Emirates eschews first class for new Boeing 787-9 fleet

Emirates' next-generation jets will see the airline standardise on a single business class seat design but forego first class.

By Chris C., December 13 2019
Emirates eschews first class for new Boeing 787-9 fleet

Emirates’ future fleet of Airbus A350-900s and Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners is set to arrive without first class: instead, favouring premium economy in a three-class mix joined by business class and ‘regular’ economy.

The airline has 50 of Airbus’ A350-900s and 30 Boeing 787-9s on order, both expected to fly in Emirates’ colours from May 2023.

In an exclusive interview with Executive Traveller, Emirates President Sir Tim Clark affirms that “for both the A350 order and the 787s, we're just going to stay with business, premium economy and economy,” with first class “probably not” making an appearance on these jets.

Emirates had previously confirmed plans to use the A350s on both regional and long-range flights of up to 15 hours, with Clark elaborating that the Boeing 787s “will be used on a variety of medium to long-haul operations that don't, in our view, support a first class cabin.”

Speaking to the aircraft’s capabilities in the Emirates network, “the 787-9 has extraordinarily good legs and can get to the middle of the United States from Dubai, or down to the east coast of Australia and other points.”

Business class to mirror Emirates’ A380s

Passengers flying business class with Emirates today can face a very different experience from one flight to the next, depending on which particular aircraft arrives at the gate.

Book an Airbus A380 journey and you’re guaranteed a fully-flat bed with direct aisle access in a 1-2-1 layout, but book a Boeing 777-300ER and you’ll either get an angled-flat or fully-flat bed in a less-ideal 2-3-2 configuration, or a Boeing 777-200LR for a guaranteed fully-flat bed, but in a 2-2-2 layout.

Moving forward, however, Emirates’ newer aircraft types will all adopt the airline’s A380-style seating, bringing consistency across the fleet when the current Boeing 777s are eventually retired.

Business class aboard the Emirates Airbus A380s.
Business class aboard the Emirates Airbus A380s.

“We're standardising the fleet: the Boeing 777-9X, the A350, the 787 and A380 will all be the same type of (business class) suite,” Clark confirms.

“Obviously, the exact (seat) dimensions will depend on the width of the cabin, but the look and feel, the materials that we use, the TVs, and everything else will be very much common to all (these jets).”

Premium economy on the Airbus A350s, Boeing 787s

Emirates is yet to announce the final design of its upcoming premium economy seat – set to launch on the Airbus A380 at the end of 2020 before later appearing on other aircraft types – and sees the experience as both an upsell for those who’d otherwise book economy, and a form of ‘insurance’ against the changing global economy.

“There is a risk that some (travellers) might get a corporate mandate when the global economy goes completely (pear-)shaped, that all corporate travel will be in business: or if there is a premium economy offer, premium economy – but that used to be business down to economy,” Clark explains.

Emirates President Sir Tim Clark looks to premium economy as an upsell, not a downgrade.
Emirates President Sir Tim Clark looks to premium economy as an upsell, not a downgrade.

“Now, if we've got a premium economy seat in the middle of the higher fare, then actually when those scenarios kick in, we have got something that we can offer at a higher price than we would doing normal economy. So, it kind of works.”

But the difficulty many airlines face when designing premium economy is to get the positioning right between regular economy and business class: make premium economy too much like economy and few travellers will justify paying extra, but make it too good and you risk business class passengers downgrading and paying less.

“It's very easy to kill the product in premium economy, and the next thing you know, nobody's in business class,” Clark forewarns.

The HAECO Eclipse is rumoured to be Emirates' new premium economy seat.
The HAECO Eclipse is rumoured to be Emirates' new premium economy seat.

When asked if Emirates would ever roll out business class-like beds in a premium economy setting, Clark strongly affirms, “no, no, no: we would never do that.”

Premium economy is instead seen as “a bit like business class used to be,” with “more space and better food, and a better recline so you get kind of a ‘sleeperette’ seat.”

“When it's launched at the end of next year, ours will be as stylish as anybody else's, probably better,” Clark states.

Also read: Emirates premium economy: everything we know so far

Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Sep 2017

Total posts 165

Well if they do go for that HAECO Eclipse product for W, it looks really good. Not a business class for sure, but better than some others. (Sorry to digress to the minor theme of the story)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Nov 2018

Total posts 107

This is not good news for first class travellers. I know a number of people that would be very disappointed. It is getting harder and harder to find first class on long haul flights. Anyone would think, given the loss of first class on several airlines, that first class does not make any money. Does it make a loss? Surely not. At least not at the rates that I'm paying.


23 Oct 2015

Total posts 26

We switched to EK, primarily because they pretty much had first class everywhere. We used to be SQ ‘groupies' but more and more of their flights topped out at biz, so we gave up.

This is sad news.

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

15 Mar 2019

Total posts 20

Are there any plans to retrofit the appalling business class layout of 2-3-2 or 2-2-2 on the 777s?

The lack of direct aisle access is simply not acceptable, particularly on the medium/long haul sectors.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

14 Jan 2014

Total posts 339

I hope EK come up with a NEW biz class seat as their current A380 one is ok, but definitely not newsworthy or competitive against the likes of Qatar.

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

20 Jan 2018

Total posts 39

Well I'm not happy about the loss of first class seating on the new Emirates metal. If that's the case, then I definitely part company with Emirates. No first class is a deal breaker. I do a lot of long haul and their first class was...... first class. I'm going to start investigating the airlines that are left when air travel recommences. I have the feeling it's going to be much harder to find a first class offering anywhere!

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