Emirates Continues To Have A Terrible Business Class Seat, And They Can Get Away With It

Filed Under: Emirates

Earlier today we learned the details of Emirates’ new first class suite, which will debut on their 777-300ER this December. The product looks incredible, though I also think it’s important to highlight one aspect of Emirates’ experience that’s less-than-impressive, which they’re also quite disingenuously hyping.

The past several years we’ve seen quantum leaps in terms of the quality of business class. Many business class products nowadays look better than many first class products did a few years ago. For example, look at Qatar’s incredible new Qsuites.

Arguably they look better than their A380 first class seats.

Well, if there’s one airline that’s not at risk of cannibalizing their first class demand with business class, it’s Emirates. While they’ve introduced stunning new first class suites, they’ve also announced updates to their business class product… which continues to feature seven seats per row.

Essentially they’re keeping the same seats, but are changing the finishes a bit, to feel more like a “modern sports car.” Here’s how Emirates describes the seats:

The design and shape of Emirates’ Business Class seat onboard the new 777 was also inspired by the interior of a modern sports car, with a diamond stitch pattern on the full leather cover, ergonomically designed headrest, and a sleek overall look and feel.

The seat has a pitch of 72 inches and moves into a fully-flat sleeping position. It also has touchscreen controls for the seat and inflight entertainment system, several personal lighting options, privacy panels between seats, a shoe stowage area, footrest, and a personal mini-bar.

And here are pictures:

On the plus side, at least the seats are fully flat. Previous versions of the seats weren’t, so if you’re flying on most of Emirates’ 777s, you’ll find yourself in angled business class seats. The angle is pretty mild so you can sleep comfortably, but it’s an angle nonetheless.

Emirates says they plan to introduce a new business class product on their 777-8 and 777-9 aircraft, which they’ll start taking delivery of in 2020.

However, Emirates’ A380s do feature fully flat business class seats with direct aisle access, and they also have an awesome onboard bar. That’s great if you’re flying the A380, but if you’re not…

I think all of this is worth specifically pointing out since Emirates is known for being one of the world’s best airlines, yet they have a pitiful business class hard product on their 777s, which is the backbone of their longhaul fleet. Could you imagine thinking you’re booking one of the world’s best airlines, and ending up alone in a middle seat on a 777? It’s embarrassing.

But the truth is that Emirates can get away with it, partly because they have generally attractive fares, and partly because Emirates is incredible at marketing, so it doesn’t bother people much.

For example, with United’s Polaris debut, I’m amazed by how many people have flown Polaris since United introduced it on one of their old planes, and commented on how great the new seat was. I’ve received dozens and dozens of comments, emails, etc., from people saying “I loved the new Polaris 787 seat.” None of the 787s have the new seats.

Emirates spends a lot on sponsorships and has global brand recognition, and therefore people expect it to be a great experience. They also market the A380 onboard bar quite a bit. Passengers have a positive bias coming in, and typically they won’t be disappointed, even though the product isn’t that great. Socially I constantly hear people talk about how they flew Emirates, and then someone comments “I love Emirates, they’re the best.” It’s the cool thing to say.

It’s not just that Emirates’ business class seat isn’t great on the 777, but unlike Qatar Airways, they don’t offer pajamas in business class, and unlike Etihad and Qatar, they don’t offer dine on demand in business class, though they’re starting to trial it. It’s just not a competitive business class product on the 777.

Bottom line

In my opinion Emirates should be embarrassed by the business class seats they have on the 777. It’s one thing if they had announced a new product and not all the planes had it yet, but in this case they don’t have a better business class seat on any of their 777s, and haven’t even announced concrete details of a new product to be introduced in the future. All we have is a promise of something new coming in 2020, and then who knows how many years it will be until a majority of the 777s have those seats.

The truth is that I can’t blame Emirates. They can get away with it, because they’re great at marketing. It’s similar to how US airlines are terrible at marketing — they have among the most consistently good business class hard products in the world, but people come in expecting the experience to be bad.

The halo effect that Emirates gets from their global sponsorships, their onboard bar, their minibar at each seat, Dubai’s perceived glamor, etc., really pays dividends.

