Emirates won’t begin flying its first Boeing 777-9 aircraft until 2022, but the delay could prove advantageous if it means the next-gen jets arrive in sync with an uptick in post-pandemic travel.
It also means that 2022 will usher in the next decade of Emirates’ premium travel experience, from new first class suites and business class seats to a fresh take on the Gulf carrier’s iconic inflight cocktail bar.
Emirates originally expected to have as many as eight of the Boeing 777-9s in the air by the end of this year, airline president Tim Clark noted in October 2019 at the Dubai Airshow, but a series of issues – first with a failed cargo door test, then with General Electric’s GE9X turbine engine – culminated in Boeing pushing back 777X deliveries to begin in 2022.
By dint of its order for 126 jets – split between the mainstream 777-9 and the longer-range 777-8 – Emirates is the Boeing 777X’s prestigious launch customer, and plans what it has described as "next-generation bespoke cabins" across the Boeing 777X fleet.
Emirates’ Boeing 777X first class
Emirates’ Boeing 777-9 and 777-8 jets will be crowned by six first class suites based on the airline’s 2017 design for the Boeing 777-300, which in turn were inspired by the Mercedes-Benz S-Class through the soft leather seating, high-tech control panels and mood lighting.
Each of the 3.7m² (40ft²) suites will wrap passengers in a fully private cocoon with floor-to-ceiling sliding doors and, in the case of travellers in the middle suite of the 1-1-1 configuration, ‘virtual windows’ which displays real-time camera views from the outside on HD video screens.
Clark says these first class suites have been designed for executives flying solo, rather than couples.
“We tend to find that most of our first class business is business-driven,” he told Executive Traveller. “People want to get on, shut the door, relax, and unwind: people value the privacy.”
“People do (sometimes) travel with companions or colleagues from work – perhaps on the same trip – but believe it, they would rather just be on their own.”
Unlike some rivals which offer separate seats and beds in first class, Emirates’ Boeing 777-series first class suites rely on a wide leather-clad armchair which serves double duty.
“Having both of those monuments, the bed and the seat, occupies a lot of space – and frankly, we didn't see the need for it,” Clark reasons. “Had we put a (separate) bed in, we would probably have only got two suites” on the Boeing 777s, versus the six prized suites these planes can accommodate.
When making its transition into ‘bed mode’, the armchair moves itself away from the aisle and closer to the window, creating a standing area between the bed and its aisle-side doors.
“You've actually got quite a lot of floor space when the bed is in bed mode: you can stand up and get changed” – one advantage of having that floor-to-ceiling privacy door.
“The seat itself was also designed by us with a corporate jet (influence), to make it wide enough to seem like a full-sized bed when you were lying on it,” Clark says.
Emirates’ Boeing 777X business class
Likewise, Emirates' Boeing 777X business class will draw on the airline’s Airbus A380 and Boeing 777 business class as shared starting points for creating a new business class seat for the new decade.
Clark has previously told Executive Traveller that the Boeing 777X business class seat will “resemble what we have on the Airbus A380s upstairs”, including that 1-2-1 layout which affords direct aisle access to every passenger.
However, the look of Emirates' Boeing 777X business class best and the overall cabin colour scheme will be based on the latest Boeing 777 business class.
The seat will of course boast familiar creature comforts such as touchscreen controls, multiple personal lighting options, a shoe stowage area and a personal mini-bar.
There’ll also be a small but upscale social area, which Clark suggested to Executive Traveller would be “fairly glamorous and attractive for people to stand and have a chat.”
“It won't be as big as the A380 of course, but there will be sort of convivial areas where people can go and gather, and pick up whatever they want to eat or drink,” he added, saying that the success of the Airbus A380's cocktail bar meant "social areas have now become a bit of a signature for us.”
“We're trying to continue what we've always done, albeit with smaller real estate to work with (compared to the A380).”
Clark says the space will be an “embellishment” of the refurbished Boeing 777-200LR’s self-serve snack and drink counters, which he described as “more of the ilk of what we can afford to do with the real estate on those aeroplanes.”
The Boeing 777X’s social area will also be "slightly better located (than on the LR)“ – hinting that it could be positioned at the very end of the business class cabin rather than more towards the middle of the cabin as on the 777-200LR, which proves disruptive for passengers seated nearby.
Emirates’ Boeing 777X premium economy
Nestled behind the Boeing 777X’s business class cabin will be Emirates’ all-new premium economy.
Clark says there’ll be around 26-28 seats in what he’s described to Executive Traveller as a railway-style "sleeperette" design that will fully cradle the legs and feet, coupled with a 10-inch recline and around 38 inches of pitch (up to 6 inches more than economy).
“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 reflected.
The seats themselves will be than their economy counterparts, with a larger inflight video screen.
There’s speculation that Emirates' premium economy seat is the new Eclipse design from HAECO, given that the manufacturer has said the Eclipse 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.
Additionally, Clark said that Emirates' premium economy 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," and that "most of the time (premium economy) passengers will have access to their own washrooms."
Additional reporting by Chris Chamberlin