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Emirates is known for operating one of the world’s most advanced airport terminals, at Dubai International Airport (DXB). The world’s largest fleet of Airbus A380s pulls right up to the world’s longest (and possibly largest) first-class lounge, which happens to be just a few miles from the world’s tallest building, the world’s largest mall and the world’s largest indoor amusement park. If everything is bigger in Texas, it’s absolutely larger than life in Dubai.

But as impressive as Dubai International may seem to those passing through it, there’s far more happening behind the scenes than the casual traveler can imagine. I was offered an exclusive opportunity to pass through DXB’s heavily guarded checkpoint for a tour of Emirates Engineering, the airline’s enormous 136-acre technical operations facility.

The occasion of my visit was an inside look at Emirates’ retrofit process: The carrier’s fleet of 10 Boeing 777-200LRs is currently undergoing a comprehensive refresh, at a total cost of some $150 million. The LRs are the smallest and longest-range planes flown by Emirates.

An Emirates 777-200LR undergoes a retrofit in Dubai. Photo by Zach Honig.
Emirates’ second 777-200LR undergoes a retrofit in Dubai. Photo by Zach Honig.

One renovated aircraft has been flying since March, when it launched on Emirates’ route between Dubai and Fort Lauderdale (FLL). The second wide-body Boeing was making its way through the process when I arrived for my tour at the end of May.

A "star" lighting effect is installed in the business-class cabin. Photo by Zach Honig.
A “star” lighting effect is installed in the business-class cabin. Photo by Zach Honig.

Emirates Engineering completely stripped the aircraft, removing everything but the cockpit and some elements of the crew rest.

All 266 seats were yanked out, and then the real work began, with technicians working to upgrade electrical systems and wiring, update the galleys and lavatories and even raise the ceiling height in the business-class cabin by eliminating the center bins.

A lavatory toilet
A toilet after being removed from the aircraft. Photo by Zach Honig.

In total, there are more than 2,700 total components to manage as part of each retrofit.

Ventilation ducts and ceiling panels are just some of the components being replaced. Photo by Zach Honig.
Ventilation ducts and ceiling panels are just some of the components being replaced. Photo by Zach Honig.

With an entirely new two-cabin configuration, the airline decided not to reinstall the eight first-class seats on this long-range subfleet — instead, all 10 777-200LRs will offer 38 business-class seats in a 2-2-2 arrangement, with lie-flat beds and two extra inches of width compared to the 2-3-2 seats installed on the airline’s new 777-300ERs. (It still won’t be an industry-leading 1-2-1 business class.)

Emirates installed brand-new lie-flat business seats on its 777-200LR. Photo by Zach Honig.
Emirates installed brand-new lie-flat business seats on its 777-200LR. Photo by Zach Honig.

Economy will maintain the dense 3-4-3 configuration, but the seat count will jump from 216 to 264, with the extra space coming from those eight scrapped first-class seats.

Technicians install in-flight entertainment software shortly after re-installing the economy section. Photo by Zach Honig.
The installation of in-flight entertainment software shortly after re-installing the economy section. Photo by Zach Honig.

While the first retrofit took 55 days to complete, engineers were able to trim that time to just 35 days for the second plane, having made numerous tweaks after processing the first -200LR.

The second retrofit took just over a month to complete. Photo by Zach Honig.

With this second aircraft complete, Emirates is offering lie-flat seats between Dubai and Santiago, Chile (SCL), with the inaugural taking place today, July 5.

Then, later this summer, the airline should be able to offer lie-flat business seats on all of its Fort Lauderdale flights, which operate five days per week.

Emirates’ new 777-200LR business class. Photo by Zach Honig.

Note that you’ll still get the angle-flat seats in biz on dates where first class is available to book, so choose wisely.

Emirates’ old angle-flat seats will continue flying until the retrofit is complete. Photo by Emily McNutt.

Itineraries originating in the US are priced starting at $5,800 round-trip in business class or $900 round-trip in coach.

The easiest way to book award flights is through Alaska Mileage Plan, with economy seats available most days for 42,500 miles (+$20) each way.

Business class will run you 82,500 miles in each direction — not a bad deal when you consider the high nonstop paid fares, at least in the business cabin.

For more on Emirates business class and the 777-200LR, see:

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