Why Emirates Waited So Long to Add Premium Economy

emirate seat
emirate seat

No matter what Emirates President Tim Clark says, the airline probably wishes it had moved faster to add premium economy. Most airlines say it has been selling well, as customers are flush with more disposable income. Of course, if and when a recession hits, passengers will stop spending on these perks.

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Emirates expects to introduce its “exclusive” premium economy on newly delivered Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s in 2020 and then will retrofit much of its fleet, but will not put the product on aircraft it doesn’t expect to keep long-term, Emirates President Tim Clark told me last week in London.

If it happens on schedule, that’ll make Emirates as much as a decade behind an important trend. Most large airlines have premium economy, a product airline executives say has been selling well in a booming economy as cost-conscious travelers trade up. But Clark said the airline wanted to wait to make sure the investment was worth its cost.

“I don’t think we waited too long, because the yields we have been getting out of our [existing] premium cabins have been growing very significantly,” he said at the Aviation Festival, an industry conference. “There was always a concern we would end up diluting that, and people would start trading down. That’s probably why we were a bit slow.”

As he often does with product announcements, Clark played it coy, declining to share what the new seats will include, though he hinted they could be more opulent than what some competitors fly. Still, he said the new seats, designed by the airline and built by an established seat manufacturer, won’t be too over-the-top because Emirates wants to protect its existing premium franchise.

“You don’t want to have product so luxurious it causes people to come down from business,” he said. “But equally you need to persuade people to go up from economy.”

Read more of my interview, including Clark’s view on Fifth Freedom flights between Europe in the United States, in the story I wrote from London.