[DUBAI] Emirates, the world's biggest airline on international routes, said it'll introduce a first-class cabin that allows more privacy at "commercially viable" rates, following the success of premium suites on its super jumbos.
The product will initially be rolled out on the airline's Airbus Group NV A380 planes followed by the Boeing Co. 777s, Sheikh Majid Al Mualla, Emirates' divisional senior vice president of commercial operations for the region, told reporters in Dubai.
Emirates' President Tim Clark last year said the airline is developing a more exclusive first-class product centered around the bedroom concept. His comments came after regional No. 3, Etihad Airways PJSC in Abu Dhabi, last May unveiled the Residence cabin on its first A380s, complete with a dedicated butler and three rooms.
"In the last two or three months, it has been in the final stage," Al Mualla said, adding that the new cabin will be unveiled "hopefully" this year and at "almost the same pricing" as current cabins. "It should be more commercially viable for passengers."
A small percentage of luxury travelers are willing to pay top dollar for premium suites in the sky. Etihad's Residence, which costs US$20,000 for a one-way trip between Abu Dhabi and London permitting dual occupancy, had sold out the first 10 flights a month before it debuted in December.
Emirates' product will be "more like if you're in a railway and have a private cabin," Mr Al Mualla said, adding it will be installed on routes that have a high load factor in first class.
Qatar Airways said it is working on a double-bed cabin with business-class catering to compete with its rivals' costlier first-class products.
"Emirates has been a trendsetter in first class, it has a first-comer's advantage," said Mark Martin, founder and CEO of Dubai-based Martin Consulting. "I don't think Etihad will create a dent in the first-class segment because Emirates has a bigger fleet. It's going to help Emirates with jam-and-jelly revenue where their bread and butter has been economy." A retrofit and refurbishment will be costly, he added.