How should you fly to Dubai: Emirates or United?

31 March 2023

Dubai is one of the busiest global aviation hubs, and getting there from the U.S. has historically meant flying with the city’s flag carrier, Emirates.

Emirates is regarded as one of the world’s best airlines, so when most people book flights with the carrier, they expect to be wowed by the experience.

And while that’s still certainly the case — especially if you’re lucky enough to sit in the pointy end of the plane — there’s a new option for flying between the U.S. and Dubai: United Airlines.

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The Chicago-based carrier officially touched down in the United Arab Emirates on March 26, and the airline now offers daily flights to the city from its hub in Newark.

While technically a service resumption from 2016, when the carrier flew from Washington, D.C., United’s new Newark-to-Dubai route is made possible by an all-new strategic partnership with Emirates that allows the two carriers to sell connecting flights beyond just service from the U.S. to Dubai.

As such, it’s likely that you’ll start seeing United and Emirates itineraries showing up in the search results for trips to the Middle East, Africa and beyond.

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So, if faced with the choice, which airline should you fly? Well, the answer isn’t as simple as you might expect.

Emirates vs. United: First class

Winner: Emirates, hands down

This one is the simplest comparison of them all. United no longer offers an international first-class product, and even if it still did, it wouldn’t compete with Emirates’ offering, which is regarded as one of the world’s best.

Emirates flies both the Airbus A380 and Boeing 777 on U.S. routes, and most (but not all) jets feature first class. While the A380 first-class experience is extra special thanks to an onboard shower and walk-up bar, you’ll still have a memorable flight even on the 777.

In fact, if you’re looking for the nicest way to get to Dubai (or beyond), Emirates first class is the real deal.

Emirates vs. United: Business class

Winner: Tie*

You might be surprised to hear it, but Emirates doesn’t actually offer a competitive business-class product on much of its Boeing 777 fleet.

In fact, the airline still has middle seats on all but one variant of the 777, the 777-200LR. Every other 777 features business class in a 2-3-2 configuration.

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While the product may look luxurious, with cream- and gold-colored finishes, the seats themselves are incredibly outdated compared to United Polaris, which flies to Dubai on the Boeing 777-200ER.

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Polaris is arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration with direct aisle access for each passenger, a big advantage for those looking for more privacy and convenience when flying on a long-haul route.

Of course, Emirates also flies the Airbus A380 to the U.S., and those double-deckers do feature direct aisle access with a 1-2-1 arrangement in business class.

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Aside from the seat, Emirates’ inflight experience is better than what United offers. The airline’s extensive catering menu, robust inflight entertainment system and friendly, personalized service are sure to impress.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

But, more than anything, business class is about the seat, and if you’re comparing the Boeing 777 on Emirates with United, I’d choose the latter carrier — or reroute my trip through a gateway that features Emirates A380 service.

And because of the aforementioned considerations, I’m calling this one a tie.

For your convenience, here’s a list of Emirates U.S. gateways with aircraft type for June 2023, as seen in Cirium schedules.

Origin
Destination
Aircraft type
Business-class configuration

Boston
Dubai
Boeing 777-300ER
2-3-2

Chicago
Dubai
Boeing 777-300ER
2-3-2

Dallas-Fort Worth
Dubai
Boeing 777-200LR
2-2-2

Houston
Dubai
Airbus A380
1-2-1

Los Angeles
Dubai
Airbus A380
1-2-1

Miami
Dubai
Boeing 777-300ER
2-3-2

New York
Dubai
Airbus A380
1-2-1

New York
Milan
Airbus A380
1-2-1

Newark
Athens
Boeing 777-300ER
2-3-2

Orlando
Dubai
Boeing 777-300ER
2-3-2

San Francisco
Dubai
Airbus A380
1-2-1

Seattle
Dubai
Boeing 777-300ER
2-3-2

Washington, D.C.
Dubai
Airbus A380
1-2-1

Emirates vs. United: Premium economy

Winner: United, for now

Emirates became the first Gulf carrier to launch a premium economy cabin back in December 2020. For now, just 11 Airbus A380s feature the product.

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As the airline embarks on an accelerated retrofit project of over 100 A380s and Boeing 777s, Emirates will steadily roll out this intermediate offering on more routes. Until then, the carrier isn’t consistently flying premium economy to the U.S., so if you’re looking to upgrade from coach without breaking the bank, you’ll need to fly with United.

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United’s Premium Plus product is already available on all of its Dubai flights. These “purple seats,” as they’re affectionately called by loyalists, are arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration on the 777-200ER, and they largely resemble domestic first-class recliners.

Relative to economy, they offer more legroom, more width, more storage space, larger tray tables and bigger TV screens. They’re also supposed to include better service and an amenity kit, but that’s been hit-or-miss with United in recent months.

So while United wins this category on account of availability, the outcome will change once Emirates formally brings premium economy to U.S. routes. After all, the carrier’s offering is already the world’s best in the markets that it already serves.

Emirates vs. United: Economy

Winner: Emirates

If you’re planning to sit in the back, Emirates is likely the way to go.

Both Emirates and United have a 3-4-3 configuration on all routes to Dubai, but Emirates’ product is nicer than United’s in many ways.

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For one, you’ll receive a small amenity kit, which is packed with inflight essentials like a dental kit, during boarding. Emirates’ catering is also better than United’s, and while the service will differ from flight to flight, Emirates’ crew is known to be among the world’s best.

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Emirates’ proprietary ICE (information, connectivity and entertainment) entertainment system is one of the most robust in the sky, and you’ll find plenty of content to keep you occupied during your journey.

JAVE RODRIGUEZ/THE POINTS GUY

In terms of comfort, Emirates’ standard economy seat pitch is 32 inches, whereas United’s product starts at just 31 inches. Both economy seats are 17 inches wide, but the additional inch of pitch will certainly be noticeable for many flyers.

That said, you may prefer United’s economy product for two reasons.

The first is that the airline offers a 46-seat extra-legroom Economy Plus cabin on the Boeing 777-200ER that it flies to Dubai. Emirates doesn’t have a similar section aside from the bulkhead or exit row, so if you’re looking for more legroom in economy, United could be the way to go.

Finally, while this difference applies across all cabins, it’s worth mentioning it for the economy section, since those looking to use the internet to distract themselves during the flight will want to pay attention.

Emirates’ inflight entertainment might be award-winning, but the carrier’s Wi-Fi offering hasn’t historically been all that great. An internet plan will cost between $10 and $20 depending on the route, but the service is often excruciatingly slow and borderline unusable at times, at least in my experience.

While some Emirates jets features an enhanced OnAir network, United’s Wi-Fi offering powered by Panasonic is typically noticeably stronger and more reliable than anything I’ve experienced with Emirates.

If staying connected is essential, it may be worth considering United.

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