Gulf airlines aim for growth with more US flight connections

An increasing number of American destinations being is added by Etihad Airways, Emirates Airline and Qatar Airways.

Emirates Airline’s stand at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai. Lee Hoagland / The National
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Gulf carriers are ramping up flight connections to the US, opening increased routes out of hubs such as Dallas, Miami and Los Angeles.

Qatar Airways expects to grow its US business by half in the next six months alone. It plans to start flying to Miami from June 10, followed by Dallas Fort Worth from July 1. It already flies to Chicago, Houston, New York, Washington DC and Philadelphia.

“We will be the first Gulf carrier to enter the Florida market,” said the Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker. Miami International Airport serves nearly 40 million passengers a year, with about half travelling internationally.

Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways is also targeting the US market after the airport opened a purpose-built customs and border protection post to undertake immigration checks before US-bound passengers board their flights. It currently flies to Chicago, New York and Washington DC, with services to Los Angeles and Dallas Fort Worth also due to start this year.

The airline hosted a jobs fair in Dallas last week to recruit staff for its latest US destination.

Emirates Airline started non-stop flights between Dubai and Boston in March, becoming the carrier's eighth destination.

The A380 superjumbo, popular among Gulf carriers, is helping the UAE’s two big airlines boost passenger loads on new long-haul routes to the US. Emirates expects to fly the world’s largest passenger aircraft to Dallas Fort Worth from October 1, joining New York and Los Angeles, which are already served by the plane. Etihad plans to deploy the plane on its New York route next year.

From Dallas Fort Worth, Middle Eastern travellers “can reach every major destination in the country”, said Kenneth Baker, the executive vice president of Dallas Fort Worth airport. Luring Gulf tourists is “part of our thinking as an airport”, he said.

For this reason, Dallas Fort Worth’s management “did quite a bit of research on spending patterns of folks coming from the Middle East,” he said.

Brand USA, a US government agency that promotes tourism in the country, will be opening a full-time office in Dubai this year to cater to the growing demand from tourism companies in the US. The agency has doubled the number of exhibitors it has brought to the Arabian Travel Market this year.

“Working with Gulf airlines is a real strategic opportunity for us in reaching tourists from Asia and India”, said Jay Gray, a vice president at Brand USA.

“The message in India is come to New York - but it’s really come to New York via Dubai or Abu Dhabi,” he said.

Outbound tourism from the Gulf to the US is growing by 15 per cent year-on-year, according to data from Brand USA.

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