COMMENT: Emirates is an Arab airline that claims that it has the best inflight entertainment system in the world. So does it?

Long haul entertainment and the provision of on board IT services has become a critical marketing tool for International airlines operating out of Australia. From Qantas to Virgin or from BA to Singapore Airlines they all have a technology message to spin.

 New kid on the long haul route between Sydney and Europe is Arab airline Emirates, who are also the official sponsor of this year’s World Cup in Germany. They claim that their Ice Entertainment system is not only good but the best in the world so we put their offerings to the test during a recent trip to Europe. After 48 hours in the air with this airline we came to the conclusion that they have a long way to go before they are in the same business class league as their competitors.

Even Emirates Economy class entertainment system is better than what they are delivering for some business class passengers. Economy class screen shown.

Emirates describe their Ice entertainment system as a complete, integrated package with movies, TV channels, radio, music, advanced communication facilities and travel information. Ice they say allows on board passengers to select an entertainment preference at the touch of the onboard screen, and at any time during the flight. Most importantly they say that the ice touch-pad screen is completely individual, enabling users to personalise there viewing choice to suit a  mood.

They also say that Ice enables one to stop, start, pause, rewind or fast-forward, from a personal TV screen, just as if you’re playing a DVD or CD at home. The Emirates system has over 500 channels of entertainment as well as advanced communication and information facilities. Emirates customers they say can keep in touch by phone, email or sms from the comfort of their seat while receiving replies direct to an onboard TV screen.

After witnessing first hand the Emirates business class service I believe that this airline has to immediatly review the way it markets itself as they are not delivering the onboard services that they claim in their marketing. They are delivering an inferior entertainment service when compared to the likes of Qantas, Singapore Airlines or British Airways and are blatantly discriminating between business class passengers where one passengers gets a large 15″ screen in the back of a seat while the remaining 20% of business class passengers  are forced to use small 10″ screens the same size as economy class.

Passengers who get the small old fashioned screens are not told of the difference from the advertised services prior to boarding the aircraft despite the fact that one is paying between $8,000 to $10,000 for a business class seat to fly between Australia and Europe.

What Emirates say they deliver for business class entertainment. Vs What we experienced right. See: http://www.emirates.com/a340/businessICE.asp?subMenu=bcICE&navPoint=bc4&menuSelect=3)

What Emirates marketing would have one believe is that all Airbus A340-500 business class entertainment is delivered to the same sized touch screen, when in fact up to 20% of customers are unable to access the large touch screen that they promote.

The quality on some of Emirates on board screens is so bad, that one has to question as to how old these screens are. With constant 24 hours use, on board airline screens like all TV screens will deteriate over time.  

The first leg of my Emirates trip started on an Airbus A340-500 aircraft with the airline delivering on their advertised promise.

I had a large touch screen located in the back of the business class seat and access to the full Ice system. There was even a live feed from digital camera’s placed at the front and below the aircraft. This was real neat especially when flying over the snow covered regions of Asia and Europe.

Selection was not always easy from either the screen or an interactive remote control located in the central arm rest but this was made up for by the excellent selection of on board content and information.

On the business computing front a nifty feature was the revolving power plug located in the seat. This allowed me to connect my Australian power plug and notebook into the airline power system however I did have difficulty connecting with the onboard WI -Fi network and my notebook failed to charge when plugged into the onboard power supply.

As for on board headphones go, these were pretty ordinary when I compared them with my own Sennheiser noise cancelling headphones, which I used with the Emirates onboard entertainment system and my iPod. The aircraft though late taking off from Sydney did arrive in Dubai on time. And this is where the Emirates experience went from reasonably good to very bad.


 On entering the Emirates lounge for a 2 hour stop over I found that I had a lot of difficulty connecting with a broadband connection firstly from my notebook via the Emirates WI Fi service and from an Emirates desktop computer located in the business lounge. With both devices the services was painfully slow. On one occasion it took me 3 attempts and up to 8 minutes to log onto my Google Mail account. 

On the leg between Dubai and Frankfurt I was switched to an old Boeing 777 300 aircraft.Gone were the large touch screen and the massaging business class seats. Instead I got a business class seat that would not fully recline into a sleeping position, a wonky TV screen that folded away into an armrest and when pulled out one had to hold it in place to view the onscreen content.

