Emirates’ A380s Won’t Get New First Class Suites Until At Least 2021

Late last year Emirates unveiled a killer new first class suite, currently only available on select Boeing 777 aircraft. This new first class is brilliant, and based on my flight in this cabin in January from Dubai to Brussels, I think it’s the world’s best first class. Not only is the product beautiful and the most private first class in the sky, but the attention to detail is second-to-none.


Emirates’ new 777 first class

There’s only one problem with Emirates’ new first class, and it’s quite a major one. Specifically, the rollout of these beautiful cabins will be very limited. When Emirates first announced these new cabins, they said that they’d install the new first class seats on at most nine 777-300ERs by the end of 2019.

On one hand I have to give them credit for managing expectations upfront, though at the same time that’s disappointing. Emirates’ new first class will be used for marketing, but in practice very few people will actually experience it. Furthermore, Emirates didn’t have a timeline for when they’d install the new first class on their A380s.

Emirates has a fleet of over 250 widebody aircraft, so to have the new cabins on ~3.5% of the fleet after over two years is underwhelming.

This week at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Emirates president Tim Clark shared some more insight into what we can expect with the development of Emirates’ new first class. He said that the customer response to the new first class has been “spectacular,” and that they’ve seen increased bookings on the routes featuring the new suites. Despite that, don’t expect this product on a significant number of planes. Specifically:

  • Emirates A380s won’t get the new first class suites until 2021 at the earliest, meaning that even the A380s that they recently ordered won’t be delivered with the new first class
  • Emirates still hasn’t decided whether to reconfigure existing 777s with the new first class
  • Emirates will install the new first class suites on 777Xs and 787-10s, for which deliveries start in a few years


Emirates’ old A380 first class

So, why does Emirates have such hesitation in installing these new suites? According to FlightGlobal, it’s because the reconfiguration process is really expensive, and also really difficult:

Clark says the first-class suite’s installation is “really difficult” and requires extensive certification efforts, which is why the equipment will not be ready when deliveries of the new A380s begin in 2020.

This is also the reason why the airline appears not to have decided whether to retrofit the suites to its existing fleet. Clark says the retrofit would be a considerable challenge “if we do it”.

He estimates the update would cost “$30 million per aircraft… maybe more”.

As I’ve said, I think Emirates’ new first class suite is industry leading, though how much is that worth if the cabins can’t be installed on planes in a (relatively) economical and timely manner? Wouldn’t it be better to install an improved first class product that’s more reasonably priced and easier to get certified, if that’s the case?

As of now Emirates’ new first class is available to Brussels and Geneva, and as of this summer it will be available to London and Munich. It’s a shame that no ultra longhaul flights have the new suites yet, because that’s where they’d be most valuable.

Comments

  1. news and pics of LH’s new business class for A320/321neo are out on other blogs. They simply trashed LH, just as bad as you did with BA’s club europe seats.

    Will you trash it too or do we still have a particular soft spot for anything German?

  2. I don’t think it’s quite the same as Polaris. I’m not an Emirates fan by any means, but I think their current first class still holds up pretty well, even if it does look a little dated (and in my opinion, gaudy), whereas United current business is completely dated and lacking the features expected of a top-notch international business class product (i.e., direct aisle access, no middle seat), so they need the upgrade to Polaris much faster.

    Also I live in London, and when Polaris was initially launched I recall lots of adverts about it (I particularly recall at Waterloo station the long passage where the travelators are, the entire length of the passage had Polaris ads). I’ve not seen many ads about the new Emirates first, I don’t think they’ve been as vocal about its launch.

  3. Will the 787-10 be single aisle to accommodate? The 777x can’t come soon enough either. Most of the best first classes are on the 777, so it will be nice when they get that model on the same level as 787s and 350s

  4. This isn’t a bad thing. Emirates A380 first class is an excellent yet different product, and I love the on onboard bar and shower way more than I would the additional privacy. You may feel different, preferring the enclosed suite. However, we can both select the product we like better, and options are good. And miles above Polaris (no pun intended).

  5. Which would be the first US-based destination served by the new first class? I hear it’s Chicago, is it right? If so – when?

  6. @ T. — While that has been rumored, I wouldn’t count on it. They have so few planes with the new first class, so I doubt we’ll see any US service with the new 777 anytime soon.

  7. Wow. 30 million per aircraft to reconfigure the existing fleet? They will never recover that investment in the remaining years these aircraft will be in service. This would be a very easy decision for any publicly held company. The ROI simply isn’t there. The money could, and should, be spent elsewhere.

  8. Gregg – exactly. Take $30m and put it in an investment fund and see what it’s worth over 10 years.

    That’s what EK has to make *additionally* to its current first class to justify a retrofit.

    Never gonna happen

  9. Oh!!..sad, I love this new suite!..this suite and the shower onboard whatever aircraft type..would always make me consider booking EK…SQ dropped the ball with its new product..AF’s F hard product needs a suite like this new EK product and will be very strong competitor..CX should not disappoint and look to EK..make it finally fully closed! Whatever F product is coming out in the near future EK new fully closed suite, regarding the hard product, is the benchmark in the industry!!

  10. @Brad +1
    Hyping a product years in advance of actually providing it seems to be the new playbook. Seems like a sham – trick people into believing they’re getting a new hard product by providing a few soft product perks and a big ad campaign. As we seen from Polaris, many of the soft product offerings have been either discontinued or are “on demand,” all the while, the hard product is sparse.

  11. Having flown in the new product, I take exception with the assertion that, “There’s only one problem with Emirates’ new first class”. For those who like over-the-top bling and only travel by themselves, I can see where they enjoy the continuation of the rampant glitz and sparkle inside smallish chair-suites that Emirates is offering on limited flights. The airlines are forcing us into large cabins of cramped business class seats by limiting/reducing the amount of comfortable, spacious and tasteful first class seating available. By distracting us with sparkly baubles they hope we won’t notice how fast First Class is getting axed from fleets.

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