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The method behind the madness was a simple one: The three airlines are often the ones we Brits use when flying to Asia, Australia and Africa, as the slightly longer flight times with a connection in Abu Dhabi (AUH), Dubai (DXB) or Doha (DOH) usually mean shaving a couple of hundred quid off a direct flight. The price of a ticket depends on many factors, including where in the UK you are departing from, but there is often not much difference in price between the three airlines on the same route. That’s one reason why we want to help you decide which would be best for you, but most importantly, we want you to get value for your money.
Depending where you live in the UK, at least one of the airlines should depart from an airport near you. Emirates has the most options, with direct flights to Dubai and the rest of the world from Birmingham (BHX), Edinburgh (EDI), Glasgow (GLA), Manchester (MAN), London (LGW, LHR, STN) and Newcastle (NCL). Next is Qatar, which connects you to the world through Doha (DOH) from Birmingham, Cardiff (CWL), Edinburgh, Manchester and London (LGW and LHR). Finally, Etihad only flies to Manchester and London Heathrow (LHR) in the UK.
With so many options, we thought we’d do a comparison of the Middle East Big Three to help you make an informed decision when deciding how you’re going to get to your far-flung destination.
We only flew back from the Middle East on our trip just to test out the product, but using one of the most popular destinations for Brits, Bangkok, as an example, you can see that prices only vary by about £70, depending on the departure airport and the airline.
From London, you have competitive pricing between airlines, so this is where you see the cheapest average fares and a variation of only about £20 among the airlines.
Manchester is also served by all three airlines. The cheapest for this route on these dates is also Etihad, at between £30 and £40 cheaper than Emirates and Qatar.
Birmingham’s cheapest is more expensive again — this time it’s Qatar in the absence of Etihad.
The same with Edinburgh.
Newcastle is only served by one of the Big Three and is slightly more expensive than the cheapest option at other UK airports.
The most surprising of all, and the second cheapest, is with Qatar airways from Cardiff! Great news for Wales and the West Country!
Emirates and Etihad each have their own frequent-flyer programs, so if you fly regularly, you may even have enough points to redeem against the cost of your ticket. The great thing about Qatar is that it is a member of Oneworld. This means you can earn Avios when paying cash, redeem Avios against your ticket and, if you have elite status, have access to lounges at airports along your journey.
As we were all flying in economy, there was nothing really to write home about in terms of ground experience. Nicky and I both felt that Etihad and Qatar’s boarding process was pretty great. I was certainly surprised by the lack of chaos, considering the size of the whale I was about to board. Jean only scored Emirates a five out of 10 thanks to the size, business and dirtiness of Dubai’s airport. When deciding which airline to fly, this is probably the aspect I would consider of least importance, as you will only be transiting through Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha for sometimes less than an hour.
Cabin and Seat
The sheer size of the A380 and the space it affords its lower-deck passengers was definitely noticed by each of us on our respective airlines. There were also nice little extra touches in the bathrooms on Emirates and Qatar, like toilet-seat covers and other little amenities that you wouldn’t find in, say, a British Airways long-haul economy-cabin bathroom. I was lucky in that my flight wasn’t full, unlike the boys’, so this probably helped to bump up the score a little bit. It really was the lightest and cleanest economy cabin I had flown in for a long time.
Amenities and Inflight Entertainment
Once again, each of the airlines scored well for amenities and inflight entertainment. We were all happy with the number of films and other entertainment available. We also all expected there to be Wi-Fi on board, which there was, but it only really worked for Jean on his Emirates flight. Nicky and I had trouble being able to get a connection at all. This might not be true of all Etihad and Qatar flights, but it is definitely something to be wary of if good inflight Wi-Fi is critical for you.
We were each provided a small pillow, blanket and headphones. Jean was particularly impressed with the quality of his Emirates pillow and blanket but not so much with the headphones, and it was the same with me. They were felt quite cheap and certainly didn’t cancel any noise out. None of us were given the flimsy old in-ear earphones, though, thankfully.
For the AvGeeks, Etihad and Qatar certainly had Nicky and me entertained with the tailcam.
Food and Beverage
Let’s face it, plane food in economy is like Marmite: You either love it or hate it. On this occasion, Nicky and Jean both seemed to really enjoy their meals — ‘tasty’ and ‘delicious’ is how they were described. This was not the case for me. If I had been asked how I like my eggs in the morning I would not have said ‘rubbery,’ and that is definitely how I would have described them. My snack before landing was so salty I actually couldn’t finish it. On this occasion, Qatar scored a very low 12.
A little bonus that we all had was metal cutlery. Usually in economy, you just get flimsy plastic cutlery that doesn’t really cut at all.
This is one aspect that really stood out for each of us — the quality of service we received was excellent. Usually, due to the number of passengers in economy cabins and time pressure on the crew, it can be difficult to create any kind of rapport — unlike in premium cabins, where you receive a noticeably higher level of service. But this really wasn’t the case on our flights.
My cabin was pretty empty, which was maybe a contributing factor to me receiving such personal service, but despite Nicky and Jean’s flights both being really full, the crew of Etihad still had time to ‘make friends’ with Nicky, and the Emirates crew on Jean’s flight still managed to have enough time to entertain the kids on board by taking photos with a Polaroid camera. Each of us felt that in some way our crew went over and above what is usually expected, and that really does go a long way to turn an average experience into a great experience.
Scores on the doors: Congratulations to Emirates in first place with a cracking 82 out of 100, Etihad in close second with 80 out of 100, and Qatar are one point behind in third place. Overall, it is clear we all had very good experiences with not actually much different among the airlines.
The only negative that Jean raised about his experience with Emirates was the crowds and dirtiness of Dubai airport, so on this occasion the airline definitely earned its crown in glory. Functioning Wi-Fi kept Emirates scoring high.
Nicky’s main gripe with Etihad was that his Wi-Fi didn’t work at all, despite his having paid for it. This was also the case with my flight on Qatar.
The main differentiating factor across the board was the food. Had the food on my flight been slightly better, it would have probably been enough to clinch the winning spot. It’s a real shame that Qatar came in last, as otherwise it really was a memorable economy flight for all the right reasons.
Know before you go.
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