Many dinner table conversations about customer experience will end up talking about the airline industry. It is almost impossible to find a human who does not have an airline ‘story’ – and most of the time the stories are not particularly positive. An industry that appears to be amongst the most glamorous has consistently struggled over the years to deliver consistently good experiences. Some of the biggest customer experience horror stories have been served up by airlines. I have already subjected two heavyweight brands in the industry to my Customer Experience Review process – you can read how British Airways and Ryanair fared should you be interested in doing so!
This review is a first for me – rather than reviewing one brand, I am reviewing two at the same time – I see it almost as a two for the price of one offer!! I am very fortunate to travel a great deal as I help and guide organisations on their customer centric journeys. Last week I had the pleasure of travelling to Kuala Lumpur. Due to a complicated schedule, I ended up travelling out to Kuala Lumpur with Emirates and home again with Etihad. It has given me the perfect opportunity to directly compare two brands delivering a similar experience – the results may (or may not) surprise you.
Before I get started, I must reiterate (as I always do with every review) – this process is one that I have developed personally. It is entirely subjective, based solely on my opinion as a seasoned customer experience specialist having one experience with a brand at a moment in time. However, I am confident that the method I adopt can help both the brands involved and others learn about the significance of the end to end Customer Experience. You can read all of my Customer Experience Reviews here.
|Date Review Conducted||24th September 2014|
|Flight Details||Emirates – Dublin to Kuala Lumpur (via Dubai)Etihad – Kuala Lumpur to Manchester (via Abu Dhabi)|
|CX Review Total Score||Emirates 35/50Etihad 41/50|
|Stars Awarded||Emirates 3.5/5Etihad 4/5|
So let’s get started! In the last two years, I have travelled to the Far East with three different companies – Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways. I have never been too concerned about the choice of airline – my primary focus has been on selecting the airline that offers the most effective timings to align to my travel plans. Living in the North West of England, my options are more limited than if I were based in London. I have always thought the experiences I have had with the three airlines to be broadly similar, but it is only now that I have made the conscious decision to formally review my interactions with two of them.
Whilst I usually travel out and back with the same airline, due to me having to start my journey in Dublin and finish in Manchester, I ended up going out to Malaysia with Emirates and back to Manchester with Etihad. Many people think that international travel on business is incredibly glamorous – it may be for the lucky few who end up in business class! I am one of the many who must experience the delights of being a second class citizen (as that is how the airlines often make it feel) in good old economy! To give you the context – in both directions I had to experience two 6.5 to 7.5 hour flights with a layover in Dubai (on the way out) and Abu Dhabi (on the way back). All in all I experienced approximately 30 hours of flights over a four day period – more than enough for me to form an opinion.
I often refer to the airline industry as a great example of the importance of differentiation – when every company in one industry uses the same aircraft flying to the same airports, there has to be something that makes them different. The reviews that you are about to read hopefully demonstrate that it is the end to end customer experience that may provide the answer! So who comes out on top – Emirates or Etihad?
Accessibility – CX Review Score Emirates 6/10; Etihad 7/10
In my review process, the definition of accessibility is ‘how easy was it for me to do what I wanted to do’ with the organisation I have chosen to transact with? In this category, Etihad takes a slim advantage over its rival. The question is why? When you consider the customer journey for interacting with an airline, the start of the journey is usually the identification of suitable flights. With a variety of online sources available as well as the airlines own websites themselves, identifying flights to Kuala Lumpur is very easy. Finding and booking flights with Emirates and Etihad is very similar – I would argue so similar, that it almost makes no difference to the experience at all.
In my experience last week, the first advantage went to Emirates. When flying to another country where a stop over is necessary, the length of the stop over can have a significant effect on the overall travel time. In the case of both Dublin and Manchester, the stop over with Etihad is at least two hours longer than the stop over with Etihad. To make matters worse for Etihad, Abu Dhabi airport is currently being reconstructed – the old terminal buildings do not make for a pleasant environment to spend two to four hours of your time. The length of the stop over will have an effect on the perception of the overall experience – especially when there is little difference in price and travel times.
