Emirates will commence daily nonstop services from Dubai to Chicago O’Hare International on August 5th, utilizing a Boeing 777-200LR aircraft, according to the Chicago Tribune.
EK 235 Dep DXB 0945 Arr ORD 1525
EK 236 Dep ORD 2035 Arr DXB 1910+1
Chicago will be Emirates’ 9th US destination after Boston (starting in March 2014), Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, Los Angeles, New York JFK, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington Dulles, and its first destination in the US Midwest region. Chicago will also join the elite ranks of Dallas/Ft. Worth, New York JFK and Washington Dulles for receiving service from all of the “big three” Middle Eastern carriers: Emirates, Etihad and Qatar.
Etihad has been serving Chicago since 2009, and Qatar launched nonstop services to Chicago in 2013.
Chicago to offer approximately 8,500 weekly seats to the Middle East in 2H 2014
Currently, three carriers offer nonstop services to the Middle East from Chicago: Etihad, Qatar Airways and Royal Jordanian (Turkish Airlines, though often grouped with the Gulf Coast airlines in separate analyses due to network and business model similarities, is excluded from data compiled by OAG as it classifies as European carrier).
By fall 2014, Chicago will see nonstop service to Amman, Jordan (Royal Jordanian), Doha, Qatar (Qatar Airways), Dubai, United Arab Emirates (Emirates Airline) and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (Etihad Airways)
At peak season, these three carriers offer approximately 6,755 weekly seats between Chicago and Abu Dhabi, Doha and Amman, respectively. The addition of Emirates will grow that figure by 1,862 weekly seats via a daily 777-200LR operation. Royal Jordanian intends to deploy its 787-800s on all of its North American routes, including Chicago, effective October 2014, replacing its highly inefficient Airbus A340-200s currently in use. The substitution of the 787 will reduce seating capacity on RJs services by roughly 176 weekly seats, but also enable RJ to offer higher frequencies on the route at 6 weekly, even during slower periods, rather than its current model at 3/4 weekly during the winter, thanks to cost-savings offered by the Dreamliner.
Combined, all four carriers will offer nearly 8,500 weekly seats to the four points in the Middle East. Etihad and Qatar will offer the first and second largest seat offerings at 2,632 seats and 2,345 seats, respectively, whereas Emirates will come in third with a significantly reduced capacity count at 1,862 seats behind the other two.
Although Emirates’ capacity share will pale in comparison to that offered by Qatar and Etihad, its fiercest regional competitors, Emirates will be able to enjoy a slight advantage of being the only carrier out of all four offerings that will offer a First Class product on the route, whereas the other three only offer a 2-class cabin combination with Business and Economy. Qatar and Etihad, in particular, deploy very high-density 777-300 ERs to Chicago. Etihad offers over 330 Economy class seats on a daily basis, and Qatar’s offering falls slightly below that figure at 293.
Emirates also has the flexibility to up-gauge its Chicago route to a larger-scale 777-300ER if the route matures well and performs above expectations in a shorter time frame than targeted. As such, the route can be seen as relatively low-risk despite the fact that Chicago is a crowded market as-is.
EK flights to ORD timed nearly identically to QR and EY to facilitate S Asia transfers
Emirates’ flight scheduling into Chicago will nearly mirror those of rivals Qatar Airways and Etihad, with a morning departure from outbound from Dubai and a mid-afternoon arrival into Chicago, followed by an evening departure from Chicago with an early evening arrival into Dubai the following day. O’Hare will see the Emirates flight both arrive and depart from International Terminal 5. Etihad also adheres to the same terminal assignment for its daily Chicago flight, whereas Qatar departs from domestic Terminal 3, home to fellow OneWorld partner American Airlines, to help facilitate connections and relieve T5 of building congestion.
