There must be few places as inspiring to write about enhancing customer value than upstairs in business on an Emirates A380 in Dubai.

Much has been written about luxurious features of this plane. The flatbed, superb in-flight cuisine and 200+ films available, not to mention the bar (I’m not joking) score high marks with most business travellers. If this isn’t “competitive advantage” for Emirates then I’m not sure what is!

Similarly, much has been penned about other factors that help them beat the competition. Much seems to be fuelled more by envy than hard facts. Emirates don’t benefit from cheap jet fuel (there is hardly any oil in Dubai!), lower landing fees in Dubai or a bottomless pit of cheap capital from wealthy sheikhs (it uses leases to buy aircraft like pretty well every other airline).

So how does Emirates earn a 10% profit margin when most of its competitors struggle to achieve 4-5%? What lessons are there for us? My flight reminded me of five simple lessons that we can all do well to remember:

1. Find and exploit unique resources and capabilities.
Emirates benefits massively from being based in Dubai – a “super-hub” city that is both a natural gateway between east and west as well as being a top destination in its own right. There are other middle-eastern cities but Emirates saw the opportunity first and acted on it.

2. Try something different.
Most airlines load premium passengers before those in economy. Apart from a certain self-satisfied smugness (don’t lie, you know its true!) there is little to commend being scowled at by coach passengers (i.e. people paying with their own money!) as they trudge past with the resigned look of a condemned criminal.

On this trip I was loaded last. More time to work and relax in the airport lounge is often a real bonus. In fact in London we were boarded direct from the lounge. Perfect.

We can’t always do things differently but we must all avoid getting trapped in “everyone does it this way” thinking.

3. Count customers in units of one.
Passing racks of pushchairs en route to the plane reminded me how Emirates thinks about every customer’s needs. Passengers with toddlers may not always be premium ticket holders but their custom can help add another per cent to the profit margin.

4. Consider the whole value chain – not just your part.
Many businesses try to add customer value to their part of the service value chain but ignore those “links” outside of their control. Flying is often let down by grubby loos and long queues at security and passport control.

Our plane was parked on the far side of this huge airport and busses were needed for the journey. Not uncommon but can be a pain. However premium ticket customers were whisked across the airport in a smart, clean, quiet, spacious “business class” bus that, had it had wings, I wouldn’t have minded staying on for the whole flight home. Sadly, the corresponding trip at Heathrow was more akin to peak-time travel on the Northern line!

5. Deliver what you promise and, if you can’t, apologise.
With some relief as I’m a loyal-ish BA customer, my final lesson was learned surprisingly, through poor service. The promised hand-made chocolates and after-dinner coffee just didn’t materialise. I don’t mean that they were no good – I mean they just didn’t arrive. It was the same with the cream tea before landing. I asked a steward who returned with a single scone and a pot of marmalade – no cream, jam or butter.

Now, I realise that in-flight catering is tricky and things run out. The problem here was there was no apology or acknowledgement that the airline had screwed up. Luckily I quite like marmalade and I’m trying to give up chocolate, but that’s not my point…

Any simple tips or examples you’d like to add to these five?