On the next issue, both Emirates and Etihad share a similar problem with other carriers. Neither airline would allow me to print my boarding passes until 24 hours before my flight was due to leave. As a result, on three occasions I had to beg, borrow and steal to arrange for my boarding passes to be printed. I am an individual who does not like to rely on using my phone as a boarding pass – I like the security a paper copy gives me. I am also a person who does not own a portable printer!! Emirates and Etihad are not alone in this – but until the airlines make it easier for passengers to ‘check in’, I will continue to mark them down on the delivery of the experience.
Similarly, ‘baggage drop’ at the airport is another irritation to the overall experience. In both cases, bags are not permitted to be ‘dropped’ in the airport until three hours before the flight is due to depart – and not a second before!! How annoying!! Why not?!! Travelling to different parts of the world takes long enough – why subject poor customers to standing in a queue for an eternity waiting for ground crew to turn on their monitors?! On my return home in Abu Dhabi, I was able to drop off my bag in the centre of Kuala Lumpur…. 5 hours before departure! Emirates offered the same service. So why can it be done in certain circumstances but not others?
Let us move on to the flights themselves. The difference between all four aircraft was so small, that I am tempted to say that the only difference was the colour scheme! However, Etihad gains the advantage over Emirates for some important ‘attention to detail’ points. Firstly the entertainment system – both airlines have them – the entertainment on them is almost identical. The difference I experienced was in the quality of the screens. The Emirates screens were not particularly well defined and very dark – this made it difficult to watch movies and TV programmes. I was fortunate to have empty seats either side of me on both my outbound flights – all the screens were the same. The Etihad screens were much clearer and well defined. Additionally, the Emirates headphones were awful – the fact they were uncomfortable was minor – the fact that four out of five headphones I tried to use did not work properly was major. The headphones on Etihad were a class above – far more comfortable and worked perfectly – it made for a much more enjoyable entertainment experience.
Everything else I experienced was too similar to be any different – from the meals, to seat comfort to disembarkation etc. However, on both of my Emirates flights, I was seated in a row with a broken table – as I have already stated – due to being on aircraft that were half full, this was not an issue. What would have happened if the aircraft had have been full? I do not expect to have anything being broken, damaged or not working on a flight – it surprised me to experience this on two separate flights with Emirates.
So in summary, both airlines have room for improvement in a number of areas when it comes to making the experience as accessible as possible – 6 and 7 out of 10 are low scores for brands of this calibre. However, in my opinion, the Etihad experience shades it – at least everything worked as expected!!
Range/Choice – CX Review Score Emirates 7/10; Etihad 8/10
I thought it would be very difficult to find any differentiation between the two airlines when it came to range and choice. Both have the same ‘classes’ of travel; the same offers; the same sort of loyalty programmes. As I have already said, they both fly the same routes using the same planes using the same airports. Perhaps I am being harsh on Emirates here – they have a more modern fleet than Etihad with the world’s largest stock of the new A380 superjumbo aircraft – but I was a passenger who could not benefit from the double decker plane on the routes I needed to travel.
The reason why Etihad comes out on top here is because the experience they offer recognises the importance of giving customers the option to have flexibility. Travel plans often change – sometimes well ahead of travelling – often at short notice. The peace of mind that we can get from purchasing flexible tickets is reassuring. Emirates do not offer flexible options (at least I could not find them!) – Etihad do – it puts them significantly ahead in this category in my opinion. I have noticed more airlines going this way – Easyjet for example now offer flexible tickets that enable customers to change their flights up to two hours before departure. Emirates need to emulate this if they are to keep pace with their rivals.
People – CX Review Score Emirates 7/10; Etihad 9/10
It is with their people that I personally recognised the greatest difference in my experiences with the two airlines. I base this statement on having interacted with four different crews on four flights. Emirates have always been heralded for their ‘world class’ customer service. In fact both airlines during their ‘in flight’ announcements mention the fact that they are ‘award winning’. From the minute I entered the cabin, I noticed a difference between the crews of the two airlines.
