Tried & Tested

Emirates A380-800 first class

15 Jul 2009 by Tom Otley

Check-in I was transferring from another flight and so was in the first class lounge at Dubai airport a few hours before the scheduled 0745 departure for London Heathrow.

The lounge Arriving just after 0430 the lounge was quite quiet but got busier during the next few hours. To pass the time I had a shower and then a 25-minute foot massage in the spa (both complimentary for first class passengers), then did some work. It was announced the flight was slightly delayed, so I went to the bar and asked for an espresso martini. These are made with either gin or Baileys. I went for the latter, and the drink arrived in a tall cocktail glass and was delicious, brightening my morning considerably.

Boarding From the lounge to Gate 30 you turn right and the take the lift down. There were three air bridges over to the aircraft, two on the lower deck, one just behind the cockpit and another only a few yards further along, and one for the upper deck where first and business are situated in this configuration. Once on board I was shown to my set and offered juice or champagne, though the flight attendant (FA) told me it wasn’t the Dom Perignon, which would only be opened after take-off, which was very open of her.

The seat This is the grandest of all the first class seats on Emirates, and is properly a suite, since it has sliding doors for privacy, high walls and a huge amount of room. There is a table in front of the giant TV screen, a further table to one side, and then the dining table which appears to the push of a button. The colour scheme is pale grey and varnished wood, with a pale grey wave pattern on the aircraft interior walls.

There is a bright little spring of flowers tucked into a wall mount and a basket of goodies (Pringles crisps, chocolates, Walkers shortbread and Smints amongst it) on the table in front of the TV screen. There is also a selection of soft drinks on the side table. Your jacket is hung in a wardrobe built into one of these walls (though rather disconcertingly, the tail end of your jacket appears by your feet).

The configuration is 1-2-1 (to view a seat plan of this aircraft click here) though once you sit down you can’t see anyone else unless you are in the centre seats and lower the divider between them. I was in seat 3E, which was far enough away from the front showers and also the galley behind. The seat has three windows, each of which had a button below that allowed you to electronically lower first a blind, and then a black out blind. This could also be controlled by a switch by the side of the seat.

There was a large glossy instruction booklet for the seat, and there were so many controls around that I passed many happy minutes working out what each one did. One to eject the huge table from the side, another to cause a selection of soft drinks to rise, another to bring out out a kind of vanity table with a mirror and Bulgari amenities, while small vents could be twisted to control the passage of cool air either at my face or body. As well as a desk lamp with its own shade (controlled by a “Bright or Dim” switch beneath the large handset for the IFE system)  and a wall light which could be moved and directed by hand, there was a light on the wall behind one shoulder for reading.

The seat moves forward for when you dine, and there is a pre-set position for this, though I felt it was a little uncomfortable since my feet didn’t touch the floor and were left hanging. Instead I pressed the pre-set for take-off and landing, which was more comfortable. Working is easy because the table is huge and rock solid – no bouncing as you type, and there is a power socket in the ledge beneath the TV screen. I was determined not to watch films, so instead alternated between the three different external cameras on board and the flight map. The flight map is truly amazing, allowing you to play around with the perspective and view, either in full screen or with a side bar giving information on everything from the routing, tail wind, ground speed, air speed (Mach 0.85), aircraft ID and altitude.

Food and drink Shortly after take-off I had my main meal, wanting to catch up on sleep later in the flight. The a la carte menu is daunting in length, but cometh the hour, cometh the man. It included everything from a Continental breakfast and canapés through to a main meal. The choices for breakfast were: fruit juices, fresh smoothies, breakfast fruits, citrus cocktail, assorted cereals, yoghurt, cheese selection and bread basket. There was also a choice of canapes which sounded delicious (grilled scallop glazed with chilli sauce or mini duck shepherd’s pie, to name just two).

