Thursday, 10 December 2009

Which is a better airline, Emirates or Virgin?

On my recent trip I flew to the UK with Emirates and then back to Australia with Virgin Atlantic. Quite a few people have asked me for my review of the two airlines, so here goes...

Check In:
I checked in online for both airlines. They offer similar services; available 24hr before the flight, you can choose your seats and print your boarding pass. I found the Emirates site a bit easier to use. The Virgin page was trying a bit too hard to be cool.

At Heathrow the queue for the Virgin bag drop took nearly an hour. They need to do something to sort that out. At Sydney Emirates had dedicated desks for those dropping off bags that had checked in online which was speedier.

Emirates: 1
Virgin: 0

The Seats:
I thought the seats on both planes were good. Both of the planes were pretty modern (which I think has a big impact on seat comfort), with good leg room for economy. I think both airlines do better than average with their seats. There was little to choose between the two, a score draw.

Emirates: 1
Virgin: 1

One of Virgin's big differentiating factors is that they have a choice of three meals on board, while every other airline only has two choices in cattle class. I'll eat virtually anything these days (and airline meals are designed to be bland / have a broad appeal), so I didn't find this a big benefit.

The two airlines seem to take a different approach to their meals. Emirates go down the more common route of cramming you tray full of food; starter, main course, desert, bread roll, cheese & biscuits and maybe a chocolate to enjoy with your coffee. In reality it is more than you need.

Virgin had a more minimalist approach of starter, main course and desert. The tray almost looked a bit sparse. For breakfast warm bacon and egg rolls were handed out that didn't even warrant a tray. However, it was a perfectly reasonable (and probably more sensible) amount of food.

I didn't notice any difference in the drink choices. My order is always the same, red wine to try and help me sleep and a glass of water.

Airline food is never great. Everything was perfectly edible which is all you can ask. Another score draw.

Emirates: 1
Virgin: 1

I'm not a big user of the entertainment systems as I prefer to read, listen to my iPod or ideally sleep. From my limited experience they both had good sized seat back TVs, good range of films and TV shows. Everything was on demand and you could pause the movies if you wanted to.

Emirates wins for me on two counts. You can view the cameras in the nose and tail fins of the plane which was pretty cool. Secondly, the Virgin system seemed a little slow to load. It did have a better interface though.

Emirates: 1
Virgin: 0

Customer Service:
Virgin have built a reputation for strong customer service so I was expecting big things. You don't get too much service in economy, so there wasn't a lot to get excited about. On both airlines the staff were courteous and helpful.

Emirates has some nice touches that Virgin didn't offer; hot towels before the meal service and menu cards. A nice touch were the little stickers you could put on your seat saying do not disturb, wake for meals or wake for duty free.

My slight disappointment on Emirates was that the staff didn't didn't seem to have a lot of information about onward connections on board. This was an area of concern as we were 3hrs late taking off from Sydney and many of us had tight connection.

Emirates: 1
Virgin: 0

The verdict:
In conclusion I think both Emirates and Virgin operate two of the better economy services out there. I would happily fly with either of them again and my future decisions will probably be based on the competitiveness of their fares. However, if got the same quote from both airlines I would fly Emirates. They had a few nice touches (hot towels, menus, ability to see the tail camera on take off) and a slightly better entertainment system that clinches it for me.

When I added up the scores I was a little surprised by the margin of victory for Emirates. Virgin certainly weren't bad, but they got narrowly beaten in a number categories above. I'd made a conscious decision not to award half marks which probably exaggerates the difference.

Emirates: 5/5
Virgin: 2/5


  1. Thanks for the post. I have been thinking about choosing Emirates. Since this is my first time traveling in flight. All seems good to me. I heard a lot about Lufthansa, because of marketing may be. Probably I will go for Emirates.

  2. thanks for the post, does help!

  3. Is this the same Rich Elliott from Comair Airlines

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