Riyadh Air’s Premium Economy Will Be Better Than “Anybody’s Business Class”
— 9 July 2024

Riyadh Air’s Premium Economy Will Be Better Than “Anybody’s Business Class”

— 9 July 2024
Garry Lu
Garry Lu

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) only plays to win. And come 2025, the world will be reminded in luxurious detail when Riyadh Air — the Kingdom’s second flag carrier — takes to the skies in their fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

Between private business class suites in lieu of a first-class offering along with market-leading premium economy recliners (more on this later); and the unveiling of its inaugural fashion collection-cum-uniforms at Paris’ prestigious Haute Couture Week (designed by ASHI Studio); they clearly have every intention of paying whatever it costs to distinguish themselves from the competition.

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This past month, an industry source even revealed to BH that Riyadh Air has begun poaching experienced First Officers and Captains by dangling packages worth multiples of their current salaries — we’re talking about tax-free sums in the millions per year for top talent.

Aside from the 700 pilots being circled as we speak, the current headcount targets include approximately 6,000 cabin crew and 1,000 engineers, all of whom will also no doubt be well compensated. 

At the helm of this upstart enterprise is former Etihad Airways CEO Tony Douglas; whose past tenure is most notably remembered for minimising company losses, steering towards profitability, as well as the launch of Etihad’s vaunted A350 business class.

As for how his latest appointment will be remembered in history, let’s just say it begins and ends with sky-high ambitions. And by all accounts, upending the status quo by investing heavily in best-in-class products.

“First class for many international carriers is an egotistical charitable act, which is not commercially sustainable,” Tony Douglas explained at last year’s Skift Global Forum East.

“I think when you see our Premium Economy, most of you will conclude that it’s better than just about anybody’s business class you’ll see out there. And actually, most importantly, when you see our economy, I think you’ll probably conclude that it’s better than just about anybody’s premium economy out there.”

For Riyadh Air, Money Truly Is No Object

More recently, in conversation with Executive Traveller, Douglas elaborated on these sentiments by essentially promising the “Mercedes Maybach” of business-class cabins.

“I say to people, in terms of premium product, ‘Is a Maybach more premium than an S-Class Mercedes?’ And everybody says ‘Of course, it’s a Maybach,’” he told the travel publication’s David Flynn.

“But it’s exactly the same chassis, exactly the same wheelbase, the dimension from front fender to back fender is exactly the same. It’s the same real estate — it’s just that the Maybach is finished to a different level, which presents the product in terms of the internal experience in a more refined way.”

Tony Douglas continued: “So what we’re looking to do, with an obsessional attention to detail with guest experience, is to bring that next level of refinement through how we make you feel.”

Later in the interview, the British executive alluded to an elevated suite of features — beyond the expected sliding privacy doors, HD video screens, wireless charging, and fast high-speed Wi-Fi — hinting at the “series of clues” in the cabin crew uniform and plane livery; before reiterating the bold claim that Riyadh Air’s premium economy could compete against the business class of rival airlines (without lie-flat seats).

“It’s a step up to ‘business minus’ as opposed to ‘economy plus.’”

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For Riyadh Air, Money Truly Is No Object

The carrier plans to operate both domestic and international flights to over 100 different destinations — which will include Australia and New Zealand once there is sufficient aircraft and passenger “flow” — in cooperation with Star Alliance members Singapore Airlines, Air China, Turkish Airlines, and EgyptAir.

“In the early stage of building our network, we’re more likely to put on a ‘thick route’ into Singapore, giving people a wonderful guest experience on Riyadh Air… and the final leg [to Australia or New Zealand] on an equally incredible product and experience with Singapore Airlines,” Douglas explained to Executive Traveller.

It’s expected to generate approximately US$20 billion to Saudi Arabia’s non-oil GDP growth (in addition to creating over 200,000 jobs). Keep an eye out for Riyadh Air, which will operate from a central hub at King Khalid International Airport, sometime in the middle of 2025.

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Garry Lu
After stretching his legs with companies such as The Motley Fool and the odd marketing agency, Garry joined Boss Hunting in 2019 as a fully-fledged Content Specialist. In 2021, he was promoted to News Editor. Garry proudly retains a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, black bruises from Muay Thai, as well as a black belt in all things pop culture. Drop him a line at [email protected]


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