Emirates President ‘Shocked’ At Demand For Premium Economy

Dubai-based Emirates was a latecomer to the premium economy concept. As other long-haul airlines jumped onboard the trend, Emirates resisted. However, a couple of years ago, Emirates buckled, saying a premium economy cabin would get launched on some aircraft. So far, there’s only one Emirates A380 in the air with a premium economy product onboard. But Emirates CEO, Tim Clark, says the response to the new cabin has shocked him.

Emirates rolled out its first premium economy cabin in January. Photo: Vincenzo Pace / Simple Flying

“We have been absolutely shocked at the demand for the seats. People have been clamoring to get into them,” Mr Clark told the CAPA Live online forum on Wednesday.

“They have been paying whatever we’ve asked them to pay to get into the cabin because it is a delightful cabin, I say it myself, but it is a beautiful cabin to be in.”

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.

Premium economy now available on one Emirates A380

Right now, Emirates plans to install premium economy seats on just six of its A380 aircraft. Boeing 777Xs due to arrive at Emirates in a few years’ time will also feature the seats. Plans to retrofit Emirates’ existing 100 plus fleet of A380s with a premium economy cabin are under consideration.

“Our premium economy product was carefully developed in keeping with Emirates’ brand positioning as a full-service airline of the highest quality,” said Mr Clark late in 2020. Under that marketing spin, the seat is a customized version of Recaro’s PL3530 seat. That seat now features in El Al’s 787-9 premium economy cabin and Japan Airlines’ Airbus A350-900 premium economy cabin.

The seats reflect the classic Emirates stylebook, featuring the cream colors and wood paneling finish so familiar to Emirates’ regulars. With a seat width of 19.5″, a pitch of up to 40″, adjustable headrests, calf rests and footrests, and a 13″ plus screen, there are worse ways to travel.

Emirates’ new premium economy cabin. Photo: Emirates

Emirates a slow starter in premium economy space, but may make up for the lost time

Emirates has always done a brisk business with its popular business class product. Much of the airline’s resistance to introducing a premium economy product is due to the threat of cannibalization. While Emirates is happy for economy class passengers to trade up, they don’t want their business class passengers to trade down. Emirates is carefully calibrating their premium economy rollout to avoid that problem.

“Other carriers that have introduced it, many of our competitors in the European and Asian fields, they swear by it,” the Emirates CEO admits. But Tim Clark told CAPA his airline wouldn’t be entering into the premium economy space if they didn’t think it would add value.

“If we’ve got our demand forecast right, and let’s say there’s no dilution of the business with regards to actually sits in this cabin. If we’ve got that right, then it’s (premium economy) is going to be really, really important to us.”

The response to Emirates’ new premium economy cabin has “absolutely shocked” CEO Tim Clark. Photo: Getty Images

It’s early days but Tim Clark is clearly enjoying the interest in his new premium economy cabin.

“For the first couple of months, this cabin has been completely booked,” he said.

“Even though we haven’t been delivering the full premium economy experience, we haven’t changed the menus out, we haven’t changed the wines, we just provided the seats, and goodness me, it’s been very popular.”

After a tough 2020, it’s a welcome bit of good news for Emirates. The airline is in no rush to roll out the premium economy product. But judging by the initial response, Emirates may pick up the pace of installing the product. And if it keeps going well, we may see premium economy seats rolled out on more aircraft.