Emirates cabin crew are very well presented. With not a hair out of place, they look as though they have walked straight out of a catalogue. However not only do their uniforms look well starched, so do their smiles. Although they said all the right things – ‘Welcome to Emirates Mr Golding’ etc.., it very much felt to me as though it was being said through clenched teeth. In almost 15 hours of flying with Emirates crew, I did not see a lot of smiling going on. They just felt indifferent to my presence – as though they were not that bothered. They were not rude or impolite, just indifferent. I will say that the male crew seemed more indifferent than the female – I am not sure why, but it was evident to me. They left me feeling as though I should not ask them anything; I shouldn’t disturb them from their tasks – not really what I expected from Emirates.
Etihad felt very different. The crew said the same things as Emirates – the BIG difference is that they said it as though they meant it. With warm smiles always present, they glided around the cabin constantly looking to see if passengers needed help. I actually felt more relaxed than on my Emirates flights – it was the crew that made me feel that way. On my fourth flight – my final leg with Etihad, I had the pleasure of being looked after by two lovely crew hailing from Portugal. Maria and Martha were ever smiling, kind, courteous and very helpful.
As can sometimes happen, I was among the last passengers to be served their meal on this particular flight. Being tired and grouchy, I expressed my distinct displeasure to Martha. I must admit, I was a little rude – something I imagine cabin crew have to face on a regular basis. What happened next exceeded my expectation. Having told Martha that I would take the option I did not want (as I had no choice!), Maria appeared by my side. ‘We are so sorry that this has happened sir’, she said. ‘We have had a look at the crew meals and I would be delighted if you would have the meal that has been secured for me’. I was touched – Maria and Martha had held counsel in the galley, and decided that even though the passenger had been a grouch, it was still their role to try to make me happy. This highlighted for me the significant difference in the way I experienced the Emirates and Etihad crews. As readers of my blogs know, the importance in people delivering empathetic experiences must never be underestimated – Etihad’s people in my experience were a cut above Emirates.
Value – CX Review Score Emirates 7/10; Etihad 8/10
When it coms to value, there is little to choose between the two airlines – the cost of a return ticket to Kuala Lumpur is as low as £500 – not a lot of money when you consider the distances involved. However, Etihad’s ability to offer a variety of fares based on Customers requirements for flexibility gives it the edge again over Emirates.
How did it make me feel? Review Score Emirates 8/10; Etihad 9/10
Prior to thinking about conducting reviews of both airlines, I assumed that I would attribute the same score to both when it came to the way interacting with them made me feel. I did not think that there would be significant enough differences to differentiate between the two. I was wrong.The Etihad experience just felt better to me – almost entirely down to the attitude and behaviour of their people. It was a warmer, friendlier more relaxing experience – I can still recall members of the crew from both Etihad flights – I cannot recall any crew member from my Emirates flights. In my experience, the difference between the two airlines is their people and as a result, Etihad wins the emotional component of the experience.
Would I use Emirates and Etihad again? YES and YES
If you have made it this far, you will have noticed that the Etihad experience has surpassed that of Emirates. Four flights spread over a few days – whilst both experiences were good, Etihad’s was better. As they so often are, people have proven to be the biggest differentiator of them all – and in my experiences, Etihad’s people are delivering a better, more empathetic experience than those of Emirates.
In all likelihood, I will use both Emirates and Etihad again – the key is that if I have the choice to use either – my primary choice would be to use Etihad – this is the most important thing. In an industry were differentiation is so difficult and where choice is increasing, it is often fine margins that will determine the advocacy of your customers. If Emirates want to compete for my business, the next time I board one of their aircraft, the crew need to convince me that they are genuinely enjoying what they do and then sit me at a seat where everything works!
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Have only travelled to Dubai with Emirates – total of 6 times and have enjoyed the experience. Have been fortunate to return (twice) in Business Class after using my Skywards points from business trips (this summer in the A380.) Defintely spoilt here! A chance to have a chat with the air crew in the bar at the rear of the plane highlights there are almost as many crew for 1st and business as there are for Economy. Business Class to India (again with Emirates) was mixed. Fatanstic on the A380, great on the Boing 777 and ‘a little better than economy’ on some of the older Boeings from Dubai into Bangalore. (Point if note – if there is a screaming child on board for a night flight with Emirates, the air crew will not intervene…..even after 4 hours!!)
