Emirates airline unveils new premium economy, expects to hit demand sweet spot

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Emirates said installing premium-economy seats across the bulk of its fleet will take 18 months to two years as the Gulf airline targets what it hopes will be a sweet spot in demand following the coronavirus crisis.

Tickets for the new berths, pitched between existing coach and business-class products, go on sale next month, after which Emirates will focus on retrofitting the cabins in more than 100 Airbus SE A380 and Boeing Co. 777 wide-body planes, Chairman Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed al-Maktoum said Tuesday.

Premium Economy in an Emirates flight cabin. (File photo)
Premium Economy in an Emirates flight cabin. (File photo)

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“We are so pleased to introduce the new category in premium economy,” he told Bloomberg Television in an interview in Dubai, where Emirates is based.

Emirates is relatively late to the market with a premium economy offering that’s long been popular at many other major carriers.

Premium Economy cabin in an Emirates flight cabin. (File photo)
Premium Economy cabin in an Emirates flight cabin. (File photo)

It finally resolved before COVID-19 hit to add the new class, a decision that’s looking fortuitous after the pandemic upended travel patterns, hurting demand for long-haul business trips but boosting premium-leisure bookings.

Sheikh Ahmed said he’s confident the carrier will need no further financial support from its government owner as demand rebounds from the pandemic, and will start repaying AED 15 billion ($4 billion) as dividends by the end of the fiscal year.

“Since the start of this financial year we are solid, we are in the green, we’ve built up the cash that we need for the company,” he said. “The way the world is opening, that will continue.”

Premium Economy in an Emirates flight cabin. (File photo)
Premium Economy in an Emirates flight cabin. (File photo)

Staffing Squeeze

Emirates aims to return to full capacity by the end of 2022 and to break even over the period having been profitable since the start of the year, though there’s no certainty over when vital Asian markets will reopen, he said.

Recruitment remains an issue, with the airline seeking employees in all departments, from cabin crew to ground handling. Staffing is currently at about 80 percent of former levels, while training facilities are at maximum capacity.

Work on runway at Dubai International airport is also being undertaken a year earlier in anticipation of increased demand as more markets open up across the world, Sheikh Ahmed told reporters.

Emirates may need to adjust the phasing out of older aircraft to cope with further setbacks to the first deliveries of Boeing’s new 777X jetliner, he said, though the company isn’t currently talking about compensation for the delays.

Russia Routes

Emirates is benefiting from continued flights to Russia after sanctions imposed following the Ukraine invasion forced other airlines to halt services, though the operations represent a “fraction of the wider business,” the chairman said.

“Dubai is doing the right thing,” he said. “If things are under sanctions then they will apply it, if they are not under sanctions they will not.”

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