Vancouver's link to Dubai strengthened by Emirates Airlines' new partnership

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Image: Kenneth Chan / Vancity Buzz

An airline code share agreement between Emirates Airlines and Alaska Airlines has been attracting several hundred Canadian passengers to Seattle-Tacoma (Sea-Tac) International Airport every week ever since the program launched late last year.

This complements the Dubai-based airline’s twice daily flight services from Alaska Airlines’ main hub in Seattle.

The code share agreement means both airlines are marketing each others’ flights, allowing travellers to purchase connecting flights on both airlines using just one seamless booking and baggage system for the entire journey. Passengers on Emirates have access to Alaska’s vast North American network while passengers on Alaska can take advantage of Emirates’ international coverage, which is the world’s second largest network with routes to over 150 destinations in 83 countries on six continents. Additionally, premium passengers are able to use either airline’s airport lounges when traveling on connecting Emirates and Alaska flights.

Both airlines have been working to grow their partnership since 2012 when they signed a frequent flier agreement that enables members of Emirates Skywards and Alaska’s Mileage Plan to earn and redeem points on each others’ frequent flier programs.

Currently, for those flying from Vancouver International Airport (YVR), the quickest way to get to Dubai is on an Emirates flight departing from Seattle. The morning flight departs Sea-Tac at 9:40 a.m. and arrives at Dubai International Airport at 10:55 a.m. the next day. Another flight in the early-evening leaves at 5:40 p.m. and lands at 6:55 p.m., also the following day.

“The fares are reasonable if you are traveling for leisure purposes,” Joseph Sprague, Senior Vice-President of Communications and External Relations for Alaska Airlines, told Vancity Buzz during an event in Seattle last week celebrating the success of the partnership. “The economy class and connections on Emirates are pretty reasonable. Nobody wants to travel three days to get somewhere.”

The flight to Dubai is approximately 14 hours, excluding a 54-minute Alaska flight between YVR and Sea-Tac and a relatively short 2 hour and 46 minute layover in Seattle. For the ease of scheduling, Alaska runs multiple flights between Vancouver and Seattle daily.

Altogether, a typical journey from Vancouver to Dubai – through Seattle – is less than 18 hours, well under most of the other options that take over 20 hours.

Rob Gurney, Emirates’ Senior Vice-President of North America, told Vancity Buzz that the partnership between the two airlines and Emirates’ service from Seattle to Dubai is fuelled by not only the strong demand from the American Pacific Northwest but also the Canadian West Coast.

“It’s not just Vancouver but it is also an important market as it covers Victoria, the rest of British Columbia, and Calgary and Edmonton in Alberta,” he said. “Essentially, it provides the opportunity for customers in a single booking to travel seamlessly between the carriers, connecting through Seattle, which is probably the most logical connecting point for a lot of customers.”

Emirates began operating from Seattle to Dubai in March 2012 with one daily flight using a Boeing 777-300ER, and the route’s capacity was nearly doubled last July with the addition of a daily Boeing 777-200LR aircraft. On a weekly basis, the two cities are connected by over 4,300 seats on Emirates flights.

“We’ve been together for four years now and the relationship is just getting stronger and bigger,” said Sprague. “With Emirates adding a second daily Dubai-Seattle flight, it’s obviously doubled the opportunity for us to feed customers to them. And we are feeding them hundreds of customers a day.”

Gurney echoed Sprague’s positive comments on the growing partnership between the two airlines, adding that Alaska is a fitting partner for Emirates’ culture of excellence. Alaska’s recent US$2.6 billion acquisition of Virgin America also secures the airline’s future position of becoming the future dominant airline on the American West Coast.

“Alaska is a great airline and have a terrific product, customer service, and culture,” said Gurney. “They run a very good business so commercially, they are very switched on and astute. They are terrific people to work with and see the value that we do. Generally, these partnerships are very effective if you create value for customers.”

Emirates is routinely ranked by Skytrax’s Air Travel Review and Airline Ratings, the international benchmark for excellence in the aviation industry, as one of the world’s best airlines based on its superior level of customer service, safety, passenger comfort, cleanliness, and passenger amenities, entertainment, and services – even in the economy cabins. In Skytrax’s 2015 ranking, it was ranked as the world’s fifth best airline.

Passengers on any Emirates flight enjoy over 2,000 free channels of films, television shows, music, games, and podcasts through the in-flight entertainment system, regionally inspired gourmet cuisine on all classes, and renowned inflight service from the airline’s multi-national cabin crew of over 135 nationalities.

The airline has a policy of operating with a young fleet of planes, which is evident with the fleet’s average age standing at below six years.

Other aircraft currently in use include the Airbus A330, Airbus A340, and several variations of the Boeing 777. A total of 26 aircraft will be retired in 2016, and the average age of the aircraft slated for retirement is 15.7 years – significantly below the average air industry retirement age of 25 years. And from 2017 to 2018, the airline plans to retire another 26 planes.

Over 260 additional aircraft, worth over US$120 billion, are set to arrive over the coming years, with the bulk of the orders being 150 new generation Boeing 777Xs. Emirates is even the world’s largest operator of the Airbus A380 with 78 of the planes already in service. This fleet of superjumbo jets will eventually grow to 142 once all orders have arrived.

At this time, Emirates’ only regular direct service in Canada is at Toronto’s Pearson International where there is a three times weekly service to Dubai using an A380-800.

“At the moment, we have no plans for additional growth, but we are always alert to opportunities that may come by,” said Gurney.

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Kenneth Chan Deputy Editor & Social Media Manager at Vancity Buzz. He covers stories pertaining to local architecture, urban issues, politics, business, retail, economic development, transportation, infrastructure, and anything else that makes a difference in the lives of Vancouverites. Kenneth is also a Co-Founder of New Year's Eve Vancouver. Connect with him at kenneth[at]vancitybuzz.com
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