The main meal started with a choice of appetisers: Iranian caviar, Arabic mezze selection or smoked salmon tranche, sesame rolled tuna loin and a salad collection. Two soups were on offer: corn and capsicum and curried parsnip. The main courses were peppered beef fillet, chicken shakshouka, seafood cannelloni, wild mushroom crumble, pasta bar (a lot of different choices there), poached sea bass fillet, a la carte vegetables (a choice to go with the main course), all accompanied with the bread basket. Puddings were mini desserts, mixed fruit cobbler, fresh strawberries and cream, selection of fruits and chocolates.

The drinks selection was the best yet, clearly a step up not only from the two business class sectors I had flown with Emirates that week, but also the previous first class flight only hours before from Hong Kong (click here for a review), appropriate not only for the A380, the flagship of the Emirates fleet, but also the flight number of EK001. They were champagne: Dom Perignon 2000, whites: Baron de Ladouchette 2003, Pouilly Fume or Cakebread Cellars, Chardonnay 2005, Napa Valley California; reds: Chateau Gruaud Larose 1989, Cru Classe St Julien; Silverado Vineyards, Merlot 2004, Napa Valley and Le Cheval Fou, 2006, Hermitage. The desert wine was Chateau Filhot 1998 2eme Grand Cru Classe Sauternes and the Port Croft 1994 Vintage Port.

There was also an extensive tea menu. The range from Dilmah came with a separate menu and descriptions of each tea: Camomile Flowers, Cardoman Spice, Ginger Spice, Green Tea, Green Tea with Jasmine, Mandarin, Naturally Spicy Berry, Vanilla, Ceylon Supreme, Darjeeling, Earl Grey and Decaffeinated.

We were only half an hour into the flight when we hit some quite severe turbulence, which surprised me on an aircraft of the A380’s size just out of Dubai, but from then on the flight was amazingly smooth and we cruised at 40,000 feet most of the way to London.

The shower As is well known, this is the only scheduled aircraft in the world with a shower on board, two of them in fact, one on either side of the front staircase. Shortly before take-off I could hear the flight attendant (FA) asking each passenger in turn if they were planning to take a shower and if so, when. I was surprised that many said they would like to, and can only assume it was the novelty factor, since there were showers in the lounges at Dubai, and if passengers were originating in Dubai, presumably they had the chance to shower before going to the airport. In any case, despite not needing one, I felt I should try it out, as a once in a lifetime experience and having never been tempted – or been tempting enough – to join the mile high club. The FA said I could eat whenever I wanted, shower whenever I wanted, and to keep pressing the FA call button whenever I wanted anything.

At first I intended to jump straight in the however after take-off, but then I saw the menu, so it was about three hours into the flight before I ventured forward. There is a full time attendant dedicated to the two shower / toilet areas which are far larger than I had realised, though I think she is also there to stop people from the lower deck coming up the stairs to have a look in first class. As well as the shower cubicle there is a good-sized basin next to it and then a long grey bench either side of the toilet, which reaches to a full-length mirror which runs down one side.

After a quick tour and an explanation of time limits (30 minutes in total, five minutes in the shower), I was left alone. The shower starts with a simple on and off button, and there is a normal temperature control. It felt very strange to be showering at first, but within a few seconds you forget where you are and just get on with it. I only needed 10 minutes in the cubicle and then returned to my seat.

Arrival We made up much of the lost time and landed about 20 minutes late. IRIS immigration was working at T3 and my bags were among the first to arrive on the carousel. I walked through to the Emirates chauffeur desk and within a few minutes was relaxing back in the chauffer-driven Volvo.

Verdict A superb service, my main regret being that since this was a once in a lifetime experience of Emirates’ first class on the A380, the flight wasn’t longer. The showers onboard are a gimmick, but they are a gimmick that works, and at this price point, mark Emirates as a truly world class carrier, and one still focussed on providing first class service, when, once again, there are rumours of several carriers reviewing whether they continue to offer first class.


Tom Otley

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