Why United Airlines and Emirates’ Partnership Caps a Decade of Fighting

United Airlines and Emirates announced a new partnership in 2022 that would see greater cooperation between the two airlines with interlining and codesharing agreements. This has already begun, starting earlier this year. Such collaboration is a big move for two airlines that had major disagreements over unfair competition not long ago.

The new cooperation between United Airlines and Emirates was announced in the third quarter of 2022 and came into effect in March 2023. This is a big move for the two airlines and even includes tie-ups between the two frequent flyer programs.

The new partnership has many benefits, but the top among them is its global presence. Emirates passengers will have access to many new destinations in the United Airlines network. And similarly, United Airlines passengers will have greater international options, although this is comparatively limited.

Emirates will serve three main hubs primarily – Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport, and San Francisco International Airport. From there, passengers will have much easier through-ticketing and onward connections to United Airlines destinations in the US, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean Islands, and Central and South America.

There is also collaboration between the two airline frequent flyer programs. Emirates Skywards members can earn and redeem miles on all flights across United Airlines’ network. The access for United Airlines passengers is more limited. United MileagePlus members can earn miles on select flights only – based on key international connections from flights from the United Airlines’ hubs.

Such a close partnership comes as a surprise to many after years of dispute between the airlines. In the mid-2010s, United filed complaints with the US Department of Transportation (DOT), alleging that Emirates was engaging in unfair competition by receiving subsidies from the government of Dubai. The airline also dropped fights to Dubai. The DOT ultimately rejected United’s complaint, but the two airlines continued to feud over competition issues.

United Airlines was not alone in these objections. The main US legacy carriers all had issues with Emirates in the mid the late 2010s (and with Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways) over subsidies and unfair competition. Middle Eastern airlines denied this and cited cases of subsidies in the US after the events of September 11th, 2001. Ultimately, complaints were dismissed, but airlines agreed to some greater transparency.

Hopefully, this new partnership is a sign that these disagreements are in the past. Working together in this way brings advantages for both airlines. It also addresses other industry competition, such as increasing alternatives with low-cost carriers. United Airlines is not alone in deepening relationships with Middle Eastern carriers. We have seen more from American Airlines and Qatar Airways too. They are, of course, both members of the Oneworld alliance, though there have been further partnership and codesharing agreements since 2020.



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