Interview with Matthias Schmid, Emirates Senior Vice President, North America
The Future of Emirates Airlines
“Exclusive Interview with Matthias Schmid”
Emirates Senior Vice President North America
For 14 years and counting Emirates Airlines has been named as the World’s Best Airline for InFlight Entertainment by travelers. Operating almost exclusively through its hub at Dubai International Airport, it has developed into one of the globe’s premier long-haul carriers. Emirates boasts the largest fleet of Airbus A380 superjumbo and Boeing 777 wide-body jets on the globe and is recognized for its state-of-the-art inflight entertainment system, including a wide array of on-demand video and music options. Persistent with their reputation, Emirates prepares for the future by embracing new trends in luxury travel, while building on its past, of providing a level of service that only one of world’s best airlines can provide.
Please share your background and what led you to pursue a career with Emirates?
I was born in Zurich and throughout my career have worked and lived in six different countries on three continents. The global and ever transitioning nature of the travel industry felt like a natural fit.
My career in the airline industry spans over 20 years. I have held numerous managerial and executive positions for different airlines such as Swissair and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines before joining the team at Emirates Airline.
I joined my career with Emirates in Vienna, Austria when Emirates launched the daily service between Dubai and Vienna and from there moved to the corporate head quarter in Dubai for 4 years before I assumed my role here in North America. The main motivator to join Emirates was the opportunity to actively contribute to the growth of Emirates which has been indeed quite an adventure considering that we had 90 aircraft in our fleet when I joined and today operate a fleet of more than 250 aircraft.
What do you enjoy most about your career in the aviation industry?
Every job has its benefits and challenges. I first started in Europe and then got transferred to Dubai where I had a more global strategic role. I was then transferred to the U.S. five and half years ago. One of the aspects I enjoy most about my career is the rapid changing nature of the aviation industry and how to adapt to this growth and manage the organization along the way.
When I first joined the U.S. team, we had just started this massive expansion from six gateways with 49 weekly flights, to now 12 gateways with over 100 weekly flights. This was such an eye opening experience to not only manage this growth but make sure we were managing the organization in a way that was sustainable.
The airline industry is one of the fastest moving and most dynamic industries with very thin margins which makes the management of this business a challenge every single day.
With the first class suites, showers and the lounge, do you think Emirates set the bar on how other airlines view passenger experiences?
At Emirates, we are always in pursuit of excellence when it comes to delivering the best experience possible to our customers, both onground and on-board. This includes tailoring our product offering to the particular markets in which we operate. This is a clear positive in terms of customer experience.
Emirates always tries to exceed customer expectations and this is evident in our innovative ways. As an airline, we’ve had many firsts that have set us apart from the rest. We were the first airline to install personal video systems in all classes in 1992, first airline to equip entire Airbus fleet with in-flight phones in 1993 or the first airline to allow passengers to use their own mobile phone for calls and SMS in 2008. But what really propelled the airline and brand were being the first to order the industry game-changing A380 and then fit it out with our iconic on board Lounge and Shower Spa. What also makes us stand apart is our attention to every detail in the products and services we offer throughout a customers’ journey.
From the first class suites, onboard showers and onboard lounges, we are always pushing innovation. We recently introduced the fully enclosed First Class Suite on some of our Boeing 777s. It offers a truly luxurious experience with your own private hotel room 40,000 feet in the sky. Game-changing technology includes temperature controls and mood lighting, an industry first with virtual windows, and soft leather seating reminiscent of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
Why is it so important to have these wow factors?
At Emirates, we believe the most important thing is for travelers to enjoy the flight and want to fly with us time again. We want travelers to view the flight as something they look forward to and not a journey they need to endure before a holiday or business trip.
