Emirates Doubles-Down On Non-Competitive Business Class Seat

Filed Under: Emirates

Last week I wrote about Emirates announcing a new 777 business class seat at ITB Berlin, which is one of the world’s biggest travel trade shows. This new business class product will be available starting in November 2016, and will first be installed on the 170th Boeing 777 aircraft Emirates takes delivery of.


Emirates’ business class product on the 777 is in a 2-3-2 configuration, and isn’t even fully flat.



Here’s what Emirates said about the new product in a press release at the time:

Emirates will retain its current seat layout of 2-3-2 across its Boeing 777 Business Class cabins, as well the total number of Business Class seats per aircraft at 42. All newly delivered Boeing 777s after the arrival of the first aircraft in November will have these new seats on-board. The seats are manufactured by the United States based B/E Aerospace at their facilities in Ireland and North Carolina in the US.

While I have a ton of respect for Emirates President Tim Clark, I think he’s way off base in his perception of their 7-abreast business class product:

“Our current Boeing 777 Business Class seats are already an industry-leading premium product, and what this new seat does is to take that design and comfort to the next level. We gave the seat a fresh and modern look, retained all the existing features that our customers love and added a few more, while improving the seating and sleeping comfort,” said Sir Tim Clark, President, Emirates Airline.

“Providing our customers with the best possible experience has always been at the heart of any new product development at Emirates. It’s evolution as well as revolution. We are always working towards the next big leap, but at the same time we continually look at the little ways we can enhance what we already offer. We believe this new Business Class seat further strengthens the experience and value proposition for our premium customers. We are very excited about the arrival of our first Boeing 777 later this year with the new seats, and to see how our customers will respond to it, which I’m optimistic will be positive,” he added.

Calling the current 777 business class product industry leading is preposterous.

Since Emirates said the new product would be in a 2-3-2 configuration, my hope was that they’d go with the Apex Suite, which is offered by Japan Airlines, Korean Air, and Oman Air, and is one of my favorite business class products.

Oman-Air-787-Business-Class - 5

Well, ITB Berlin is now underway, and Emirates has revealed their new business class product. Business Traveller has details of the new product.

Here’s a short video they have of the new seats:

So the new product will be fully flat, while the old one was at a slight angle (though not a terrible one). But worst of all, over 40% of the seats won’t have direct aisle access, and there will continue to be a center seat.

It’s amazing that this is the new product that Emirates, regarded as one of the world’s best airlines, will be installing later this year.

For me this just really underscores how brilliant the Middle Eastern carriers are at marketing. The perception is that business class on Emirates is better than on any US carrier. However, most planes in the longhaul fleets of American and Delta feature direct aisle access from every seat in business class. I’m sure that would sound awfully nice to someone seated in the middle seat in Emirates business class.

American’s 777 business class product

Bottom line

It’s extremely disappointing that this is the future of Emirates business class. If you’re going to fly Emirates in business class, you’ll want to stick to their A380, which at least has direct aisle access from every seat.

This product really is quite uncompetitive, especially compared to what’s offered on Etihad (which has direct aisle access from every seat in their longhaul fleet) and Qatar (which has reverse herringbone seats on most of their fleet, and at least doesn’t have middle seats on their 777s).

Equally puzzling is that they’d choose to showcase these seats at ITB Berlin. This event is meant for showing off the best an airline has to offer. You’d think Emirates would quietly install this product or at least not display it publicly, since I imagine it’s not really competitive compared to all the other products being shown off there.

To be more blunt, I think they should be embarrassed to show this off as their new product, but it seems they view it differently…

What do you make of Emirates’ new 777 business class seat?

  1. That middle seat looks CRAMPED. It also looks like the seat partitions have been extended further out, meaning it’ll be more difficult to get in/out of the middle seat.

