As most airlines experienced drops of at least half their usual passenger numbers in 2020, the world’s Airbus 380s spent most of the year grounded due to lack of demand. However, Emirates is heavily invested in the A380, making up a substantial part of its fleet. So while many airlines continue to retire their A380s, Emirates has just accepted a new A380 to its fleet.
Emirates are only currently flying three or four A380s per day on their London, Paris, and Moscow routes from Dubai. Despite this, they continue to accept their new A380s, with the latest one being delivered from Airbus’ Hamburg facility last week. This particular A380 is unique as it contains the first Emirates Premium Economy cabin. It also has a very different look from the previous A380 cabins, which many described as “blingy.” Emirates is the first of the major Middle East carrier to launch a premium economy product, although it is a regular feature on many other airlines worldwide.
The new Premium Economy cabin will only be available on a small number of A380s initially, with another five A380s delivered in 2021 and 2022. Emirates’ premium economy seats will also be installed on some of its Boeing 777X aircraft, which are only due to join the fleet in 2023. Emirates is considering plans to retrofit its existing A380 fleet as well, but given that air travel is not expected to regain 2019’s levels until 2023, it seems unlikely there will be a rush to do this. However, it is excellent timing for Emirates to launch a cabin between economy and business class with travelers predicted to be far more weighted towards leisure travelers than business for the foreseeable future.
The new Premium Economy appears impressive and a step above the majority of similar cabins. For a start, the seat pitch is up to a generous 40 inches compared to most other airlines around 38 inches. The second point of difference is the calf rests. Again, these are not often found except in the front row of Premium Economy; more commonly, just a footrest is provided. Cathay Pacific does have leg rests on its newer A350 premium seats, though.
Another feature that sets the new cabin apart is the luxurious-looking cocktail table with a wood-look finish. Throughout Premium Economy, the finishes look far more like a business class product than you may expect. The seats are covered with anti-stain cream leather, although it is hard to see how they won’t end up looking tired very quickly, even with that. As you would expect, the seats have new entertainment screens which at 13.3 inches, are larger than most others in Premium Economy. The cabin is situated on the upper deck of the A380, arguably the most fun place to sit. The layout is the usual 2-4-2 configuration, but the seats are a decent width at 19.5 inches.
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Elsewhere on board, the decor has been similarly refreshed with cream leather compared to the darker tones before. Business class has the previous iteration of the Emirates business class suite with direct aisle access, unlike their Boeing 777 business class. All 76 seats have been refreshed to feature champagne-colored leather covers and wood finishing, inspired by executive jets, similar to the Business Class on Emirates’ Boeing 777 new “Gamechanger” aircraft.
The standout change is the onboard bar, which is available for business and first class passengers. Again this used to be rather dark and old-fashioned, but the latest version feels lighter and more modern, with the accompanying lounge area having the feel of a private yacht. Finally, in First Class, the suites have been enhanced from the original suites, which featured sliding doors. The new version is slightly wider with taller doors, for more privacy, which is crucial in the current situation.
One of the most talked about features on Emirates A380, the onboard shower spa, has also been updated with new trim and fittings. The spa features beautiful murals of the Ghaf tree, which has become a new symbol for Emirates. The Ghaf is considered the national tree of the United Arab Emirates and has cultural and ecological significance.
While many other airlines are trying to cost cut, it is good to see airlines such as Emirates still investing in passenger experience. As travel returns, the competition will remain fierce for the reduced number of passengers. Emirates seems well-positioned with its latest developments to weather the storm.