Emirates is finally getting rid of its middle seats in business class. At least a few of them. On some planes. And also scrapping first class on that sub-fleet at the same time.
The Dubai-based carrier’s fleet of Boeing 777s fly with a 2-3-2 layout in business class today and even the prior upgrade to that product – including a shift from angle-flat to full-flat seats – kept the middle seat in the premium cabin. That move was seen as questionable by many pundits. This was not a matter of not delivering direct aisle access for all passengers, generally seen as the gold standard (or a minimum requirement for proper business class to some). The carrier was pushing a premium product reputation while still delivering middle seats in the business class cabin. Fortunately the ten 777-200LRs in Emirates’ fleet will see that disappear this year as a new offering arrives.
While the Business Class seats are in the same design and shape of Emirates’ latest lie-flat seats, they are now two inches wider for a more comfortable journey. The seats retain the champagne coloured finish and diamond stitch pattern on the full leather cover, and the ergonomically designed headrest revealed on Emirates’ newest Boeing 777 in November.
The new seats are a 2-2-2 lie-flat layout, adding an extra two inches of width to every seat but otherwise keeping the same newer seats as the other 777s in the fleet. Fort Lauderdale will be the first destination to see the new cabin, with service beginning on Tuesday, March 6th.
The retrofit also comes with some removals on board. First class is disappearing from the 777-200LR fleet as the new business class seats are installed. This makes sense in many ways, given the relative weakness in first class cabin sales on many routes, especially where a true flat bed business class option exists. Many airlines are seeing the flat beds in business class cannibalize first class sales. Even Emirates is familiar with that shift, taking newer A380s without a first class cabin since late 2015. The Emirates business class offering does not deliver anywhere close to the same level of privacy as a proper first class offering but getting to a place with no middle seats may be sufficient.
The Business Class seat has a pitch of 72 inches and moves into a fully flat sleeping position. It also has touchscreen controls for the seat and inflight entertainment system, several personal lighting options, privacy panels between seats, a shoe stowage area, footrest and a personal mini-bar.
The carrier is also removing the overhead bins in the center of the business class cabin, delivering the more open feel that is popular today. That openness also contributes to challenges with bag storage and noise carrying through the forward cabin, but it is a very common choice for new cabins. Qatar Airways and Delta Air Lines both chose that on their new A350s, for example.
Emirates is also adding a “bar” area to the 777-200LRs, though not nearly as significant as its A380 version. The “mini lounge area” on the 77Ls “features snacks such as crisps, sandwiches and fruit, as well as beverages for customers to help themselves to during the flight.” There are no partitions between the social area and the seats, similar to how the Qatar Airways A350 version is designed. And, similar to the more open overhead space due to no bins, the new bar area creates potential for noise challenges at the adjacent seats.
Removing the middle seats in business class is a winning play. It was also a smart choice a decade ago. While this change for Emirates is undoubtedly good news for business class passengers relative to the old layout it also does not bring the carrier onto a leaderboard of any current business class offerings. Direct aisle access would be necessary at a minimum to realize that.
Oh, the new layout also features an additional 44 economy class seats on board, traded for the removal of 12 premium cabin seats.