Your Own Private Room … at 40,000 Feet

Emirates Airline has fired the latest salvo in the battle for high-paying passengers in first and business class with new interiors for its fleet, including private minisuites and seats sheltered in a privacy pod.

"The first-class cabin should be designed like a private jet," said Tim Clark, president of Dubai-based Emirates. The airline plans to spend about $10 million a plane to reconfigure the interiors of its 100 long-haul jets.

There is a big reward in the competition for premium passengers. Trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific first- and business-class fares range from $5,000 to $12,000 round trip. The small percentage of passengers paying these fares can account for half a flight's revenue. Emirates and other carriers say demand for premium seats on long-haul flights has grown by 20 percent to 25 percent a year for several years.

American, United, Singapore, Lufthansa, Air France and British Airways have all announced makeovers of its first- and business-class cabins.

But Emirates' makeover is stunning and includes the economy-class cabin.

The first-class minisuites, in honey walnut and leather, have a door that can be closed for complete privacy, creating a small room. The suite includes a wide, flat seat that becomes a bed longer than six feet and includes a massage function. The entertainment system is shown on a 23-inch flat screen. There's a minibar, basket of snacks, a vanity mirror and an extensive gourmet menu; the food is served on demand, whether it is caviar, steak or lobster.

"It's a cabin within a cabin," said Clark. "First-class passengers should have control over their own environment."

In business class, the pod seats recline to a 72-inch-long bed. The pod includes a 17-inch flat screen for playing movies and video.

In economy, there's a 10.6-inch video screen and a newly designed seat that "cradles" the passenger when it is reclined, giving the illusion of more legroom. In fact, the legroom is a standard 32 inches in economy.

Why spend all this money to reconfigure the planes?

Clark says with fast-growing global business and competing airlines profitable, "we have to do it to keep ourselves up there."

It is also part of a plan for the Dubai airline to compete on the same level as industry leaders Singapore, Cathay Pacific and Lufthansa.

What's next? Passengers and analysts will find out on Oct. 25 when Singapore puts its first super jumbo Airbus A-380 into service featuring a new, luxury first-class section.

How will Emirates, which has ordered 55 of the double-decker planes, respond? "That," said Clark, "is top secret."

Emirates has three daily flights from New York and will add service from Houston in December; it also plans expansion to Los Angeles and San Francisco soon.