Qatar Airways schedule to Chicago (February 2014)
QR 721 Dep DOH 0800 Arr ORD 1400
QR 722 Dep ORD 2010 Arr DOH 1840+1
Etihad Airways schedule to Chicago (February 2014)
EY 150 Dep AUH 1020 Arr ORD 1525
EY 151 Dep ORD 2000 Arr AUH 1930+1
Source: CAPA OAG
The three Gulf carriers will all depart Chicago within a span of 35 minutes from each other. Much of this is attributed to widebody gate space availability and runway congestion at O’Hare. However, the structure of the timetable also is designed to facilitate connections beyond Dubai to the South Asian cities, replicating a similar format employed by Qatar at Doha and Etihad at Abu Dhabi with respect to their South Asian scheduling banks.
The Chicago flight is primed to arrive at Dubai with an onward connecting bank to Mumbai, Hyderabad, Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, Chennai, Lahore, Bengaluru, Islamabad, Delhi, Colombo and Karachi within a span of four hours. Both Qatar and Etihad offer virtually the exact same list of scheduled flights out of their hubs at similar hours. Return schedules on the inbound also display multiple arrivals from the subcontinent into Dubai at the early morning hours, just in time to enable convenient connections to Chicago.
The Emirates and Dubai combination is also slightly more favorable given the fact that EK offers a much more robust schedule out of Dubai to various cities consistently throughout the day, permitting greater flexibility for passengers wishing to make an extended stay in Dubai between transfers. Moreover, Dubai is also connected to multiple remote markets in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia regions such as Dushanbe, Bishkek, Mashhad, Kish Island and Gheshm, albeit served on other carriers. Although Emirates does not directly partner with any of the local carriers serving those markets, the Chicago flight does open opportunities for passengers to self-connect in order to access a multitude of offline destinations from Dubai.
Comparatively speaking, at Dallas/Ft. Worth airport, another market soon to be served by all three Gulf Carriers, it is notable that Emirates has adhered to a different scheduling mechanism out of DFW by offering a post-midnight early AM departure from Dubai, with an early morning arrival into DFW, followed by a noon departure from DFW and a noon arrival into Dubai the following day.
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Conversely, Qatar and Etihad’s proposed schedules into DFW mirror those of Chicago. A large reason for this is due to the fact that Etihad and Qatar are more closely-chained to coordinating schedules with codeshare partner American Airlines at DFW (who has agreements with Qatar via OneWorld and Etihad through a separate, long-standing relationship) than Emirates. Additionally, Emirates offers multiple connection banks to the Subcontinent throughout the day, whereas Qatar and Etihad do not offer more than 2-3 banks throughout the day. Dubai International airport essentially exists as a massive human sorting system via entirely widebody, long-haul operations, whereas Qatar and Etihad, while fast-growing carriers in their own rights, are not nearly at the same scale as Emirates is at Dubai.
Emirates Airline schedule to Dallas/Ft. Worth (February 2014)
EK221 DXB0245 – 0905DFW 77L D
EK222 DFW1150 – 1220+1DXB 77L D
Qatar Airways schedule to Dallas/Ft. Worth (effective July 2014)
QR733 DOH0810 – 1615DFW 77L D
QR734 DFW1935 – 1820+1DOH 77L D
Etihad Airways schedule to Dallas/Ft. Worth (effective December 2014)
EY161 AUH0945 – 1630DFW 77L 357
EY160 DFW1845 – 1950+1AUH 77L 357
Although Etihad has grown its connection schedule to the subcontinent out of Abu Dhabi through its equity stake agreement with Jet Airways, the plans have run into complications with Indian airlines receiving Category II restrictions, thus preventing further expansion into the U.S. to provide more feed from trunk routes. Supposedly, Jet and Etihad had plans to open services between Abu Dhabi and Newark, New York JFK and Chicago O’Hare operated on Jet metal.
As such, this reflects the nuances of the Big Three Gulf airlines in terms of their individual operating styles: Qatar is now a member of a major global alliance, Etihad has broken the norm by developing “radial” alliances and growing virtual networks through equity stake purchases and joint ventures, while Emirates has purely remained independent and pursued its own growth strategy without much aid from others. In a high-risk, high-reward world when it comes to forging ties with other carriers (and potential enemies), the India example is a case where Emirates has the leg-up (for now) by keeping all of its eggs in one basket.
