Readers regularly ask us why no Gulf-based airline offers a premium economy class.

It’s a valid question seeing as all the main rivals to Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways (the Gulf’s three main airlines) offer a premium economy cabin of one sort of another.

Analysts all have different reasons for the lack of interest in premium economy. Some say it’s because the Gulf carriers are in the volume game, others say it’s because of their complex networks while the Gulf carriers themselves maintain their economy classes are a match for rivals’ [premium economy] products.

There’s an element of truth in all these claims but things may be about to change.

Premium Economy was launched some 25 years ago. After a shaky start the superior economy class product, which offers passengers more spacious seating, has since been embraced by most if not all major airlines*.

Speaking at the recent IATA AGM in Dublin and quoted in UAE’s The National, Emirates president Sir Tim Clark revealed that premium economy was under consideration.

“There’s clear and present evidence that this is something [premium economy] we too should take seriously.”

Why the change of heart?

It’s because the falling oil price has harmed Emirates’ revenue. The carrier recently reported a sales decline with the proportion of first and business class passengers (the ones providing the most lucrative revenue) falling by 3.2 per cent.

Premium economy would enable Emirates to boost yield and attract those passengers who prefer to fly non-stop (from Europe) with rivals who offer a more comfortable and spacious product.

Of all the three main Gulf carriers it is probably Emirates (with its focus on operating large aircraft) which has a fleet tailor-made for premium economy.

Its large fleet of A380s and especially the two-class variant have the space for this product.

Some passengers taking a flight with Emirates’ B777 fleet, all of which are configured 10-across in economy, would welcome the option to upgrade to more spacious seating.

However I must sound a note of caution. When certain carriers introduced premium economy, there has been a trend of providing less in normal economy.

If Emirates were to launch premium economy, let’s hope its present economy class will not go the same way.

And if Emirates were to offer premium economy, its local rivals will be obliged to do likewise.

Alex McWhirter

* Cathay Pacific, Taiwan’s China Airlines and Singapore Airlines are the latest carriers to adopt premium economy. US carriers American and Delta say they will launch proper products in the not too distant future, while United has investigated premium economy but has not yet made a decision.