Emirates’ New 777-200 Business Class: Upgrade or Downgrade?

Mar 21, 2018

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Back in November, Emirates shared that it would be (finally) getting rid of the dreaded business class middle seat, going from a 2-3-2 configuration to a 2-2-2. Still not aisle access for everyone, unlike with the 1-2-1 arrangements of the world’s leading business class layouts, though.

Another caveat: This does not apply to all 777s, but for now at least only to 10 planes, the 777-200LR model. The first to receive the update has been introduced on the daily Dubai (DXB) to Fort Lauderdale (FLL) route.

I flew this route on a trip from FLL to Cape Town (CPT) via DXB. The outbound trip featured the carrier’s old business product, but my return flight just so happened to incorporate the newly updated plane on the DXB-FLL leg. (The trip to and from DXB lasts more than 24 hours, so two planes are needed for a daily rotation — and with only one already in the new layout, you can still get the old version.)

So, how did the two versions compare? Was the retrofitted plane an upgrade, a downgrade or an even swap? Read on to find out!

Bye bye, first class

For starters, if you’re looking to travel this route (or any route) operated by Emirates’ 777-200LR aircraft in first, the new configuration is unquestionably a downgrade. On the old version, first class occupies the front of the plane, taking up roughly two-thirds of the space between doors one and two. The eight suites are spread across two rows in a 1-2-1 layout, including closing doors and all the carrier’s signature bling.

Unfortunately, the new layout eliminates first class altogether in favor of a two-class configuration. First-class flyers, you’re out of luck on this particular aircraft.

The new layout

In the old configuration, the business class is arranged in a 2-3-2 layout, split into two different sections. A two-row mini-cabin lies just behind first class, between doors one and two. The remaining four rows are separated from the mini-cabin by the second set of doors, lavatories and a galley. The end result: a total of 42 angled-flat seats.

The new layout essentially takes this cabin and shifts it forward to take the portion of the plane formerly occupied by first class. It also adds a 180-degree lie-flat seat. The new layout is an improved 2-2-2, with four full rows plus two additional middle seats in between doors one and two and the remaining two rows just behind. However, the galley that previously split up the two business class cabins has been removed, replaced with a “social area,” as Emirates calls it, thus creating one large business class cabin.

Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy

The new configuration results in four fewer business-class seats but allows the carrier to add additional economy seats in the area formerly occupied by the last few rows of the old business class. The number of economy seats on the new layout thus jumps from 216 to 264.

Another interesting choice Emirates made was to remove the middle overhead bins in the business class cabin. The end result is a much more spacious feel, and even though we were among the last business-class passengers to board, we still had no problem finding space for our rollaboard suitcase, large backpack and travel stroller.

If you’re trying to figure out which configuration you’ll be flying on, here are a few clues that will let you know you’re on the new one:

  • No first-class cabin
  • Business class will start at row 1
  • Economy will start at row 14

New colors, new patterns

My first thought upon boarding the new configuration can be summed up in one word: gorgeous. The cabin was warmly lit, and the cream-colored seats with the diamond stitching were stunning, though the fact that they were essentially brand new certainly didn’t hurt.

I also loved the aisle-side armrest, which could be raised or lowered with the push of the button at the end. This allowed me to get in and out of my seat with relative ease in the middle of lunch when my daughter decided (obviously) she needed me to take her to the bathroom, without needing to put away my tray table.

The old seats simply don’t compare, with the dingy gray and maroon color scheme and an overabundance of white, made even more unattractive by the harsh lighting upon boarding.

Emirates also elected to adjust the wood-grain in the updated cabin, moving from a somewhat gaudy blonde look…

…to a darker, more elegant brown hue.

The console between the two seats housed the pull-out tray table on both flights, but it was much more substantial in the newer configuration. This is mainly due to the additional space needed to accommodate the individual minibar, which was stocked with sparkling water, juice, Pepsi and a glass. (Those minibars will not, however, keep your drinks cold.)

Another major upgrade involved the technology for ICE, Emirates’ in-flight entertainment system. If you’ve never flown Emirates business before, there are three ways to control what you’re watching:

  1. The touch-screen TV
  2. A detachable tablet
  3. A retractable remote

Both the old and the new config offered these three options, but I found the updated screens to be significantly more responsive and sleeker looking.

