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Emirates is going in for a major retrofitting for a majority of its latest wide-body aircraft. Image Credit: Courtesy Emirates

Dubai: Travel in style and still be in Economy? Check out Emirates airline’s ‘Premium Economy’, bookings for which are expected to start today.

The new cabin class, which gives a deluxe feel to Economy, will be available to travellers on popular routes - London, Paris and Sydney – serviced by the Airbus A380 from August 1. The Christchurch (New Zealand) route will also get the Premium Economy treatment from December.

Until now, Emirates had offered Premium Economy seats on some London-bound flights - but as upgrades and not as a full-fledged category. Premium Economy fares can be 60-65 per cent cheaper than in Business. On Emirates, the new seating option could be 30 per cent more than the standard Economy rates, say aviation industry experts.

“As with everything we do, Emirates premium economy will be exceptional in its class, with minute attention given to every aspect of the customer experience,” Tim Clark, Emirates’ President, had said in a statement earlier. “Customers trading up from Economy will be getting excellent value,”

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The Premium Economy addition will help open up a new income stream for the Dubai carrier. Image Credit: Gulf News archive

“Since we first introduced our Premium Economy seats in January 2021, the response and demand has been tremendous. We currently have six A380s equipped with this cabin class, which limits our initial deployment, but our intention is to offer this experience to many more markets across our network.”

In April, Clark said Emirates is spending $1.5 billion to retrofit and upgrade its wide-body aircraft. Last year, the airline announced that it will retrofit 105 of these aircraft with the Premium Economy seating option, in addition to other cabin enhancements. The 18-month programme, which will begin at the end of 2022, will see 52 Emirates A380s and 53 Boeing 777s fitted with the new cabin class.

What is Premium Economy?
Located at the front of the aircraft, the new class offers wider seats with extra room to stretch out on raised cushioned leg rests. The seats also have adjustable headrests and a deeper recline.

It has quite a bit to offer in other features too. The cabins have the latest upgraded inflight entertainment system with 13.3-inch HD TVs. Passengers can connect their own headphones wirelessly via Bluetooth. There’s also faster wi-fi.

A whole new experience

Emirates first announced the launch of a brand-new premium economy class in December 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic brought global travel demand to a complete halt. Industry experts at that time predicted that business travel would be the last customer segment to return given the increased emphasis on online communication tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

Premium economy, considered as a bridge between economy and business, gives passengers an upgraded experience from economy, without having to splurge Dh10,000-Dh20,000 for a business or first-class seat.

Emirates’ Clark has said that premium economy will “enhance the income per seat miles in kilometer” and allow Emirates to have a much more diversified offering.

London is key

The seats were first offered on flights to London as a complimentary upgrade and it immediately received an overwhelming response from passengers. Compared to passengers on some of Emirates’ other routes, London-bound travelers are less price-sensitive and would be willing to shell out a few extra bucks for more comfort.

It is also among the airline’s most lucrative routes. A report from aviation consultancy OAG showed that Dubai-London flights brought in nearly $800 million in revenues for Emirates from 2018-2019.

The other premium economy destination – Paris – is a no-brainer. The French capital is one of the most visited cities in the world and on the top of the list for most UAE travellers.

Sydney, a major tourist destination in the Asia Pacific region, has a lot of travelers flying in from the US and UK via transit hubs like Dubai. For carriers like Emirates and Singapore Airlines, Australia is key to rebuilding ‘fifth-’ or ‘sixth freedom’ traffic. The country opened fully in February after lifting some of the strictest border controls in the world during the pandemic.

Other airlines

Back in 2018, Etihad Airways announced plans to retrofit some of its A380s and other aircraft with 'economy space' seats, featuring an increased seat pitch of 36 inches. However, it does not include priority boarding or extra checked luggage. Also, the in-flight service is identical to that in the rest of the economy cabin.

flydubai has launched new business class seats aboard its Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, which was brought to service in April 2021. Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker has time and again said that the airline will not get into premium economy.

Around the globe, some of the world’s largest airlines have adopted the service. The list includes Singapore Airlines, Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, and British Airways.