Emirates: economy class compared with Qantas

By John Walton, September 14 2012
Emirates: economy class compared with Qantas

Last week we looked at how Emirates and Qantas compare for business class and first class, but of course not all business travellers get a seat at the front of the plane.

So today our focus shifts to the back of the bus and how the Emirates experience shapes up in the cheap seats.

Warning: watch out for EK's Boeing 777

Emirates' economy class is widely regarded as one of the best in the sky, with world-leading entertainment, new planes, excellent (for economy) food and relatively spacious seats.

But there's one caveat: Emirates jams in an extra seat in every row on its Boeing 777 planes.

This means that planes which have a standard 3-3-3 configuration on airlines like Virgin Australia and Cathay Pacific end up in 3-4-3 on Emirates.

It's tight down the back of Emirates' 777s.. Andrei Dimofte
It's tight down the back of Emirates' 777s.
Andrei Dimofte

This "economy minus" layout is one to avoid if you can, since the 777 seats are over an inch narrower than Emirates' A380 seats and the aisle is significantly less wide too.

(You'd have trouble wheeling a bag down the aisle, and Emirates economy travellers in aisle seats have the bruises on their shoulders and elbows to confirm that the crew have similar issues with the trolleys.)

Airbus A380

On board Emirates' A380, you'll find economy stretching all the way along the lower deck in a 3-4-3 layout. That's the same layout across as Qantas, but the first class cabin is upstairs so the nose downstairs is freed for economy.

Fortunately, since the big bus is set up with four distinct sections of cabin downstairs, the space doesn't feel as enormously massive as it might sound.

Emirates' A380s have a couple of inches of extra legroom compared with Qantas'.

The entertainment system, though, is the world-class ICE, with wide screens and power points for your electronics too.

Boeing 777

Despite the 777's narrower cabin, you'll still see a 3-4-3 layout, but with the smaller seats. There's unfortunately no real legroom tradeoff either.

Qantas doesn't fly these planes, but the closest comparator is the Boeing 747, which is wider than the 777 -- and it feels it. Frequent Qantas economy travellers pick the A380 for its wider seats, extra feeling of space and quieter cabin, and it's even more important to do so on Emirates if you can. 

The 777 is one to avoid if you can, despite the excellent ICE entertainment system and power points.

Airbus A330/A340

Emirates' economy class on these planes sees older seats but a more spacious 2-4-2 layout, similar to Qantas' outfit on the A330 but with generally less advanced seats.

The eyewatering pink seats are still around, unfortunately...
The eyewatering pink seats are still around, unfortunately...

In terms of entertainment, the newer planes in the fleet have a more modern on-demand entertainment system, while the older planes in the fleet get a looped video with six channels.

It's tricky to figure out which type you'll be on, so bring a book or spare battery for your electronic devices.

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John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

02 Feb 2012

Total posts 3

Great post. Will be very useful come April. Thanks.


13 Sep 2012

Total posts 5

I flew with Emirates a few years ago. It was across the Tasman on the 777. The 3-4-3 configuration was too much for me and i haven't flown with them since.


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Aug 2012

Total posts 65

You're absolutely right on the 3-4-3. No trade off with legroom, and totally to be avoided, even for 3 hours to NZ. With an extra seat per row that is a lot of extra people on board. Maybe that's why they offer cheaper deals sometimes.

As you mentioned in AusBT before the 777 Biz class  is not so flash either - steep wedgie seats, and 2-3-2, again with no trade off in legroom. The fare from Brisbane to Zurich (with an inconvenient stop in SIN) on this dated aircraft is often the same as the direct A380 from Sydney (flat beds, and 2-2-2). Etihad have a vastly superior and consistent product.


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Jul 2011

Total posts 16

Thanks for the economy comparison.


24 Apr 2012

Total posts 21

I am 6'2 and have flown on the Emirates 777-300ER from BNE-FRA and had no troubles. I found it the same if not better than my QANTAS 747-400 flight across the Pacific to LAX. You are always going to feel cramped in economy, no matter the seat layout.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Mar 2012

Total posts 211

Sadly for now at least Perth only has the Emirates 777, so no choice of A380. The tighter seats are certainly noticable. Things are tight in terms of width in any economy, but the Emirates 777 are the worst I have flown in, especially when I was wedged against someone who was not only relatively tall but broad as well.

05 Jun 2011

Total posts 38

Its all perception. Those posters who note that the Emirates 77W  was too tight for them over the tasman should note that the seat width is the same as every 737 on the route. Infact, the only difference is that some EK birds have 34 inch pitch compared to QF's 31....

3-4-3 is becoming the norm these days> From an economics point of view, it is a race to the bottom, in that once one airline made the change, the others have to follow to keep up with the lower fares. (Some like SQ  can keep 3-3-3 by charging a premium).

Many airlines now sport this configuration, so  'advoiding'  all 777 3-4-3 birds is no mean feat, especially on EK where they are the backbone of the longhaul fleet.  Personally, i find them fine. Then again, I am of normal height and build. I like EK's food and entertainment in addition to the hot, glamerous hub of Dubai. QF on the otherhand, in my opinion, are some distance behind in terms of service delivery (in Y), and food quantity / quality. (and also poor on pitch)


10 Jun 2011

Total posts 56

It is amusing to note the comments on the seat on the EK 777 being so uncomfortable and cramped when as already noted it is the same size as the 737s QF now use to fly the Trans Tasman but that does not seem to be an issue

So many airlines now do the 3x4x3 seating on the 777 EK, NZ. KL, AF, EY to name but a few even QR are doing it on their 787 aircraft.  Without a doubt it is wrong and on a packed flight its really noticeable, but as consumers we keep accepting it 

Having said that having flown the EK 777 long haul many times - you do adjust - the inflight entertainment, meal service and generally onboard service (I know it can be very hit and miss and flight specific) generally far outweighs what the competition offer.

EK quite openly admitt their focus is on J and F traffic and providing Y class with a  good service. The 777 would never be a first choice on an ultra long haul so the 0600 from SYD to DXB - all their flights to the US except the A380 to JFK and YYZ, Sao Paulo/Buenos Aires - but on their mid range flights so DXB to Europe/Africa/Asia its not such a big deal

Berst advice do your research before booking - the EK A380 on in economy is definitely the way to go 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Feb 2013

Total posts 44

I'm 6'2" and am not a fan of the QF 737 economy seating layout for trans-tasman travel.

I have to remove all items from the seat pocket and place them in the overhead bins - can just put up with it for 3hrs, get quite twitchy by the end of the flight, as quite uncomfortable.

05 Feb 2013

Total posts 1

I would love to see a cheat sheet for preferable seat options like you did in the business class report.

My strong advise is to always check a flight using seat guru, https://www.seatguru.com, and if the seat width is anything less than 17.5inch avoid it for long haul. My experience with emirates was not pleasant and I will make every effort to avoid. Just a note, the emirates 777 has a pitch of 33in and a width of 17in, while Air China 330 has a pitch of 32in and a width of 17.9in. A qantas 380 has a pitch of 31in and a width of 17.5in. IN my opinion Air China wins hands down, but qantas is acceptable. Go "Air China", the peoples airline. (Service sucks however), and for always select the qantas plane.

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