Emirates: There’s ‘Temptation’ to Add More U.S. Fifth-Freedom Routes

May 1, 2019

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.

Emirates could be tempted to add more nonstop routes between the US and Europe, possibly expanding its roster of so-called “fifth-freedom” flights that have riled its US rivals.

Emirates’ president Tim Clark made those comments while speaking this week at the 2019 Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, according to a Bloomberg News report.

In aviation industry vernacular, fifth-freedom routes are those an airline can fly between two foreign nations as long as the flight continues to its home country or began there.

Emirates currently flies two such routes between the US and Europe: daily Airbus A380 service between New York JFK and Milan and daily Boeing 777 service between Newark and Athens. Both flights include a leg to Dubai, but – like other operators of fifth-freedom routes – Emirates can sell tickets specifically on the nonstop US-Europe legs.

In his remarks at the Arabian Travel Market, Clark said both routes were performing well for the airline and that “the temptation is to do more,” Bloomberg reported.

THE POINTS GUY: What Are the Five Freedoms of Aviation, and How Do They Affect You?

Still, he acknowledged that such routes to the US are “under the microscope” following a contentious spat between the three biggest US carriers (American, Delta and United) and the three top Gulf carriers (Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways). The U.S. carriers have claimed that their Gulf rivals benefit from unfair subsidies, something those carriers have vigorously disputed.

The battle raged for years and only cooled in May 2018 with an apparent truce, following promises by the Gulf carriers to improve financial transparency and a vague suggestion that they would hold off on more fifth-freedom routes.

After a period of relative calm, there have been some new rumblings on the subject after Air Italy – 49 percent owned by Qatar Airways – added a raft of new routes between North America and Europe. Citing Qatar Airways’ backing, the big three US airlines have called Air Italy’s growth an effort to get around the vague pledge by the Gulf airlines to limit fifth-freedom flights.

THE POINTS GUY: 10 Best North American Fifth Freedom Carriers to Book with Points

As for Clark, his discussion went beyond the fifth-freedom possibilities.

High on the list was the topic of the Airbus A380. The superjumbo jet has helped define Emirates’ growth during the past two decades, but the airline now faces a future without the jet after Airbus decided that it will end production of the slow-selling plane.

The A380 likely will continue to fly for Emirates for years to come, but the carrier can no longer count on new models when it becomes time to phase out existing ones as they age.

Clark said a downturn in travel in the region had already forced the airline to begin “knocking down the network” during the past nine months, adjusting capacity in an effort to deal with the shrinking demand.

“We haven’t been growing at the pace we used to because of geopolitical issues in the region and elsewhere,” Clark said, according to Bloomberg. “But that’s given us time to take stock of what the network is going to look like in 5 to 10 years, and what the fleet fit in that network and the type of aircraft is going to be.”

While an A380-less future may prove to be a surmountable obstacle for the Gulf giant, it does represent a major shift.

It was just in 2017 that Clark said: “We need the A380s big time. It gives me huge flows across the hub to feed multiple city pairs. As soon as you start compressing that, your hub starts to implode, and that’s a big problem for us (…) That’s where the essence of our profitability remains.”

Stay tuned …

Featured photo: Alberto Riva, TPG

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit

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.