Earlier this week at the Dubai Air Show, Sir Tim Clark, the Briton who runs Emirates, unveiled the airline’s new multi-million-pound first- and business-class cabins. The new first class on its Boeing 777 jets is one of the most exclusive in the sky, with only six seats in a 1-1-1 configuration. Each passenger has their own 40sq ft private, fully enclosed suite with floor-to-ceiling walls and sliding doors almost 7ft high. You can set the temperature, the lighting, and use iPad video calling to the galley to order food and drink that can be delivered through a service hatch.
The configuration means not everyone can have a window seat, but Emirates will broadcast live images from cameras fixed to the outside of the plane to create real-time virtual windows on the walls of the central cabins. The bed, which moves sideways as it reclines, so it is snug against the side wall, has a “zero gravity” setting to create a sense of weightlessness for better sleep. The fabric of the pyjamas is infused with sea kelp to moisturise your skin. Amenities are Bulgari. The TV is a whopping 32” wide.
Privacy assured within the enclosed suite
The new cabins, designed with Mercedes Benz, will be introduced — for reasons best-known to Emirates — on the Dubai to Geneva and Dubai to Brussels routes from December 1, before moving to more ritzy destinations, such as Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, and Australian cities, most likely Brisbane and Perth.
From 2019, the new first-class cabin will be installed on the A380, which Emirates uses for its London, Manchester and Birmingham flights. There’s a spruced-up business-class cabin on Emirates’ new 777s, with plusher seats that turn into flat beds and more wood finishes. A whole new business-class cabin, similar to the one on the A380 where passengers have their own “pod” and direct aisle access, will follow on Emirates’ all-new 777s from 2020.
A centre-cabin first-class suite with real-time video footage broadcast on its porthole-shaped screens
The Emirates launch comes shortly after Singapore Airlines unveiled new first-class suites that can even incorporate double beds, but has more generally emerged at a time when many airlines are cutting back on the perks in first class. Sir Tim, however, insists: “Demand remains very strong. We have a very loyal customer base and we need to keep them interested in what we are doing.”
Yet, behind the soft leather and mood lighting, even the mighty Emirates is hedging its bets. Its new first cabins are smaller. The 777 is down to six seats from eight and, when it is re-fitted, the A380 will be down to 11 seats in first class from 14. Some 40 of Emirates’ 170-strong 777 fleet will soon no longer have a first-class cabin at all. The airline will also soon have 15 A380s in a two-class-only configuration — business and economy. Emirates is also charging economy passengers to reserve their seats and flirting with charging some economy passengers to check in luggage. Anyone, not just premium passengers, can now use Emirates’ lounges — if they pay.
Faced with the challenge of lower oil prices and a drop in the volume of business- and first-class tickets bought by companies, Emirates is increasingly conscious of the need to cut costs. Hence the $15bn order announced at this week’s air show for 40 of the largest size of the super-economical twin-engine Boeing 787-10s that carry 280 passengers — a tiny number for Emirates. Stand by for more orders. Emirates’ decision to reveal its new first class on a Boeing 777, coupled with the order for the 787s, over the rival Airbus A350, is a hefty blow to Airbus. Passengers’ response to the new suite will no doubt influence how the airline develops and positions its premium products in future.