In contrast, the older seat’s tablet felt dated and didn’t respond very well to my touch.

That being said, both the tablet and retractable remote were much less conveniently located in the newer configuration. If you wanted to use either, which was natural given that the large TV screen was quite a distance from the seat, you had to turn 90 degrees, and the remote was actually slightly behind the seat in its upright position.

Both seats offer a full outlet plus USB port to keep your electronics charged, which is essential on a long-haul flight, especially since Emirates’ 777-200LRs offer Wi-Fi. The plugs on the older layout were at the rear of a storage compartment along the side of the seat.

The newer configuration placed these outlets on the reverse side of the storage compartment but also included an HDMI input if you wanted to project your own content onto the sizeable screen.

Speaking of storage, each seat had the safety information card and Emirates literature in a front pocket underneath the TV, and the compartments adjacent to the outlets were similarly sized on the two configurations: good for a tablet or a magazine but not quite large enough for most laptops.

In addition, the storage areas on the floor differed significantly. On the older layout, you had cubbyholes between the two seats that were surprisingly shallow (my size 11 shoes were too large).

The newer model of seats provided a mesh pocket underneath the footrest that was a great spot to keep your footwear out of your way during flight.

Both configurations also provided a privacy shield that could be raised or lowered, but both were limited to the headrest area of the seat. Here’s the old layout with the privacy panel up:

And down:

Here’s what the newer seats looked like with the shield up (with the darker wood grain):

And down:

In all honestly, the privacy shield in the new configuration is (in my opinion) completely worthless. The fixed console between the seats is large enough that even with the panel down, you still need to lean forward to even see the person in the seat next to you. This is even more the case when the seat is fully reclined.

This brings me to one of the biggest selling points of the new seat: it’s actually a flat bed.

The older configuration still leaves you at a slight angle when in bed mode.

That being said, I didn’t find the newer version to be significantly more comfortable. While it’s always nice to be fully flat, I still slept solidly on the angled version.

Observations and Suggestions

Generally speaking, I found the newer configuration of Emirates 777-200LR business class to be an improvement over the older version. However, there are a few general things you should keep in mind:

1. For a family of three, older is better. I realize that I’m probably in the minority of travelers in that I like to take not only my wife but also my three-year old on 14+ hour flights, but we loved the older configuration as a family of three. My daughter took the middle seat and my wife and I were on the two aisles, giving her a contained area and allowing us to co-parent during the flight. In contrast, the new configuration forced us to choose which one of us would be on “primary” duty.

2. Avoid Row 6 on the new configuration. As I mentioned above, the newer layout has removed the galley at the second door and replaced it with a “social area” for business class. During the flight, this was set up with bottles of water and snacks for passengers to grab. Unfortunately, this happened to be just above my TV in Seat 6F. It wasn’t unbearable, but with plastic-wrapped sandwiches and bags of chips (all of which seemed to be opened there rather back at the passengers’ seats), you’re in for a bit of noise. Not only that, but the plane boarded economy passengers from door 2L, so you’ll be dealing with a steady stream of travelers coming down the aisle.

3. Consider sitting across the aisle from your travel companion in the new layout. This probably seems like a strange suggestion, but hear me out. The new configuration, while nice, doesn’t truly allow you to enjoy time with your companion. It was actually nice to have my wife across the aisle from me (my daughter took the window seat, as a budding #AvGeek like her father!). Because the new seats are relatively open to the aisle, it was much easier for us to communicate than it would’ve been if we were side-by-side.

4. If you prefer the old, you’re still in luck. As noted above, this new configuration only applies to 10 of Emirates’ planes. Most of the carrier’s 777-300ERs still have the old configuration, which TPG News Editor Emily McNutt reviewed on her flight from Cape Town to Dubai in 2016. These planes still have first class as well.

Bottom Line

It’s great to see Emirates starting to address what has been for years an outdated business-class product. While the carrier’s outstanding first class cabins get a lot of attention, many readers may not have the account balances to justify springing for that top-shelf redemption. While I wish the new configuration on the airline’s 777-200LRs provided direct aisle access for all passengers, it’s still a beautiful cabin with a lot of positives, so if you’re planning a trip to (or through) Dubai from or via FLL, I’d encourage you to aim for the updated product.

Final verdict? Upgrade!

Featured image by Zach Honig.

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