What defines a Gulf airline ?

1 Mar 2007 by business traveller

Last week's news item (see Online News, February 21) concerning Qatar Airways' imminent introduction of transatlantic flights from Doha and Geneva elicited a number of emails from readers based in the Middle East region.

In particular I've been taken to task for my claims that Qatar Airways is the second Gulf carrier to serve New York (after Emirates) and the first to serve Washington DC.

Readers point out that Gulf carrier Etihad was also serving New York before Qatar, while another points out that Saudia and Kuwait are also Gulf carriers and have been flying to New York for more than a decade. In which case, the story should have read that Qatar was not the second Gulf carrier to serve New York, but the fifth, with Emirates the third, Etihad the fourth and Qatar the fifth.

I am happy to set the matter right. Granted, I made a mistake when not considering Etihad's New York route but the issue of Saudia and Kuwait isn't clear cut.

In the Middle East these two airlines are considered Gulf carriers, but from the London perspective, rightly or wrongly, they are viewed more as Middle Eastern airlines. There are several reasons. Firstly, Emirates, Qatar and Etihad have all aggressively marketed themselves in northern Europe as global carriers. Via their hubs of Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi they fly not just Middle Eastern travellers but also Europeans and others all over the world.

By comparison, Saudia and Kuwait aren't in the publicity game. They keep themselves to themselves and in Europe are considered to be carriers taking passengers to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, not around the world (though of course they do this with routes such as New York).

There's another difference too. The entire marketing philosophy expounded by Emirates, Qatar and Etihad is to grow the business. And that means, because of their home countries' small population base, they can only fuel their growth by attracting travellers of other countries to fly them. Conversely, Kuwait and Saudia seem content with the market share and business they have.

Click here to read Alex's exclusive report on Qatar's forthcoming Stockholm route.

Alex McWhirter

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