United Is Now the Only U.S. Airline With a Nonstop Flight to Dubai — Here's What It's Like on Board

The carrier has more in store for its expansion plans.

Aerial view of United Airlines airplane flying through clouds

Courtesy of United Airlines

I looked out the plane window as we flew over the Arabian Gulf. Dubai’s famous landmarks were slowly coming into view: first, the Palm Jumeirah, then the Burj Khalifa. We crossed the glittering city and made our way over the rolling sand dunes of the desert as we descended.

This wasn’t just any flight. It was the inaugural flight for United Airlines' nonstop journey from Newark, New Jersey, to Dubai. This route now makes United the only U.S. carrier to fly direct from the U.S. to United Arab Emirates' most populous city. (United previously had a direct flight between Washington, D.C. and Dubai that was canceled in 2016, according to Reuters.)

The milestone flight is an expansion of United's partnership with Emirates, which the airlines first announced last fall. The partnership allows both Emirates and United passengers to access more destinations through a single booking. As of last year, Emirates passengers flying into Chicago, Houston, and San Francisco have been able to connect to more than 200 cities across the U.S. through United. Now, with the debut of the direct flight to Dubai, United passengers can travel to more than 100 destinations from Dubai through Emirates or its sibling airline Flydubai.

"It's important to have metal in the market," Patrick Quayle, the senior vice president of global network planning and alliances at United, told Travel + Leisure before boarding the Dubai flight. "It's really about creating an opportunity for our passengers to have that ability to fly United ... it really is symbolic to have a United plane going there."

On board the inaugural United flight to Dubai

Alison Fox

The in-flight goodies on board the inaugural United flight to Dubai

Alison Fox

After boarding the 13-and-a-half-hour flight, I settled into United’s Polaris business class. The flight took off at 9:40 p.m., and I enjoyed a late-night dinner. Later, I watched as the airline's famous ice cream sundae cart rolled down the aisle — dished out by none other than an apron-wearing Quayle himself — before turning my seat into a bed to catch a few hours of sleep.

As a bonus, United handed out commemorative pajamas and orange-and-cardamom baklava to celebrate the inaugural flight. The airline also gave each passenger a box of dates when we landed.

The in-flight ice cream cart on board the inaugural United flight to Dubai

Alison Fox

But direct flights to Dubai is not United’s end game. It's just one part of their 2023 expansion plan. In May, the airline will launch a brand-new flight to Malaga, Spain, from its Newark hub. Plus, it will resume flights to Stockholm (also from Newark) for the first time since 2019. United is also adding new flights to destinations it already serves, connecting San Francisco and Rome, Washington, D.C. and Berlin, and more.

"We’re looking at more expansion, we're looking at some new cities, and we're looking at connecting existing dots," Quayle told T+L. "It's really like making a cake: there are all these different ingredients and you have to mix them appropriately [to] get a great outcome."

Last year, United added five new destinations, marking its largest-ever transatlantic expansion: Amman, Jordan; Bergen, Norway; Azores, Portugal; Palma de Mallorca, Spain; and Tenerife in the Spanish Canary Islands.

And Quayle said the airline isn’t done yet. "This has been our strategy for a long time," he said. "What I found is that breadth matters, so having a broad range of destinations matters."

The in-flight goodies and map on board the inaugural United flight to Dubai

Alison Fox

Once on the ground in Dubai, I made my way through the city’s stunning architecture and bright lights that made it feel alive and humming after dark. I checked into my room at the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai and walked to the window, looking down at the city lights from my room on the 48th floor.

I took in the glowing Burj Al Arab, which was lit up green that night, and spotted Atlantis, The Palm in the distance. Standing there, I could see why Dubai was on United’s list and couldn’t wait to explore more.

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