Coronaviruses such as MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 infect the human respiratory tract and can cause severe pneumonia. Disease severity and outcomes are different for these two infections: the human mortality rate for MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 is over 30% and less than 10%, respectively. Here, using microarray assay, we analyzed the global alterations in gene expression induced by MERS-CoV or SARS-CoV-2 infections in primary human pulmonary epithelial cells. Overall, the number of differentially expressed genes was higher in human lung cells infected with MERS-CoV than in cells with SARS-CoV-2. Out of 44,556 genes analyzed, 127 and 50 were differentially expressed in cells infected with MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, respectively (> 2-fold increase, compared to uninfected cells). Of these, only eight genes, including the one coding for CXCL8, were similarly modulated (upregulated or downregulated) by the two coronaviruses. Importantly, these results were virus-specific and not conditioned by differences in viral load, and viral growth curves were similar in human lung cells infected with both viruses. Our results suggest that these distinct gene expression profiles, detected early after infection by these two coronaviruses, may help us understand the differences in clinical outcomes of MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 infections.