Have nothing to compare it to – except BA from Manchester to San Francisco and return from Seattle (Premium Economy) – but this was not as good as Emirates that I’d happily use again
Thanks as always for sharing your experiences Graham – I am glad to say that all the little people on my flights were impeccably behaved – not a peep out of any of them!
thanks Ian for another great review. I work in aviation as I have told you before and have interaction with both these airlines working in the Middle East as I do. I am sure they would both be very interested in your views as I am sure they are reflected by many fellow travellers. In fact I was invited to Emirates a few weeks back to discuss their customer service and what they could do better so I will pass this review on. It seems to me that a recurring thread here (and why don’t companies cotton on to this) is people, people, people. A genuine smile and empathy for customers is the absolute best way of ensuring they come back to you. At the end of the day a broken table isn’t going to make you choose the rival airline but a FA giving you her meal because you were disappointed certainly would make the difference. Laurie
Thank you so much for your comments Laurie – I have to vehemently agree with you – until or unless brands recognise the significance of people they will find it impossible to deliver consistently great experiences. The more we all keep going on about it, the more I live in hope the world will change!
Emirates is the worst airline as far as I know. Today, I had a very bad experience in india. May be there are rules for carry on to be weighed 8kg. But this Counter guy was weighing both laptop bag + carry and saying it should be less than 8kg. What the hell is this. Do you think laptop weights one gram or what. He asked me to re-adjust and stand in queue again. Sorry you lost air travler. Will loose more because I am going to spend waiting time to spread this worst experience.
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I have been flying 5-6 times these past 2 years with Emirates. Of course experience can change depending on the aircraft used (mostly Boeing 777s). The experience with the crew has been quite good except with one flight were I tend to agree that the stewards & stewardesses were not very welcoming. But more important, what I have seen over the past 2 years is that the quality has decreased, both on the service and the meals. The fast growing success such as Emirates has experienced these recent years might have negative impact on their quality of service (both flying and ground personnel – specially Dubai staff not very efficient and/or amicable).
However, overall I would still say that Emirates is still a good airline, but I might want to try Etihad based on the above comments
Many thanks for sharing your experiences Michel. You should give Etihad a go – it ill be interesting to see if you prefer the experience (or not!).
I have just completed what must be around my 50th flight with Emirates in the last 3.5 years.
The service has got worse, the food worse. The staff are indifferent, and it seems particularly bad around the home of the Airline.
They have not changed essentially the menu on the Manchester flights for almost two years, in Business. There is no choice, and no accommodation for individual requirements. I have been indifferently offered more soup or salad, promised attention that was not forthcoming, and laughed at when my pre-ordered meal was delivered.
People think that Business on the A380 is special, it was. But the quality of service and food, and the flash of the bar really do not match the pricing.
I have now cancelled my next flights with Emirates, at a cost of almost 5K.
I was travel to South Africa Frm India through etihad airline my experience was really very good iam a professional photographer and I travel all over world my last trip was to LA through Emirates if I going to compare airlines in flight staff is most important of comparison I travel with Thai ,Cathay ,Singapore airlines ,british airways , and many more I can give ten out of ten to etihad and Thai staff as compare to others .
Iam very happy Ian for this review as you help others to choose best and value for money services through your experience
Many thanks for sharing your experiences Deepak and indeed your very kind words – they are much appreciated
Thanks for your review. I’m a longtime emirates flyer (fly long haul europe to Oz/NZ yearly with 3 small children), but this time we are looking at Etihad due to better connection times and availability. I was a bit worried that Etihad would be dire, the reviews are really bad and i couldn’t work out if its because people had bad experiences or if it really were the case. This has given me a more balanced perspective and if it’s as similar, or even slightly better, than emirates i think we will give it a go. In your opinion are the seats much of a different size? i.e. are they narrower, harder, less legroom etc? Seems to be the main thing people complain about, as well as the lack of meals/choices, service, special meals etc…..
