My VERY Empty Emirates Flight…

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Yesterday I flew from Greece to the United States, and took my emptiest long haul flight ever (my previous emptiest long haul flight was an Air Belgium flight from Charleroi to Hong Kong with just 25 passengers).

I’ll have a full review soon, though in this post I wanted to share my amazement at how empty this flight was (though unlike a recent Mumbai to Dubai flight, I didn’t have the aircraft to myself).

Flying from Athens to Newark with 18 passengers

I took Emirates’ flight from Athens to Newark, which I booked with miles in first class through the Skywards program (85,000 miles one-way with no fuel surcharges is pretty great!). The flight had a total of 18 of the 348 seats occupied, meaning the flight was just 5% full. So, how were those passengers distributed between cabins?

First class was downright crowded, with three of the eight seats taken — with a 38% load factor in first class, I really felt like we were getting the short end of the stick. 😉

Emirates first class cabin
Emirates first class cabin

In business class, three of the 42 seats were taken, so the load factor there was 7%. The entire rear business class cabin was empty.

Emirates business class cabin
Emirates 777 business class cabin

Economy was really the place to be, with just 12 of the 298 seats taken, so the load factor there was just 4%.

Emirates 777 economy class cabin
Emirates 777 economy class cabin
Emirates 777 economy class cabin

The crew was absolutely lovely, but almost seemed bored by how few passengers there were, as there was nothing to do. With a nearly 1:1 crew to passenger ratio throughout the plane, service was incredibly attentive (though I imagine it was disproportionately attentive in business and economy, since service is always incredible in first class).

It was almost kind of funny how well staffed the airline was on the ground. For example, on flights to the United States there are additional security checks for certain passengers at the gate. They had seven security officers to screen a total of three people (who got “SSSS”).

Is a flight this empty surprising?

During the pandemic, long haul flights have largely been extremely empty (for example, several weeks ago I wrote about how there were just 11 people on the world’s longest flight). Lockdowns and travel restrictions have limited international travel, and airlines have been able to justify most of these flights based on the cargo they’re carrying, and not passengers.

So while empty long haul flights generally aren’t surprising, in a way this one is. That’s because Greece has been open to travelers from the United States for several weeks now, so it’s becoming a popular and accessible place for Americans. I’m grateful I had the chance to visit Greece when I did, because it felt deserted — I don’t think I’ll ever see it that quiet again.

Since Greece is open, why would this flight be so empty? Well, it’s still very early in the season, and most nonstop flights between the United States and Greece only started as of the beginning of June. So while Emirates’ Newark to Athens flights are quite full right now, the same isn’t yet true in the other direction. I’m sure within a few weeks this flight will be packed.

Hopefully the flight had lots of cargo, so that the service is at least a bit more justifiable (both economically and environmentally).

Emirates Boeing 777-300ER in Athens

Bottom line

I flew Emirates from Athens to Newark yesterday, and the flight was just 5% full, with 18 passengers. While I’ve been on my fair share of reasonably empty flights over the years, this was my emptiest long haul flight ever. It was a cool experience, but for the sake of the industry, hopefully this isn’t a common occurrence going forward.

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  1. W

    I saw this flight landing into Newark yesterday on Flightradar24 (just as it was landing actually) as I was looking for a family member's flight. Had no idea you were on it!

  2. Zach

    Lucky… I hope your reading Some of these comments. Your website’s UI is absolutely dismal. OMAAT introduced me to the world of reward travel and I’ve been a loyal reader since…. But the new design is so bad that I’m having a hard time enjoying the content…

    1. Ben

      @ Zach -- I appreciate you reading, appreciate the feedback, and hear you. Please be patient, I promise more (positive) changes are coming to improve the UI.

    2. Schar

      i havent been getting my daily newsletters ever since the redesign. PLEASE help!

    3. John

      Ben, please also work on improving the functionality! It’s not just the colours and fonts that are a problem. Navigation (especially in the comments) is awful. Like others, I’m starting to dread the daily read on my phone. Continue loving the content, but the design and functional changes will make me stop if not improved soon. Know you’re working on it and appreciate it but just want to emphasise that it the whole thing that’s...

