The Middle Eastern carriers have had explosive growth over the past few years as more consumers voted with their wallets in favor of a better flying experience.
The benefits that come with the front-of-the-plane ticket easily surpass all but the best carriers in the world. There’s incredible food, polished lounges, airport transfers, and a sense of occasion with your journey.
However, due to economic hardship and low oil prices, cuts in labor and soon — service — are happening.
The state-owned airlines get part of their funding from oil-based national economies, and as a result have tremendous pressure on their top-line and also on their ability to keep buying new aircraft. Dubai-based Emirates has already offered redundancies and Qatar and Etihad are also trimming staff.
But what does this mean for the passenger experience?
I’ve been a big and vocal fan of how differentiated the service has been on these carriers, and called out Qatar in my best-of column for their onboard staff and service in business. Etihad has incredible dining and Emirates seemingly spares no expense for its passengers in the front of the plane in terms of wine.
But as we’ve seen time and time again, following headcount cuts, there’s going to be trimmings to the service offerings. This isn’t ever made public by the carriers, but rather observed and discussed among frequent fliers.
What could these cuts potentially look like, and what do they mean for business travelers?
1. Lounges: The generosity in lounges is a place to watch for cuts. Seated dining with waiter service could be reduced, with smaller menus and less opulent food. Also, potentially more limited lounge access for “alliance” members.
2. Food and beverage: All three carriers cater a lot of food and options for business- and first-class passengers, allowing them to dine on demand from a large menu of offerings. Menus could be potentially trimmed in terms of offerings, with downgrades to the scale and quality of the wines served.
3. Small touches: Small touches like amenity kits you receive, inclusion of bedding on daytime flights, pillows, pajamas etc will be under more scrutiny and likely to go. In addition, chauffeur transfers for certain fare classes will be cut.
4. Aircraft orders: Expect a significant slowdown to orders, and minimal investments to new fleet.
5. Midfield in Abu Dhabi: One wonders if Etihad’s new terminal will be completed on schedule.
6. Slowdown in new routes: The pace of growth and new routes over the past few years can’t be sustained. This combined with Trump administration’s protectionist attitude means a lack of new routes into the US, and generally slower pace of new routes overall.