Emirates’ Sheikh Often Travels In Economy… Really?!?

Filed Under: Emirates

On March 1, 2016, Emirates launched the world’s longest flight, between Dubai and Auckland. When the route launched, a lot of people talked about how horrible it would be to take the flight in economy, given how long it is. Emirates had a unique counter to that, claiming that the airline’s CEO, Sheikh Ahmed, already took the flight in economy (even though it hadn’t launched yet), and enjoyed it. He claimed he doesn’t mind economy on a 17-18 hour flight because he “likes to be close to people.”

Now, Sheikh Ahmed did fly the Dubai to Auckland route, though he did so before the route launched, when they flew it for promotional purposes. I suspect there were a few people on the flight at most, so I’d guess that maybe he tried to sit in the economy seat for five minutes, and then headed back to his first class suite. 😉


Well, Emirates is doubling down on their claim that Sheikh Ahmed is an economy flyer.

Emirates President Tim Clark did an interview with BBC about the impact of falling oil prices (which is great for the operating costs of an airline, but not so great when the airline is government owned and the country’s primary source of income is oil), and in it he dropped an interesting comment. From the interview:

“Does that mean Sheiks are going in economy nowadays?”
“No… well, my Sheikh does often travel in economy…”
“Really? I don’t believe it.”
“He does indeed, and I’ve traveled with him in economy as well.”


So what say you — do you think the Sheikh has actually ever flown economy on a commercial flight?

(Tip of the hat to Alok)

  1. Not buying it. He might have to sit next to a woman, or a gay man, or someone who’s eaten bacon in the past week, or anyone else who has enjoyed modern forms of governance since the Enlightenment, or other heathens….

  2. No and… No. Flown Y IMO means from pushback to arrival. Tried it out … Of course… Just as any relevant CEO

  3. 50/50. Actually When I sit in first/business every single time, it is kind of fun to watch the wing from back once for no more than 4 hours.

  4. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has, although maybe not to New York or Sydney. Shouldn’t the President and CEO check out their company’s front-line operations from time to time? Sheikh Ahmed, who went to Denver University, also allegedly drives his own car and rides the Underground in London, so taking the odd flight in economy wouldn’t be out of character for him (assuming those other things are true).

  5. The government of Dubai doesn’t rely on Oil like Abu Dhabi does so your claim that the oil price is hurting Dubai is false, and in their pissing contest with Abu Dhabi, it may even be helping them.

  6. I call BS. But what a noble claim to make, especially if it can’t be verified. Now, if he sits in the middle of Y on a 14-16 hour flight every 4-6 weeks for a year, then I can believe him. Until then, Yeah, no!! I say Arabian Whopper.

  7. I never saw him do it when I worked there for several years, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t. He is truly a down to earth guy. Definitely drives his own car, even to VIP events sometimes. So it’s certainly possible that he does occasionally experience Y class. I suspect it would be in short flights around the Gulf, or maybe for brief periods on longer flights.

  8. He is one of very few Arab leaders who takes the metro to work and walks down the streets to know people’s opinions. He also has brunch on Fridays in a different place every week.

  9. @Lucky – If you’ve ever dealt with Sheikh Ahmed, you wouldn’t be surprised by this claim. He is about as far from the Akbar Al Baker mold as it comes. Ironic, since he is actually royalty (the uncle of the current ruler and the son of a previous ruler), unlike AAB’s rather ahem, colourful, family history.

  10. @pointster

    I’d point out certain things like some Muslims DO eat bacon in order to blow your mind, but it doesn’t seem you have much of one to begin with.


    True, Dubai has diversified it’s economy, but Abu Dhabi has bailed them out in the past (like they did in 2008), and will probably do so again in the future.

  11. + Sean

    Seen it myself… exit row and middle seat empty but yes. Get on any EK intra-GCC flight and it’s not uncommon to find C types in the back. Short flight and frankly very difficult to get a seat up front on short notice.

  12. Lucky

    I think you broke the cardinal rule of aviation journalism “Never question Sir.TC’s statements”

    It is obviously true just like other truths like EK is not subsidized, EK posts profits every quarter, EK has no employee shortage, EK has happiest airline workforce, EK is well run … list goes on

    Don’t worry EK PR will slowly explain it to you on how to believe.

  13. Correction – oil production creates only some 15% of UAE profit. The major part comes from turism and business.

  14. @Aaron, I make a list of people who are systematically oppressed throughout the theocratic petro-kingdoms, and you rush to argue about the oppression taking place at the deli counter?! You’ve made my point for me.

