It’s a global airline with longhaul service around the world. But one of Emirates’ most lucrative routes is right in its own backyard, a journey of only 543 miles.
Picture a “business route” and you think of New York to Washington or Frankfurt to Brussels or Sydney to Melbourne. But imagine a Sunday morning in Dubai Terminal 3. Men in suits waiting to board EK819, one of four daily services from Dubai to Riyadh, the capital city of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Many consultants work in “Saudi” (as they call it) during the week, but retreat to the more liberal Dubai on weekends, returning to their families and actually what they consider home. Why? Where else in the Middle East can you drink alcohol openly or mix freely with men and women? Plus, the taxes are very low. Even as Saudi Arabia liberalizes under Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), many still view the Kingdom as too restrictive.
At the same time, the economy is not growing in the United Arab Emirates like it used to, growing at only 1.9% last year. That has forced people to look beyond for work and firms in Saudi Arabia have been hiring.
On Sunday mornings to Riyadh and Thursday afternoons back to Dubai, fares are often more expensive than flying to London. Business and first class seats fill up months in advance and Emirates is even using its massive A380 on the route.
Per Bloomberg, Saudi Arabia contributes 60% of the revenue Emirates generates on its Middle East routes.
But all of this has raised the ire of some rulers in Saudi Arabia, who desperately want to diversify the oil-dependent economy and train up a domestic workforce rather than rely upon foreign help. In fact, a recent Saudi royal decree requires companies to prioritize Saudi workers, hiring only foreign consultants when a “dire need” exists.
For now, that still leaves plenty of wiggle room and room for Emirates to capitalize on one of its most lucrative routes.