Are you surprised that Emirates still hasn’t introduced a new business class product? Do you think people are unfairly positive towards it?

Comments
  1. OMG this is 2017 and Emirate, as one of the best airlines in the world, still installs 2-3-2 business class seats? Can’t believe.

  2. Business class on Emirates regularly sees yields of 90% plus, and eliminating seats on the 777 (in favor of a 1-2-1) isn’t really an option. The A380 with its space allowed for 1-2-1 layout which works with the volumess involved (correct me if I’m wrong but with 76 seats it is one of the largest business cabins out there. I have regularly seen families fly Emirates business class and they do seem to appreciate being seated together.

  3. These are Arabic carriers. Some of the flight attendants should have belly dance shows.

    This is appreciating their culture.

  4. I think it’s a wise strategy. For some reason I still want to fly on this sleek new business class designed seat even if it’s in 2-3-2 configuration. Emirates does a great job in cramming in seats yet maintaining comfort. It was one of the first airlines back in 1997 to install 3-4-3 seating in 777 economy when most other carriers were 2-5-2 or 3-3-3. But now, other airlines are following the Emirates’ example. Coming back to the topic, the seat does look pretty comfy and reminds me of a mini-hotel room.

  5. Morley,

    A number of US airlines, and BA, have 8-across in business class, so it’s all relative.

    What Emirates are really doing here is differentiating First from Business. My wife often tells me that “she doesn’t see much difference between First ad Business” on some airlines. I do because I notice more about these things but even so, she has a point.

    What Emirates are saying is that there is a big gulf (geddit?) between Economy and Business, AND between Business and First. And maybe that means Business can be cheaper for those who want to upgrade from Economy. Or that they sell more First tickets.

    People forget that Business class seats are typically the most profitable for an airline than the other classes. If you could sell them out on every flight, as BA does, why wouldn’t you do 7 or 8 across?

  6. Don’t understand and probably won’t understand all the hype surrounding Emirates. Out of the 4 times I’ve flown them it’s all so “meh” with service standards you’ll easily get in a 3- or 4-star boutique hotel. I’ll stick to Cathay Pacific, far eastern, and southeast asian carriers for as much as I can where the flight attendants show genuine interest in being there for the job.

    Qatar Airways is the only middle eastern carrier in which I have interest, at least until Etihad moves to their new terminal. Trying Oman next February from LHR to KUL. It’s always the little guys who have to fight harder. Can’t wait!

  7. UA is the only US (or even North American…) carrier that has 8-across seating. None of American nor Delta’s widebody aircrafts have angled flat seats…

    Emirates’ been decent when it comes to advertising and PR. A lot of people just believe (without question) that Emirates is far superior in every criteria against its European or North American counterparts. While I can say EK’s soft product is still superior to that of EK’s Euro and US/Canadian counterparts, I can’t really say the same for their hard product (especial on 777s).

    Their PR achievement works the same for economy class travellers as well. As someone (could’ve been Lucky or some other travel blogger) mentioned, airlines like Air India or British Airways has superior economy hard product (as AI and BA’s 777s have 9-across seating, while EK has 10 across). Still, people choose Emirates over AI or BA just because they think Emirates is “better.”

    If they can keep the ticket price low, then I do see something coming out of it. But if not, then idk

    And when it comes to comparing BA vs EK, BA does have a reason to push on with their inferior club world product. They got London (which is one of the world’s three major economic hubs, alongside Tokyo and NYC), and that’y why BA’s confident. For many travellers (especially corporate travellers) flying BA, they’re flying BA because they have to get to London as efficiently as possible. Swiss or Air France can offer vastly superior product, but corporate travellers would not want to waste a few extra hours connecting through other European hubs.
    But for Dubai, it’s less of a “major economic hub.” And many of Emirates’ passengers are connecting (thus their final destination isn’t Dubai). This means some might choose to fly other Gulf carriers and connect at other Gulf hub airports.

  8. >It’s similar to how US airlines are terrible at marketing — they have among the most consistently good business class hard products in the world

    Haha, no. How embarrassing for you.

