Emirates gets approval to launch flights to Mexico City, creating new fifth freedom route

Nov 9, 2019

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One of the issues at the heart of the Open Skies debate between US and Middle Eastern airlines like Emirates, Etihad and Qatar is fifth freedom routes, routes that an airline operates between two countries other than the one it’s registered in.

Now, after a prolonged stalemate, Arabian Business reports that Emirates has been granted approval by Mexico’s Ministry of Communications and Transport to operate flights from Dubai to Mexico City with a stop in Barcelona (BCN) in each direction starting December 9.

Emirates has been wanting to add service to Mexico City (MEX) for a while now, though the higher elevation of Mexico City makes it nearly impossible to operate this flight nonstop. Emirates finally secured pick-up rights on the last leg, meaning it could carry passengers just between Barcelona and Mexico City, creating the new fifth freedom route. The flight will launch on December 9, and will be operated daily with a Boeing 777-200LR aircraft according to the following schedules:

  • EK255 Dubai to Barcelona departing 3:30 a.m. arriving 8 a.m.
  • EK255 Barcelona to Mexico City departing 9:55 a.m. arriving 4:15 p.m.
  • EK256 Mexico City to Barcelona departing 7:40 p.m. arriving 1:25 p.m. (+1 day)
  • EK256 Barcelona to Dubai departing 3:10 p.m. arriving 12:45 a.m. (+1 day)

Further Reading: 10 Best North American Fifth Freedom Carriers to Book with Points

As part of a settlement to the Open Skies dispute in 2018, the gulf airlines had to agree that they didn’t have any plans to launch new fifth freedom routes to the US. Crucially, this agreement didn’t actually prevent them from launching fifth freedom routes in the future (they only had to state that at the time of the signing they didn’t have plans to do so) and it only applied to the US, not the rest of the North America. Unsurprisingly, Aeromexico objected to this new competition, and given Delta’s large equity investment in Aeromexico, this proposed route reopened parts of the Open Skies debate.

Emirates already operates two North American fifth freedom routes, flying daily from New York (JFK) to Milan (MXP) and from Newark (EWR) to Athens (ATH), before both flights continue on to Dubai (DXB).

Emirates has a few different configurations for its 777-200LR aircraft, but according to ExpertFlyer the one operating this route won’t feature a first class cabin. Instead, there will be seven rows of business class laid out in a 2-2-2 configuration. While this is better than the 2-3-2 configuration found on many of Emirates’ planes, business class seats without direct aisle access are hardly competitive, especially from an airline that built much of its reputation on the luxury of its premium cabins.

Emirates’ new 2-2-2 business class on the 777-200LR. Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy

If you’re looking to redeem points and miles to fly on this route, you have two primary options: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan and JAL Mileage Bank. The former charges a larger amount of miles while the latter tacks on aggressive fuel surcharges. The table below shows how much a one-way business class award would cost from Mexico City to Barcelona, or all the way to Dubai. Note that since fuel surcharges are dependent on the origin city, flying in the opposite direction would cost the same number of miles but a different amount in taxes.

Mexico City to Barcelona Mexico City to Dubai
Alaska Airlines 105,000 miles 82,500 miles
JAL 60,000 miles (~$750) 85,000 miles (~$900)


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Featured image by Ryan Patterson / The Points Guy

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