When you fly Emirates, the experience is never ordinary. Since we first took off it’s been our philosophy to offer something different, something better, no matter the class you’re flying in. That’s why we’ve invested so much in having a good product - which wins us numerous awards, and more critically, wins us new customers and loyal fans. This means flying young and modern aircraft that are efficient to operate, and kitting it out with the latest on board features to ensure our customers get the best value and experience. It means investing continually in product enhancements to stay ahead of what our customers expect – not just our airport lounges, on board seats and cabin ambience, but also the “softer” aspects such as service, amenity kit bags, fine wines and spirits, quality food prepared by gourmet chefs, free Wi-Fi, Live TV on board, etc.…
What do you feel is the most overlooked aspects of a passengers experience on board and how is Emirates addressing this?
Emirates has always put our customers at the heart of what we do, and we work hard to deliver the very best experience possible to our customers at every touchpoint, every day, all around the world. We constantly invest in our product and services, both on the ground and in the air. We listen carefully to our customers, and then relentlessly challenge ourselves to deliver and exceed expectations.
In 2018, our offering across all three classes has grown – we continue to enhance our inflight travel experience and push the boundaries of innovation. We also expanded our global network, offering greater choice for our customers by introducing new destinations, as well as layering on services to existing points. In addition to our rich product offerings and expansive route network, Emirates remains at the forefront of technology as we continue to embrace new technologies to reach and interact with our customers in new and innovative ways.
Emirates’ culinary experience on board was also refurbished in 2018 as refreshed our spirits offering across all classes with a range of premium brands. Spirits on board are served complimentary across all classes and routes and include a range of whiskeys, cognacs, gins, vodka and flavoured liqueurs amongst others. The new selection was made by an in-house team of experts who spent two years working directly with suppliers to curate the brand new spirits offering. Emirates has invested in long term partnerships with some of the world’s best brands resulting in the finest spirits as well as exclusive selections available on board.
Emirates’ new spirits menu is an extensive offering of over 30 new spirits and liqueurs served across all classes. The spirits complement Emirates’ world class offering of over 80 fine wines and champagnes served across its network daily.
On the technology and innovation front, in 2018, Emirates introduced 3D seat models on emirates.com, becoming the first airline to introduce web virtual reality (VR) technology on its digital platform. The 3D seat model is a visualisation engine that displays an immersive 3D 360 degree view of the interior of the Emirates A380 and the Emirates Boeing 777, giving customers a chance to explore their seats, the spacious cabin and the Emirates onboard product. This new feature available on emirates. com allows users to navigate through the Economy, Business and First Class cabins, as well as the iconic Onboard Lounge and Shower Spa on the Emirates A380 using navigational hotspots.
Tell us about Emirates’ new partnership with FlyDubai.
In July 2017, Emirates announced its extensive partnership with flydubai. Both airlines have continued to be managed independently, but leverage each other’s network to scale up their operations and accelerate growth.
The innovative partnership goes beyond
code-sharing and includes integrated network collaboration with coordinated scheduling. The new model will give flydubai customers seamless connectivity to Emirates’ worldwide destinations spanning six continents. For Emirates’ customers, it opens up flydubai’s robust regional network.
Emirates further developed its partnership with flydubai, offering customers even more benefits as both airlines combined their loyalty programs under Emirates Skywards. Customers also enjoy new flight choices as Emirates and flydubai continued to leverage their complementary networks to optimize flight schedules and offer new city-pair connections through Dubai, as well as open new routes including Kinshasa (Congo), Krakow (Poland), and Catania (Italy) in the first half of 2018-19.
In such a competitive industry, what are Emirates plans to stay competitive and innovative within this airline industry?
The challenges facing the industry have become increasingly complex, however we will go into 2019 with a renewed sense of confidence in the global market environment, and more importantly, we continue to create a robust foundation for our future ambitions as an airline. Our strategy remains the same – we will focus on our own organic growth, work with partners to offer even better services and connect city pairs that make commercial sense for tourism and trade, while delivering the best value-for-money experience for our customers. Ensuring that we are consistent on that promise will always be key. We are also progressing our longer-term digital transformation plans to ensure our business is future fit and in line with changing consumer behavior.
