The long-awaited new product on Emirates aircraft, a Premium Economy cabin, is finally here. The cabin was teased for what feels like forever and was finally confirmed by the President of Emirates Tim Clark in May 2018.

The product was supposed to be introduced, as it will now be, on freshly delivered Airbus A380 aircraft in December 2020, a change from a brief moment when the Boeing 777X was supposed to introduce Premium Economy in June 2020. Since then, a lot of things have changed.

Unfortunate delays

While initially the new cabin was supposed to be introduced on the Airbus A380 aircraft, the delays of the Boeing 777X pushed back the introduction of Premium Economy.

“I think we will start certainly [with] the airplanes we have ordered, the latest A380s, the first six of which come in 2020, we will be installing premium economy into those,” stated Clark in May 2018, as he confirmed that Premium Economy will finally make its way onto Emirates’ aircraft. The new cabin, which “will be special,” he added, was a hot topic in the company.

Some light was shed on the potential specifications of the Premium Economy cabin later in 2018 when Executive Traveller interviewed the President of the airline. The executive reiterated that this would be a seat with the airline’s own touch:

“We’ve said this is how we want it to be built, and most of the seats that we have today are our own designs built to our specifications,” Clark stated at the time. The cabin will be sealed off from Economy class passengers, “and not just a curtain, it'll be a proper cabin and most of the time passengers will have access to their own washrooms,” clarified the executive.

The goal of Premium Economy, according to Clark, was for people to move forward from economy class, rather than trickle down from business class.

But the much-anticipated new product was delayed from its launch date of June 2020 to November 2020. Clark blamed the delay on the Boeing 777X, which struggled to get the ground running on its certification program. In the spotlight was the General Electric GE9X engine, which had to be redesigned by GE, as issues with the high-pressure compressor appeared during the engine’s certification process.

ARTICLE: Emirates pushes back introduction of premium economy

Now, the new cabin is finally around the corner. With the newest deliveries of the A380 aircraft, Premium Economy will finally see the light of the day.

Low-key arrival

While the introduction of a new cabin is a fairly significant reason to celebrate, the aviation industry is not what it was when the idea of the product first appeared on the table.

With international travel restricted due to the second wave of infections of COVID-19, Emirates has little wiggle room to squeeze in a proper event for the new cabin. The company suffered its first half-year loss in H1 2020, as the coronavirus crisis ravaged the demand for international travel. While business and private aviation has begun its road towards recovery, commercial airlines are nowhere near.

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The newest product could arrive with the delivery of A6-EVN. The aircraft was seen in a picture together with A6-EVM, the A380 that was delivered on December 11, 2020, with the test registration of F-WWAU.

But Economy class is not something that the company has boasted about throughout its history. The luxurious first class suites, or as Emirates puts it, a “redefined” business class experience on its aircraft have been the highlight of its curriculum vitae. The introduction of Premium Economy could potentially cannibalize its Business class seat sales, as the middle child between the latter and Economy provides a cheaper, yet still luscious enough option for business travelers. And as various companies look to minimize costs, Premium Economy could become the perfect option for business travelers to downgrade to, rather than economy passengers uplifting themselves a notch. 

On the other hand, the business traveler of the Gulf is not the typical traveler – while airlines across the globe have started to sway away from first class cabins, the Gulf Trio has stayed loyal to the most luxurious cabin even throughout the most difficult periods. Emirates themselves are slowly re-introducing the Airbus A380 back into service, while other airlines permanently retired their double-deckers.

Nevertheless, Premium Economy could become a major driver behind Emirates’ recovery, which expects to operate all of its A380 aircraft as soon as 2022, as the recent vaccine developments starts to help to turn the tide on the current crisis. The mid-market solution between business and economy class could attract a more comfort-conscious, yet still budget-restricted traveler.

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Emirates and the Airbus A380 seem inseparable at the moment. While other airlines are retiring their double-deckers, Emirates remains a firm believer. However, it was not always the case.