CHECK-IN The Emirates business class experience began with a text message with my flight details at around 0730. I was prompted again at 1700 – this time a brief, courteous confirmation that my complimentary “limousine” would be waiting at my pre-arranged pick-up point at 1920.
After arriving at the airport at around 2000 the check-in was smooth. Two business class desks and one first class counter ensured there was no waiting time at all. The assistant helpfully bound the straps of my bag together with a cable tie before wishing me a pleasant flight.
THE LOUNGE Arrival at the lounge was similarly friendly and I was personally guided from the reception desk to the seating area. The buffet featured an impressive cheese board, Chinese-style chicken, seafood and rice dishes. When I arrived, it looked like most dishes had been around since lunchtime, so I steered clear of the seafood and opted for some simple cheese and a couple of stuffed vine leaves. Both were fairly pleasant, though the leaves suffered from the structural integrity of a papier mâché water balloon.
Brownie points were scored, however, when one member of staff not only carried my can of Asahi beer (Heineken and Tsingtao were also available) to my table but also opened and poured the drink, before presenting the lounge wifi password with thanks.
BOARDING I was given a reminder by the lounge staff and the gate took only a few minutes’ walk to reach. Boarding the plane was straightforward and on time. Before takeoff orange juice, apple juice, water and some chilled champagne were offered.
THE SEAT The Emirates A380 has a three-class configuration with first and business located on the upper deck. Three bulkheads split the cabin, with the first class located at the front end. Business class is arranged in a 1-2-1 seat arrangement and begins in the upper deck’s midsection. This, the largest area, seats 58 passengers whilst the rear section contains 18 seats. Despite being a smaller size, the rear cabin is more likely to experience disruption as the business class bar and all four bathrooms are located in the rear.
My seat, 24D, was in the rear section, located on the left-hand side of the centre aisle. The business class seating pod is excellent in its design. A single universal power socket is handy for laptop use, and for entertainment purposes the 17-inch personal screen is more than adequate, although it’s slightly out of reach when the seat is reclined. Thankfully, a touchscreen tablet that is docked in your seat doubles as a handy wireless controller. There’s also a standard cord controller built into the armrest that can be used during takeoff and landing, during which time the wireless controller is locked into position. The seat itself reclines to a full flatbed and features a massage function with a variety of settings.
With its fold-out design the table is perhaps the only weak point, being rather unstable; lengthy periods of typing proved frustrating and it would have been precarious to keep drinks on the same platform as a laptop. Thankfully, the seating pod features a number of fixed, steady and accessible platforms. In comparison to the business class seats on the Emirates B777-300ER, in terms of privacy it feels more like a first class suite.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? For the solo traveller, the seat you want is either A7 or K7. Both seats are located in the middle of the upper deck, the larger of the two business cabins. These seats are almost entirely secluded from the other passengers. The relative distance from the bathrooms and galley service points mean they are also the least likely to be disturbed throughout the flight. The window side location also affords the best view in the class.
THE FLIGHT Takeoff was typical for the A380: smooth. Once airborne, guests were able to indulge in the one of the aircraft’s more exciting features – the bar. Whilst it may seem like a gimmick, the bar actually seemed extremely popular and had an ambience more readily associated with after-work drinks or a networking event than an international flight. The space can reputedly hold 25 people but it seemed fairly busy with the nine passengers I counted.
Service was prompt and efficient without being hurried; food was served within the first two hours. There was a choice of lamb curry, chicken and rice or a vegetarian option. I opted for the former, which was mildly spicy with a fair serving of meat and a generous portion of rice. The whole meal was fairly dry though; flavour wise, it was quite robust and more than acceptable when accompanied by a glass of the refreshing vintage Chateau Margaux 2004 – one of the red choices alongside Schild Estate Shiraz 2009. The Margaux was recommended by the crew and they weren’t wrong.
After a stopover in Bangkok, we continued on the second, six-hour leg, which was smooth and enjoyable. My seat fully reclined, I was able to drift off with the entire David Bowie back catalogue playing through the noise-cancelling headphones. Breakfast was served around 90 minutes before landing. I chose the continental breakfast, which came with a surprisingly good coffee with a luxurious crema.
A complimentary toiletry bag had also been issued at the start of the flight, containing a Gillette Mach 3 razor, shaving cream, toothpaste, deodorant and aftershave. With the help of these amenities, I was fresh and alert in time for arrival.
ARRIVAL We arrived at Dubai’s new Concourse A, which is exclusive to Emirates and its partner, Qantas. Landing at 0400, the airport was quiet and processing was easy, and we drifted through security without any delay. As I was taking a connecting flight, I remained within the terminal, taking full advantage of the exceptional business class facilities.
THE CONCOURSE For passengers, the concourse building has three core floors and the business and first class lounges each have a dedicated level above the economy departure point. The business lounge can facilitate up to 2,500 passengers at any one time, whilst the first class lounge can accommodate nearly 1,500.
The business level features multiple buffet dining areas, shower facilities and two cigar rooms. There is also a quiet room where guests can sleep plus separate prayer rooms, a business centre and a small conference facility.
The first class lounge has the same facilities plus a luxury duty-free store, a wine cellar operated by Le Clos and two à la carte restaurants with glass-fronted open kitchens. Two spas are also available for use by both lounges, and first class customers receive a complimentary 15-minute back massage or facial.
Checking in to the business lounge was straightforward, although it required a few escalator trips to get to the right floor. The counters were well staffed and, although a number of passengers arrived at once, there was no wait time. I was advised to choose the left-hand side of the lounge as it was nearest my departure gate. All interaction with the staff during my short stay was excellent. Greetings were warm and seemingly genuine, whilst the interaction between staff was high-spirited and refreshing.
Before eating, I took a quick shower. Unfortunately, the water pressure was disappointing and the temperature fluctuated, but the shower room itself was spacious. Despite being around 0400, the food available from the buffet was fresh. A wide range was available, including a number of Middle Eastern dishes, a broad-ranging cheese board and breakfast cereals. A great deal of produce is prepared on site and there was a distinct and pleasant smell of fresh baking. I opted for a salmon bagel and some fresh orange juice, both of which were excellent.
Verdict Overall the flight was excellent, with the service efficient and friendly. Some very minor complaints over Hong Kong’s lounge food but, all in all, a well-considered and comprehensively delivered product.
PLANE TYPE A380
SEAT WIDTH 18.5 inches/47cm
SEAT LENGTH 39 and 48 inches (99cm and 122cm), which extend to form a 70-79 inch (178-201cm) fully flat bed
SEAT RECLINE Fully flat
PRICE Internet rates for a business class fare start from HK$36,381 (US$4,687), subject to change for fuel surcharges and taxes.