Middle East carriers like Emirates, Etihad and Qatar think big. That’s a rare trait in the airline industry, IMO. Lufthansa has done a great job in Europe of building a massive network and lots of connections to places people want and need to go.
Emirates and other Gulf carriers have done the same for the Middle East and connect key places like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. They placed the largest order of Airbus A380s in the world. Their order for A380s is bigger than the next 5 carriers combined, and they already operate more A380s than the next two airlines combined. Oh, and they decided to install showers on the A380 for their First Class passengers.
Carriers like Lufthansa and Air France are furious, thinking that Emirates gets hidden state subsidies to help them grow. This has led to limitations on Emirates’ expansion in places like Germany and Canada. But, the trans-Atlantic market is a lucrative one for a lot of airlines, and Emirates has decided it wants a piece of the pie that some of these airlines have had to themselves for a while.
Enter Milan. Starting October 1st, Emirates will offer non-stop service between Milan and New York (JFK). Emirates already operates between Dubai and Milan, and I assume it shouldn’t be too difficult to incent some passengers to connect through Milan if they have trouble filling the planes. But, as the piece says, there’s not a lot of premium travel offered directly between New York (or the Northeast, for that matter) and Italy. American has one direct option and their premium cabin trails Emirates by a wide margin. Alitalia has a few JFK-Rome departures as well, again trailing Emirates by a wide margin in quality. United has one daily flight out of Dulles to Rome, and US Airways has one out of Philly.
This isn’t a warning shot, IMO, because it was a matter of time before the Middle East carriers found a way into this picture. Milan isn’t a huge hub but has enough connecting flights to move people around the country. So, it’s not huge news yet. But, I think it’s just a matter of time before you see more expansion like this. The recently launched Emirates-Qantas alliance appears to be doing quite well and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Emirates find a partner in Europe to tango with.