      Ben, please also work on improving the functionality! It’s not just the colours and fonts that are a problem. Navigation (especially in the comments) is awful. Like others, I’m starting to dread the daily read on my phone. Continue loving the content, but the design and functional changes will make me stop if not improved soon. Know you’re working on it and appreciate it but just want to emphasise that it the whole thing that’s a problem. A simple ‘revert to old version’ would be a 1000% improvement in my view!

    4. John T

      The colour scheme is not good at all. The yellow text on dark blue background literally hurts the eyes to read. More black text on white backgrounds would be such an improvement.

  3. keitherson

    Why is EK not being more aggressive with sales? They'd rather fly an empty plane than take on price sensitive customers?

    1. angus

      The EWR/ATH flight only started on June 1st so there is a lot of passengers flying EWR-ATH but not many have started their return trip yet. People from Greece currently can’t visit the US

  4. The nice Paul

    Your photo of their business class cabin shows how far behind they are falling.

    7 abreast seating: why on earth would I choose Emirates when I can get so much more space on some of their competition?

    1. TLS

      Because there are worse airlines, like Lufthansa?

    2. Aaron

      But there are also many airlines that offer a better overall business class product than Emirates. Qatar, Air France, Swiss, SAS, Turkish, even British Airrays now with it’s Do & Co. catering upgrade and new suites, are better overall than Emirates non-A380 business class.

    3. 23H

      In a world where different countries have different entry and testing requirements, more travellers will prioritize a non-stop option over a higher-quality carrier, but with connections.

    4. Mattux

      Emirates packs upwards to 427 seats on a 777-300 in a two class configuration. Enough said.

  5. Julia

    Don't you feel like you've just wasted a bunch of miles in that scenario?

    Appart from the food, what are the benefits of Flying first class in an almost empty plane?

  6. Adam

    Taking this flight in economy in 2 weeks, hoping it stays like this!!!!!
    Sh! I want poor man's lie flat while in economy! The load on the flight as of now seems to be ~50 in economy. Hoping it stays roughly that way.

  7. Peter Knight

    Have to say new layout terrible understand to experiment be different for me a everyday viewer it's not working to keep me interested sorry to say

    1. Traggerät

      There are probably advantages behind the scenes, but the font and overall readability are so poor. It's a very ugly website now.

  8. Aurelien

    Also the impossibility for europeans to go to ths US explain why the flight was so empty

  9. Richard

    Three days ago I flew ATH to ORD on American in X. While slightly fuller, every passenger in Economy had at least three seats to lay across and as much ice cream as they wanted.

    As another poster opined, I was glad to have saved the miles as the only condition that really appeals to me in a flight is the ability to be horizontal. Someone got "upgraded" to PE and that seemed like...

    Three days ago I flew ATH to ORD on American in X. While slightly fuller, every passenger in Economy had at least three seats to lay across and as much ice cream as they wanted.

    As another poster opined, I was glad to have saved the miles as the only condition that really appeals to me in a flight is the ability to be horizontal. Someone got "upgraded" to PE and that seemed like a notable downgrade relative to my setup (three seats and empty rows in front and behint me).

    1. GUWonder

      On more than one of my very empty SAS flights from the US to CPH, the guys in premium economy downgraded themselves in-flight so they each could sleep curled up on 3 sets in the economy class cabin.

  10. Anthony

    With all of the rule changes with airlines, how easy is it to check load factors and switch from first to economy (and save the miles) on flights like this?

  11. Jackson

    You misspelt recent as decent.

    1. VT-CIE

      It’s a misspelling only in American English. In British English, ‘misspelt’ is acceptable.

    2. 23H

      ...and *that's* the Queen's English? ;)

  12. Angus

    I flew the same route on Sunday and had 33 other pax on board so its picking up HAHA

  13. GUWonder

    I had all of business class to myself on some SAS flights to the US during this pandemic. On at least one of my SAS TATL flights in the past 12 months, there were fewer than 15 passengers on the whole flight.

