Why the world's best 777 suite has yet to fly daily to the US
Emirates' outstanding fully-enclosed first-class suite has been flying on a number of the carrier's Boeing 777-300ERs for almost two years now. I had a chance to join the very first flight, from Dubai to Brussels in December 2017, and it really is a spectacular product.
Although it's operated a handful of flights to the United States — including very limited engagements between Dubai and Dallas/Fort Worth, Seattle and Houston — the new suite has yet to become a permanent fixture on even a single U.S. route.
The new @Emirates first-class suite, in 360 degrees. #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA
I had a chance to sit down with Emirates President Sir Tim Clark at the Dubai Air Show this week, who explained the delayed rollout. The challenge is that just nine 777-300ERs offer the new suite — not enough to serve even one US city without seriously compromising Emirates' revenue potential elsewhere in the world.
As Clark said, "We’re trying to put it on some of the US routes, but every time we put it on one of those routes it takes two and a half aircraft. It’s very popular on Geneva (GVA), it’s very popular on [Tokyo] Haneda (HND), where the premium demands are really strong, and, I have to say, the money is very competitive."
While U.S. routes do command premium fares, Emirates can't seem to justify using a third of the suite-equipped fleet just to serve a single North American city.
That won't always be the case, though. Emirates will offer the new product on its Boeing 777x planes, which were originally expected to launch next June. Now, with that introduction delayed, the carrier isn't quite sure when its new suite will regularly fly to the United States.
If the 777x is delayed for an extended period, Emirates may retrofit some of its 777-300ERs with the latest interiors, including business class and economy. Unfortunately, even then, those renovated planes aren't expected to get the new suite. Instead, the carrier will install the latest version of its previous-generation first-class product, saving the "game-changer" exclusively for new deliveries.
Why go through all that trouble and not install the new first-class cabin? As Clark explains, "The cost of those suites is astronomical. We have to drop the ceilings, redesign the architecture, and then put in those seats. With the life remaining of the airplane.... by the time you’ve done that, it’s time for it to go." As a result, Clark said the carrier doesn't plan to add the new suite to its A380s, either.
For now, it's possible that Emirates continues offering limited service to the US — and, thanks to ExpertFlyer, it's easy to tell if you're going to luck out. The airline's old 777-300ER first class features a total of eight suites, but the new cabin has just six — if you see the seat map below, you're good to go.
Just note that aircraft swaps might be possible up until the day before departure — I'd book if you're dying to try the new product and come across the map above, but only if the flight fits within your travel plans and schedule.