How Saudi Arabia’s strict lifestyle rescued Emirates

The largest airline Emirates has focused on domestic and regional routes – they are much more profitable for the company than flights to New York. A real gold mine was a flight to neighboring Riyadh, for which ex-pats are buying out tickets in a month.

For 35 years, Emirates has grown into the world’s largest airline. Huge two-story “airbuses” and “Boeings” 777 flies around the clock from Dubai Airport to the farthest corners of the earth – they played an important role in the fact that the once deserted outpost turned into a raging metropolis. Nevertheless, one of the most profitable for the company remains flights to neighboring Saudi Arabia lasting only two hours.

Every Sunday, the departure lounge in lobby B of Dubai International Airport comes to life – it is filled with business travelers in dark business suits, with compact briefcases and a pair of white wireless headphones. At the beginning of the week (in the Arab countries, the workweek lasts from Sunday to Thursday. – RBC.Pro) at the check-in desks for flight EK 819 (the most popular of the four daily flights of the airline, the total number of seats for which is 1.6 thousand) huge lines. The final destination of the route is Riyadh, and mainly business consultants from various fields, from education to transport and energy fly this flight. They work all week in Saudi Arabia and return home for a weekend in Dubai.

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Seats in the first and the business class are being sold out in a month. A round-trip economy ticket at the most popular time will cost 4 thousand dirhams (67.9 thousand rubles), and if you buy it at the last moment, you will have to pay all 5 thousand dirhams (84.8 thousand rubles) .) – This is more expensive than a flight from Dubai to London and back. During the week in later hours on Sunday, the price drops to 1.5 thousand dirhams (25.5 thousand). But on Thursday evening, consultants again rush to Dubai, and ticket prices soar again.

Those who fly regularly have already adapted and simplified the weekly procedure as much as possible – in order not to spend too much time searching for luggage, they prefer to fly lightly and leave things in hotels in the capital of Saudi Arabia.

Emirates is known for its long flights to the farthest points in the world, but to neighboring Riyadh, a plane flies from Dubai 27 times a week – more often than to most other cities. According to Emirates, Saudi Arabia brings a state-owned airline 60% of the business in the Middle East. In 2019, the carrier began sending five times a week to this country A380 – a giant double-decker liner that can accommodate 600 passengers.

“Any airline that wants to develop a transportation hub using the same model as Emirates will sooner or later launch flights to Saudi Arabia to increase passenger traffic,” explains John Strickland, director of London-based airline consulting company JLS Consulting. Most airlines have key routes that are especially popular among business travelers: Melbourne – Sydney, Mumbai – Delhi, Frankfurt – Berlin. The distinctive features of such directions are especially visible on the example of Emirates – the company had to transport passengers on gigantic planes, prices jump at a certain moment, and the demand for tickets for seats in the first and business class is just crazy.

Dubai compares favorably with other cities in the Persian Gulf. Alcoholic cocktails are bottled at local beaches, restaurants, and bars, and men and women can freely spend time together. Such features, along with low taxes and the opportunity to enjoy the eternal summer attract expatriates to the city. A significant part of the ever-growing metropolis with all its skyscrapers, amusement parks, artificial islands was built by labor migrants from such developing countries as India and Bangladesh.

But recent years have been difficult for Dubai. Real estate prices fell by a third compared to 2014, and the development of the tourism industry, which has become one of the main for the economy, has actually stopped. In 2018, economic growth in the UAE was 1.9% – this is the worst indicator in the last decade. The current situation is pushing residents to seek work in other countries. Some foreigners who once moved to Dubai for a well-paid job continue to live there but fly to Saudi Arabia every week. One of these travelers, who wished to remain anonymous, said that he had never thought of moving to Saudi Arabia – even though the country had weakened the strict rules there, it could not be compared with Dubai.

At first glance, it seems that this situation is beneficial for absolutely everyone (Saudi Arabia is developing new sectors of the economy and becoming less dependent on oil production, Emirates makes money on an incredibly popular route, and business consultants enjoy a weekend in Dubai), the Saudi authorities have recently been wary. They want to grow their own qualified personnel in the country, and expatriates darting back and forth do not contribute to this. In September 2019, a royal came out in Saudi Arabia

However, for business consultants, the price of tickets hardly plays an important role – their employers are simply forced to upload astronomical amounts a couple of times a week. And even taking into account the fact that some are ready to move, so as not to dangle back and forth, interest in Dubai is unlikely to fade in the coming years, and Riyadh is unlikely to quickly gain a reputation as a place where you can do business.

“The Dubai – Riyadh route is very important because it connects the two most important financial centers,” says Henry Hartveld, a consultant at Atmosphere Research. “Due to the large flow of business travelers, he is incredibly profitable.”

Graduated from Embry-Riddle Aviation University with a master's degree in aviation science. He began his career as an aviation researcher in local periodicals. Has a pilot license. Now are the author and developer of the Plane Worlds.