  14. Leogin

    There are 5 daily flights from NYC to ATH. 2 on DL, and one each on UA/AA/EK. I'm thinking it might be a better idea for EK to leave this market and restart nonstop DXB-EWR. Is the NYC-ATH market really that big?

    1. JW

      Cargo, unlike UA AA and DL, EK still flies empty planes to India and the rest of Asia where vital cargo is transported stateside. They use Dubai to consolidate this, flying via Athens means the tradeoff between cargo and fuel reduces as compared to a direct from Dubai.

  15. Jake

    Possible controversial question; Given how few people we're in economy, would it be right for the crew to upgrade everyone in economy to business class?

    1. Joey

      I guess that depends on the purser after doors closed? A friend flew Air France back last fall and told me there were only 3 passenger in business class and an empty La Premiere cabin so the crew upgraded all 3 business class pax to La Premiere and upgraded gold/platinum members in economy to business.

    2. [email protected]

      EK will NEVER upgrade unless entitled to the upgrade or paid. Any purser allowing anything else would be reported, demoted or fired.

  16. Mattux

    I have made a handful of flights over the Pacific in the past few months and this has been more or less the norm for me. I would say the average load has been between 20-35 passengers (I normally ask the purser and check expertflyer) on the 787s, and typically an entire business class section to myself or shared with one other passenger.

    Side note, I can't believe Emirates doubled down on that 777-300...

    I have made a handful of flights over the Pacific in the past few months and this has been more or less the norm for me. I would say the average load has been between 20-35 passengers (I normally ask the purser and check expertflyer) on the 787s, and typically an entire business class section to myself or shared with one other passenger.

    Side note, I can't believe Emirates doubled down on that 777-300 2-3-2 configuration in Business Class. Unless flying their first class product, it would be hard not to choose Qatar or the beleaguered Etihad as an alternative.

  17. Luis

    Ben, given that a lot of longhaul flights have been flying so empty, why aren't airlines releasing more award seats? Isn't some revenue better than nothing?

    1. Andrew

      @Ben

      Yea, I'm wondering the same thing as Luis. Award flights seem to be hard to come by even the week of travel. Luckily I have all my trips booked for the next year, but it's strange.

  18. mangoMan

    Flew AMS-SFO on KLM last week as part of my return from Greece. 8 pax in Business, including the 2 of us. Great service, btw. Got PDB and none of those plastic cups for wine - real glassware.

  19. echino

    Is the detailed review of this flight coming?

  20. Gillian

    I was upgraded to Business Class on my last flight from Sydney to Stansted, a week before Oz closed its borders. I was thrilled shocked pleased.... would anyone on here like to give me an idea of when I'll be able to get down to my family again? I go every year since 2000, I'm 78, got the vaccine passport and am slowly withering away with heart~break & missing them all... especially my granddaughters......

    1. Mattux

      Unfortunately, Australia is unlikely to open until mid- to late 2022 based on public comments by government officials. Let's hope they are able to move this date forward.

      I would have expected more countries to open sooner on a vaccine passport model, but that has yet to materialize across the board.

  21. Tom H

    Please change the new design! It’s so hard to navigate!

  22. dale

    One of those times when you might be glad to have not spent big bucks (or miles) to ride up front ... I'm plenty happy to have a row or three to myself in a case like that. Am reminded of a short flite to Savannah one time on a large Delta aircraft ... maybe 10-12 of us in the entire rear section, but every entitled butt was in a seat in "first" which was...

    One of those times when you might be glad to have not spent big bucks (or miles) to ride up front ... I'm plenty happy to have a row or three to myself in a case like that. Am reminded of a short flite to Savannah one time on a large Delta aircraft ... maybe 10-12 of us in the entire rear section, but every entitled butt was in a seat in "first" which was full. People sitting elbow to elbow in domestic first when they could have had six or eight rows to themselves ... on a 30 minute flite.

  23. Jamie

    How bad is that business class hard product. I flew it a decade ago and it wasn’t cutting edge then !

  24. Nick Anderson

    Flew DXB-SEA in April and there were <10 people on that EK 777. Just flew AA LAX-SYD and had 12 passengers to 14 crew on a 787-9. 10 in Biz, 1 prem and 1 in economy!

