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Emirates unveils a Premium Economy cabin and refreshes First & Business class

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It’s been a long time coming but Emirates has – finally – introduced premium economy seating. It is launching on the Heathrow route next week.

The Middle Eastern airlines have all been behind the curve on the introduction of premium economy cabins, first pioneered by Virgin Atlantic and Eva Air in the 1990s. For example, Qatar Airways has said in the past that it believes its economy product is so good that it doesn’t need a premium economy cabin …..

Emirates premium economy seat

This is despite the fact that premium economy is a massive money-maker for many airlines. Lufthansa says that premium economy makes more money per square metre than any other cabin – despite only introducing it in 2014.

It claims it generates 6% more revenue than business class and 33% more than economy. British Airways says it is almost as profitable as its Club cabins.

Emirates introduces premium economy on its latest A380

Emirates has been teasing the introduction of its premium economy offering for a while now, which has been delayed by Covid and the delays on the Boeing 777X program.

It is now introducing it on the final six A380 deliveries. The first aircraft with premium economy was actually delivered earlier this month but has not yet seen passenger service.

Emirates has chosen the Recaro PL3530 premium economy seat. If it looks familiar, this is the seat that British Airways has been installing on refurbished aircraft and new arrivals in recent years.

Emirates premium economy cabin

This is slightly less revolutionary than the rumours, which suggested that this HAECO Eclipse seat would debut on Emirates. It would have provided a truly next-generation premium economy experience:

HAECO claimed that a Middle Eastern airline would be flying the seat from 2020 so either it was wrong or we should keep an eye on Qatar Airways or Etihad ……

Emirates’ premium economy still looks classy. It introduces a more modern, slightly less nouveau riche design to the cabin:

Emirates premium economy tray table

Faux walnut and gold trim has gone, replaced by some darker woods and ‘champagne’ colours:

Emirates premium economy seat

The A380s will feature 56 premium economy seats in a 2-4-2 layout at the front of the lower deck. The cabin has three dedicated toilets.

The seats themselves feature up to 40″ pitch and 19.5″ width, with an 8″ recline. You’ll get a six-way adjustable headrest, calfrest and footrest as well as a wide dining table and small side table.

Connectivity includes an 13.3″ IFE screen and in-seat charging points.

You still won’t be able to book premium economy

Despite the introduction of premium economy, Emirates CEO Sir Tim Clark suggests that the cabin won’t be immediately bookable:

“Until we have a viable number of seats in our inventory to bring to market, we plan to offer the Emirates Premium Economy experience as a complimentary upgrade to valued customers.”

I imagine this is because Emirates will only have a maximum of six aircraft with premium economy in its fleet until 2023.

Instead of treating this as a subfleet which would be challenging given its small size, it will be flying the new A380s as part of its larger fleet and upgrading any valuable customers.

It is possible, once all six are in service, that they are dedicated to one particular route – Heathrow would be logical – so the seats can be sold on direct flights to Dubai. It could not be sold on connecting flights as it would not be available on the onward leg.

Business Class and First Class are also refreshed

The business and first class cabins get some love in this refresh as well.

These changes are mainly cosmetic, which means new textiles and surfaces in a generally more refined style.

For business class this means new champagne-coloured leather upholstery and modified wood finishing, with the ‘bones’ of the seat remaining the same:

Emirates A380 business class refresh

The 14 First Class suites have been enhanced and made slightly wider, with taller doors. The showers have been refreshed with new designs and fittings, as has the staircase:

Emirates A380 Shower Spa refresh


The new Emirates premium economy seat looks good, although it isn’t quite as revolutionary as we’d hoped for.

The new design language is a lot more modern and elegant than the current cabin, which is something you’d suspect Donald Trump to have designed ……

As you may have noticed, a new motif is visible in all cabins. This is the Ghaf, the national tree of the United Arab Emirates. I think it adds a nice, warmly organic touch to the cabin.

Whilst the new seat will be fitted on the remaining five A380s to be delivered by Airbus, Emirates remains tight-lipped on any plans to refit its existing fleet.

This means that premium economy would be exclusive to six A380s and its 777X aircraft, due to arrive from 2023. It strikes me as odd to have such a small subfleet fitted with premium economy and I can’t imagine there won’t be further refurbishments. It will be a limited product for the immediate future.

That said, Emirates has been perfectly happy to introduce a revolutionary new First Class Suite which is only available on a handful of Boeing 777 aircraft and is only available in the UK from Stansted.