Hi Vanessa – I am pleased you found the review useful. In my experience of Etihad (having traveled in both business and economy classes, I do not find the sears or meal choices to be any different to any other long haul airline to be honest. Depending on the route, the aircraft could possible be older than other airlines (such as Emirates), but I have not found that to be an issue either. If you do choose to fly with Etihad, please come back and let me know about the experience.
I hope you didn’t take the FA’s meal…..shame on you if you did!
Thanks Ian, as a frequent flyer and gold member of Skywards, recent renewal was in 5 months so fairly frequent flyer, mostly in business class. I love the A380 bar but seat set up makes it difficult to chat with your companion. Travel to South Africa is convenient with EK as they have direct flights to Cape Town, Durban and Joburg. However apart from welcome back and a personal visit to my seat when I do travel economy I have not had any visible benefits to being a loyal EK flyer. No upgrades in over 2 years but worse I could not take my wife and 5 year old into lounge as am allowed only 1 guest and even when I requested they would not give me a better earphone in economy – they are lousy as you say! Am now seriously considering moving to Etihad as I suspect they have better rewards program (family membership gives 100% recognition vs 20% EK) and the Etihad select upgrade is very innovative to bid for higher class.
I have flown now to Berlin through Etihad partnership and they did not mind me checking in at their desks, did so with a smile. i have twice bid successfully and so far am already feeling good. It makes a bit of an extra effort to travel to AUH and smaller airport and all but if EK treat their so called moneybags with indifference they will soon understand we do have a choice!
hi ian we travel to perth au from Glasgow every year and one problem we have when booking on line is not being able to book seats until we have booked a flight, in the past we have found our preferred seats have gone and cant change the flight dates, does etihad have the same system?
To be honest Donald I do not know the answer to this – however, I believe that they may be able to offer the option to reserve your preferred seats having looked at this page on their website – http://www.etihad.com/en-us/before-you-fly/manage-my-booking/
Just off (this morning) Etihad from Bangkok to Dublin via AD. Not a pleasant experience. Etihad most definitely have the narrowest, most uncomfortable, least legroom seating I have ever experienced and for, what, is, 14 odd hours of flying is not good news. Additionally we were “bused” to the AD connection at 0200 in the morning, kids screaming and all. Use your heads Etihad and connect to the sky bridges for these early morning connections. It reminded me of a small UK regional airport experience (15 minute bus rides to the outer apron and “up the airplane steps we go”). I’ll be complaining formally to Etihad through their website, but, if you ask me, definitely will never use Etihad again. Not sure who Ian Golding is above but I can give him a half dozen easy to implement fixes that will make Etihad a more customer focused experience and maybe make their economy service “bearable”.
Hi David – many thanks for sharing your experience with Etihad. It certainly demonstrates how important it is for all companies to deliver CONSISTENTLY good customer experiences.I would love to know how Etihad respond to your complaint – if you feel you can share the follow up, I would appreciate.
Just for the record – I am an independent Customer Experience Specialist working with a variety of organisations across multiple industries all over the world. Etihad are NOT currently a client of mine!!
Hi Ian. Did you fly in A380 or boeing? I am planning to travel from Mumbai to New york. Emirates economy costs around $1000. Whereas Etihad economy is cheaper by around $300. These prices are of A380’s and have been consistent for a long time now. Does Emirates justify the higher cost?
Hi Harsh – I have not flown on the A380 with either Emirates or Etihad, so can only base my experiences of flying on other aircraft with both. In my experience, I would personally not pay more to fly with Emirates – whatever the aircraft being used!
