Since its big reveal in December last year, Emirates’ premium economy has fast become one of the most sought-after cabins in the industry. Speaking in an exclusive interview with Simple Flying, Emirates’ president Sir Tim Clark noted how popular the product has been, and how essential it is to the airline’s recovery from COVID. A rapid roll-out to more aircraft, he says, is a high priority.
Its “absolutely beautiful”
Premium economy has, for many airlines, become a saving grace. Its ability to encourage a trade-up from leisure travelers while retaining some level of density has made it the most profitable space on the aircraft. Since first being introduced with the likes of Virgin Atlantic and EVA Air back in the 90s, almost every full-service carrier has chosen to take the plunge.
While Emirates was late to the party, everyone knew that its premium economy product would be something truly special, and it was. Speaking in an exclusive interview with Simple Flying, Emirates president Sir Tim Clark noted how much effort had gone into the product, saying,
“It was important that we produced a world class Premium Economy, so that it caught the eye, as it did, of the media and a lot of our travelling public who we introduced it to without charging for it.”
Back in February, Clark had indicated that he was shocked by the demand for the new premium economy cabin. He noted that the cabin had been completely booked for the first couple of months, something which he was even more surprised at, considering the airline is yet to launch the full suite of products.
While the seat and cabin makeover is on the A380, Emirates has not yet changed the menu or wines. Clark puts it down to the quality of the cabin, which he notes he practically designed himself, saying,
“When you look at it, the 380 Premium Economy cabin is absolutely beautiful … The height of the cabin, the width of the cabin, the 8-abreast seating, the 38 inch pitch and all the other bits and pieces we’ve thrown at it with the beautiful wood veneers on the window lines, and everything else that has changed, it’s really a class product.”
Rolling out at pace
At present, the premium economy is only going to be available on the newest of A380s. Six in total are having the product factory-fitted before they arrive at the carrier. Given its immense popularity with customers already, Clark notes that the airline is keen to get the product into more of its aircraft, and fast.
“We will roll out at pace; we’ve got to convert a lot of the aeroplanes in the process of getting Premium Economy to market. So that’s high priority for us.”
In time, most of the 117 A380s in the fleet will see the product retrofitted in the cabin. Around 20 are over or approaching 10 years of age, and will be slated for retirement in the near future. However, younger models will likely get the product applied over the coming years.
Essential to recovery
Emirates was a late adopter of the premium economy model, but is clearly firmly behind the strategy now. It’s a stroke of serendipity that the airline plunged into premium economy when it did, because now, it looks to be a valuable asset in the recovery from the COVID crisis.
With many industry-watchers suggesting business travel will be last to return, and that it may never return to pre-pandemic levels, a mid-level product that has appeal to the leisure traveler is going to be a key tool. Lufthansa previously said that its premium economy product is 33% more profitable than economy and, crucially, 6% more profitable than business class.
Clark recognizes this attribute, saying,
“If the pundits are correct about the diminished corporate segments – I don’t share that view, by the way – but if they are right, then there’ll be a lot of people travelling today who couldn’t necessarily afford the business class cabins … but would be perfectly happy to sit in our premium economy cabins on our A380s.
“I think these people will be quite happy to travel on that and pay the premium above the higher economy fare brackets to do so.”
Supplementing low demand for its premium cabins with the high-yielding premium economy product is going to give Emirates a lucrative cushion as it progresses through the recovery. Although, you’ve got to wonder, are they internally kicking themselves for not adopting it sooner?