The first flight to see it will be EK3 to London Heathrow on 4th January.

How to earn Emirates Skywards miles from UK credit cards

How to earn Emirates Skywards miles from UK credit cards (March 2024)

Emirates Skywards does not have a UK credit card.  However, you can earn Emirates Skywards miles by converting Membership Rewards points earned from selected UK American Express cards.

Cards earning Membership Rewards points include:

Membership Rewards points convert at 1:1 into Emirates Skywards miles which is an attractive rate.  The cards above all earn 1 Membership Rewards point per £1 spent on your card, which converts to 1 Emirates Skywards mile. The Gold card earns double points (2 per £1) on all flights you charge to it.

Comments (33)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Lloyd says:

    I have family in Hong Kong, and often seen to end up flying Lufthansa. A few years ago wife and I decided to try premium economy, and have not looked back. Whilst we would much prefer to fly business on that length of flight, we cannot justify the fare difference: £500 economy, £750 premium, £2500 business. Before LH changed to revenue based earning, the earning of 100% of miles made it well worth it, against 25% in economy. Alas, unless I can book through United’s website in the future (managed it once) it’s no longer such a good deal.

    • ChrisW says:

      See, with that price differentiation it makes sense to treat yourself to premium economy. A short hop to Germany in economy and then premium economy for the long-haul legs for only a 50% price premium.

      BA to Hong Kong in September:
      Economy: ~£450
      Premium Economy: ~£1300
      Club: ~£1700

      You would be insane for paying that much for premium economy. The experience will be far, far closer to economy than business class yet you are paying close to business class prices.

    • John says:

      I believe Lufty and Swiss have had business sales to HKG for several years now, I’ve gone 3 times for between £1000 and £1500.

      When Lufty ran the A380 to HK, I bought PE the first time as I needed the miles (economy earns nothing in my preferred FFP A3) but I realised that it was a waste of money as the economy cabin was always half or more empty and I could sleep on a full row.

      Maybe I travelled during non-busy periods.

  • Mark says:

    That business class picture looks rather clinical to me… like something someone might sit in for chemotherapy or similar…

  • Pangolin says:

    With all the debate about the merits or otherwise of PE, no one has yet mentioned that one of the big advantages of PE is a much greater chance of an op-up to J. This is especially so given that limited seat availability in PE means that it can fill up quickly (use Expert Flyer to see load factors). It’s often the case that people get bumped from PE to J so that the airline can bump some overbooked Y pax into PE.

    Obviously it helps to have status where op-ups are concerned!

    • John says:

      I’ve been upgraded from PE to J 5 times in 4 years as BA silver, but not once in 3 years as BA gold.

      But this article is about EK.

      • Harry T says:

        Makes sense that they would bump you up more as Silver, as they want you to experience business and consider paying for it next time. When you’re Gold, they will assume you pay for premium cabins a lot anyway so they have no incentive to upgrade you. BA’s priority is revenue.

        • Jonathan says:

          BA use an algorithm to decide who gets upgraded which, whilst confidential, from anecdotal evidence uses your travel history as the number 1 factor way ahead of status & fare paid.

          If you’re a solo person in WTP who’s never paid for CW then it’s quite common to get upgraded 2 or 3 times in quick succession to give you a taste. If you then start paying for business occasionally you can pretty much forget ever being upgraded again until you hit GGL. Stick with WTP & they might try & tempt you again once in a while.

          I know plenty of people who are blue/bronze who’ve been upgraded to CW even after taking a cheap online/airport upgrade from economy to WTP whilst I’ve never been upgraded as a solo Gold as they know I normally pay for CW.

          Regardless, it’s pointless trying to play the game as BA only upgrade when they need to unlike North American airlines.

  • blenz101 says:

    Worth also noting that when business travel does return many companies do have policies which require madate premium for long haul under certain distances. In those cases many would pick an airline which offers premium for the miles/status/comfort benefits. It will give EK access to this market now.

  • Martin Short says:

    I just flew to Dubai on 380, bar was open for 4 people.
    I nearly cried as it was so great.

  • aDifferentSimon says:

    Premium on BA and Virgin is basically what you would hope economy would be (+ a glass of sparkling wine)

  • Colin Page says:

    Thanks for the tip.. Booked EK004 on 4th Jan and have been assigned 34C, no seat changes allowed.. so I’ll let you know what PE feels like..! 😁

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