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The future of aviation – classless, but premium classy

Forget first and even business class – there is a luxury solution that fits all tastes

Emirates premium economy: mind you don't get lost with all the leg room Emirates media centre
Emirates premium economy: mind you don't get lost in all the leg room

There was a noticeable spring in the step of cabin crew of my Dubai to London flight on Emirates earlier this week; a quicker flash to the smile, a more enthusiastic “welcome back, Mr Francis”.

Maybe they were genuinely pleased to see me again after a few weeks of not boarding an Emirates flight, and if so it’s nice to be missed by my favourite airline.

But I suspect it had more to do with the warm glow of a pay bonus roughly equivalent to half a year’s salary that they had all been awarded in the wake of recent record profits by the airline.

I spoke to some of them, and congratulated them on all the hard work that had earned them such a nice “thank you” from Sir Tim Clark, Emirates’ long-serving president, after the airline had announced their highest ever profits, some $2.9 billion.

“It’s great. Those Covid days seem a long way away,” said one, referring to the dark days of spring 2020 when the airline was grounded for a few weeks before a slow resumption of its global network. Some staff took “unpaid leave”, and many feared for their long-term future.

But now a rehiring spree is under way as Emirates and other airlines seek to satisfy surging demand for post-Covid travel.

The bonus puts the Dubai airline in pole position to retain and attract staff at all levels, not just cabin crew, in an increasingly competitive aviation business, especially in the Middle East.

“I haven’t decided what to spend it on yet. Maybe send some to my family and buy some new clothes,” said another worker on my flight who was as excited as if she had bet on Manchester City to win the treble. “But it’s a nice choice to have.”

I had chosen something different that day – premium economy. This had broken my strict rules on airline travel: economy class when I’m paying for it, business when somebody else is. First class only when the airline graciously offers it, either as an upgrade or (as has happened occasionally over the years) as the opportunity arises to write about its delights.

So I had paid something like 50 percent over the price of a standard economy ticket to go premium. Was the experience 50 percent better?

Oh yes.

The premium seats were bigger and more comfortable, and tastefully luxurious. Leg room was fine for me, though smaller people might feel a little agoraphobic. The seat reclined not quite to flatbed position, but far enough to grab a refreshing snooze on the seven-hour flight.

I must admit I did not really notice the bigger and better TV screen, but Emirates says it is an enhanced version of the economy version. The Post – the fantastic Spielberg movie about journalists telling truth to power – was just as good as it was in economy or business, or even in the cinema.

The real difference was in the food offered on board, both in terms of quality and standard of service. It was just classy.

There was none of that frustration you experience in economy when you are sitting in row 48 and see the food trolley coming at row 22, knowing that your stomach will rumble on for another 30 minutes while some sybarite in 24 asked for extra Lea & Perrins in her Bloody Mary.

The butter chicken served that day was as good as in any starred Indian restaurant in Dubai or London. And the 12 year old Chateau la Garde was simply … to fly for.

The passenger-to-loo ratio – a very important indicator of in-flight comfort – was also impressive, with three bathrooms serving 56 seats in premium economy.

As I left the plane at Heathrow, haughtily cocking a snook at the economy passengers still waiting for their airbridge to arrive, it dawned on me that this is the future of aviation.

Everything should be premium economy. Classless airlines.

All that space in first class taken up by sliding-door cubicles and showers is just a wasted revenue opportunity. The in-flight bar in business is very nice, but, from a revenue point of view, how much does Emirates make from a crowd of loudmouth businessmen chatting up the cabin crew on a transatlantic flight on free booze?

No doubt Sir Tim and others at Emirates – smarter people than me by a long way – have done the maths here. But if not, here is my free offering. Classless flight – all premium.

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