Emirates fined for misleading advertising in Business Class

Emirates Airline just lost a lawsuit in New Zealand, which sets an interesting precedent when it comes to how airlines advertise their in-flight experiences.

Emirates has to pay travelers $8,440 for misleading advertising

The New Zealand Arbitration Court has ordered Emirates to pay a man NZD13,555 (~$8,440) after he challenged the airline over its advertising in New Zealand. In particular, a man named Mark Morgan bought business class on a trip he and his wife took from New Zealand to the UK.

Morgan claims to have seen advertisements for flatbed seats with minibars and updated entertainment systems. It’s not entirely clear if the advertisement he saw was for Emirates’ A380 business class, which offers direct aisle access from every seat…

Emirates Airbus A380 business class

…or if they were for Emirates’ 777-200LR Business Class, which offers fully-flat seats with some updated features.

Emirates Boeing 777-200LR Business Class

Morgan even claims his Emirates ticket receipt showed a photo of new business class seats.

Instead, his flight was operated by an Emirates 777-300ER equipped with the airline’s most outdated business class product. These seats don’t have minibars and aren’t technically entirely flat (although they’re about as comfortable as angled seats).

Emirates Boeing 777-300ER Business Class
Emirates Boeing 777-300ER Business Class

Morgan argued that this was false advertising as Emirates is not promoting the product it actually offers New Zealand. This was not just a one-off aircraft swap, but the aircraft that Emirates regularly flies to Auckland.

Emirates argued that its contract with customers allows it to change the type of aircraft it flies on routes based on operational needs, as aircraft types are not guaranteed. In addition, the airline claims that they have to fly this plane to New Zealand because the route is operating at a loss (which is an interesting claim).

Disputes Tribunal umpire Laura Mueller sided with the travelers and ruled the following:

“This was the result of advertising a service they seldom provided, not due to an occasional or one-off change of aircraft due to operational needs. The promotional materials were based on an updated/new Business Class seat and service not available on the older aircraft Emirates flies to New Zealand.”

“The Fair Trading Act 1986 prohibits misleading and deceptive conduct in trading. The advertising of a service that Emirates knew was unlikely to be provided is misleading and deceptive.”

As a result, the The Disputes Tribunal ordered Emirates to pay travelers NZD 13,555:

  • Emirates claimed the service offered was just a 5% drop in quality compared to what was advertised and offered a refund of NZ$786
  • Morgan requested a partial refund of the ticket price, as well as a refund of the price he paid for an upgrade to first class for one leg of the journey so he and his wife could be given flat seats to sleep on
  • The arbitral tribunal held that NZ$13,555 fairly and fairly reflected the difference between the service advertised and paid for and the service received

This case sets an interesting precedent

This case sets an interesting precedent because I feel we have only just accepted the practice of airlines marketing their best products, whether or not they are available in a particular market. Now, I’m a seasoned traveler and I know this trick airlines play, but I can understand that less seasoned travelers wouldn’t be so skeptical about the “halo effect” approach airlines use to marketing.

For example, check out the section of the Emirates website dedicated to First Class. If you head to the Emirates First Class 777 section, you will see exclusively the new ‘Game Changer’ First Class. The catch? This product is only available on nine of Emirates’ 134 Boeing 777-300ERs and there are no plans to install it on other jets. So the airline is heavily promoting a product that is only available on 7% of the aircraft in the fleet.

Emirates premium advertising

If you look at the section of the Emirates website dedicated to business class, in the discussion of the 777 product you will overwhelmingly see the 777-200LR product, although Emirates 10 777-200LR and 134 777-300ER has. That’s not the experience most people will have.

Advertisement for Emirates Business Class

Airlines could certainly advertise much better in good faith. While that’s true for all airlines, it’s particularly bad for Emirates, given the massive disparity in seat quality across the fleet.

Well, admittedly, the average traveler doesn’t read all kinds of reviews and spend hours comparing products before booking a flight. But I think it’s at least worth noting that this kind of disappointment can be avoided by doing some research online.

If you search online for an Emirates 777-300ER Business Class review, it’s pretty clear what an experience you’re going to have. Just check out my review entitled Emirates’ Disappointing 777 Business Class. Again, customers shouldn’t have to do that, but given the way airlines advertise, I think it’s a good use of time.

I’m curious which advert this particular traveler saw. Was it an ad specifically targeting the New Zealand market (in this case this is totally false advertising if this product is never offered in New Zealand) or was it just the generic website and email images from Emirates, which are the same worldwide (although probably shouldn’t be)?

bottom line

A man from New Zealand paid for an Emirates business class flight to the UK and was not satisfied with the quality of the product. While the Dubai-based airline is heavily marketing its new products, that’s not what’s available on flights to and from New Zealand. The arbitral tribunal found Emirates engaged in deceptive and misleading advertising and ordered the airline to pay the man over $8,000.

This sets an interesting precedent. Airlines are notorious for marketing their best products, even if they’re only available to a small percentage of the fleet. While that’s not good for managing expectations, one has to wonder how much airlines should be paying for this as it could completely change the way airlines advertise.

Damn it, asking airlines to be a little more honest about this would probably be a good thing, because maybe it will finally get Emirates to invest in its lackluster 777-300ER business class.

What do you think of this case?

(hat tip to Niels)

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