Coming Soon: Emirates Premium Economy

For all 35 of its years of history, Emirates has offered only three classes of travel: First, business and economy. But 2020 is to be a landmark year for the airline, as it makes its first move into a four class offering with the introduction of premium economy. Here’s what we know so far about the product, and when it’s going to arrive.

Emirates A380
The airline should have introduced the product on its new A380s this year. Photo: Needpix

What do we know so far?

Premium economy is fast becoming the go-to mid-range product, offering passengers a way to upgrade from economy without the eyewatering expense of going all the way to business class. For airlines that focus on long-haul, such as Emirates, it makes sense from both a financial and passenger experience perspective to give its customers more choice.

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While the Gulf airline has been relatively tight-lipped about the finer details of its forthcoming new product, a few details have begun to slip out. Most recently, President of the airline, Sir Tim Clark, shared some teasers about the hard product with Executive Traveler that gives us some idea of what to expect.

The seat itself will focus on comfort. Clark told ET that it would fully cradle the legs and feet, and would have a 10-inch recline, far more than we’ve seen in some premium economy cabins. This will turn it into a railway-style ‘sleeperette,’ but it won’t be fully flat. That perk is still reserved for business class travelers.

British Airways
Premium economy usually gives passengers more legroom and wider seats. Photo: British Airways

In terms of legroom, passengers can expect to be able to stretch out. The premium economy cabin will have around 38 inches of pitch, which is a good six inches more than economy, and each seat will be wider too. As with other airlines’ offerings, it’s likely Emirates will go for a larger IFE screen to accompany the premium experience.

Location-wise, Clark previously told Executive Traveler that there would be a proper cabin segregation of the premium economy passengers. That means it’s not likely to be just a few seats at the front of the economy cabin, or an area divided with a curtain, but a properly separate cabin with its own bulkhead for privacy. Most excitingly, on A380s without first class, premium economy will be added onto the upper deck, letting these fliers travel in style upstairs.

Emirates A380
Some configurations would see passengers traveling upstairs. Photo: Getty Images

What about the soft products?

So we know that the seat will be better, and the cabin will be separated from economy, but what about the other perks of this upgrade? Most airlines offering a true premium economy product also differentiate things like food and beverage service too, and it seems that Emirates will follow this well-worn path.

There are no details on what this might mean exactly yet, but it’s likely passengers will get a higher quality of meal, perhaps even served on proper plates instead of the typical plastic tray. They might even get a glass of something bubbly before takeoff. And, of course, with a smaller cabin and fewer passengers, the service will be much more intimate.

Coming Soon: Emirates Premium Economy
Fewer passengers in the cabin means a more attentive service. Photo: Emirates

Clark hasn’t confirmed the frequent flier or check-in perks, but it’s likely premium economy passengers will be able to enjoy priority boarding and more miles earning with this upgrade. Speaking of which, those who have already accrued a stack of Emirates miles (or partner miles) will be able to use them to upgrade from economy to premium economy too.

When is it coming?

The big question, of course, is when will we finally see premium economy arrive at Emirates? The cabin was supposed to arrive on Emirates’ newest Airbus A380s this year, but with all the uncertainty that 2020 has brought, this hasn’t happened. Emirates has been keen to slow down deliveries of the giant aircraft and has even mooted canceling some of its order.

However, Clark told media at the Arabian Travel Market earlier in the year that the first A380 with premium economy is “sitting in Toulouse waiting to go.” That means that, should travel demand pick up sometime soon, we could see the product either late this year or early on in 2021.

Boeing 777X emirates
If the A380s don’t turn up soon, the first place we might see the new cabin is on the 777-9. Photo: Emirates

If the A380s with premium economy don’t arrive anytime soon, the next aircraft dubbed to have them is the 777-9. That has had some issues of its own and is set for an introduction in 2022 rather than next year, as previously hoped.

Emirates told Executive Traveler that there were no plans to retrofit the premium economy cabin in any of its existing aircraft. Right now, as with most airlines around the world, Emirates is focused on shoring up its own liquidity and keeping the business viable, so the wait to enjoy a premium economy journey with the airline could still be some way off.