Background This was the delivery flight for the new A380-800 from the Airbus Hamburg plant to Dubai (EK7380). The first commercial flight is on Friday (August 1) from Dubai to New York. As such, much of the boarding procedure was abnormal, not least walking across the tarmac to board the plane. The premium cabins (first and business) are on the upper deck, and normally an air bridge would take those passengers directly onto the plane at that level.
First impressions Emirates has ordered 58 A380s in three different configurations, ranging from 489 to 644 seats. This aircraft (A6-EDA), the first to be delivered, is configured in 489 seats, with 14 in first and 76 in business. The business class on the A380 is divided into two cabins, the space between them being storage space for coats and also an emergency exit.
I was to the rear of the upper deck, designated cabin B, in window seat 24A, albeit one which has a side table between the seat and the window. The seat plan below shows the staggered configuration of the seats which allows for the fully flat bed to both recline and extend. The extension occurs as your feet go under the side table of the seat in front of you. In an upright position there is an alcove in which you can rest your feet on a raised cushion (see image below), which in turn lifts up to reveal a shoe box.
To the side of the seat is a space for magazines, and the main table pops out from within the side table and then folds out to make a good work space. Note, though, that if you want to get out of your seat, you have to fold this away since it does not push forward far enough for you to lever yourself out of the seat, nor does it pivot upwards. There is a power socket beneath the TV screen, along with the headphone socket (BOSE noise cancelling headphones) and two USB sockets for those who want to look at photos from their cameras or view anything on their laptop computer.
The IFE system is the latest version of the ICE system, and has a number of excellent features, not least the chance to watch the plane from forward camera, land view and tail view, which when you are sitting on the upper deck for take off is well worth using. Each seat has its own mini-bar with soft drinks, a pair of socks, ear plugs and eye mask, as well as a couple of buttons for lights and three pre set positions for the seat (there are more options, including massage, on the wireless handset). If you choose a reclining seated position, a footrest automatically rises from the console in front of you (just below the cushion which forms the foot of the bed when the seat is fully reclined).
Towards the rear of the aircraft for business class passengers is the bar, which is a great place to stretch your legs, though I wonder if in time those wanting to sleep will naturally gravitate to the larger, forward cabin of the two on this configuration to avoid any noise. There are bassinet holes in the front of both cabins so babies could end up in both cabins, but again, only usage will determine what the policy is for this.
The most important thing to note about the seats is that they are not all equal. There are 76 business class seats. Outside seats A and K, and the innermost seats E and F have the most room, both when sitting and when sleeping, while the seats nearest the aisles (B, D, G and J) have the least. The difference comes because all seats have been given aisle access, and so the aisle seats have to allow room for the outermost and innermost seats to gain access to the aisle, and those seven or eight inches are lost in leg room.
That’s not to say the bed isn’t generous in length (70 inches for seats B, D, G and J), but tall travellers will want to choose seats A or K (79-inch bed) or the seats in the middle, E and F, which would be good for those travelling with a business partner or friend, perhaps, since there is only a divider between these seats and it is easy to chat. If travelling on your own, the window seats are best, though note that the overhead storage is smaller at these seats, so arrive early and put your bags in the main overhead storage if possible.
The flight Before take off there was a choice of champagne, water or juices, while jackets were hung and newspapers in several languages offered.
We had a slight delay before take off because of congestion at nearby Hamburg airport, and then took off in front of a crowd of several thousand. I got the impression we did a circuit of Hamburg, before beginning the routing. In flight the plane is noticeably quieter than say a B747-400 or a A340-600, a result of the GP7200 engines, manufactured by the Engine Alliance, and conversations carry quite easily from neighbouring seats.
Meal choice: a selection of cold canapés, including gravalax, goat's cheese with dill and Mexican chicken, followed by a choice of appetizers (Seafood Delight, Smoked Duck, Seasonal side salad and a classic salad nicoise). Main courses were Arabic style chicken breast, steamed fillet of char, ravioli or the marked healthy choice, poached fillet of beef, with only 263 calories. The wine choice included a Taittinger Champagne, with white wines being a Charming Gruner Veltliner, Laurenz V or Porcupine Ridge Sauvingnon Blanc, and reds were a Chateau du Tertre, Margaux 2002 or a Brolio Chianti Classico 2005, Barone Ricasoli.
The service on this flight was abnormal, mainly because passengers on board were wandering between the different cabins. I went down the back stairs into economy to try that seat, and was impressed by the amount of space the new seat gives, and the seat power (shared between every two seats). As well as reclining, the economy seats cantilever in the seat area, meaning the passenger behind is less constricted when you recline your seat. The lower deck is broken up into four cabins, and seems less daunting because of it, yet nevertheless there are 399 economy seats on this lower deck.
Arrival Despite leaving late, we caught up on time and landed at Dubai airport where workers from the airport applauded and we disembarked using multiple airbridges.
Verdict It’s hard to overstate what Emirates is planning with the A380 and it’s also hard to see how other carriers can compete on this scale. The business class product is comparable with other fully-flat products, though choose your seat carefully.
Seat plan for the Emirates A380-800