Emirates is to embark on the biggest cabin refurbishment program in its history. Commencing in November and running through April 2025, the carrier will update the interiors of 120 aircraft with Premium Economy seats. Emirates starts rolling out Premium Economy – at last.

Emirates introduced Premium Economy in late 2020 with the delivery of its 118th Airbus A380, which entered commercial service on January 4, 2021. But it only has taken delivery of six A380s with 56 factory-fitted Premium Economy seats each until the last ever double-decker departed Hamburg on December 16, 2021. These aircraft operate on flights to London, Paris, and Sydney to give passengers a taste of the product, but until it would be rolled out across the fleet, Premium Economy has been a by-product.

That is to change in the coming 3,5 years as the airline brings in 120 aircraft into its own maintenance facilities of Emirates Engineering in Dubai for a complete cabin update. Out goes the current interior, including all seats, cabin walls, and carpets, to be replaced with refurbished and new ones. After a trial on the first A380 in July to establish the extent and time of the work, the job is to start in earnest in November. The program was already announced at last November’s Dubai Airshow when Emirates said that 52 A380s and 53 777s would get the update. These numbers have been slightly revised.

67 A380s to get the update first

The A380s are to be updated first, with now 67 aircraft selected for refurbishment. Although Emirates has taken delivery of 123 A380s since 2008, it had retired and parted out five of them by late March this year. A total of 73 aircraft are currently in service, but six of them will not receive the cabin update, which indicates that they will have been phased out before the project is completed.

Emirates says it plans to undertake refurbishments on four A380s per month at the same time, which requires two years to get all 67 done. Each conversion takes sixteen days or 1.000 manhours from 190 engineers. Next are 53 Boeing 777-300ERs which will take from early 2024 to April 2025 to be completed. In November, the carrier said that it was considering installing the new 1-2-1 Business Class product in the 777s, but it doesn’t make any reference to that in its August 17 press release.

In total, 2.640 Premium Economy seats will be installed, while 1.000 First Class seats, 5.799 Business Class seats, and 27.100 Economy Class seats will get a make-over and check on the combined A380 and 777 fleet.

Premium Economy an absolute necessity now

Emirates definitely is not an early adopter of Premium Economy. In fact, the Dubai carrier is rather behind many of the competition like Lufthansa, British Airways, Air Canada, Virgin Atlantic, and Cathay Pacific, to name just a few. While Premium Economy might have been perceived as a nice addition to the cabin product, the Covid crisis has changed this into a class that airlines absolutely need to have.

Many airlines have been reporting continued strong demand for Premium cabin seats from non-business travelers and see this is a trend there to stay. For instance, Air France-KLM and Lufthansa reported Premium load factors for Q2 of 82 percent and 80 percent respectively were higher than in 2019. And this is before KLM rolls out its new Premium Economy product from this autumn onwards. Iberia’s Premium leisure revenues were 20 percent higher in June from 2019, with British Airways reporting a full recovery of Premium leisure on routes to the Caribbean, Europe, and North America. So Emirates has no option but to follow others and you wonder why it didn’t act quicker after getting Premium on the first A380s in 2021.

Emirates is investing in total over $2.0 billion in cabin refurbishment and in-flight experience. On September 1, it will introduce new menus in Business and Economy as well as in First on selected routes. That includes caviar and Dom Perignon vintage champagne. The ICE inflight entertainment system will get an extra function to allow passengers to order ‘cinema snacks’. Cabin crew will get hospitality training in partnership with Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne.

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Active as journalist since 1987, starting with regional newspaper Zwolse Courant. Grand Prix reporter in 1997 at Dutch monthly Formule 1, general reporter Lelystad/Flevoland at De Stentor/Dagblad Flevoland, from 2002 until June 2021 radio/tv reporter/presentor with Omroep Flevoland.
Since mid-2016 freelance aviation journalist, since June 2021 fully dedicated to aviation. Reporter/editor AirInsight since December 2018. Contributor to Airliner World, Piloot & Vliegtuig. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

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