Leaving on a Jet Plane

April 01, 2013

As this column goes to print, I will be enjoying, hopefully, some Emirates hospitality on my return trip to Muscat, arriving just a couple of hours before your copy of Muscat Daily gets delivered to your front door-step. I chose Emirates this time as the fare to London was 50 per cent less than Oman Air, quite a difference, and Gatwick is marginally more convenient than Heathrow for travel to my UK house. 

Dubai airport is now one of the busiest in the world, tenth last year with 58mn passengers. This was a 13 per cent increase on 2011 and the biggest percentage increase in the top ten, so I expect the ranking of Dubai to rise in 2013. Being a hub airport makes it very busy at peak times of connection, and early morning is manic. The security queues get longer every time I go, and there are not enough washrooms available. It seems to me that the number of passengers has increased without proper plans in place to cope – except of course in terms of shopping.

The economy seating in Emirates was far better than on my Virgin Atlantic flight to Orlando. Virgin has recently refitted, it looks great but is very squashed. We upgraded to premium economy for our return trip, much better seating and leg-room for the overnight flight. Emirates definitely also wins on the food and drink stakes: more choice, lots of little things to open and try, and better presented. Oman Air still has a way to go with food offerings too; my last trip in its business class to Tanzania was very poor: no choice available and second rate quality, with no reasonable explanation when I took the matter up with customer service at head office.

Have you noticed that airline travel is often a big discussion point when you get together with your friends? I guess it is often because of the link to the anticipation of an exciting holiday. In the UK, the growth of so called low-cost airlines seems to have dragged down the service provided to new low levels, at what seems to me to be nothing like the promised low cost. EasyJet, Monarch and Ryanair get you from A to B but nothing about the experience can be described as enjoyable.

Some of the Middle Eastern airlines have shown the way in offering a superior product at a reasonable price. Emirates, Qatar, Etihad and Oman Air have all won awards. But they all need to ensure, like Singapore Air and Cathay Pacific, that they are made to last. Continuous improvement is needed to keep ahead of the competition.

I hope that the new airport for Muscat will be customer friendly and easy to use at every step: from ease of car-parking, to check-in, through security, departures and arrivals and luggage retrieval. All of the aspects need detailed planning to be done ‘through the customer’s eyes’. With new airports being built throughout the region, and many Middle-Eastern airlines investing in new planes, there is real potential for GCC to lead the way in this industry. I hope that the business leaders take the opportunity to provide something that is truly exceptional.