Here’s Why Emirates Doesn’t Focus On Central Asia

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Take a look at the Emirates route map and you’ll see a big patch of land that isn’t serviced by the airline. That area is Central Asia. And while there aren’t any megacities in the region, there are large population centres worth connecting with the rest of the world. So why is there little to no Emirates service in Central Asia?

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Emirates’ fleet is exclusively widebody. Photo: Emirates.

flydubai and Emirates

The answer is a single name: flydubai. Emirates has a thriving partnership with this Dubai-based budget carrier that allows the two airlines to codeshare flights. In practice, this gives the hypothetical traveler the ability to book an itinerary that is partially flown by flydubai which connects to a larger Emirates flight – and vice versa.

We asked Emirates about its absence from Central Asia. Here is what they had to say:

“To ensure a more beneficial network spread for each carrier, there are a number of routes that are better suited to the flydubai product, and these are also routes that flydubai is well-established in market already, with an offering that targets specific customer needs and geographies. Their network in Central Asia is strong, and complements our own network, providing the necessary capacity deployment and seat spread to best serve customer demand during different times of the year.”

And this completely makes sense when you look at the two airlines. Emirates exclusively operates large, widebody aircraft – namely the Boeing 777 and the Airbus A380. These aircraft are not only more difficult to fill with passengers, but also require specific equipment and longer runways that may not exist at smaller cities and their smaller airports.

Emirates’ route map as of February 2020 – notice that no Central Asian cities appear. Photo: Emirates

But on the other side, flydubai and its fleet of Boeing 737s are much easier to fill and can land at most airports around the world due to its smaller size.

What Central Asia destinations are serviced by flydubai? Below is a route map showing at least 10 destinations in the Central Asia region – from Yerevan (Armenia) to Almaty (Kazakhstan).

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flydubai’s route map as of February 2020. Photo: flydubai

The competition

This partnership fulfills the practical role of getting passengers from their origin to their destination via Dubai. However, as a number of our readers have pointed out, there is a noticeable difference in service levels when comparing the two airlines. This difference can be quite jarring when transferring from one airline to another on a single journey. On one hand, you have a large, roomy, widebody aircraft offering world-class service with Emirates. But on the other side, flydubai will transport you on its much smaller 737 at a budget-airline style of service.

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flydubai’s fleet is entirely made up of Boeing 737 aircraft. Photo: dnata

However, there is competition out there that serves Central Asia with their mainline fleets. While the aircraft might be a little smaller, the standard of service should be the same. When we talk about competition, the main airlines we have in mind are Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways. Qatar Airways has its fleet of narrowbody Airbus A320-family jets. Turkish also has a mix of A320-family jets of various sizes, as well as a number of Boeing 737 variants.

Various destinations served by Turkish Airlines in Central Asia. Photo: FlightConnections

Qatar Airways seems to be just catching up as it announced at the opening day of the 2020 Kuwait Aviation Show that it would be starting service to Kazakhstan’s two largest cities this year – Nur-Sultan and Almaty. This is in addition to its existing operations at Baku (Azerbaijan), Yerevan (Armenia), and Tbilisi (Georgia).

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Emirates’ response

At least for some travelers, the consistency in service with a mainline carrier would be preferred rather than a transfer to a budget airline. When we asked Emirates about our readers’ concerns with the difference in service, this is what they had to say:

“Ultimately it is two separate airline brands and products, similar to when travellers fly and connect on different airlines in the big alliances. Having said that, we do our best to ensure that our customers are able to experience the best of Emirates through our codeshare partnership with flydubai, even if they are not flying on our aircraft. Codeshare customers flying on Emirates flights will get all the existing Emirates benefits, in addition to frequent flyer programme benefits. Codeshare customers flying on flydubai will benefit from a ‘bundled’ product that will include Emirates baggage allowance, a free snack/meal depending on route and flydubai lounge access for Business Class customers.”

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Turkish Airlines has almost 100 Boeing 737 aircraft in operation. Photo: Getty Images

Conclusion

It appears that for now, Emirates doesn’t have much reason to expand its own network into Central Asia. Perhaps if there is a sudden boom in tourism or business in the region we might see the carrier move into the area. Until then, it’s leaving the work to its partner, flydubai.

If you had to choose between flying on a mixed flydubai/Emirates route compared to a full Turkish or Qatar Airways service, what would your preference be? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment!

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