  2. The passengers assigned to the middle seats better be given double miles as compensation even on award tickets.

  3. It may suck, but it’s economics. People pay for it. Until people desert them in droves OR until their average fares go up this is what youre going to get with them. At the end of the day, there’s only so much real estate on an airplane and airlines have to do whatever it takes to get as much revenue as possible to try to be profitable. As Emirates is mainly a carrier that hauls low-yield travelers (North Americans to India, Europeans to beach vacations in SE Asia/ Australia), it needs to pack as many people as possible into each and every plane if it hopes to make any money at all. That’s why they pack people in 10 across in Y on the 777, and really cant forego Y rows to put in more J seats (which is what they’d have to do if they still want 42 J seats and wanted to give them all aisle access). Bling is nice and all, but Bling doesn’t change peoples’ willingness to fly. Emirates, like the other ME carriers, is largely a bottom feeder and has no ability to increase fares paid. So it has to configure its airplanes to meet this reality. It’s reassuring to see that one of the ME carriers acknowledges this reality

  4. If you’re gonna do 2-3-2, it better be int he JAL / KE / Oman Air style. Business class seats without direct-aisle access this day in age are not competitive — I don’t care how much gold accent and wood veneer you throw on it.

  5. @Lucky: I think that you and a lot of other travel bloggers are partially responsible for all that positive reception Emirates receives. And that is largely due to the fact that most of the time the focus is on first class.

    While F travel is nice and aspirational when booked on points hardly any traveller buys F revenue tickets. The majority of people not traveling in Economy will fly business .

    If the blog would focus more on business class I think the public perception of carriers such as emirates would be very different.

  6. The business class seats are totally disappointing.
    I really hope the new first class seats will not be as disappointing.

  7. Emirates IS much better than any American airline. Even with a middle seat, you get good food, flight attendants who don’t act like your a terrorist the whole time and in general, you can be at ease and enjoy your flight. The American Airlines are far too cold in their approach and their seats aren’t that great either

  8. @Credit

    Or for anyone who has 2 wives. Or for anyone with a wife and mistress. Idiot.

    If you’re going to go for a 2-3-2 layout in business, the JAL / KE / Oman Air style does seem to be the way to go, since everyone gets aisle access then.

  9. I have to agree with Mark here, unless the price was substantially lower, I wouldn’t fly an airline with a middle seat in business. If I’m shelling out thousands of dollars (I have very few frequent flyer miles), I don’t want to risk being stuck in the middle seat. Especially not on a 13+ hour flight!

  10. Has anyone else noticed what is happening here?

    10 years ago: First Class – Lie Flat // Business Class – Lounger type seat
    2 years ago: First Class – Lie Flat (disappearing) // Business Class – Lie Flat
    Now: Business Class – Lie Flat // Premium Economy – Smaller lounger type seat

    In 5 years Premium economy will become the old business class on 10 years ago and business class will be old first class

  11. You are completely right on their marketing… Loads of people think they are great just based on that, but the funny thing is that most people don’t come back from their flights with bad reviews. I have only flown their 777 once in Y and I don’t think 3-4-3 is acceptable in Y in any “leading airline’, but many people either don’t care or don’t notice.

    Maybe that’s where they have got it right? Maybe people don’t actually care about the hard product as long as the soft product is decent and the IFE is good (even outside first class)?

  12. Agree – non-competitive. In 2016, the seat is too narrow, if you sit in the middle then you can’t access the aisle but will see what the people left and right to you are watching on their screens. Unfortunately also in the A380 the Emirates seats are too narrow, and the space in general is very cramped (compared to the SQ business class product).

    Living in Zurich comes with the advantage of being able to select Swiss (with more 777-300ER destinations coming up this year), and Qatar Airways, ETIHAD and Oman Air serve Zurich with Dreamliners, alternatively A380 with SQ or 777-300ER with CX to Hong Kong. Bye bye Emirates…

  13. That IFE looks really nice.

    And let’s see. Lufhansa doesn’t have all aisle access on longhaul. Neither does British Airways. Neither does United. American won’t have it fleetwide for quite some time, given the fact they fired the seat manufacturer doing the 777 refurbs.

  14. It’s targeting large middle eastern families that travel together and has the means to pay +6 seats.

    Probably you have seen these families in EK flights right? They don’t eant to be dispersed in the plane.

  15. It’s only really disappointng to us as we know what other carriers offer in business class, and we are slightly or completely obsessed with aviation.

    Emirates has some smart people, they would switch to all aisle if they needed to, they won’t canabalise their first cabin, by increasing business beyond what is needed. A380 has all aisle but the first cabin offers additional items like the shower.

    It’s a business decision at the end of the day, we would see all aisle if it was needed. Competitive is a sum of all factors together, on board product, network, frequency price etc.

    I don’t like non aisle either but I do like the look of the seat they look very smart.

