Emirates Finally Tests Rollout of Premium Economy: Is Now The Right Time?


Image via Emirates

After a long period of review, and years after many competitors introduced their own premium economy products, Emirates has lifted the lid on its own version of the class of service between economy and business. As with other Emirates products, the focus has been creating a sense of luxury. But given current restrictions on global air travel, is now the right time to test a new cabin reconfiguration? 

Emirates installed its first premium economy cabin on an Airbus A380 delivered at the end of 2020 and launched it on flights between London and Dubai at the beginning of this year. The cabin has been introduced as an upgrade for valued customers, effectively making it more a marketing campaign than a formal retail strategy, but things may not remain that way.

The carrier will also install a premium economy cabin on five A380s scheduled for delivery in 2021 and 2022, as well as some Boeing 777X aircraft slated for 2023. It is considering retrofitting its existing A380 fleet with the product, but has not yet committed to doing so. 

Emirates’ premium economy cabin consists of 56 Recaro PL3530 seats at the front of the main deck, in a 2-4-2 cabin layout. Each seat offers up to a 40-inch pitch, is 19.5-inches wide and reclines 8 inches into a cradle position. Covered in cream anti-stain leather with diamond quilt stitching details and a wood panel finishing similar to business class, it certainly looks upscale.

Each seat also features a six-way adjustable headrest, a calf rest and a footrest. Passengers have access to a 13.3-inch screen for in-flight entertainment, in-seat charging points, a wide dining table, a side cocktail table and storage for personal items. 

While the airline is using this opportunity to make a bold statement about its brand and offer the product as a customer perk, the current market conditions also favor a review of cabin layout to enhance revenue opportunities. As with past crises, airlines may find less resistance in persuading passengers to buy-up to a mid-level cabin upgrade than a business-class seat. Companies will likely maintain more conservative travel policies when corporate travel returns, but a premium-economy seat has always been simpler to justify to accounting. 

Matt Cleary, director of Industrial Design and co-founder of ACLA Studio, recently predicted that the COVID-19 pandemic may encourage airlines to review the importance of this class again. “Premium economy class (PYC) is the next cabin that we will see significant investment in, not only from airlines but most importantly from passengers and businesses,” he wrote.