How UAE motorists take their beloved vehicles overseas for the summer
Wheels up: when supercars take flight
Have you ever been on holiday and felt like something was missing? Money, tickets, passport, phone – check. Clothes, music, books – check. Family? Perhaps.
But imagine if, when you travel, your car could come with you. From the English Lake District to the back roads of Myanmar, think of how much more at home you would feel getting into your own car at your final destination. No more fiddling with Uber, submitting to painfully crowded London Underground trips or shelling out for expensive taxi cab fares. No more having to get used to unfamiliar controls on a hire car, or wondering how to open the fuel cap (diesel or petrol?) in the rain. Not to mention the constant battle with a satnav that will take the entire duration of your trip to learn how to use. No worries about the hidden extras on insurance policies or concern that the car-hire company will charge you for the smallest scratch.
In my case, travel gives offers an opportunity to temporarily upgrade from my 10-year-old Audi A3 to, say, a new Infiniti Q50 or Volkswagen Tiguan. But for an increasing number of passengers from the Gulf, they have found their perfect travelling companion: their own car.
Earlier this year, a mystery “Gulf billionaire” is reported to have paid £20 million (Dh94.2m) for an underground car park on Kensington Road, to house his collection of 80 supercars. Judging from press reports and snaps circulating online of beautiful supercars, such as a golden Lamborghini Aventador or Bentley Flying Spur, drawing crowds on the streets of Knightsbridge, taking one’s favourite four wheels on holiday is increasingly common.
But how do these vehicles arrive at their destination? They fly. Many of these prized possessions travel with Emirates Wheels, a bespoke cargo service from Emirates’ hub in Dubai. And it’s faster and cheaper than you think.
Emirates Wheels is Emirates SkyCargo’s “specialised air transportation solution for automobiles”. It offers three levels of service: Emirates Wheels, Emirates Wheels Classic and Emirates Wheels Select. The last two are a personalised door-to-door service often used by people going on holiday. Last year, Etihad Cargo launched a similar service to European destinations including Amsterdam, Berlin, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Geneva, London, Manchester, Milan, Munich, Paris and Zurich.
Dennis Lister, Emirates’ vice president of product and business development in the cargo division, explains that at the top end, Emirates Wheels Select is an all-inclusive service where Emirates SkyCargo takes care of obtaining all the relevant permits and insurance for the transportation, including third-party road insurance for up to six months of driving in the EU. “If the customer only opts for Emirates Wheels Classic, they would have the responsibility for putting together the paperwork for clearance permits and insurance,” he says.
Emirates Wheels is mainly used by business-to-business customers including car manufacturers, Lister continues. The Select and Classic solutions are geared towards individual car owners who want a door-to-door service. Costs generally range from between Dh20,000, as a starting point for a single airport-to-airport journey, one-way, and Dh55,000 for a full, door-to-door service (inclusive of documentation and insurance), one way. The service transports up to 150 cars per month, and although summer is traditionally the peak time, Emirates says, customers use the service throughout the year.
Unsurprisingly, the main destinations are popular tourist spots: the south of France, London, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. And the starting point for most of the cars tends to be the GCC region – in particular the UAE.
“The Select and Classic packages mainly originate from Dubai,” Lister says. “Personal cars are mostly transported when owners go on holidays to European destinations ... It often works out cheaper than renting a car of a similar spec for a long period of time.”
Car enthusiasts also use the service to take their cars with them when they relocate to another destination, and others send their cars via air transport to car manufacturers in Italy and elsewhere to get rare and expensive vehicles serviced and buffed by specialist technicians.
James Walker, also known as Mr JWW, a supercar lifestyle vlogger from the UK who travelled on Emirates with a Pagani Zonda F from Dubai to Bologna, Italy, last year, said he “could not believe that this service exists” and travelled behind a truck carrying the car on the way to the airport. Once on board, he could see the car being loaded onto the aircraft from his first-class seat.
“The Zonda effectively became a passenger, or a piece of luggage, on the flight, that was coming together with me. As far as cool goes, that topped the list,” he says. “I could see the Zonda being loaded onto the very plane that I was sat on – it was crazy.”
In the hold, the car was strapped down to stop it moving, while at the other end, the car was lowered off the Boeing 777 using a series of moving palettes. “It was like bringing the car back home,” he says.
Lister says that most cars tend to fly as air cargo in one direction only, and are booked as sea cargo for their return trip, though a return package is available if the owners “want their beloved vehicle back faster”. The actual cost of shipping your car depends on a number of factors, including the technical specifications of the car, whether it has to travel on a freight aircraft or whether it can travel in the belly of a passenger aircraft – the latter being cheaper.
“Additionally, the cost of transporting the car will also depend on the ancillary services required by the customer, including permits, marine insurance, road insurance and so on,” Lister says.
Emirates SkyCargo can transport cars to anywhere on its network of 155 destinations around the world.
“We ensure prior to the transport that our ramp agents have the capability and equipment to load and offload the vehicle correctly,” Lister says. “Often, we will also send an experienced load-master along with the vehicle to monitor and assist the ramp crew ... to ensure safe transportation.”
If you’re travelling on a whim, you don’t have to discount packing your car, because it can take as little as two days to arrange to get it airside if the paperwork is all in place, although it takes about a week on average for the Emirates Wheels Select service to process and manage the request.
As long as cars adhere to International Air Transport Association regulations, there are no restrictions on the type of cars that can be transported. And it’s not just the premium cars that are valued at millions of dollars that are flown by air, according to Emirates, but “regular cars” as well. However, one suspects not battered old Audi A3s.