How do you think Emirates has become one of the world’s most respected brands in aviation?
The success of Emirates, so far, has been a sum total of many attributes. We invest strategically in building our brand and it is reflected in everything that we do. We have differentiated the Emirates brand not only through our marketing and sponsorships initiatives, but also through our competitive combination of quality products and services, and technology-driven customer initiatives that our teams deliver everyday both on the ground and on board.
We spoke about our product which is key to our success in question 4. Our business model is to connect Dubai to the world, and connect the world through Dubai with efficient air transport services. Dubai’s strategic location at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, and Asia, has been at the foundation of Emirates’ success in building up a global hub for travelers and cargo. From Dubai, we are able to serve about one-third of the world’s population within a four-hour flying radius, two-thirds of the world’s population within an eight-hour flying radius, and almost 90% of the world’s population with non-stop flights using the latest ultra-long range aircraft. Emirates continue to add new routes and destinations, connecting more people with more places globally.
Last but not least, it’s our people. Emirates’ workforce reflects the diverse mix of global talent that can be found in Dubai. We recruit and retain the best people from around the world, and we’re very proud of our team of passionate men and women who hail from 160 nations, bringing together the best insights and practices from around the world to contribute to our success.
What does your growth plan entail for the Emirates’ US network?
We’re looking at opportunities and always consider, trying to grow further. Our focus is on connectivity of the US market with Dubai and then continuing on to other parts of the world.
Any new distribution strategies for the US and have you seen a steady increase in US corporate contracts?
We actively manage our distribution portfolio on an ongoing basis in order to maximize the contribution of each of the segments while keeping a strong focus on our distribution cost. We aligned our commercial organization over the past years in order to better serve our strategic distribution channels and provide expertise service to our key accounts in each of the channels.
The development of corporate revenue is a key strategic focus for us and we have made significant progress during the past years. We have a very targeted approach to “hunt” new accounts and “farm” existing accounts and work very closely with our distribution partners to identify opportunities and design products that meet the requirements of our corporate customers.
With 12 online gateways in North America, more than 90 US cities that we connect with our partners JetBlue and Alaska Airlines, a leading product and global network we believe that we offer an ideal product for our corporate travelers.
Is there a strategy in place to grow partnerships and collaborations with US carriers?
At this time, we don’t have any new partnerships or collaborations to announce, but we are always looking at new possibilities based on business and bringing choice to markets.
Any new planned routes that will be launched in 2019?
At this time, we don’t have any new routes to announce, but we are always exploring the potential for new destinations where we know there is a demand for our services.
What will be Emirates role in Expo 2020?
Emirates is the Official Airline Partner of Expo 2020 Dubai.
Emirates has installed three different decal designs to reflect the different themes of Expo 2020- namely opportunity, mobility and sustainability. The theme of the first decal installed was ‘mobility’ which also relates to Emirates’ role as a connector of people, places and opportunities, as the airline links over 150 destinations in 84 countries to, from, and via its hub in Dubai.
The main theme of Expo 2020 Dubai also revolves around ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ and Emirates is championing this vision throughout the new Expo 2020 decals that are installed on Emirates’ aircraft.
Emirates dedicated a total of 40 aircraft from its fleet, both Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s, to be emblazoned with the dedicated Expo 2020 decals starting in 2017 through to the end of Expo 2020 Dubai. In addition, all aircraft in Emirates’ fleet will also carry a new Expo 2020 nose decal.
The Expo 2020 decal installed by the Emirates Aircraft Appearance Centre is one of the largest decals to be applied on an Emirates Boeing 777 aircraft. It is also the first time that the surface area on top of the aircraft has been covered by a decal. The Expo decal applied on the Boeing 777 covers over 40% of the aircraft fuselage surface area. The design spans over 37.8 meters in length and 12 meters in width. The decal was designed, printed and installed by Emirates’ in-house graphic shop team. It took a team of 6 staff over 84 hours to complete the decal installation.
One word to describe future flights with Emirates?