Emirates President Sir Tim Clark shares his thoughts on United Airlines’ in-flight service

At the conclusion of the unveiling ceremony of the new partnership between United Airlines and Emirates Airlines, I met Sir Tim Clark, President of Emirates Airlines, and asked him about the different service philosophies on board Emirates and United. His answer was quite revealing.

What does Emirates President Sir Tim Clark think of United Airlines’ onboard service?

While Clarke was speaking to members of the press, I made my way into the conversation and asked him if there was any concern about the very different styles of United and Emirates, particularly regarding levels of service on board, which could alienate loyal Emirates. Customers on future United interline or co-coded routes.

Clarke acknowledged the difference in service levels but expressed “confidence” that United Airlines will continue to invest in its soft product, noting specifically that he had discussed this issue with United CEO Scott Kirby and “assurances” were given that United would continue to strengthen it. Onboard meal service offers in all cabins, including Economy Class.


“I am not worried. Emirates has always been a major force in the industry to restore service and we continue to see improvements from others. United is serious about its soft product and will continue to make great strides.”

The premise of my question was that the two companies bring very different strengths to the table, especially when it comes to luxury cabins. Emirates’ image as a premium airline is rooted in its exotic hosts and superior in-flight offerings including a spacious bar and shower on the upper deck of the flagship Airbus A380.


Meanwhile, United’s kitchen aboard the premium cabin still lacks many pre-pandemic items including appetizers, candy carts and mid-flight snacks other than chips and apples. Passengers who book a symbolic sharing agreement with Emirates from Dubai to United-operated Newark may face a big surprise and negative when it comes to their onboard food and beverage options. Economy class passengers may be surprised when they board a transcontinental flight and discover that their only free meal options are pastries or cookies.

On the other hand, United Airlines offers business class seating that is superior to the Emirates 777. Even on the recently modified Emirates 777, business class is still in a non-competitive 2-3-2 layout, with average seats and no direct aisle At 3/7 seats per row. Worse, Emirates’ older 777s, of which there are nearly 100 in service, don’t even offer fully flat seats in business class. The Emirates A380 Business Class seat can be said to be on par with the United Polaris Business Class seat.

In this sense, United customers who book Emirates Airlines may be in for a very negative surprise when they find medium seats that do not fully recline on their 777. United is in the process of modifying its long-haul fleet to install Polaris seats on them. All aircraft have been completed, but 777 retrofits have been completed. United has indicated that it will operate its 777-200 on its new route between Newark (EWR) – Dubai (DXB).

Ultimately, Clark focused on the strength of the combined road network, adding that “passengers are most interested in getting to their destination as smoothly as possible and our relationship will facilitate that.”


With the United States and the Emirates feeling comfortable, they each bring different strengths. Although there is no need to align service offerings with the partnership which is set to be limited in nature, Clark is optimistic that United will continue to raise service levels aboard in the coming months. Time will tell.