  25. Robert

    I've been on a couple of international United flights recently that were similar. Lots of non rev's up front - virtually empty in the back. Hopefully International will recover - I think it's going to take a few more months though. All my domestic flights have been oversold ...

  26. John

    Argh, so jealous. I flew Qatar Airways on SFO-DOH-SFO in March and May 2021, expecting the flights to be relatively emptier. On the contrary, both of my flights were FULL! I was flying because of an emergency, but I seriously wonder where everyone else was going. Would be very interesting to know. Especially considering travel to and from India was severely restricted during the return leg (assuming India is a big market for QR to North America).

  27. RCB

    Not to pile on here, but for the love of god, please change this new site, it's horrible! The comments section is especially atrocious, why in the world does it open in a new window? I used to check TPG's site about a dozen times a day and now I check it about twice a year, because the design is so bad. I know you think everyone will stick around, but your loyal readers are telling you straight up that this site just isn't workable anymore.

  28. Rick

    I was on the same flight. Sorry I didn’t see you or I would have said hello, and how much I’ve appreciated your site over the years. I was in economy so I assume you were driven straight from the lounge to board if you were in first class:)

  29. Anthony

    I flew SFO-FRA-ATH and back last week. Outbound was 100% full on both legs. LH purser on SFO-FRA said eastbound is packed but westbound is very light right now. My return flight was maybe 50%.

    1. burritomiles

      I flew LAX-FRA-TIA last month and it was full in Biz but maybe 75% in Econ, hoping for a very light return flight next week.

  30. D3kingg

    Zach stop being a little b$$$h.

    Ben that’s a waste of miles on a flight with that load factor to fly first. Hope you had an amazing experience and luckily it was Emirates. If it were American you’d have the laziest FAs in your life that would disappear in flight after a rushed meal service.

  31. David Rios

    The design of the website is not the best, but certainly the content of the website is and it is worth reading if you like the world of airplanes.

  32. Philippe

    Something that's always on my mind is why EK flies these "old" planes (A6-ECY) instead of the newer B777s. I suppose that still a lot of planes are grounded, so why not use the newer versions to maximum capacity?

  33. Andy

    Remember that non-US citizens are not allowed to travel from Schengen countries to the US. This not only excludes Greek citizens, but also makes a stopover unfeasible for those from the UAE, who can travel to the US unless they stayed in Schengen during the last 14 days. So they will have a strong preference for non-stop flights.

  34. Bruce

    I just arrived in Athens yesterday so we probably just missed crossing paths….. nooooo

  35. Christian

    Please revert back to the old design or at least implement functional ui/ux elements.

  36. Auspointer

    I’d like to second what Zach said, it’s kind of disappointing that your redesign has a feeling or similar style to TPG’s. It feels lacking in substance and overly weighted towards colour blocks and weird fonts… please peel back some of the artifice and focus more on the actual content and great images related to the reviews. Sorry but the redesign feels really distracted.

  37. Jean

    I know you must have worked very hard on the new website, but I really, really don't like it. The color combinations are dreadful, the text is impossible to read on phone, the layout is confusing, navigating through it is cumbersome. The old website was great--why mess with it?

    Can you just revert to the old website?

    1. Mh

      The old site wasn't great... it was simple, but that was about it. No tracking, no continuation where last posted, no reply, just a long sequential series of comments.

  38. Steven

    I find myself not visiting OMAAT much anymore. The new layout is confusing and content all over the place. Listen to your readers bro.

Featured Comments Load all 60 comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Zach

Lucky… I hope your reading Some of these comments. Your website’s UI is absolutely dismal. OMAAT introduced me to the world of reward travel and I’ve been a loyal reader since…. But the new design is so bad that I’m having a hard time enjoying the content…

The nice Paul

Your photo of their business class cabin shows how far behind they are falling. 7 abreast seating: why on earth would I choose Emirates when I can get so much more space on some of their competition?

VT-CIE

It’s a misspelling only in American English. In British English, ‘misspelt’ is acceptable.

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