US Airlines versus ME Airlines — Why customer service matters

Like every other day, I opened my Facebook app yesterday. Unlike any other day, my Facebook was flooded with just one topic — United Airlines and the “re-accommodated” passenger.

My initial reaction was definitely one of horror. In a supposedly civilized society, how inhumane does one have to be to humiliate someone like this and for a corporate to resort to such barbaric tactics? However, after reading several articles regarding the public outcry against United Airlines for their “apology” and the viral hashtags (#boycottunited #boycottunitedairlines), another question kept popping up in my head. Is this one of the airlines that compares itself and considers itself as competition to the 3 Gulf Carriers (Qatar Airways, Etihad and Emirates)?

To give a bit of backstory, the Big 3 US Airlines (United, Delta and American Airlines) have been trying to negotiate, with their government and other relevant parties, an agreement to somehow restrict the growth of the 3 Gulf Carriers. The argument follows that the Middle Eastern Airlines are funded by their governments and so have an unfair advantage. However, this recent development makes us question whether it’s really just that? Or are there other more important factors that play in to a consumer’s decision?

For the last 19 years, apart from a handful of domestic flights, I’ve been a loyal Emirates passenger*. Whether it’s a short 2 hour flight or a 14 hour trip, I’ve been a witness to countless experiences of how Emirates treats its passengers. Passengers are treated with respect and crew members go above and beyond to ensure that each passenger is comfortable during the journey. There are definitely passengers that aren’t ideal but that doesn’t deter crew members from performing their duties in a respectful and professional manner.

Additionally, with the recent “laptop ban” that all 3 of these Middle Eastern Airlines had to deal with, they faced it head on. They didn’t waste time blaming others for this predicament. Instead, they came up with solutions. Emirates has decided to let its passengers use their devices until boarding time. On the other hand, Etihad and Qatar Airways are offering some of its passengers free wifi and devices for use while flying to the US. [Source]

Unlike its US competitors, these Middle Eastern airlines didn’t cry foul. Instead, they focused on their own corporation and how they can improve their passengers’ experiences amidst such circumstances. Maybe, it’s time United Airlines tried doing the same?

*Disclaimer (i.e take everything I’ve written with a pinch of salt): I have a family member (and several friends) who work for Emirates so this may be a bit of a biased view. I’ve taken my own experiences into account yet have tried to be as neutral as possible.