Emirates is walking a fine line between targeting commercially lucrative routes and trying to keep protective U.S. carriers quiet. Even so, it is exploring options to add new Fifth Freedom routes between the USA and Europe.
Fifth Freedom routes are allow an airline to carry revenue traffic between foreign countries as a part of services connecting the airline’s own country.
In the U.S. market, Emirates operates Fifth Freedom flights between New York (JFK) and Milan (MXP) as well as between Newark (EWR) and Athens (ATH).
Zach Honig of The Points Guy recently caught up with Sir Tim Clark, President of Emirates.
First, Clark noted that Fifth Freedom routes only make up a small portion of Emirates’ business.
“It doesn’t drive our business model at all. The number of Fifth Freedom flights we have is less than 1%.”
Nevertheless, Emirates has had great success with these flights. It will soon begin a new Fifth Freedom flight between Barcelona (BCN) and Mexico City (MEX) and would also love to increase service to New York. Speaking of the JFK-MXP flight, Clark said:
“That flight is completely full all the time. Every single flight is full. We should have two on there, but I can’t get the slots into JFK.”
Clark also added that many Frankfurt passengers take Emirates to Milan, then connect.
So why not add more? The first problem at JFK is slot restrictions. The capacity-controlled airport does not have additional slots available and Emirates is not currently willing to pay the going rate to procure one on the secondary market.
But it is about more than that. Emirates has fierce critics in the USA, led by Delta, which pour time and money into efforts to derail Gulf Carrier growth to the USA. While this is presented as a defense of American jobs, in reality Gulf Carriers 1.) create U.S. jobs, 2.) buy Boeing jets, and 3.) keep fares and soft products competitive.
Even so, Emirates could obtain more JFK slots if it wanted to. This is just my opinion, of course, but I believe that Emirates does not want to kick the hornet’s nest right now, especially as it has faced pushback from Mexico over its new Barcelona – Mexico flight. Instead, it is waiting for the right moment.
> Read More: Emirates Plans to Defy Court Order In Mexico City
I would love to see Emirates add an extra Milan flight and a Frankfurt flight from New York JFK. In fact, I think most consumers would. But Emirates has more to consider than just slots and whether it can fill up its planes. There are dark political calculations also at work.