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August 29, 2008

Upstairs, Downstairs: Emirates Inspires New Airline Class System

Emirates A380
Airbus CEO Thomas Enders exits
an Emirates Airbus A380.

AP Photo

by Barbara S. Peterson

In the last few weeks we've seen a few signs of a trend: Not only is the gap widening between the amenities in the airlines' premium and economy cabins--actually, customer service is just about disappearing from the back of the bus--but also more airlines are introducing flight cabins that are so exclusive that you never have to lay eyes on the masses sitting in coach!

Singapore has expanded its all-business-class flights to Los Angeles, flying nonstop from Changi, after launching the service on its Newark-to-Singapore nonstops a few months ago. One of the perks, in addition to the wide seats, semi-private "pods" and the like, is that you get spared that embarrassing spectacle of coach fliers marching through premium territory on their way to cattle class--what one airline insider jokingly calls the "walk of shame" (though to be fair, in Singapore's former layout for the flights, the world's longest at around 18 hours, the now-retired coach cabin had more legroom and space than on other planes.)

Now Emirates has taken the airline's class system to new heights, literally, with its first A380--the world's largest commercial airliner, with two full-length decks. The upper deck is reserved exclusively for first and business classes, with 14 and 76 seats, respectively; the lower level (one must resist calling it steerage) seats 399. The behemoth plane made its debut on a nonstop Dubai-to-JFK run on August 8, and is now flying thrice weekly on the route (to be increased to daily frequencies this fall). In addition to in-flight showers for first class--an industry first (and an expensive one, adding tons of extra weight to the plane)--the premium class fliers get to board the plane directly from their own airport lounge, using a jetbridge that connects only to the top deck. Economy fliers board from the main jetway to the bottom deck.

But here again, the coach class isn't your average knee-knocking horror show: on Emirates, coach fliers get a bit more room; after all, the flight is more than 15 hours. The New York Times recently profiled the designer responsible for eking a few more inches out of the economy space.

Open Skies, the British Airways spinoff that began three-class service between Paris and New York in June, has decided to drop coach class altogether with the launch of its second route--New York to Amsterdam--on October 15. The plane will now have just 64 seats--40 in Prem Plus, its version of premium economy, and 24 business class seats. The idea, says the airline's chief, Dale Moss, is to give the cabins the feel of a private jet. In other words, tourists in t-shirts are not welcome.

Further reading:
Singapore Airlines' New FlyPod Service

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