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Can the New Emirates First Class Suite and Refreshed Cabins Really Be Considered a “Game Changer”?

Can the New Emirates First Class Suite and Refreshed Cabins Really Be Considered a “Game Changer”?

Can the New Emirates First Class Suite and Refreshed Boeing 777 Cabins Really Be Considered a "Game Changer"?

Every two years, the great and good of the aviation industry gather in Dubai for one of the world’s great Air Show’s.  It’s a city that is no stranger to some pretty spectacular announcements, especially when it concerns Dubai’s homegrown airline, Emirates.  So it was fitting that Emirates, again chose the Dubai Air Show to unveil its brand new First Class Suite.

But now that the excitement of the event and unveiling itself has subsided, now’s the time to start being a bit more clinical and actually assess whether the suite and the rest of the refreshed Boeing 777 cabins in Business and Economy are actually worth the hype.

After all, Emirates has mastered the art of marketing like no other airline in the world.  The airline described the First Class Suite as a “game changer” and its chairman, Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, said Emirates is an “industry leader”.

The Emirates PR team must have been working double time to pump out a constant stream of publicity across social media and the airline’s website.  They even deployed, outspoken British celeb Jeremy Clarkson for a global TV spot advertising the new First Class Suite – apparently, it was because of the shared association with Clarkson’s Grand Tour programme and a tie-up between Mercedes Benz and Emirates.

 

And then there were the constant live streams, allowing a worldwide audience of aviation geeks and Emirates fans to join in on the action.  As a side note, Emirates was keen to use its famous cabin crew as presenters in many of these videos – although oddly, they all seemed to have American accents.  Perhaps as part of the carriers ongoing U.S. charm offensive.

But that’s enough about Emirates’ marketing strategy.  The actual unveiling left professional airline pundits in awe.  The hype lived up to expectations and the wait seemed to be worth it (the original enclosed First Class Suite was launched way back in 2003 with only minor changes since).

Inspired by NASA technology, the seat has a "zero gravity" setting. Photo Credit: Emirates
Inspired by NASA technology, the seat has a “zero gravity” setting. Photo Credit: Emirates

The actual Suite is simply stunning –  it exudes luxury in a way that only a premium First Class product can.  It also comes with some impressive specs, offering 40 square foot of space in 1-1-1 configuration – all in a fully enclosed Suite.  Emirates claims it’s the first airline to offer such a service although Air France has utilised simple curtains with the same effect for years.

But wait, there’s more. A lot more:

  • The 78 inch long, 30-inch wide seat offers a ‘zero gravity’ position based on NASA technology.
  • Virtual windows that project the image from exterior cameras into the middle Suites.
  • A video call function – so passengers can order ‘room service’.
  • individual ambient mood lighting with a choice of 10 preset options and seven colour choices.
  • Chandelier style lights, a full-length wardrobe, 32″ inch television, minibar and 13″ wireless seat control tablet.

All completed in a new, toned-down colour palette of soft greys, cream and champagne.  Make no mistake – this is all truly sumptuous (just like the soft leather seat, suede cushion, Byredo skincare goodies and gorgeous window curtains which are reminiscent of the early days of commercial aviation).  But is any of this truly “game changing” like Emirates would claim?

Remember, the new suites will go first to the airline’s latest generation Boeing 777’s – so there’s no onboard lounge, bar or shower for passengers to take advantage of.  Are most of these “game-changing” innovations really just fancy window dressing?  Fun gimmicks but little more?

It’s more of an evolution rather than a revolution.  It doesn’t offer a separate bed like Etihad’s First Class Apartments on its A380’s or Singapore’s brand new Suites Class.  Singapore has even taken that concept to the next stage, allowing two suites to be combined in order to create a double bed for two to share.

The Business Class seats are inspired "by the interior of a modern sports car". Photo Credit: Emirates
The Business Class seats are inspired “by the interior of a modern sports car”. Photo Credit: Emirates

The Emirates Suite is just fine if you’re travelling alone and in need of peace and quiet but it might be a bit lonely if you’re with your significant other or family.

But its the Business Class concept that is most disappointing.  In a world where passengers are coming to expect direct aisle access at every seat, Emirates has decided to retain a disappointing 2-3-2 set up.  Yup, that’s right – some premium passengers will even get a dreaded middle seat.

The design and finish are beautiful.  So too are the amenities.  But there’s no getting around the fact that Emirates has retained a subpar product – especially when you consider the fact that its A380’s do offer direct aisle access and of course the onboard bar again.

The ergonomically designed seats now feature leather headrests with flexible sides and a new colour palette. Photo Credit: Emirates
The ergonomically designed seats now feature leather headrests with flexible sides and a new colour palette. Photo Credit: Emirates

What Emirates does get right in spades, however, is the highly customised finish of the whole cabin from First Class right through to the lavatories in Economy.  Standard Boeing finishes have been upgraded and customised throughout the plane.  It makes for an incredibly beautiful aesthetic which genuinely raises the passenger experience.

As for Economy Class, they are still stuck with a 3-4-3 configuration – slowly becoming the industry standard – but Emirates has managed to offer seats with a generous 33″ pitch and up to 6″ of recline.  And of course, there’s the award-winning ICE in-flight entertainment system fitted throughout the plane.

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