Emirates isn’t an airline that knows how to go backwards. Last year the Dubai-based airline took delivery of 20 Airbus A380’s – with many more still to be delivered. But Emirates can’t operate in a bubble. As it responds to a period of ‘hyper-change‘ we’re likely to see some exciting and surprising announcements in the next 12-months.
Some changes have already been hinted at. Others have been partially published. In some areas, Emirates is making changes and hoping nobody notices.
Here are our top predictions for the year ahead…
1. A New First Class Suite
A new First Class suite has been touted by the airline for some time now. Many commentators believe Emirates will be introducing a new and improved design at some point in the next 12-months. There had even been rumours that a surprise unveiling of a new suite would be made at ITB Berlin this year – but that proved to be unfounded.
Last year, Emirates made a few minor improvements to its First Class product. All new seats now feature a 32-inch television although the basic design remained unchanged. The airline also brought in the world’s first moisturising pyjamas for First Class passengers and a faux sheepskin duvet.
But the Emirates First Class suite just doesn’t look quite as luxe as what it once did. Abu Dhabi-based, Etihad Airways has a super-sized First Class product on its A380 aircraft and Qatar Airways is introducing privacy screens on its new QSuite Business Class product.
2. No Change to Business Class Seats
In 2015, Emirates did unveil a new seat at ITB Berlin. The new Business Class seat for its Boeing 777 fleet was touted as a game changer for Emirates. Unfortunately, it left many frequent flyers underwhelmed.
With the new design, Emirates has eventually introduced a fully-flat seat for its 777 aircraft. But it maintained a 2-3-2 layout without direct aisle access for all passengers. The seat will be fitted on all new 777 aircraft but the airline won’t bother retrofitting it on its older planes.
For whatever reason, Emirates seems happy with the big difference in Business Class product between the Airbus A380 and Boeing 777 fleets – and that won’t change anytime soon.
3. Dine on Demand Coming to Business Class?
Emirates has slowly been introducing Meal Ordering Devices (MOD’s) for its Business Class meal service. The devices allow Cabin Crew to quickly take custom orders from passengers and then beam requests straight to the galley. Emirates should have the devices rolled out across the entire network by the end of the year.
The next logical step for the MOD’s is to support a dine-on-demand concept. Emirates is slowly being left behind by other airlines who already offer this service to passengers. It’s two big local rivals, Etihad and Qatar Airways have offered DOD for years and even regional players like Cathay Pacific and British Airways are toiling with the idea.
4. Now is the Time for Premium Economy
Emirates President, Tim Clark has spoken of Premium Economy several times over the past year. The sticking point seems to be a concern that the new class of travel would ‘cannibalise’ their Business Class product.
In September, Clark mused: “I need to be 100 percent sure that demand for that segment is strong enough, and sustained enough,”
We think that Clark and his senior management team will soon put those concerns to one side. Clark recently said a full analysis would be completed by April. Expect the new Premium Economy Class to be announced in the next few months.
It would make Emirates the first Gulf airline to introduce Premium Economy – something that Akbar al Baker, the CEO of Qatar Airways, vowed he would never do. But, Premium Economy has been hugely successful on many European legacy airlines.
This would be an easy way to offer a more expensive, premium product for customers who wish to upgrade their travel from Economy – rather than downgrade their experience from Business Class.
5. Less Bling?
Is Emirates going for a more understated and grown-up look? That certainly seems to be the theme from its latest cabin upgrades. The new 777 Business Class seat is a case in point with the design said to be inspired by the “interior of a modern sports car.” There’s still plenty of walnut on show but it’s more understated compared to the previous iteration of the seat.
Then there’s the new onboard lounge and bar that will debut in July. The bar was first unveiled at industry trade show ITB Berlin earlier this year and is said to take inspiration from luxury private yachts. The “airier look and feel” with “lighter champagne colours” certainly resonates a more refined and pared down look compared to the original bar.
