Emirates will add premium economy class to its jets, with all-new premium economy seats and service designed to tempt travellers wanting to upgrade from economy.
The airline's premium economy cabin was tipped to debut on its newest Airbus A380 aircraft being delivered in 2020, however, this has now been delayed indefinitely due to coronavirus severely curtailing air travel demand. Emirates also has no plans to add premium economy to older jets.
It's a bold yet strategic move for the Gulf airline, which across its 35-year history has only ever offered first class, business class and economy.
Emirates will join a growing number of airline with a 'better than economy, below business class' experience, and is playing its cards close to its chest on specifics of its own premium economy – although Emirates CEO Sir Tim Clark has spilled some details to Executive Traveller.
This article will track the latest news on Emirates' premium economy seats, cabin and service, and will be updated as new information comes to hand.
What is Emirates premium economy class?
Emirates premium economy class is an all-new class of travel which the airline will launch sometime in late 2020 or early 2021, depending on when air travel picks up again.
As with other airlines offering premium economy, Emirates is aiming at economy class passengers willing to pay more for an all-round better travel experience, without risking any price-driven downgrades from business class.
"It's probably where business class used to be, and in some cases where first used to be in the old days, 30 years ago," Clark told Executive Traveller during a mid-2018 briefing when he first mapped out details of Emirates premium economy playbook. Furthermore "it will be an Emirates premium economy, so it will be special.”
What travellers can look forward to in Emirates premium economy class
Comfort is paramount to the premium economy proposition. Emirates CEO Sir Tim Clark tells Executive Traveller that the seat chosen by the airline will fully cradle the legs and feet, coupled with a 10-inch recline to become a railway-style ‘sleeperette’ – but not a flat bed, which will remain a core feature of Emirates business class.
Passengers can also expect much more legroom, with around 38 inches of pitch – up to 6 inches more than economy – while the seat itself will be wider than its economy counterparts.
Also on the cards: a larger inflight video screen and, if Emirates follows the lead of several other airlines, noise-cancelling headphones.
Better meals and service
Airlines flying premium economy always go the extra mile with catering, so Emirates premium economy passengers can expect a better grade of main meals, drinks and refreshments than their economy-class counterparts. This could even include a glass of Champagne before take-off.
The relatively small number of premium economy seats and the fact that Emirates premium economy will have its own cabin also means there will be a higher level of service from crew assigned to premium economy.
A private cabin
Clark has previously told Executive Traveller that the premium economy cabin would be separate to economy class in order to provide "a degree of exclusivity... and not just a curtain, it'll be a proper cabin. We're aiming to make it a quiet zone, a comfortable zone."
On Emirates Airbus A380s fitted with first class, Clark says the premium economy cabin will be located at the front of the lower deck with “probably as many as 56 seats."
On those Emirates A380s which lack first class, premium economy will be added onto the upper deck with "the same kind of number" of seats as the three-class superjumbos.
If Emirates’ Boeing 777 jets ever get premium economy, expect a smaller cabin "more likely around the high 20s, 26-28 seats", behind business class but in front of economy.
(On both jets Emirates premium economy will take over some of the space currently allocated to economy class, with no change to the number of business class seats.)
Additionally, Clark says, "most of the time (premium economy) passengers will have access to their own washrooms."
Priority check-in and boarding
Another common factor in the premium economy formula is a dedicated premium economy counter when checking in for your flight, although in some airports premium economy passengers can use the business class check-in desk. Either way, you'll have plenty of time compared to being in that lengthy economy class queue.
When it's time to get underway, expect a priority line at the boarding gate – again, this could be shared with business class – sop that you can settle into your seat sooner.
Earn more Skywards miles (and Qantas points)
If you're collecting frequent flyer miles and working your way up the status ladder, each Emirates premium economy flight will earn you more Skywards miles and tier miles than if you were in economy.
This will also apply to codeshare flights on which there's a Qantas flight number (typically in the series QF8xxx) when it comes to racking up extra Qantas points and status credits.
Emirates premium economy seat
Emirates don't have a firm launch date for the premium economy seat anymore, but it's expected to debut on new Airbus A380 jets and followed by the also-new Boeing 777-9.
What we already know about Emirates premium economy seat is that this will be an all-new seat exclusive to the airline, not one flown by any other airline to date, using a bespoke design built to the airline’s specifications.
"We've had a competition among seat manufactures to spec out the designs that we want," Emirates CEO Tim Clark has previously told Executive Traveller.
"We’ve said this is how we want it to be built, and most of the seats that we have today are our own designs built to our specifications."
So what are those specifications? Clark describes Emirates premium economy seat as a ‘sleeperette’ that will fully cradle the legs and feet in "something like lazy-Z" configuration.
"We're working on all sorts of (footrest) designs which work, because so often in the past they didn't work, you put somebody in there and recline the seta, the actual calf position and the leg position and the feet were all wrong."
"The trick is to get that right, and that's what we've been working on – to make it sure that it deals with the bodies and ergonomics of the higher-percentile male and female, which is very important."
There has been speculation that the new Eclipse design (shown below) from seatmaker HAECO is what Emirates will use for premium economy, given that the company has said the Eclipse will launch will see "an as yet unnamed Middle East-based airline... begin flying with the seats in 2020."
Eclipse is aimed at the premium economy or short-rage business class market, and adopts a unique staggered layout to make it easier for passengers in window or middle seats to step past their neighbours.
However, it's worth noting that the Eclipse has a fixed shell behind each seat, intended to prevent the passenger in front of you from reclining into your space.
Emirates chief Clark has previously indicated the airline's premium economy seat would not have a fixed shell, saying "once you do a fixed shell you're ending up in business class (territory) if you're not careful, and we're trying to trade people up from economy, not down from business."
Upgrading to Emirates premium economy
Passengers in Emirates economy class will have the option to upgrade to premium economy using Emirates Skywards miles – although this option is unlikely to be extended to those with a pile of Qantas Points, despite the partnership between the two airlines.
If you plan ahead far enough there should also be the opportunity to book an Emirates premium economy seat using Skywards Miles. Frequent flyers may find a relatively high number of premium economy seats available as this new travel class is rolled out to new routes.
Will you get lounge access with Emirates premium economy?
Lounge access won’t be included with Emirates premium economy, although it will be available at an additional cost and is likely to appear as an option when booking your Emirates premium economy travel.
The airline currently sells access to its flagship Dubai business class lounge, and other lounges around the world, at US$130, discounted to US$100 for members of the Emirates Skywards frequent flyer program.
Of course, if your Emirates Skywards or Qantas Frequent Flyer status qualifies you for lounge access then the doors to Emirates' business class and even first class lounges will be wide open.