  16. I’m not surprised one bit that they chose to stick to this model. And I’m not surprised Tim Clark claims its great either (what else is he going to say honestly? He is selling a product here). It just goes to show more and more that people DON’T care about the seat they are getting. Emirates offers unparalleled connectivity (cities and frequency), which is what companies (and many individuals) presumably value the most. And take a look at their fares – they are consistently higher than Emirates or Etihad, both of whom have arguably better business seats.

    Emirates knows that by offering great connectivity (and certainly great service), they don’t need to change their seat configuration or seat type (and this certainly will cost a lot less to update since I assume the seat manufacturer and basis is the same). Thats why they do so well. You can say what you want about American carriers having better seats, but unless they are willing to compete on international connectivity and service, they won’t come close to Emirates (and neither will Etihad or Qatar – based on connectivity).

    I certainly won’t pay to fly them, but I, like most readers on this blog, know what I would get for what I’m paying. Most other customers either don’t know, don’t care, or don’t have a choice (their company chooses the airline).

  17. @AVS makes an outstanding point. Partner & I are presently on a much belated (by several years) and extended “honeymoon.” I really wanted to experience Etihad but I just couldn’t make it work due to Etihad’s dreadful connectivity. We’re presently in Sydney and will be heading off to Seychelles on Monday…on Emirates and its less then thrilling business class.

    And…yes…I’m in Sydney, on my dream trip, doing nothing but commenting on OMAAT. It’s presently 5:30 in the morning and I have yet to get to sleep.; I have never been so badly kicked in the head by jet lag. Partner, of course, is snoring away.

  18. @wwk5d

    The DC (IAD) flight is currently a 777, however at some point this year it is switching to the A380 (I was looking at a trip in October, and that’s when I noticed the change).

  19. IAD flight is changing this month to the A380. I think it’s any day now if it hasn’t already happened.

  20. @credit – yes, that is very funny… although American women NEVER acknowledge the mistress in public. We joke, but maybe this will actually work very well for ME men and a couple of wives, and the French.

    @AVS – Well said.

    I see it this way. ASIA- N AMERICA – EUROPE is where the real blue chip money is for mass J class travel, especially ex London. I’ve seen J fares for a little over $1000 on EK and others from places like AMS and other Euro points to Asia. $1000 vs $4-8,000 transatlantic, big difference. Even if the fares are higher, I think many flying out of BLQ and other smaller cities would rather have this than no service at all. ORD and other first tier cities that still have 777 service will probably get this configuration first.

    UAE Policy. People also forget that Abu Dhabi is the capital, NOT Dubai. EK and DXB is for MEGA MASS transit. AUH is about a more luxurious experience, they dictate policy and EK J Class is a people mover.

    QR is a smaller nation, so to attract they have to offer a more luxurious experience which is why EK should not be compared to QR or even EY.

  21. Are the 380s true lie flat in business? Live in DC, but need 3 seats, so not much chance of first for all of us.

  22. While I consider direct aisle access to be a great perk and the EK business product is definitely lagging in this respect, I would still choose them over ANY US airline based on soft product, lounges, IFE, and connections. I always select a window seat as my preference and I don’t often get up on flights so this is not a deal breaker for me. What I do love is good food choices, better wine lists, MUCH better FA’s that treat like you well and I personally love the fact that FA’s are so diverse. IFE is also a big deal to me. I do wish they had gone with the Apex suite as it just seems awesome especially at the window. Tim Clark definitely needs to re-think his statements especially if he’s referring to the seat it self.

    However, I fly to NBO a lot and they are the only ME airline to offer a proper J seat on a widebody jet and they even send their newest 777’s on a 5 hour non-prestige route! In J, it is definitely better, than QR or EY which have regional configs (except QR on select aircraft). My point is, direct aisle access is not the average but rather the aspiration, even in 2016. It is still sad that an airline like EK would introduce this a “new” J class though. The remaining options for proper non-regional J are not particularly wonderful (BA, KQ, KL, LH, LX, CZ), Swiss being the only direct aisle access airline in J.

    Even in Y, which IMO people grossly overstate is so terrible because of the 3-4-3, has never felt cramped on ULR including DXB-IAH (I am 5′ 10″ and 165lbs).