Also missing was the hundreds of movies at the touch of a button. Instead one was given a list of movies and the option of an archaic video tape system that worked by placing a video tape into a player located in the armrest. While the onboard service was good the aircraft was a big difference from the Airbus A340-500 aircraft flown on the first leg of the journey.

On the return journey I was shunted onto an Airbus A300-200 aircraft from Manchester in the UK for a 7 hour trip to Dubai. The quality of the content on the ageing in seat LCD screens was appalling. It was grainy and difficult to see. During take off from Manchester airport the live cameras were pumped to a large LCD TFT screen located on the bulkhead and to the small in seat screen. The large screen was crystal clear with the runway lights and yellow centre line showing up clearly. On the in seat screen the image was blurred and hard to see. Movies shown on the in seat screen were blurred and it was clear that the use by date for these screens was well and truly up.

But it not just the Emirates entertainment service that was lacking. When I first checked in with Emirates at Manchester airport I asked for an Isle seat. “No problem said the lady at reservations. On boarding the aircraft I found myself in a centre isle seat that was smaller than the two isle seats either side of me. Also at Manchester airport there is no priority boarding for Emirates business class passengers.

After a 3 hour stop over in Dubai it was back onto an Airbus A340-500 aircraft for the final leg down to Sydney. I was looking forward to returning to a big 15″ in seat screen. But not so, along with at least a dozen other business class passengers I was forced to access the entertainment system via a tiny old fashioned 10″ screen that one had to pull out of an arm rest.

Amazingly no where in any Emirates advertising for their business class service were any of these screens featured? When one raised the issue with the on board Emirates staff a steward said “We have this problem all the time. We write our reports, we log the complaints but management don’t seem to take notice of what we say. We are the ones who have to listen to the customer complaints not them”.

Another Emirates steward said “We get a lot of complaints about the different levels of business class services that Emirates delivers across the fleet. Most senior Emirates management fly first class where the service is a lot better than business class so they don’t get to see the difference in Emirates business class services. We also find that Australians who have normally flown with Qantas or Singapore Airlines on the long haul routes notice the difference compared to UK nationals or ex pats flying between the UK and Dubai. They often think the service is okay as they know no better. I use to work for Virgin and they know what real customer service is. Emirates have gone from being a new airline with old aircraft to a growing airline that have now major problems with the consistency of service across multiple aircraft of which some are old aircraft that have been refurbished, especially on long hauls routes”.

What Emirates claim is that they are a superior airline. They are not, they are very much an inferior airline who has a lot of catching up to do. And while they are making a bucket load of money from business class passengers it is at the expense of customer service. To fly 3 different aircraft with 3 very different levels of service is not acceptable especially when the levels of in flight service differs so much. With Qantas, Singapore Airlines or British Airways you are often flying on the same Boeing 747 jumbo jet between Australia and Europe with only one 90 minute stop over for fuel.  On board the aircraft one has the luxury of the same business class sleeper seats between Australia and Europe irrelevant of whether one is flying out of London, Manchester of Frankfurt.  One also has access to excellent in flight entertainment systems.

Would I fly Emirates again? No. This is an airline that is clearly and knowingly not delivering on their advertised promise. They are deliberately discriminating between business class passengers. In their online marketing they describe their business class as of a high quality this is far from the truth as it differs from where one is seated. Their entertainment systems are not consistent from one aircraft to another and while they tell you this they do not tell you that the screens quality between aircraft differs significantly. On board screens play a vital role in a customer’s experience of the entertainment system. There is no point in having a great content management system and lousy on board screens.

So for me it’s back to good old and reliable Qantas, British Airways or Singapore airlines for my next trip to Europe.

NOTE: Several people I spoke to during my flight with Emirates were not happy with the level of service offered. One customer an Australian lawyer now working in the UK told me that he was set to lodge a complaint with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for false and misleading advertising. (See Emirates web site description of their http://www.emirates.com/a340/businessICE.asp?subMenu=bcICE&navPoint=bc4&menuSelect=3)

If you have a comment re the Emirates business class service email me on dwr@4squaremedia.com.

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