Emirates has joined the growing list of airlines offering premium economy class as a sweet spot between economy and business.
The new seats, which Emirates President Sir Tim Clark has described to Executive Traveller as a railway-style 'sleeperette', cradle your legs with an extended calf-rest which swings up from the seat.
"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," says Clark, who expects the seat will prove most popular with travellers looking to step up from economy class rather than downgrading from business class.
Here's a quick take on five things you need to know about Emirates' new premium economy.
Which Emirates aircraft will feature premium economy?
All six of Emirates' latest Airbus A380s – from one delivered in December 2020 to the very last superjumbo due in 2022 – will include 56 premium economy seats located in their own dedicated cabin at the front of the lower (main) deck.
The airline is also considering how many of its current A380 fleet will be retrofitted with premium economy, in order to reach a 'critical mass' to cater for demand on key worldwide routes.
None of Emirates' Boeing 777-200 or Boeing 777-300 jets will have premium economy, although it will appear on the new Boeing 777-9 jets due to roll into the Dubai hangars from 2023.
You may have already flown in Emirates premium economy seat...
For all its fine finish – including cream-coloured 'anti-stain' leather with detailed stitching, with bronze and wood panel trim – Emirates' premium economy seat is a highly customised version of the PL3530 model from German seatmaker Recaro.
However, Emirates is far from the first airline to fly this seat, which made its debut in 2016.
It appears in the Boeing 787 premium economy cabin of Israel's El Al...
... as well as Vistara's Boeing 787 Dreamliner...
... and Japan Airlines' domestic Airbus A350-900s.
China Southern also opted for the Recaro PL3530 on its Airbus A350, which helps you appreciate the stark difference that some customisation in the final design stage can make.
Don't fall for the '40 inch legroom' line
Emirates' press release announcing the launch of its long-awaited premium economy seat promised "a generous pitch of up to 40 inches" – we've added the italics here for emphasis.
This doesn't mean that all of Emirates' premium economy seats have a 40-inch pitch (pitch is the total distance between the same point on two seats, one behind the other, such as from the front of the armrest of seat 40A to the front of the armrest of seat 41A, and serves as a rough indicator of legroom).
Only the first row of premium economy – which faces the cabin's bulkhead wall – will enjoy that much space.
Seats in the other rows will have a more modest pitch of 38 inches, which is standard for most airlines' premium economy (including Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa).
Which routes will feature Emirates' premium economy?
Emirates will begin to detail its premium economy network as more of the new and upgraded Airbus A380s take wing: but at the time of writing, the first (and only) superjumbo with premium economy is flying daily between Dubai and London as EK003/EK004.
This could change based on any extension or tightening of UK lockdowns, and airline boss Clark has already said this A380 would be rostered "on various routes so that our customers can experience our latest offering in all classes."
(That "all classes" refers to Emirates' upgraded business class, which also features on the new A380.)
Free upgrades to Emirates premium economy
With that A380 likely to be shared between several routes, Emirates won't put its premium economy seats on sale right away.
Instead, the Gulf carrier will offer a free 'surprise and delight' upgrade to premium economy for selected economy class passengers.
So who's on that list? While Emirates has offered no detail apart from saying they'll be "valued customers", and declined to comment further, Executive Traveller understands that complimentary upgrades will be offered to
- members of Emirates' invitation-only iO program
- top-tier Emirates Skywards Platinum and Gold members
- economy passengers on full-fare tickets
A spokesperson for Emirates indicated that a number of factors are taken into consideration for the complimentary premium economy upgrades, including not only "customer value" but other operational factors such as the crew complement and catering.