  23. Whilst I agree that this product is hardly aspirational, I think the reason that Emirates is maintaining the 2-3-2 configuration across its 777 fleet is to maintain consistency.

    They’ve stated that they’re not retrofitting their 777 with the new product, so the differences between the old and new product would be significant.

  24. It’s great to have this dialogue going and to critique what is out there. In this case I think the seats look great, and I assume the middle seat will be empty a lot of the time. People like different things. Not every seat/layout will appeal to everyone. I’m not a big fan of the Emirate first suites, they seem claustrophobic and fussy. I think this new business cabin will encourage socializing and the benefits of the layout will outweigh the negatives.

  25. @Anthony
    That doesnt mean much. Garuda’s factory fresh A330s are being delivered with a new reverse herringbone business class seat with all aisle access and a fully flat bed in a 1 2 1 config, meanwhile they’re not retrofitting their old planes, some of which still have biz in 2 2 2 and not even fully flat.

  26. @W – I don’t think you can compare Garuda’s fleet of 13 A330s to Emirates near 170 fleet of 777s.

  27. Well, if I have the choice to fly this seat for $2000, and a reverse herring bone product for $3000, I would probably go with Emirates. For people travelling with a partner or a family with a child, it might even be the preferable configuration. People who fly business class rarely and just for special occasions (honeymoon…) will enjoy the bling bling, the sports car-like seat upholstery etc.

    Really, the people who would complain most will probably chose other airlines with non-stop connections anyways, rather than having twice the travel time through Dubai.

  28. 2-3-2 : the middle 3 seats are perfect for an arab and his two child brides (or a harem of 6 can have the whole row ??)

  29. I agree with one of the earlier comment that it’s all about marketing and Emirates have gotten away with angled seats for so long. I stopped traveling completely with Emirates a couple of years ago in favor of Qatar and now Etihad. I am voting with my money for the best product.

  30. Can we just say that the finishes and design are gorgeous. Sure, it doesn’t have direct aisle access, but it is very private and fully flat with huge televisions. I think that all of us here at OMAAT are a bit spoiled and need to just take a step back. It’s a perfectly good seat for business class.

  31. 43% of all business class passengers will be climbing all up on top of somebody. It’s all fun and games until somebody gets pregnant.

  32. Wow, they are really sticking to that terrible design…especially the wood…urgh.
    Are they also installing the old first class cabin in these new 777’s or will there be a new product?

  33. With all due respect it is hard to believe any seasoned traveler would buy into Emirates marketing hype. They repeatedly lied (to WSJ no less) about having horizontal lie flat seats on all long hauls to the USA well before this was actually the case. The food is horrid for those of us looking for something bland (nobody needs bowel trouble on a 15-hour flight) as it tends to favor spicy. The limos did not show up for 2 of 4 departures/arrivals – so much for that perk. And let’s not get started about how they treat their FAs. IMHO the only nice thing about EK is their lounges which are head and shoulders above anything you’ll ever find on a US-based carrier, and better than even the best European ones (e.g. LH, and previously BA). Only SQ has a comparable spread. I would not fly EK again except maybe on a mistake fare.

  34. Well said Lucky I don’t find the seat industry leading at all. It’s difficult to travel as a couple with the current C class layout on the 777 and now it will be even more isolating. I think Tim Clark needs to understand that if he doesn’t hit the nail on the head- we may see a Gulf Air kind of story repeating again.

  35. Wow some of you guys complain a lot. No one comes close to Emirates price competitiveness, on-board service and hospitality, and price point. These new seats look fantastic. And honestly….the odds of being stuck in the middle are rare at best, since most people who travel frequently are quite good at reserving their preferred seat ahead of time. —so a non-issue.

  36. I’m amazed there is such an obsession these days about direct aisle access. That matters for 2 mins per flight. If I’m travelling with a friend or my partner, I want to be able to talk to them, share snacks with them, etc. The discomfort of doing that in a reverse herringbone setup affects hours of the flight. Overall, I’d way prefer the Emirates setup.

  37. From that perspective the staggered Swiss Business Class layout has a few advantages. Preferred customers (HON, SEN) wanting privacy can choose some of the “throne seats” which give a good level of privacy and actually a lot of space. Joint business travelers or couples can choose the seat pairings, which allow for an easy interaction together.