  9. Agreed. If they wanted to maintain 2-3-2 seating, and I’m not saying they should, they could have at least gone for the Apex configuration JAL uses. The new product they unveiled is just sad.

  10. @Raul
    Agreed.

    I would go with reverse herringbone seats and inferior service over Emirates’ (what’s supposed to be) “world class” soft product and mediocre (at best) hard product.

    And as you said Emirates’ service is not even that great. Their expansion’s been quite rapid, and it seems like they can’t maintain the service standards they once had. Seems like the company had to hire too many people to keep up the pace with its ever expanding fleet.

  11. Good analysis, however I would disagree with your bargain argument. Flying from Europe, it’s qatar that offers great sales, both in business and eco All the time! Emirates, not so much

  12. Martin,

    Only one US airline–United–does 8 abreast seating in business on a 777. And United is in the process of retrofitting all of its existing international 777s to install a 1-2-1 configuration.

    Delta’s entire international wide body fleet is 1-2-1, as is all or nearly all of American’s. The hard products on US airlines in business class has improved dramatically over the past decade.

  13. Anon said:

    >The hard products on US airlines in business class has improved dramatically over the past decade.

    … as opposed to non-US airlines? Fact of the matter is US airlines are a joke compared to the rest of the world, bar poverty-stricken areas like Africa and in corruption-welfare junkies like Latin America.

  14. It is also important to note that most of their premium and long haul routes are served on a 380 which is a solid business class product. A lot of other shorter routes served by other airlines are on A32X/737 etc, but Emirates serves those on 777, so they again have a good competitive product if not better. So, it makes sense that people are happier with Emirates in either scenario.

  15. Having just flown the new United Polaris seat on their new 777-300ER’s, I have to actually say that the seat is far better than Emirates. I can’t believe I’m actually saying this…!

  16. @ n

    But BA has already committed to moving to all-direct aisle access in J. Emirates hasn’t. Instead we have to wait and see what they’re going to propose in, er, 2020.

    I don’t mind Emirates J on their A380s, though the cabins are so vast that it feels a bit factory-like (even though their staff are usually lovely). But there are much better options on most routes.

  17. @Martin,

    Agree with your point (although personally I would actually take BA’s 8-across club world over the 7-across all-forward Emirates seat).

    I think it’s key to remember that Emirates is one of the few airlines still offering 3-cabin first, biz, coach service on all their flights, while most airlines have switched to Biz/PE/coach (with some like BA, AF, CX offering four cabins on premium routes). In that context Emirates is clearly imposing a differentiation of their business class from first, and the competitive fares reflect that. This is also why they can get away with such an inferior product to QR, which has done away with first on all but a small handful of flights, making business their premier product.

    Their marketing is great but in reality business class is meant to be an upper-middle-market product in their 3 class cabin. If you want top end luxury, fly first.

    Also worth noting that EK appears to be by far the most profitable gulf carrier, so why change a model that works so well for them?

  18. @saurabh

    You do have a point.
    But there are quite a few of Emirates’ long haul routes that are operated by 777s. Most of Emirates’ North American destinations are served by 777s (and they’re ultra long haul as well). Cities that I can think of are Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Washington DC, Boston, San Fransisco, Seattle and Fort Lauderdale. Actually, I think all North American cities but New York (JFK), Los Angeles and Toronto are served by 777s. (On top of this, Osaka and Tokyo-Haneda are served by 777s as well)
    If they want to stay competitive in North American market, they’ll need to come up with a different hard product for those 777s that are going to be flying long haul. No one would ever want to pay a few thousands dollars to fly that for 12 to 16 hours if they know Qatar and Etihad’s got superior products that allows direct aisle access and has way more privacy.

    And for short to medium haul flight within the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia, you’re correct.

  19. I don’t see a bargain proposition with this “new” business class seat. I would never pay for it, even if it is cut rate from US carrier prices. Maybe the marketing ploy works for some but you can’t mask a bad hard product by offering a few soft product perks. It’s still a seven across, crowded cabin. And frankly, this new design looks garish and outdated.

