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08 September 2014

Flying Emirates A380 Business Class





I have always been a huge Emirates fan, I consider them my airline of choice and after joining them in over 200 flights to more than 15 destinations I have developed a sense of familiarity every time I step into the aircraft.


We used to joke with my colleagues that boarding the plane kicked off the weekly “Emirates moment”, the most enjoyable and awaited moment of the week and the one that would take us home from the not so glamorous destinations we used to work in. It was like coming back home.

Emirates is the only airline landing an A380 aircraft in Spain on their Dubai-Barcelona route and it is something of a legend with people lining up to see the gigantic plane land on the tarmac. The double decker has mastered the art of exclusivity. Business and First Class passengers board through a different gate and, in Dubai, from a different floor directly at the gargantuan lounge. 

Configuration




The entire upper deck hosts the premium classes. With a 1-2-1 configuration in the Business Class the plane carries 76 guests when full on what I would call compact seats. 

Emirates' seat design and configuration have resolved some of the issues of flying as a couple. With the intention of providing maximum privacy the middle two seats usually include partitions which make it hard for couples or colleagues to have a conversation, unless you want the entire cabin to hear. On the A380 some of the middle two seat sets are separated by the minibar and storage while some other have the amenities on the aisles placing seats only a partition away from each other. 

For single travellers, the seat of choice is the window with the minibar by the aisle so you are furthest from the very narrow aisle and avoid being woken up by the constant crew traffic.

Having flown the skies with Singapore Airlines coveted Business and First Class several times I found Emirates Business class seats rather crammed. The seat is not significantly wider than their economy counterpart in the newest Emirates A380 which I flew on the other leg of my Barcelona-Dubai-Singapore flight although the upgrade obviously comes with a much larger leg room and with flatbeds. 




The storage and minibar area left me wondering if there wouldn't be a better use for that space. I also noticed the window seats feel more spacious than the middle ones.

The table is large enough for a pleasant work session if necessary and the storage area can be used to hold drinks, snacks and any personal belongings so tables are clear and there is no risk of spillage. Also it is of the right height allowing you to have your laptop open and watch TV at the same type for those advanced multi-taskers like me. 

The seat comes with handy plugs and two USB ports to connect phones. You will need a US/European adaptor but the crew will usually be able to help if you don’t have any.

Service 


Talking about the crew, the premium class has a high guest-crew ratio ensuring that you are pampered and served at all times. While I was checking in I saw the whole crew entering the airport marching towards the security control as if orchestrated. 
Cabin service is usually impeccable and genuine. Asian airlines are the best in terms of service. Crew members tend to be younger and less jaded of years in the skies but the multi-national composition of Emirates adds a level of joyfulness and genuine smiles on the crew members. They are usually more flexible than the farther east stiffer airlines. 

With Emirates, I never felt, even in Economy, that I was bothering a crew member, even after buzzing more than 3 times in the same flight. It is this intangible nuances that makes them always my personal choice.

However, on this occasion I was very disappointed with the service level. Later on I found out the crew had gone out the night before until very later and several of them were in no way interested in working trying to nurture their hangover instead. Particularly during meal service the staff were inattentive and not proactive. At one point close to landing I was even ordered to store the empty bottle of water in the minibar myself instead of the crew taking it away as rubbish. In the entire flight I was not offered drinks at any time. If it was the first time I flew Emirates I would have wondered what all the fuss was about but because I am a frequent flier I tried to investigate further.
As the flight took off at 4pm and landed in Dubai at 1am we were not given amenity bags which the airline used to give on all long haul flights in the past. Over the years I accumulated tens of the Bulgari creams and perfumes. Nowadays, Emirates has joined the rest of the airlines and only provides them in overnight flights. 

My only recurrent cabin complaint with Emirates as with most Middle Eastern airlines, is the colder than necessary temperature on board, so pack a jumper.

In-flight entertainment


What differentiates Emirates from other airlines is their incredible entertainment selection complete with noise cancelling headsets in Business that are genuinely screaming-child proof. 