    The only thing missing is an optional divider between the pair seats in case you want to be left alone 😉

    In the Emirates setup it looks like talking to each other means leaning forward quite a bit…

  38. Ouch! I think you are going to see a lot of empty middle seats on otherwise full flights. The only pax to end up in these are the newbies who failed to do early seat selection, can’t read seat maps, trusted their TA to get them ‘a-good-seat’, and family types who may want to sit together. Other than that they are the booby prize! Unfortunately for Emirates, word gets around rapidly, and perhaps unjustifiably, it will be seen as an airline to avoid altogether. (I am yet to hear a good word about their Y experience!).

  39. Business class that an airline offers is not just a seat. It’s the product as a whole. Emirates offers better food, a better ground experience, a fantastic ground experience in Dubai, wide-body aircraft guaranteed, (and now that A330s and 340s are being phased out, either a B777 of A380 guaranteed), drivers everywhere you go, efficient and fine accommodation for long transfers in Dubai and let’s not forget about their a fantastic IFE system, and $1 respectable-speed wi-fi.

    So there’s a middle seat and no direct isle access on the 777s. I’ve never been assigned to a middle seat when travelling alone by the way, they usually assign passengers travelling together. There’s also plenty of space when “hoping over” the other person to not be that awkward (although now with the fully flat seats it looks like it might be harder). Staff also always make an effort to give you direct isle access, whether that means a window seat alone and no middle seats when travelling alone.

    Anyway, is their new product cutting edge? No. Overall however, their business class product as a whole is so organized and so efficient that I would give up the occasional direct isle access for when I’m occasionally flying their 777s when the flights are occasionally so full that I am not able to be fully accommodated for comfort.

    The seats are better than they used to be, they look good, surely more comfortable to sleep. I like em.

  40. Another typical ‘travel blogger’ having not the faintest idea at how airlines are run. Glad to see economics still the overriding priority for Mr Clark. This is a great enhancement to the product.

  41. Of course EK sells its image and not the real product it sells to 90% of its customers. Just look at the inane ads running on US TV with Jennifer Anniston. How many of us will be buying EK F, let alone on an A380. The majority of its flights are still on B777s and none have showers. EK’s current J seat is only marginally better than AA’s old (being phased out semi-layflat) J seat with a centre 3 seat block…and which is being replaced by 1-2-1. (Okay, better IFE system and bigger screen.) The new EK seats will be marginally better than the new BA and UA J seats, which appear to retain 2-4-2 (albeit with improved aisle access from window and centre seats). But it is clear even EK is now concerned about a bottom line and must keep a high density J cabin to make money, and cannot afford to move to 1-2-1.

  42. I just find it amazing how emirates was voted 2016 Skytrax airline of the year with this horrible business class product. I don’t see why Emirates can’t install the same business class product across it’s fleet, with Apex suites on their A380’s in a 2-2-2 configuration and 2-3-2 on their 777’s.

  43. Although this is the least desirable business class configuration, Emirates probably has the best straight across 2-3-2 seats. And they’re probably the only airline that can get away with it. As a business travaller I would never fly Emirates 777 J, but as a family I would, and can put our small child in the center seat and have full control. (Wouldn’t fly economy on their 777 because their 10 abreast Y is pure torture.) Maybe it shouldn’t be called Business Class, but instead Luxury Family Class.

  44. I am surprised no one talked about how small the seat itself in business class on Emirates. I am 6’2″ tall found it very difficult to sleep on these narrower business class seats, i.e. difficult to move around. I have traveled other foreign airlines (e.g. Japan airlines, air new zealan, china southern, british airways, SAS etc.) and felt seats are bigger. Emirates marketing is what gets them going. Their bathrooms in Dubai business lounge is awful and busy at all times. People either haven’t flown much on other airlines or haven’t truly experienced emirates business class seats to really compare but for me size of the seats are very important.

  45. Flew night flight Emirates 777 J class a few days ago, 9 hour trip, window seat. Kept bumping into my sleeping neighbor every time I got up, tried so so hard to clamber over her without bumping but no success. At least she was gracious enough to smile it off when I apologized at the end of the flight.
    No amenity kit on the return, food service took 2 hours after takeoff to begin (both legs), overall Emirates is an overhyped mediocre business class. I usually fly Qatar or Etihad and Emirates can’t touch them for comfort, passenger care and class.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *