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Emirates–United Partnership Takes Off

A United 777-200 at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Greg Linton)

Former rivals Emirates and United Airlines have launched a new partnership. The agreement, first announced in September 2022, includes reciprocal mileage earning and redemption opportunities, an interline agreement and a new United service between Newark Liberty International Airport and Dubai International Airport.

From Rivals to Partners

It was not long ago that the “big three” carriers in the United States were locked in a bitter dispute with the “ME3” or “Middle East Three:” Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways. American, Delta and United alleged that the Middle East airlines received unfair subsidies from the Emirati and Qatari governments, allowing them to offer superior service at competitive prices. The three major U.S. carriers also claimed that their rivals were violating the Open Skies agreements between the United States and their respective countries.

For example, in March 2017, United Airlines employees rallied at Newark International Airport when Emirates launched a new service between Dubai and Newark via Athens, amid allegations that the subsidies received by Emirates was allowing it to undermine U.S. carriers. Then-United Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Oscar Munoz stated in an interview to Business Insider UK that he believed that Emirates would potentially lose $25 million dollars on the new route. Meanwhile, the Middle Eastern airlines accused their U.S. counterparts of receiving more than $100 billion in support from the American government through bankruptcy protection, antitrust immunity, grants and other methods.

Just as the dispute appeared to have been settled in early 2018, tensions reignited that December when the “big three” U.S. carriers accused Qatar Airways of planning fifth freedom routes after it acquired a 49 percent stake in Air Italy. Air Italy later ceased operations in February of 2020.

In the years since the peak of the dispute, tensions have quelled between the airlines. During the pandemic, American Airlines launched a strategic partnership with Oneworld partner Qatar Airways. In September of 2022, Emirates and United announced their new partnership, which is now fully implemented with United’s new route and reciprocal mileage opportunities.

The New Emirates–United Partnership

In November 2022, the first part of the partnership began, as Emirates and United began an interline agreement that gave Emirates passengers access to over 200 U.S. destinations. On March 25, 2023, United operated its inaugural flight between Newark and Dubai. The flight is now flown daily by a Boeing 777-200ER. While the service currently is not operated as a codeshare, the airlines have filed paperwork with regulators that suggests that a codeshare agreement will come in the future.

United MileagePlus members can also now earn miles on select Emirates flights when they are booked in conjunction with a United flight between Newark and Dubai. Similarly, Emirates Skywards members can earn miles on United flights booked through Emirates.

On the redemption side, United MileagePlus members can only redeem their miles on certain routes between Dubai and Africa, the Middle East, and the South Asian Subcontinent as part of an award ticket that includes a United flight between Newark and Dubai. However, Emirates Skywards members can redeem miles on all United flights.

“This agreement unites two iconic, flag carrier airlines who share a common commitment to creating the best customer experience in the skies,” said United CEO Scott Kirby when the partnership was first announced in September. Emirates President Sir Tim Clark added that, “two of the biggest, and best-known airlines in the world are joining hands to fly people better to more places, at a time when travel demand is rebounding with a vengeance…We look forward to developing our partnership with United for the long term.”

Andrew Chen

Author

  • Andrew Chen

    Andrew is a lifelong lover of aviation and travel. He has flown all over the world and is fascinated by the workings of the air travel industry. As a private pilot and glider pilot who has worked with airlines, airports and other industry stakeholders, he is always excited to share his passion for aviation with others. In addition to being a writer, he also hosts Flying Smarter, an educational travel podcast that explores the complex world of air travel to help listeners become better-informed and savvier travelers.

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