Cheap oil is forcing a luxury airline to make a major change

Cheap oil is a double-edged sword for Emirates.

Affordable crude helped the Dubai-based airline earn a record $1.93 billion in profits last year.

With much of its premium business dependent on oil wealth, however, Emirates has felt the pinch from cheap gas prices limiting the spending power of it high-end clients.

In fact, the airline saw revenue fall for the first time in a decade.

As a result, Emirates will have to turn to a different and more financially prudent class of passengers to make up for the reduction in first-class bookings.

According to Bloomberg’s Deena Kamel and Andrea Rothman, Emirates CEO Sir Tim Clark has hinted at the addition of a premium economy class to the airlines’ fleet.

Clark believes premium economy will provide a greater level of fare flexibility in a time when falling oil prices have caused a paradigm change in the way his wealthy customers spend money, Bloomberg reported.

A Dubai-based travel agent recently told Business Insider that first and business-class passengers have been downgrading one or even two classes.

The new premium economy class, which is already common on other major airlines around the world, would be slotted between economy and business class.

Although not as plush Emirates’ traditional business-class offering — which includes lie flat beds and access to the on-board bar — premium economy will provide a significant upgrade over coach.

In many respects, with wider seats, more legrooms, and meals served on fine china, the premium economy experience more or less that of business class more than decade ago.

Emirates isn’t the only major Middle Eastern carrier looking to reduce its dependence on the über wealthy. Qatar Airways has removed the first-class suites on many of the airline’s newest planes. Both the new Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 Dreamliners in Qatar’s fleet fly with only business and economy class seats.

With more than 250 wide-body-long-haul airliners, Emirates is the world’s largest international airline.

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