REVIEW: Emirates A-380 – Utter decadence in the sky

EMIRATES BUSINESS AND FIRST CLASS ON THE A-380:  AN EXPERIENCE FIT FOR AN EMIR IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE

October 1st, 2014

SB Veda <Kolkata-London>

There has been much hype about the addition of the flagship Airbus A-380 aircraft to the fleet of Emirates. Recently, the airline added two flights using this plane to Gatwick Airport from Dubai, which is in addition to the Heathrow flight that was established several years back. We thought we’d review both Business and First Class on this flight, especially as the latter boasts an in-flight shower!

FLIGHT:  Kolkata to London (Gatwick) via Dubai

BUSINESS CLASS

Emirates boasts best-in-class customer service, often throwing in chauffeur driven airport drop into the mix, and not to mention the airport lounge. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we could not enjoy either but were promised the facility of a lounge on the plane.

A word about changing planes in Dubai: be prepared to hurry. Our outbound flight from Kolkata was delayed, and we had only an hour window to go through security and change terminals by monorail before boarding our connecting flight. I had left my mobile phone at security and literally had to run back. Fortunately, the security check counter had kept the phone aside, and when I unlocked it using my passcode, they became convinced I was the rightful owner, giving me my life back (that’s what it’s come to with smartphones, these days – we store our lives on these devices).

Business Class essentials kit to keep oneself groomed and fresh.

The flight from Kolkata to Dubai was comfortable, indeed but Dubai to London was uber-comfortable. We were escorted to the upper deck where friendly flight attendants greeted us with our choice of juice or champagne. Unwinding in the spacious seats with ample legroom, I opened up my amenities kit, complete with toothbrush/paste, sleeping mask, comb, two types of lotion, deodorant, razor and shaving cream.

Business class seating arrangement of 1:2:1 seats. The side single seats seem more spacious even though all seats are the same size. Comfort and utility are supported by the fine service in Business Class

The entertainment unit contained 3,500 channels; with so many choices, my kid was set for the flight! Seats come in two configurations; in pairs and single seats with privacy barrier. I found the single seat to be spacious and luxurious; my companions, however, felt the middle pair seats were just a cut-above premium economy, and somewhat cramped for Business Class.

After take-off, some snacks and drinks were served, and we were encouraged to stretch our legs and socialize in the lounge.

ONBOARD LOUNGE

The lounge is available for both Business and First Class passengers. It consists of a curved bar, which serves finger food like mini-bagels, smoked salmon, quiches and the like as well as the full array of non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages.  One can sit at the bar or stroll around the lounge. Some bench couches are available if one wants to plop down for a bit or have a more private conversation with another passenger.

The lounge seemed to be not only a place where passengers could eat, drink and roam but also a meeting place where business cards were exchanged freely.  I met the former founder of the short-lived airline, Modi-Luft, the Indian joint venture that had much promise in the domestic sphere but went the way of many such airlines like Sahara and Kingfisher, to name two.

A letting agent working for a British company in Dubai talked about the two worlds of living in their gated compound as opposed to touring the rest of the city.  She seemed to enjoy getting away from her life in London for a working vacation in Dubai.

The onboard lounge offers the opportunity to stretch one’s legs and socialize. The availability of an in-flight lounge area separates Business and First Class on Emirates from other airlines – a real pleasure to avail.

Worried about turbulence: don’t. Light turbulence doesn’t warrant going back to one’s seat. The attendants simply let passengers buckle up on the bench-seats, and even offer refreshments like champagne to ease the bumps!

FIRST CLASS:

For those who are used to first class seats, the Emirates first class suite is on a whole different level than other airlines.

Sans overhead baggage locker, the suite cabin has an open and airy feel to it. Coupled with the privacy of having a personal suite with “do not disturb” option, one can really get some decent rest in Emirates FIRST CLASS

The first class suites give the feeling of a luxury train ride to the flight experience. Privacy, comfort and utility are the USPs of the suites.

The seats can be configured into a 78″ fully lie-flat bed with added mattress/topper and faux sheepskin blanket for maximum comfort. Your cabin crew will skillfully provide turndown service for you — all you have to do is ask!

The seats in First Class recline into flat beds but even in ‘seat mode’ offer ample comfort.

After some relaxing shut-eye, if one wants to freshen up, there is no need to go to the restroom. A lighted vanity mirror with skincare and sleep products, a number of lamps/lighting options, enable putting oneself right before exiting the suite.  The personal mini bar that can be raised and lowered from the side console with the touch of a button in case one just wants some refreshment before continuing in repose mode.

The availability of pajamas makes sleeping in the cabin that much more civilized. By the way, these are no ordinary pajamas: per the airline, they are, “Hydra Active Microcapsule lounge wear” that apparently “gently releases naturally nutrient-rich sea kelp as you move around, preventing dehydration and stimulating circulation.” Talk about space-age!

The Bvlgari amenity kit was full of luxury skincare products, and even included a small bottle of the company’s signature scent – eau parfumée au thé noir. And, the soft slippers are keepers for sure.