Chicago is a mere surgical add for Emirates, albeit too large and important to ignore
Emirates has dragged its feet in opening its Chicago station after rumors have been circulating for years that the market would welcome another nonstop entrant from the Middle East. Rarely is Emirates the last one to arrive to the party following in the footsteps of Etihad and Qatar Airways (as it is often the other way around), but truth be told, the Chicago market is highly fragmented as-is and Emirates likely felt no rush to launch services.
Moreover, purportedly there was a lot of back-and-forth between the carrier and airport officials concerning arrival times into the airport, to which case Emirates had to concede to accepting a schedule proposition that it did not want initially.
Still, the Chicago market has seen explosive growth from not just Middle Eastern carriers, but also European and Asian carriers as well, and the early indicators seem to be pretty healthy. Last summer, O’Hare experienced the return of Austrian, as well as the addition of airberlin, both of which have expanded services from 5 weekly on an initial basis to daily. American Airlines and United have also added transatlantic capacity from O’Hare to Dusseldorf (American), Shannon (United) and Edinburgh (United).
In the Asia region, Hainan Airlines launched nonstop serviced to Beijing last fall, All Nippon Airways has added a second daily flight to Narita, and Cathay Pacific is increasing service to Hong Kong from 7 weekly to 10 weekly. SWISS is increasing its additional summer services from 11 weekly to 12 weekly, and Virgin Atlantic will see Delta extend its summer seasonal services to London year-round thanks to the joint venture partnership.
It’s therefore a positive indication that the market uptake rate in Chicago is fairly strong, and that even with enhanced competition, there is room for growth in the region. It also probably helped that Category II restrictions has stalled Jet Airways’ plans to launch a nonstop service from Chicago to Abu Dhabi, therefore lowering the barrier to entry for Emirates.
Indian carriers set to lose again
In addition to the blow that Jet Airways (and Etihad) will suffer as a result of Category II, Air India will also likely take a hit from the Emirates services. AI offers a daily flight from Chicago to New Delhi on a 777-300ER. State-owned Air India cannot codeshare with any US carriers until it is restored to Category I, and is projected to post a $700 million USD loss when Indian carriers report their FY 2014 full-year earnings at the end of March. It’s only means to survival is to continue under-cutting competitors with deeply-discounted premium class fares in order to boost load-factors at an unsustainable level. With each new cost-efficient Middle Eastern carrier encroaching upon its territory, Air India finds itself surrounded by another dilemma to contend with.
Chicago was an obvious hole in Emirates’ network, but who will be next?
Emirates is now present in the Pacific Northwest, West Coast, South/Central, Midwest and Northeast/Mid-Atlantic regions in the US. Of the top largest international airports in the States, EK still has open opportunities at Atlanta, Newark and Miami should it see value in those options.
The more likely scenario is that Emirates will only open two US stations in 2014, with a possible third towards the later half in Q3/Q4 or beyond. Boston and Chicago are now officially in the pipeline for launch, both of which come after a relatively quiet growth period for Emirates hailing from the US side. Emirates still maintains the largest weekly seating capacity between the US and the Middle East hovering between 30 and 33% over the course of the past few years.
The second largest player is Qatar, who has actually seen its market share grow 6% between January 2012 (12%) and July 2014 (18%) boosted by the additions of Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami and Dallas/Ft. Worth to its network. Likely, Emirates’ biggest concern is staying ahead of this number, in which it is certainly still in strong lead, but Qatar’s growing force is not to go unnoticed.
Etihad is a lesser threat, coming in at 5th place behind United and El Al at 10%. Still, it too has seen its share grow from 8% in January 2012 to 12% in July 2014, with the number staged to grow a slight amount when it adds DFW in December.
In the meantime, Emirates can also focus on increasing capacity to existing US markets without adding more destinations. It recently added 5th-freedom services between New York JFK and Milan in October, a somewhat controversial move given previous failure in the 5th freedom space between JFK and Hamburg, Germany. Emirates also up-guaged its daily flight to Los Angeles to an Airbus A380 from a 777-300. There are plenty of other US markets that could certainly see up-guages as well if conditions are ripe.
Multiple choices are available at the disposal of Emirates and friends. Whichever path they choose will always present another fascinating topic to dissect.