  20. Um no the Q Suite is not arguably better than Qatar’s F in the A380. Why would you even say that? The pictures in the review confirmed the available space for a passenger in the Q Suite is much more typical of a business class seat. What is this obsession over sliding doors and a fouresome?

  21. @Saurabh @Varun Susarla

    And you would both be wrong, the B777 are used on longer flights to western Europe, Asia and Australia outside A32X/737 range to secondary cities often in direct competition with Etihad and Qatar who offer better products. It also in some cases used on second daily’s to city’s with A380 operation.

    And don’t forget that QR now fly a number of A320’s with flat bed in 2-2 config in J on shorter flights, and this will only get worse as A320NEO’s (especially the A321LR) will be able to compete on longer flights also.

    Finally the biggest problem is that the boss of EK said they will only be getting 1-2-1 on the B77X starting in 2020.

    Having a 2-3-2 product is not industry leading in 2017, but it’s not totally horrible either. What is horrible is installing it on new planes in 2017 and claiming it’s good product.

    Meaning it will be until 2023-25 before most of their B777 fleet gets rid of 2-3-2, and they will be getting increasingly unable to compete on product as the 20’s roll on.

  22. Not surprised at all. Emirates is a budget carrier with cheap business and cheap economy class fares. The only way tonhave that and to try to be responsible to shareholders is tobcram in as many seats as possible. That’s what this layout does. And in general most people I know who’ve taken the 777 in J said it was comfortable and they enjoyed the IFE. Sure, they could make it 4 across but to keep the same number of seats they’d have to take up coach seats. Given that they’re bottom feeders who subsist on selling cheap fares to long haul leisure passengers, giving up that many economy seats with no ability to generate a revenue premium for J would be financially irresponsible. I’m not surprised at all that they do this. Maybe talk to people who have tried the product to see how it is, I’ve heard nothing but positive reviews.

  23. @Darin

    I think Lucky prefer his privacy which is a bit lacking in a open first class suite such as the QR A380’s.

    The F seat it self is still better in my opinion as I thought the new B777 J seat was a bit of damp squid when they released it. It’s just that the F cabin could use some more privacy, simply adding curtains ala AF B777 F cabin would probably get you 90-95 % of the way.

    Don’t get me wrong the new J cabin is much better than the old one, but does not live up to all the expectations His whateverness built up before hand.

  24. @Jason

    The problem is that EK in many cases does not charge budget prices for their J product. In many cases they charge the same as a direct flight on a plane with better product on carriers like SQ, LX or CX even if one of the legs are on B777 with angle flat.

  25. Lucky saying the 777 is ‘the backbone of their fleet’ is confusing and doesn’t actually mean anything. It would be much more helpful and clear if you said ‘the 777 is the majority of their fleet’ or ‘they have more 777s than any other aircraft type’

  26. I like it. If I want pampering, I fly F. But in C all I really look for is lie flat seats at a low price, so that does the trick. Well done EK

    Not so much for F, as one of the features I value most is the ability to dine face to face, the new EK First is actually terrible to fly together (as Lucky pointed out), so for me Yay Business Class, Boo First Class

  27. I agree with Darin. QR A380’s F looks great. Lots of space and windows. Have been on Emirates J and F on A380. Both seats on the small side and windows were small. Soft product was acceptable, but hard product not to my liking. New F seats look much better, but the enclosed suite looks claustrophobic.

  28. looks like Emirates were saving their cash to purchase $15bn of 787’s………

    Ps also looks like the end of the A380 at the same time……..

  29. Lucky, I agree that Emirates does a great job of marketing the product it has, but I sort of disagree that American carriers are bad at marketing. Unlike the ME3, AA/Delta/UA have been in business for many, many decades and have enjoyed reliable customer bases during that time. The ME3 are relative newcomers and have carved out their own market niche by offering flashy premium products and effectively operating as tourism arms of their respective governments.

