Ian Golding Ian Golding Customer Experience Specialist and Director, Custerian
Clash of the Aviation Titans | Emirates Vs Etihad

Clash of the Aviation Titans | Emirates Vs Etihad

Last week, customer experience expert Ian Golding had the pleasure of travelling to Kuala Lumpur with two different airlines; Emirates and Etihad, giving him the perfect opportunity to directly compare two brands delivering a similar experience – the results may (or may not) surprise you.

Round 1 | Accessibility – Emirates 6/10; Etihad 7/10

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.

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!!

Round 2 | Range/Choice – 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.

Round 3 | People – 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.

Round 4 | Value – 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.

Round 5 | How did it make me feel? 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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