etihad

etihadHere’s an idea that’s right up our alley: Etihad Airways has taken the standard amenities kit a step further and partnered with Swarovski to bling out their first class offering. The new kits, debuting on flights between Abu Dhabi and London, Paris, Geneva, Sydney and Melbourne, as well a progressively throughout the first class long-haul network in the coming weeks.

Women will receive a cosmetics-style bag that will include La Prairie moisturizer, hand cream and lip balm, while men will enjoy a black leather cufflink box that includes a shaving kit with a Schick Xtreme 3 razor.

Lee Shave, Etihad Airways’ Vice President Product and Services, said: “In our market research, we found that very few airlines are developing product suited to the needs of female travelers, so we created these separate amenity product lines to suit to the specific tastes of both our male and female guests.

This is also the first airline collaboration for Swarovski. We only wish it could be even more bling-y, a la a Judith Leiber bag.

[Thanks to Luxuo for the tip.]

Video: I need an upgrade. Give me an upgrade. I am an elite member.

Looking for the perfect video for the lazy Friday afternoon? Check out this animated clip showing an average business traveler demand an upgrade from the poor ticketing agent.

As funny as this may seem, this is actually based off real passengers and real interactions with airline employees. Obviously, the whole thing looks funnier in an animated clip, which is what makes it perfect for ending the work week with!

Got any great anecdotes, experiences or passenger stories from your travels? Share them in the comments section!

The top six gangster style first and business class flights from the US — without chartering a G6

best business first class

We all like to treat ourselves once in a while, whether its with luxury fur coats, $300 gastrogasm dinners at Noma or Momofuku or the Presidential Suite at the DC Mandarin Oriental. For the brass over at Gadling Labs, we like to fly in international First or Business class. And there are a few, very special routes that rank among our favorites ever taken. Curious? Ever taken one yourself? Read below for the best of the best.

6. Open Skies, All Business Class 757: Washington DC or New York to Paris
Flying on OpenSkies is like staying at a bed and breakfast. Instead of dealing with massive, hulking name brands and wrestling the mass of humanity at the airport, OpenSkies caters a boutique, luxury experience flying single-aisle, personal aircraft from the nation’s capitol or New York City directly into Paris Orly, the smaller airport on the south side of the city. Single rows of luscious, business class seats flank each side of the generously appointed aircraft, and if you’re in the mood you can even fly facing backwards while gloating at the quickly dissolving American coast. The best part of OpenSkies, however, is the oustanding prices. With frequent fare sales and an agressive marketing campaign it’s often easy to find tickets on this aircraft for just slightly more than a regular coach ticket on other airlines — and for that price it’s a steal. [Price at booking: $1981 for a Biz Seat,$4062 for a Biz Bed,]

5. Air New Zealand, Business Class on a 777: Los Angeles to Auckland
Private, lie-flat beds are a rarity on transoceanic flights out of the United States, and Air New Zealand does it right. The nose of this 777 hosts eleven rows of lie flat beds, all angled such that each person gets his or her own privacy, such that each person can get the best possible service and can relax and rest up on the 13 hour journey to the corner of the world. Add to that a fun loving group of friendly staff and a delightful destination and you’ve got a winning combination. [Price at booking: $7868,]

4. Singapore Airlines, All Business Class A340: New York City or Los Angeles to Singapore.
Most journeys from the east coast of the US to southeast Asia require a stopover somewhere on the west coast or in Japan. And almost all of the rest of the flights are in two or three class service aircraft, where four hundred people are jammed into a cramped, dank aluminum tube for the eight thousand mile journey. But not on Singapore’s all-business-class service. Consistently rated as top carrier on the planet, Singapore has taken an extra step with a portion of their NYC-SIN and LAX-SIN flights: they’re on full business class aircraft: 100 seats of 30″ wide seats, top notch catering and world class in flight service. In these digs, your 18 hour flight will go by in a flash. [Price at booking: $7400,]

3. V Australia, Business Class on a 777: Los Angeles to Sydney
V Australia brings all of the swankness of the Virgin brand to the transpacific route, from colorful, inflight cabins to inspiring, world class catering to a posh checkin and lounge experience. For the best experience, book seats 5H and K as a couple, where you can pull a series of curtains shut to create your own private cabin. Take in a movie or two on departure from Los Angeles and then get a full eight hours of sleep in a fully flat bed before you pull into Sydney — and did we mention that you get to keep the pajamas? [Price at booking: $5208,]

2. British Airways, First Class 747: Chicago or New York to London
The upper deck of a 747 is a special place to reside, but on the British Airways 747, you actually want to set up camp in the first floor nose — right under the pilot. That’s the section of the aircraft where first class passengers ride, where the full effect of in-flight pampering can be felt and where the stress of your London business trip can melt away. BA is in the process of rebuliding their first class service this year, but you can bet that it’ll remain the industry leader on this route either way. [Price at booking from Chicago: $8351,]

1. Emirates, First Class A380: New York to Dubai (pictured above)
The Emirates A380 has a mixed history with New York’s JFK, but when the service is running, it’s running hot. Emirates’ First Class service features a full host of over-the-top amenities, from private suites for each passenger to onboard showers to a bumpin onboard lounge. You’re going to pay dearly for the pleasure of flying though. [Price at booking: $17918,]

[Editor’s note: We know that the G6 isn’t an airplane. It’s a reference to the Far East Movement Song. Gangster? Get it?]