Emirates Considering Adding a ‘Budget Economy’ Cabin to Its A380s

Sep 8, 2017

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Basic economy is the new black. All of the major US carriers offer the fare class on at least some domestic routes, and American Airlines has even hinted at expanding a similar option to its transatlantic routes. In addition, in August, Aer Lingus introduced a “Saver” fare class for its transatlantic flights. Now, a carrier known for its five-star standards is surprisingly adding its name to the list of potential basic economy carriers: Emirates Airline. It may even do something that no one else has yet — separating basic economy as its own cabin.

As reported by Skift, Emirates is considering creating a “budget economy” cabin that will “feature” narrower seats and fewer perks. Even in its economy cabin, Emirates is known for offering passengers a superior product. The airline’s president Tim Clark said that it’s considering the option in order to satisfy its more frugal customers who are looking to pay as little as possible to get from Point A to Point B.

What can customers expect? Clark said that if the budget economy option were added, it would be available on its A380 aircraft. While the pitch on each seat wouldn’t change — even for budget economy passengers — Clark said that the seat width would. The carrier would squeeze an 11th seat per row on its A380s, allowing for the same seat pitch, but reduced width. Note that this budget economy cabin isn’t the same as a basic economy fare. With this, you wouldn’t be getting reduced amenities with a different fare class, but instead, a different product entirely.

Currently, Emirates’ A380s feature 3-4-3 configurations on all versions of the aircraft. All seats feature a favorable 32-34 inches of pitch and are 17.5 or 18 inches wide, depending on the version of the aircraft. So, if it did add an 11th seat on the A380s for the budget economy cabin, each seat would feature around 15.9 inches or 16.4 inches of width, depending on the version of the aircraft.

Emirates A380 at the 2015 Dubai Air Show - by Paul Thompson
Emirates A380 at the 2015 Dubai Air Show. Image by Paul Thompson.

Clark said Emirates could possibly also feature tiers on its aircraft. Currently, it offers an economy product only — plus its premium business and first cabins. But, if it were to implement new changes to switch up its offering, it would consider three economy tiers: “economy plus,” a version of premium economy, regular economy and then then the budget economy cabin.

Traditionally, Emirates doesn’t compete with low-cost carriers like WOW Air, Norwegian and Air Asia X. So, the Dubai-based airline is considering adding the budget economy option in order to appeal to customers who are searching for the lowest possible price.

According to Aviation Week, Clark said that Emirates is seeing growth in economy class passengers, while the premium cabins are less full than they used to be, with lower oil prices hurting the oil industry and therefore business traffic to the Middle East. (Clark also told Aviation Week that Emirates is killing plans to order the Airbus A350 or Boeing 787.)

Last year, Emirates introduced new fees for booking cheap fares, such as selecting a seat assignment in advance. That isn’t the only fee, either. Clark said that the airline is considering adding fares that don’t include free checked bags.

At this point, nothing is set in stone. But nonetheless, it’s interesting to see one of the world’s best carriers considering implementing these new, budget-friendly options to remain competitive with low-cost carriers. The news comes just a few months after Emirates announced its profits dropped by more than 80% for the past year, so it could be that the carrier is looking at more ways to increase those profits in the future.

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