Emirates will follow the likes of British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Jet Airways and introduce proper flat bed seating in business class. At the same time the Dubai-based carrier will upgrade its first class suites and add extra legroom in economy class.
The new in-flight products will appear on Emirates' latest B777-300ER planes which are being delivered this month. They will also be fitted to a new fleet of B777-200LR planes which are joining the fleet from next August. Both aircraft types will feature on Emirates' longest and most prestigious routes.
The airline admits that the improvements have been passenger-driven. Says Tim Clark, Emirates' president, "Our premium customers tell us they want more personal space, particularly on long-haul travel and these considerations have been key in the development and refinement of our product."
"This massive investment widens our competitive edge in long-haul travel. We are spending UAE dirhams 180 million (GBP25 million) just to install our enhanced first class product onboard the new planes. This figure does not include the cost of the other seating nor does it cover the retrofit programme."
Over the next 18 months, Emirates will receive 24 planes fitted with the new product. It will also begin to retrofit its existing B777 long-haul fleet.
Emirates says the improvements to its first class suites aim at providing a "corporate jet quality" feel to the cabin. The suites are larger with extended floor space, more stowage room for hand baggage and a bigger personal wardrobe. A high cabin ceiling adds to the sense of space and passengers will be able to relax at the new communal first class bar area.
Business class passengers are getting fully flat massage seats. These recline to a 78 inch long fully flat bed which allow all passengers to recline fully without encroaching on the space of the traveller seated in the row behind. Emirates says it will fit "high privacy" dividers.
The new economy class seats are aimed at providing more legroom and comfort. The seats come with a fully adjustable winged headrest, wide flat footrest and articulated seat bottom pan for greater comfort.
The carrier's popular 'ice' inflight entertainment will be offered in all classes. The latest movies and music albums will be shown on LCD touch screens which are amongst the largest aloft: 23 inches in first, 17 inches in business and 10.6 inches in economy class.
In a three-class layout, Emirates new B777-300ERs will offer eight suites in first, 42 seats in business and 304 in economy class. The B777-200LRs will have the same accommodation in first and business class but the small economy cabin will accommodate 216 passengers.
It now seems certain that this style of seating will feature on some or all of the massive 47-strong fleet of Airbus A380 super jumbos which the carrier has on order (See Online News, June 14).
It is not clear whether or not this upgraded seating will ever be fitted to Emirates' existing fleet of Airbus A330s (which operate short to medium-haul routes) and A340s (which operate the carrier's longest flights but which may eventually be phased out in favour of more economical B777-200LRs).
For more information go to emirates.com.
Report by Alex McWhirter