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United and Emirates Put Past Differences Behind With New Africa, India Connectivity Partnership

Edward Russell
September 14th, 2022 at 3:30 PM EDT

Photo credit: United CEO Scott Kirby and Emirates President Tim Clark. Airline Weekly / Edward Russell

Emirates and United Airlines let bygones be bygones and unveiled a new partnership that will join their two global networks from November.

The limited pact will see Chicago-based United return to Dubai with a nonstop flight from Newark from March, the airlines unveiled Wednesday. In addition, both airlines will place their codes on select flights operated by the other between the U.S. and Dubai, and on certain flights in the U.S. and beyond Dubai, beginning in November.

“Can you imagine this?” Emirates President Tim Clark said gesturing to an Emirates and United aircraft behind him at an event at Washington Dulles International Airport on Wednesday. “There was a time — and we all know this — that it was difficult.”

Clark referred to the long fraught relationship between the two airlines. In 2015, United joined American Airlines and Delta Air Lines alleging that the three big Gulf carriers — Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways — were essentially dumping capacity in the U.S. market under the auspices of open skies. The dispute was settled in 2018 but not before the three U.S. and three Gulf carriers had essentially severed ties. United, for one, was forced to cancel its nonstop between Washington Dulles and Dubai in 2016 after the U.S. government awarded its travel contract to Emirates via a partnership with JetBlue Airways.

Fast forward four years and the landscape had shifted significantly. American was the first to move with a Qatar Airways codeshare in 2020. The U.S. airline launched its first-ever nonstop flight to Doha from New York JFK in June. The United-Emirates deal is the second such move.

“We’ve all lived 1,000 lives in the last five years,” said one United executive at the event.

Emirates was the first to reach out two years ago, said United Senior Vice President of Global Network Planning and Alliance Patrick Quayle. What followed was a slow rebuilding of the tarnished relationship between the airlines that culminated in the partnership unveiled Wednesday.

As part of the new tie up, Emirates will severe ties with JetBlue, with which it has partnered since 2012. But the rationale is clear: Emirates will swap feed from the sixth largest U.S. airline for feed from the fourth largest, United, which also offers a national U.S. network that JetBlue lacks.

For United, the carrier will gain new connectivity to India and Africa that it currently lacks, CEO Scott Kirby said Wednesday. Both are growth markets for United, which has added new service to Accra, Johannesburg, and Lagos during the pandemic. The airline plans to begin delayed new service to Bangalore in March 2023.

When asked about the limited nature of the new partnership, several United executives instead spoke of the long time it took to rebuild a relationship with Emirates and the significance of any deal at all. At its start, the partnership will only cover three of Emirates routes to the U.S. — Chicago O’Hare, Houston Bush, and San Francisco — and United’s new nonstop to Dubai. Notably, flights between Washington Dulles and Dubai — the route that Emirates forced United off of in 2016 — is not part of the initial codeshare agreement.

“After the years, decades of fraught relations, [we found] a way that we could come together in a way that’s good for each of our respective employee groups, [and] our respective regions of the world,” Kirby said.


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