Emirates Is Scrapping the Middle Seat in Business — on 10 Planes

Nov 14, 2017

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Emirates may have launched a swanky new first class suite at the Dubai Air Show, but its business-class flyers — at least those on the Boeing 777 — are out of luck: They’re still getting a 2-3-2 configuration, which isn’t on par with the many competitors offering 1-2-1. Emirates fliers don’t have aisle access for all seats without stepping over someone, and one passenger per row even gets a dreaded middle seat.

But for some of those 777 passengers, things are about to change. Emirates is introducing a 2-2-2 business-class product on some of its Boeings that does away with the middle seat. It still doesn’t provide direct aisle access for everyone, but it’s an improvement. The caveat: This is going only be on a small subset of the fleet — the 10 777-200LR jets that Emirates is in process of converting from a three-cabin configuration with first, business and economy class to a two-cabin arrangement with just business and economy.

“We are converting 10 of our 200LRs to 2-2-2 in the next few months,” Emirates president Tim Clark said during a conversation on the sidelines of the Dubai Air Show. The planes are going “from a three-class configuration with 266 seats to two-class at 302.” The first of the 10 airplanes, the smallest in the Emirates fleet, is being modified right now and the changes should be completed in a few months, Clark said.   

10 airplanes out of roughly 150 Boeing 777s in service with Emirates is only about 6%. All the other Triple Sevens, which are the 300 model, will keep today’s subpar business class. For US-based flyers, the refurbished 777s will be a rare find — according to the airline’s current schedule, the 777-200LR flies only from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Dubai (DXB).

The airline hasn’t officially announced the change yet, so there are no images of the 2-2-2 biz cabin available. What we do know, however, is that the 2-3-2 offering on the 777-300s will be phased out beginning in 2020, when the new Boeing 777-9 enters the fleet.

As for what that new plane will look like in business, Clark said that its business class “will be a transposition of what you have on the Airbus A380, with no stepover. Essentially it becomes 1-2-1.”

Business class in 1-2-1 layout on the upper deck of an Emirates A380. Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy
Business class in 1-2-1 layout on the upper deck of an Emirates A380. Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy

The biggest Emirates news so far at the air show was about the Beoing 787, however. The airline is buying 40 of the 787-10 modelthe biggest of the Dreamliners, and plans to fit them with about 280 seats in three classes when they enter the fleet beginning in 2022. “First is not going away,” Clark said. “The more carriers say they are moving away from first class, I just rub my hands, because there is a big first class market.”

Emirates won’t use the 787-10 to go very far from its Dubai home base, so US airports won’t see the new jet. “It’s a seven- to eight-hour, eight and a half, aircraft, which is perfect for what we need,” Clark said. “It allows us to put it on routes where we might increase frequency, and the seat count allows us to open new routes.” That’s because its 280 seats make it the smallest plane in the Emirates fleet, well-suited to places where the 350 seats of the 777-300 in even its least-dense configuration would be too many.  

On the 787, the carrier may also end up installing some pretty innovative features related to the passenger experience and inspired by developments on the new 777 first class suite — like the high-def cameras for the first class suites that lack windows. “We have a whole raft of new technologies coming,” Clark said, for example “seatback entertainment which may not be screens.”  The Emirates president didn’t elaborate on that fascinating possibility. 

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