  15. Let us not judge the man until we know him. It would not surprise me if he role in economy in short flights or for parts of longer ones. The ruling family in the UAE is very humble and more so know their countries depend on a future beyond oil. It would only make business sense for them (him and the CEO and or chairman) to try out all parts of the business from a management perspective.

  16. They say the average weight of a Sheikh is around 400lbs , So yeah I call BS on this.. Due to the robes they where they are actually incredibly over-weight folks and it’s misleading on how much they really weigh… Long story short .. He’d need an extra seat per Sector DXB-AKL

  17. Well, he at least imagined doing it, and that’s pretty much the same thing, isn’t it? 😉

  18. “I’ve traveled with him in economy as well” discredits the whole story. His Excellency may be a peoples person, does look slim enough to fit in 17 inch seat, but no one believes Sir who allegedly doesn’t even greet at any one (including EK employees) sat in Y. Give us a break.

  19. He does fly economy, he does! He sat next to me (to my left) on a flight from San Francisco to Dubai. We ate peanuts together and laughed like two school boys while we watched Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle! Because of a strong tailwind the flight only took 1 hour. The most marvelous part of the trip was when a Unicorn served us our free Arabian coffee. A close second was the Capuchin monkey seated to my right. His name was Cesar, and he massaged my scalp for most of the journey. It was all a joy!!!

  20. Lucky I believe you have a skewed perception on how (un)bearable economy seats are and how anyone who can afford to avoid it must do so at all times.

    I have friends who who never take the subway – regardless of their income. They see it as unbearable, which is an opinion they are entitled to. But that doesn’t mean people who are financially more capable must take cabs all the time instead of public transit.

    The ruler of Dubai takes metro to work and talks to commoners in public places – a fact that locals and expats love him for and cite as a reason for the city’s success. Possible that the same mentality applies to Emirates as well?

  21. I think he did that’s why his company is the top one, but I hope he took the recession to change the flight from 777 the terrible plane with small and tight seats to the much nicer and comfortable A 380

  22. @pointster

    Actually I was only pointing out one example for you. But since your mind couldn’t deal with that one example, I guess I was right in that you couldn’t handle more. But here is a start, Saudi Arabia isn’t the entire GCC.

  23. I don’t get why the heads of companies would even mention this type of thing. It’s not as if the public at large would even believe them. Do they really think they’re adding goodwill to their company by claiming to be at one with the masses?

  24. @Aaron, please continue with ad hominem attacks instead of addressing the content of my comment. It only helps my case.

  25. I am very surprised by how much skepticism, sarcasm, and even hatred some comments contain. People living in the west aren’t informed much about the region and its social dynamics. It is easy to make generalization based on several exotic stories the media covers about the lavish lifestyle of the oil sheikhs, but the gulf rulers are actually well known for their humility and closeness to the general public. I am from the region and I can testify to that. The crown prince of Kuwait is literally our next door neighbor. And no, my family is not rich. We are considered upper middle class at most. Our house is actually nicer than his and the car he drives is below the average of what Kuwaitis drive. There is a huge difference between the titles “sheikh” and “prince” in the Arab world. Arab monarchies like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Morocco use titles like King and prince. Those are the ones who try to show and maintain their “royal” status. However, the rest of the gulf countries like the UAE, Qatar, and Kuwait use the title sheikh which is not “royal” or even exclusive to the ruling families. Many tribal and religious leaders are called “sheikhs” as well. Most members of these ruling families send their kids to public schools and live among the people. It is very hard to signal them out sometimes. There is, however, a generational difference that keeps emerging. Older sheikhs grew up before the oil boom so they tend to be more humble and realistic. The younger ones are sometimes very spoiled and arrogant, but there is a significant number of older sheikhs who make sure they pass on their values to their children. So Bill Gates can fly economy and Warren Buffett can drive a Lincoln but it is impossible to believe that the “exotic oil sheikhs” of the Middle East fly economy every once in a while!!!

  26. @pointster How on Earth is anyone meant to “address” those points – they’re merely ignorant insults…

    I do not know the man so have no idea if he’d have an issue sitting next to women or gay people. Given Tim Cook is not Muslim and didn’t grow up in the “unenlightened system if governance”, I can only assume he has no issue sitting next to heathens.

    And while I think it’s a vulgar place, discrimination against women isn’t a particularly big issue there, nor is being gay overly onerous by Muslim standards – as evidenced by Lucky’s obsession with the place.

  27. I agree with some. Not every head is so self-entitled as the media portray them. I f you knew the Sheikh of Dubai, you would’ve seen that he is humble, as he comes from a time before the high oil boom. It is entirely possible that he in fact travelled economy. Yet, some people generalise without any evidence. You can’t generalise against people you don’t know!

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