What it was like to cover my first airshow: A Dubai Airshow recap

Nov 26, 2021

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

I’ve been on the airline and broader travel beat for about five years now, and I’ve loved almost every minute of it (aside from the first 12 months of the pandemic, which were devastating for the airline industry and depressing to report on.)

But until now, I’d never made it to the pinnacle events of aviation, a major air show.

Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG’s free new biweekly Aviation newsletter!

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

Airshows happen once or twice a year and serve basically as conventions for the aerospace industry. Pretty much every stakeholder is there as plane makers try and court airline and plane lessor customers, airlines show off their latest cabins and products, and component suppliers, maintenance companies, universities, startups, and even national trade departments set up to exhibit.

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

Meanwhile, outside the convention hall, dozens of planes sit parked and are available for tours. Some are open to anyone, while others are by invitation only. At the end of each day, weather permitting, aircraft take to the skies to perform dazzling flying displays.

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

Typically for U.S. and European-based reporters, the main airshows are Farnborough, outside of London, and Paris, which each take place in the early summer of alternating years.

I was supposed to go to Farnborough in June 2020 as my first show. Needless to say, that one didn’t happen.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by David Slotnick (@david_slotnick)

So instead, I went to the Dubai Airshow this month. It’s not a show that we’d necessarily cover — although there have been some big reveals there in the past, such as Emirates’ new first-class suite.

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

But this was the first show since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill, giving it more importance on the global stage than ever before.

Even so, it was a relatively quiet show compared to what typically comes from Farnborough or Paris — only a few aircraft sales notable for our primary audience, and only one major product debut (more on that in a moment). This made it a perfect “first,” allowing me to get my bearings, figure out how best to report on it, and make mistakes now instead of at the bigger shows.

Boeing-777X-777-9-Dubai-Airshow-2021-38.jpg copy
Boeing-777X at Dubai Airshow (Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy)

Of course, that one major attraction was big: Boeing’s new 777X, which made its airshow debut and its first public, close-up appearance.

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

That was a productive one for me. Thanks to the chaos of show scheduling — and the apparent demand of other media wanting to see the plane — it wasn’t easy to get a scheduled slot with Boeing to tour the aircraft. At the last minute, Boeing let me know that I was good to go for the first morning of the show.

More: First look: Inside Boeing’s first prototype 777X

The rest of the show was a nearly overwhelming rush of chaos. Trying to cover both breaking and longer-term business news while photographing as much of the show as possible meant five days of running around from a press briefing to an interview, to a meeting, to an aircraft tour, or a dinner event — all while hauling around what felt like a thousand pounds of camera equipment, my laptop and chargers along with water bottles to help get me through the days.

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

It was at least 90 degrees most days, but it felt even hotter outside the aircraft displays on the tarmac. After the first day, I made a point to go and find some sunscreen.

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

A highlight of the show was the flying displays, aerial stunts performed by stunt and test pilots. I missed most of the display the first day during a meeting but tried to make up for it over the next few days. The show organizers published a schedule for the exhibition each morning, which made it easier to plan.

There was one thing at the show that I was not quite expecting: the heavy emphasis on military arms.

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

The major airshows all typically feature both civil and military aviation — after all, a lot of the same companies work on both sides of it. As my friend Jeremy, who was at the show, put it, “it’s like an arms show masquerading as a commercial airline show.”

Still, there was something surreal and a little unsettling about the glibness and eagerness with which companies and people were viewing and selling weapons of war, especially considering that this wasn’t a NATO event — the U.S., Russia, China, Belarus, India, Pakistan, and even Israel were all in attendance, which is not the dynamic you’d necessarily expect to see.

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

For instance, there were booths advertising cruise missiles and “general-purpose bombs,” which was bizarre to see.

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

The fighter planes and attack helicopters performing stunts were incredible and fun to watch, but it was still hard not to remember that the same roaring engine I was hearing as a plane performed a barrel roll is the same sound that some people in the world have heard before dying in a bombing.

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

It’s simply the reality of the world we live in. The defense sector is a large part of our economy and society — this was merely seeing the economic aspect of the military-industrial complex up close.

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

Regardless, it was overall a fun, engaging, and valuable experience to be at the Dubai Airshow this year, and a treat to be surrounded by so many people with a passion for aviation, whether professionally, personally, or both.

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

Between meetings with planemakers and cabin designers, tours of interesting airline products and aircraft and of course the chance to see some incredible flying, it was a week that was well-spent. I’m looking forward to Farnborough in July, where I’ll be ready to hit the ground running.

Hopefully it’ll be a bit cooler than Dubai.

Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card

Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card account anniversary. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points) at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 125,000 Marriott Bonvoy Bonus Points after spending $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 8/31/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy™ program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points) at a participating hotel. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
17.99% - 26.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$125
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.