Cosmetics and munchies come with the First Class Suite. Suggested tip: leave room in your carry-on!

The small basket of tasty treats lying in wait for the passenger on the suite’s personal desk offers like shortbread cookies, chocolates, Pringles, granola bars, mints, and even Uppy (a specially made supplement to help you rehydrate while flying). They invite one to munch – but I surely some load up and save them for later.

The vanity contained essential oil sniff boxes, which included one to relax (lavender) and one to focus (bergamot, lemon, & cinnamon), as well as a soothing balm/lotion and a refreshing “dry shower” lotion. Lastly, there is a small drawer built into the desk that houses an Emirates writing kit. Do people still write? I wonder. Still, availability of internet makes communication with friends and family a breeze.

With 14 suites in a 1-2-1 configuration, there’s certainly a favorite spot for everyone. As you can see in the photo below, the middle seats have a partition that can be lowered, so you can chat throughout the flight if you’re flying with a friend or partner. And, The first class seats have a 23″ width and 86″ pitch, which is more than enough room to relax over 12 hours if needed.

Automatic blind and door service at the touch of a button makes adjusting light and entering/exiting a modern wonder.

THE FACILITIES

Airline bathrooms conjure up the image of cramped quarters with barely enough room to stand or sit; the bumps of even the slightest turbulence risk an accident, and so the toilets on planes usually smell horrible.  But the bathrooms on Emirates First Class (and due to shower facility, they are actual bathrooms) are spacious, luxurious and most of all well-maintained.

Spacious restrooms cleaned after every use and topped up regularly.

Emirates first class offers the option to take a short shower on the plane. Showers are scheduled (usually for a couple of hours before landing), so each passenger gets a chance to experience this perk. Flight attendants are at the ready to show how everything works, and fresh towels, shower gel, and lotions are provided.

Showers are limited to 5 minutes so Emirates can ensure there is enough water for all passengers. This is just enough time leave the plane feeling shower fresh. Plus, one can stop/start the shower per requirement, so one gets a of 5 minutes of flowing water. The bathroom can be reserved for a longer period of time, so one isn’t rushed to dry off and get ready, after the shower.

Shower facilities are good but the showers are short. Overall, it’s something of an over-hyped feature but the only such offering on an airline that allows a passenger to deplane in a shower-fresh state.

MEALS

Would that one could get proper silverware in economy: the plates and cutlery in Business Class and First are of fine quality, and brings a level of civility to the meal service. And, one simply cannot enjoy wine in a plastic cup. A proper wine glass of proper shape enables one to thoroughly enjoy the aroma and flavours in the glass. French wines were in ample supply as well as a nice Australian one.

Business Class offers many great options: Braised lamb; prawn; Chicken Biryani; and an array of deserts and cheeses – the standard offerings for business travel. When I say standard, I mean standard for Business Class, which is about a hundred times better than the artificial-tasting ‘food’ offered in economy.

First class is on another level: Within reason, Emirates is pretty-much dine-on-demand, meaning one can get almost whatever one wants – and this, too, whenever desired. There is a find a range of gourmet dishes, a la carte options, snacks, etc. With caviar as appetizer, how can one go wrong?

From Arabian Mezze to fine cheeses, there are many appetizers to wet the appetite but none finer than caviar

SERVICE:

With friendly comportment, the well-trained flight crew offered impeccable service in both Business  and First class. The cabin crew seemed truly delighted to have us on board and took care of us like we were honoured guests. They were quick to serve, extremely friendly, and did a fantastic job of being attentive yet not at all intrusive.

The bathrooms were cleaned between every single use, the cabin stayed neat and tidy the entire time (no small feat on a ~16hr flight), and the community amenities like lavatory skincare products were topped up regularly.

WARNING: DON’T ASK TOO MANY QUESTIONS

As journalists, we found it natural to make small talk with the flight attendants. I asked one what life was like in Dubai. She stiffened, and said she wasn’t aloud to talk about that. Another attendant teared up at the question, coming from a colleague. All she said was that she had to put having a family on hold to keep her job.

Later, in reading up about working conditions and policies applied to Emirates flight crew, we learned that flight attendants are kept in compounds where their comings and goings and luggage is tracked by RFID tags. Many experience a culture of harassment by male colleagues in a culture that considers women as second-class human beings. And, the incidents of women being fired for things ranging from getting pregnant to smoking, demonstrate a culture of dominance over those who’ve taken these jobs out of grave economic necessity.

I’ll likely never fly Emirates again if I can help it. The experience was truly wonderful but how can one justify supporting a culture of worker exploitation?

In the end, the perfect airline had one fatal flaw: In giving us an experience fit for a king, the policies supporting the service might well be akin to those of a despotic leader. One gets the feeling that beyond the smiling faces of the female staff are despairing souls.  Emirates provides the emir experience in more ways than one, and perhaps the totality of it should be considered before purchasing that ticket!

Click on this link for more info on what it’s like Behind the Scenes of the life of an Emirates flight attendant.

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