“Since we first launched the product in 2008, our A380 Onboard Lounge has gone through small but successive enhancements in line with customer feedback,” said Tim Clark, President of Emirates.
We predict future design elements to have a subtle nod to stripped back elegance. Even the lavatories on new Boeing 777’s have had the faux walnut removed.
6. A New Aircraft Type – Boeing 787 or Airbus A350?
This has cropped up a few times in the last year and in our opinion, it can’t be long before an order is announced. Emirates famously has an all widebody fleet of Airbus A380 and Boeing 777-300 aircraft, with the last A330 and A340 aircraft being retired from service last year.
But a new aircraft type would be a huge change from the airline’s current strategy. Emirates still has 50 A380 super jumbo’s and 21 777-300 aircraft to be delivered. Then there’s the huge order of 150 777X aircraft that are due to start joining the fleet in the next few years.
But as the airline suffers dwindling passenger numbers and rising costs, their hand might be forced.
“When the time is right we will decide,” said Clark in an interview with CNN in February. However, we do know that senior pilots were evaluating both the twin-aisle Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 as contenders last year. Our money is on the 787 – All the airline’s Cabin Crew are trained on the 777 and are therefore already licensed for the Dreamliner.
7. More Regional Routes
Again, this is another prediction that has come straight from Tim Clark. Speaking at ITB Berlin, Clark explained his reasoning: “The dynamic is changing in the Middle East with regard to access to new markets,”
He explained: “Our business model was set in the late 1980s when access was denied to us by many places in the region.”
In the meantime, big rival Qatar Airways and regional low-cost carriers like Air Arabia are snuffling up potential customers. But new Gulf services may only be possible once Emirates has taken delivery of some smaller jets. Although it’s lack of aircraft choices hasn’t stopped it operating the world’s shortest A380 flight – the one hour service from Dubai to Doha.
8. flydubai and Emirates to Merge?
Both Emirates and flydubai are owned by the government of Dubai. So although they’re run as separate companies there wouldn’t be anything stopping them from combining. Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the Chairman of Emirates recently said he was looking at greater synergies between the two airlines.
“If we look at it from the [point of view of the] Dubai ownership of the two airlines, I have Emirates and I have flydubai.
“And between the two I have B777s, B737s and A380s. So I think we can do something there.”
The Centre for Aviation (CAPA) has suggested Emirates could avoid establishing its own narrowbody fleet by simply merging with flydubai. That would give the airline easy access to narrowbody Boeing 737’s. It cites the fact that Qatar Airways is operating a diverse range of aircraft sizes and flying to 49 additional destinations to Emirates as reasons for its continued success, compared to its Dubai-based rival.
9. More Ancillary Revenue Opportunities
“Because certain segments of our markets have become deeply discounted, we’re having to look and see whether we can extract more value through the ancillary revenue stream.” That’s what Clark had to say about ancillary revenue opportunities, last September.
So far we’ve seen Emirates introduce charges for advanced seat selection in Economy and the option for paid access to the Business Class lounge at Dubai International Airport. The options for more charges and fee’s are many and varied.
Clark has spoken of introducing upgraded meal choices, chauffeur drive on a pay basis and additional luggage fees.
10. Cut Backs to Continue
Profits at the Emirates Group dropped a staggering 75% in the second half of last year. In an attempt to stem the losses, Emirates has been making a series of cutback and these are likely to continue over the next 12-months.
So far we’ve already seen certain meal choices removed from Economy, hot hors-d’oeuvres eliminated from the onboard lounge and hot towels cut back. Even the famous ‘do not disturb’ stickers have just been cut. What else can go? It will be difficult for Emirates to get this right. Cut too much and you risk looking penny-pinching and mean.
And finally, for now, at least it looks like Cabin Crew will be looking the same. There had been speculation that the company was actively working on a brand new look for its staff. But plans for an updated uniform to take flight anytime soon have been put on the back-burner.