    Certainly, AA, Delta or UA could offer on-board bars, showers and lounges if they so desired, but at the end of the day they are responsible to their shareholders, and doing so would almost certainly be a poor financial decision. Instead, they’re enjoying record profits with their current products. Meanwhile, as the ME3 airlines are finally deciding (being forced) to turn profits, we’re seeing minor cut after minor cut (e.g., chauffeur service, champagne brand, etc.). The ME3 built their reputations on these flashy offerings, but the difference between them and US carriers are evaporating as they see that maximizing profits and offering unnecessary luxuries are mutually exclusive.

  30. @ William Y.

    I’m sure people on this blog will value your uninformed, unsubstantiated opinions of US business-class quality over the author of this post, who has flown nearly every premium product in the world several times over. Thanks for your contribution!

  31. @Peter

    So that is why the price of PRG-DXB-BKK has doubled in price this winter compared to earlier years!

    Was look at this route for a friend and could not understand why they were charging only 200-300 USD less than EU carriers on this route like Turkish or Finnair on widebodies.

    At lest they will still sell you oneway saver flights as and not charge you flexible ticket prices like the legacies.

  32. Personally, similar to Lucky, I like the (mostly Zodiac) reverse herringbone most (e.g. on AA, CX, BR, the newest AF product). Second comes the Solstice staggered seat, which also provides good space, direct aisle access (e.g. on IB, EY). However, the Solstice product has quite variable quality depending on the seat position: Window seats are ideal for solo travellers, the center seat pair is great for couples … and, well, the aisle seats are rather poor, as you are not protected against the aisle and get bumped frequently.

    Now, all the other product have quite significant disadvantages, such as the lack of direct aisle access (e.g. EK, TK, BA), the lack of direct access plus very small foot wells (e.g. LH Group carriers), etc. Sometimes, also similar looking seats are different in size (e.g. the TK 777 seats are very spacious; while TK 333 seats look almost exactly the same but are shorter and narrower). Personally, I find narrow seats/foot wells most disturbing – actually more disturbing than the lack of direct aisle access.

    So in that sense, I would rate the EK seat somewhere in the middle.

  33. Like most people in America, the West, Asia, Europe, we simply don’t need to fly to the Middle East so there’s not much chance to fly the Gulf 3. But you emphasize these carriers like they are the biggest, most important and carrying the most pax in the world. Need more focus on the populace!

  34. Emirates’ Business Class hard product in their new 777s is positioned between Singapore Airlines’ Premium Economy and real biz class like Qatar’s. As long as EK keeps their biz class airfare low relative to most other airlines, I have no problem with that as I know I’m getting what I’m paying for and I would call it Ultra-Premium Economy Class.

  35. The reality is that Emirates 777 and A380 business products vary abysmally. Just flew the A380 last night and I enjoyed the seat and the bar… however, the service was not top notch… no express arrival cards in Melbourne, asked for my entree not to be served as I have a seafood allergy, the salmon was there… the air hostess realised about it 20 min later, forgetting my wine as well. Dessert was too dense and they dropped the top part of my mousse.

    Some staff really looked that they were hating their job… The people serving at the bar redeemed their colleagues! EK is not what it used to be, QR probably does a better job, even QF has better customer service (although, those seats… *sighs*).

  36. I commute from the US East Coast (once or twice monthly) to Saudi and Dubai.
    Frankly, I agree with the majority of the above assessments noted above.
    Emirates (unless on a 380) Business Class product is now where as good as Air France, Delta, Saudia or even BA. I used to be a gold status customer on Emirates. I now avoid flying Emirates.
    Unbelievable when Saudi Airlines improves to the point that its B Class is superior to Emirates.

  37. I am a tad cofused here… in the OMAAT article 8 Of The Best Business Class Products I’ve Flown you didnt actually rate EK in the top 8, in fact they were not rated at all.. but now say that its (EK) is known for being one of the world’s best airlines… just cant see that.

  38. @Lucky – Emirates has fully flat business class seats on some newer 777’s with the same product (though different wood colors)

  39. “But the truth is that Emirates can get away with it, partly because they have generally attractive fares ”

    Uh….are u joking. Its like 8,000 business LAX-DXB…..

  40. Why is everyone here saying Emirates has generally low fares? Please tell me where all of you are based at so I can move there and take advantage of those fares too! Whenever I check Emirates is at best in the middle and most of times one of the top 3 expensive options. That being said I still like to fly them as the overall experience is good, but the hard product really is not competitive with Qatar, Oman or Etihad.

    @Kerry
    Emirates is absolutely not offering 3 cabin service on all flights, especially lower priority destinations in Asia never see a first.

  41. Lucky states:
    For example, with United’s Polaris debut, I’m amazed by how many people have flown Polaris since United introduced it on one of their old planes, and commented on how great the new seat was.

    I flew Polaris on a new UA 777-300 and I was not impressed with the seat; somewhat claustrophobic in my opinion, and when full flat the shoulder room leaves a lot to be desired. Count me on the other side.

  42. The Emirates seat are so much wider and longer than the BA coffins, the AF A380 shit seats, the hard prison planks of LH or the backwards facing crap UA installs. But hey… ‘they get away with it cuz they’re cheap’. Yea… that must be it.

  43. Well, at least the seats are a bit stylish…definitely nicer looking than BA’s super-crowded business class.

    Which is the nicest thing one can say, I suppose.

  44. Dennis,

    Isn’t Saudia a dry airline though?

    If so, it can’t be as good as the others unless you are teetotal

  45. You can look for a airline consolidator that have agreement with EK for private fares.
    Where I work the fare for a GRU/BKK rt is around $4575. The private fare is around $3050 in J

  46. I have to say, this seat is quite possible the most comfortable J seat I’ve sat in (tried it in ITB Berlin) but it doesn’t market well at all. I’ve tried pretty much every variant of the Cirrus/Super Diamond, Apex, as well as other seats.

    The thigh support is incredible and speaking from a purely comfort perspective (ignoring privacy/aisle access) as it’s essentially like one in an S Class or Flying Spur.

    On paper, it’s a terrible seat but when you actually sit in it, it’s actually extremely surprising and eyeopening.

    The qsuites, any reverse herringbone, as well as any other J seat on the market simply doesn’t have that cradle position that feels as if you’re on a luxury vehicle. The contours in the seat are simply not good. To be frank and some of you may think I am crazy, but in purely seat mode (I haven’t tried this seat in bed mode) it is more comfortable than in CX First as crazy that is.

    I would gladly fly in this seat on a flight 6 hours or less over a reverse herringbone.

    It may seem like a troll post but I am actually very serious about this. Give it a try on a daytime flight. Well maybe the experience may be different on a loaded flight condition but as an individual seat, it is very very comfortable.

  47. Yes, the service on EK is sometimes a hit or miss – although I find them friendly and competent most of the times. From *my point of view*, service on B777 is often better than A380 as J class as A380 J cabin is much more bigger than B777 and crews are often then very tired and not as great.

    However, other things on EK are still great! Good fares. DXB lounge is good, especially with direct gate access! – I don’t like Etihad lounges or AUH hub at all). I love the Bulgari amenity kits (yes, the pajamas are missing but still the content is pretty good!!). Food and drink selection never disappointed me to be honest. Alcohol and cocktails selection is good! I love *the ICE system* and I am that passenger who uses the entertainment system during most of the flights (instead using Wifi for working) so I truly value this a lot! 🙂

    Of course their F is much much better, hence explains the price difference. But I just get it when people rave about EK J product! 🙂

    @BenBen Emirates does have generally low fares for J/Y class – I am not sure about North American markets. But I often find attractive EK (and Etihad) fares for J from Europe (excl UK) to South(east) Asia, vice versa – I usually pay 2000-2500 EUR for round trip. It’s not super cheap but it’s cheaper than e.g. LH or SQ.

  48. Hi Ben,

    Have you try their New 2-3-2 Business Class. Why not hop on and tell us about your experience in this so called NEW REVAMP BUSINESS CLASS SEAT. Many of your fans eager to know your true review, pro and cons.

  49. Dear Lucky it is logical that the new product is only on short flights because the airline gets more money than on a long-hole flight.

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