The ICE system has over 1,500 channels sure to keep you busy on the longest of flights. Even if you have seen the large selection of international movies in all languages and from all countries you can then flip to the huge TV box series or the never ending music play lists. If you are more of an old world type of person Emirates also offers a very wide choice of magazines from sports to fashion and travel. 

The seats have a few lighting options and quick seat reclining buttons to get the seat flat in just one touch. The controller can also be used to operate the in-built chair massage or the ICE system, also manageable through the TV touch screen.

Emirates A380 became famous for its well-known and much photographed on board bar where snacks and drinks are served anytime during the flight. Leather seats in a horseshoe shape by the window are the perfect spot for that social gathering or business discussion. Snacks, tea and sandwiches are available anytime. Champagne or any other drink can be served by the bar’s waitress.

If you want a peaceful flight make sure not to take the seats that are at the back closest to the bar to avoid the constant noise, laughter and loud chatter of animated guests, especially if you are flying to Spain, we are known for talking loudly. Rows to avoid would be 24-26.

WiFi is available on board for $5 for 10MB so it’s only useful as a novelty or if you have an emergency.

I noticed Emirates has addressed a source of annoyance to frequent fliers: their repeated announcements. You get two English-Arabic videos, one before take-off about the security in flight and another one after take-off about plane and life on board plus the announcements made by the crew and then another video before landing. And on the flights to Spain they add everything in Spanish as well. This makes it over 10 announcements some of which are quite long adding up to over 20min of interruptions. I welcome the airline’s decision to reduce some of them on the premium classes.
 

The cuisine


Emirates cuisine in the air used to be their weakest point. In my 5 years flying the airline every week I felt their food tasted all the same and was rather bland and often overcooked. I saw some changed but can’t say if they are for the good. 

In Economy class portions are filling and food tasted nicely, a significant improvement. In Business Class, the menu features two starters, a soup, a salad and three mains. I opted for the smoked trout and the sea bass. Service is restaurant-like with a crew member walking up and down the aisles with the dishes and wine selection.




I was very disappointed with the meal service. Seated on the last row the crew took so long to cover the length of the plane that I only got my wine half way through my main and only because I waited to start my second course. The soup listed on the menu was nowhere to be seen and we were never offered it, the salad was lifeless, my fish was unattractive, dry and overcooked and both my starter and main were very salty. Considering our taste buds are numbed in the air I can’t imagine how salty the food must have been on the ground. 

In the past, desserts on longer flights (+4h long) used to be paraded in a cart in a much pompous way with beautifully colourful cut fruit boards and a large cheese selection on display. Emirates has done away with that and is now only serving you desserts on order. I was not offered any cheese or desert wines.

I felt that the crew was very inattentive during the meal service and wanted to finish as soon as possible and it let the entire experience down considerably. Even when I queried the crew on whether the wine was coming and expressed my discontent with the time it was taking there was nothing done to fix that. I was never offered more drinks than that one round of wine and nothing with my dessert. I can't remeber being offered coffee or port wine either.

The verdict


I last flew Emirates Business Class 2 years ago and I noticed several small personal touches making the experience less cookie cutter. The cocktail list is more sophisticated and beautifully executed. My mojito had the right level of sweetness and was shaken to perfection, although the crew clearly looked annoyed when I ordered it and never offered a new one when I finished mine. The nuts had been slightly warmed up which was pleasant. 

The food service was not deserving of the Business Class price tag. Although unacceptable for a premium class, I chose to think of it as a one-off case because of my previous numerous experiences on board Emirates. I hope to be right.

Overall, except for the relatively smaller seats and the disappointing meal service Emirates A380 experience is a solid option for comfort, quality and service and the best alternative for long haul connections via Dubai from Barcelona. 

Chose a window seat in the front rows.

Notice: This is a paid flight which I upgraded myself to from Barcelona at the Emirates airport counter