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On Sunday, Emirates blew my mind with an out-of-this-world first-class product. The new 777-300ER Suite is, in a word, incredible. I can’t wait to take it for a spin on the December 1 inaugural flight.

At the same time, I’ll be avoiding business class on this plane. Why’s that? Bizarrely, while Emirates completely redesigned the seats, executives decided to maintain a 2-3-2 arrangement — as a result, not only do many passengers not have direct aisle access, there are even middle seats in every row. (Coach is 3-4-3, also the same as the current layout.)

Can you imagine booking a brand-new business-class seat on a world-class airline and sitting in between two other passengers? Yeah, no thanks.

While Emirates offers several different products across its 777 fleet, all of its Boeing wide-bodies sport exactly 42 business-class seats, all in a 2-3-2 configuration. Most are angle flat — and not very comfortable, in my opinion — so in that regard this new product represents a huge upgrade.

For example, here is the old seat:

Old Emirates 777-300ER business-class seat. Photo by Emily McNutt.

And here’s the new one:

Emirates
Emirates’ new “posh 2-3-2” business class.

The seat finishes look fantastic, and there are some nifty features tucked into the relatively tight area, including a mini-mini-bar (yes, mini-mini — it’s small).

There’s also a pop-out tablet to control the 23-inch entertainment system, customized lighting, USB-A and USB-C charging ports and what Emirates is calling “classy textured panels” throughout.

If middle seats in business class were still the norm, this product would probably blow your mind. But they’re not — even US carriers like American and United are moving to all-aisle-access configurations, and Delta has offered 1-2-1 for years. This middle-seat-in-business thing just doesn’t fly anymore.

The good news is that this is the final Emirates business-class seat that we’ll see with a 2-3-2 arrangement — once the airline begins taking delivery of Boeing’s next-generation wide-body plane, the 777-9, it’ll come with a new 1-2-1 seat layout installed.

And, really, that’s what Emirates should have done this time around — installed 1-2-1 seats, even at the expense of a smaller cabin. The Emirates A380 has offered direct aisle access for nearly a decade now, with a seat similar to what I just flew from Seoul (ICN) to Dubai (DXB).

Even this older A380 design would have been a step up from the new 777 seat, in my opinion — new finishes or not, 2-3-2 just doesn’t cut it in business class anymore.

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