Hi. Have found this site because we have just returned to Australia with Etihad, having flown twice previously with Emirates. Wanted to see what others thought as we will never fly Etihad again. This 20+ hour trip (Perth-Dublin-Perth) is a true long haul experience. Previous Emirates experiences have been positive, but the Etihad experiment failed. On the Etihad journey out, our first impression was the smallness of the seats. I believe technically the specs are the same, but we felt cramped all the way. PER-AUH was ok but at AUH the seats we had selected months previously were changed without explanation to those described by Seat Guru as the worst in the plane. Back row, next to noise and smell of toilets, no seat recline for a 7+ hour journey. Entertainment choice not a patch on Emirates. Screens dodgy and we noticed many others who had the option had problems with seat recline, needing staff assistance to work. On the return journey DUB-AUH the words ‘cattle class’ kept springing to mind. A full, cramped plane, surly staff, very ordinary food. AUH-Per, again, broken screen, cramped conditions. This flight left AUH 10.30pm local time, arrived PER 2.30pm local time (about 11 real hours). The plane was darkened the entire time until about 1.5 hours before landing. It was like being in a casino where the darkness is used to manipulate time. My watch had broken 2 days before so this added to the unreality. Very little sleep, very uncomfortable (we are both tall) and at ‘wake-up, lights-on’ time a strong smelling meal was offered that I could not touch. Unforgiveably, no coffee was offered or available. Staff was better on this leg, but then they didn’t have to do much, keeping passengers literally in the dark the entire time. All in all, a horrible flying experience. When all you have to be grateful for is that you made it out alive, it’s no great recommendation. Flying should be better than this. Never again.
Hi Ian, thank you for a wonderful appraisal of the two airlines. I was very interested in your assessment particularly that I use to travel a lot solely with Emirates from UK to the Far East, namely HK, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, and Manila, over a period of 3 years. I must have done over 200,000 miles. I absolutely loved the Emirate brand and its culture to begin with. What I mean is that the staff were very good and I was treated as a special person and service in all legs was good though I must add that in my opinion the service was at best when the staff were far eastern or Arabian…..this was very obvious to me. I must add I flew business class all,the time and in several,occasions was upgrade to First Class. Then recently I noticed deterioration in service as the the airline got popular, particularly the leg from Dubai to London. This was mainly due to type of passengers travelling and staff used for this leg.
On recent flight to London in August 2016, a British passenger from UK boarded the flight drunk and continued in the same vain during the 7 hour flight to Heathrow. This passenger then went out of control,abusing mostly Asian or middle eastern looking passagers including my self. The staff could not restrain him and was allowed to walk around freely in the business class section. There were lot of people,who felt threatened. I was not very happy about this and complaint to the staff as I was put under stress and my wife and I could not use then bar as he was based there with other folks from UK though they were not drunk. Finally the staff decided to restrain him, and employed two airhostesses to converse with him and keep,him quite…no male staff were used! Any way on landing at Heathrow I was shocked to see that he was allowed to leave the aircraft ahead of all passengers and was not arrested. He was given such a farewell. No apology was given to me and other passengers!
I wrote a letter of complaint to Emirates and basically they refused to apologise or take the case seriously indeed refused to and take responsibility and basically they have not control over passers!
In my opinion this was a dangerous situation. I wrote again and got no reply….this is despite the fact that I have been a very loyal customer since 2012 always using the airline even when the route was not convenient. With bit of digging I found out the guy in question was connected with the military and was a favoured guest. BTW forgot to mention that this incident was a second one though the first was not as threatening as the Aussie passenger just got drunk and was unwell but was not abusive.
The manner of the letter from Emirates suggests to me they do not represent the middle Eastern brand I had become use to….they have lost the plot…I shall never fly with Emirates. I have switched to Eithad and will be taking my first flight with them in two weeks,time from Malaysia to Europe lets see want clientele they encourage and staff they use! I am encouraged by Ian’s feedback. I still have over 100,000 air miles left with Emirates.
Thank you so much for sharing your kind words and own experiences Riaz. I still believe that Etihad offer a superior experience to Emirates – it would be fantastic to know what you think having tested them our in a couple of weeks time…
IF BOTH ARE PRICED THE SAME, WHICH IS A BETTER CHOICE FOR BUSINESS CLASS?
JAKARTA TO LAGOS VIA ABU DHABI ON ETHIAD
JAKARTA TO LAGOS VIA DUBAI ON EMIRATES
Hi Rajesh – it is very much down to opinion – I have no doubt that you would enjoy both experiences in Business Class. However, if it were my choice, I would prefer to fly with Etihad than Emirates…