Emirates' new flight from Dubai to Sao Paulo which debuted October 1, marks the first ever direct flight between the Middle East and South America, with the carrier offering a 15½ hour (14½ on the return leg) six-weekly service on the route. The carrier is using its new Boeing 777-200 LR aircraft on the flight, complete with recently introduced products in both business and first class, and with a total of 98 flights weekly from the UK, and few direct services from the UK to South America, it provides an alternative for those seeking a way to Sao Paulo. We flew first one way, business back to test the new products on board.
First class: Dubai-Sao
The connection: I arrived into Dubai on an overnight flight from London Gatwick, touching down just before 0715. We taxied to stand, so it was just a short walk to the connecting flights section of Terminal 1. Security checks passed quickly and I was back airside by 0730, into the bustling shopping mall that is Dubai International Airport. I had a couple of hours before my 1000 flight, so I headed to Emirates' first class lounge which is located just after Gate 21, directly opposite the business class lounge.
The lounge: As regular passengers with Emirates will know, despite the first class lounge at Dubai being large, with over 100 seats in the main area, it is also busy. The lounge overlooks the tarmac, and is an airy space with cream leather seats and sofas, and palm trees and waterfalls dotted around the lounge. There is complimentary wifi internet access, although this was not working (a common occurrence according to colleagues), but there are also a handful of internet terminals at the far end, all connected to a printer. Facilities include a self-service food and beverage area with an impressive range of hot and cold snacks, restrooms with showers, luggage storage, three plasma TV screens, various newspapers and magazines including international editions of The Times, a couple of departure boards, and even a massage chair in one corner.
Boarding: First and business class passengers were called first, with the former boarding through a separate entrance to the front of the plane. My coat was taken as I sat down, and stowed in a cupboard just in front of my suite. Drinks and newspapers were offered, and the a la carte meal service explained, before the captain announced we would be delayed due to the "20 tons of fuel taking a while to fill up". We took off around 45 minutes late, with assurances this would be caught up in-flight. Half of the first class suites were occupied, and around the same proportion in business class, with economy being pretty much full from what I could see when stretching my legs during the flight.
The Suite: There are just eight first-class suites configured in two rows of 1-2-1, each with electronic sliding louvred doors enabling passengers to shut themselves away from the world if they so wish (albeit with a gap of around a metre between the top of the doors and the ceiling). It really is like having your own cabin in the air, with a comfortable leather chair that transforms into a 84-inch fully flat bed, complete with a padded lining to lay out over the flat bed, and comfortable duvet and pillows. There are a huge range of facilities and amenities including: foldaway vanity mirror with light (plus two other mirrors in the suite), reading light and standing lamp, slide out drawer with writing kit, fold down soft drinks cabinet, large fold out table, and a 23-inch TV screen. Amenities include pyjamas, slippers, and a washbag with toothpaste and brush, shaving kit, roll-on deodorant, comb, tissues, and a box of Bulgari products including a small eau de parfume bottle, body lotion and after shave cream. There is another set of amenities under the vanity mirror, with moisturisers and smelling crystals to help either relax or re-energise.
Emirates has also introduced its revamped Ice Digital Widescreen on this aircraft. As well as the hundreds of on-demand movies, TV programmes, music albums, games and radio stations, passengers can now plug their digital cameras, mp3 players or PDAs into a USB slot, allowing them to access their photos or play their own music through the IFE system. As with the previous Ice offering passengers can also view up to date news headlines, create playlists and pause and save movie settings. The IFE can be controlled either through a wireless handset (in older versions of Ice this is wired), or by using the touchscreen TV. Noise cancelling headsets are provided in both first and business class, with a switch to allow outside noise in when speaking to flight crew.
The flight: This being a day flight, I spent most of it either working on my laptop, watching movies, or eating from the a la carte menu. All seats throughout the plane have a socket for charging laptops, and an 110V adaptor was provided when requested – the table in the first class suite is easily big enough to work on, and there is plenty of other storage spaces and shelves to put papers or beverages on. You can order from the first class food service at any time, but there is a 30-minute advised wait for hot food orders (although invariably my choices came quicker than this). Appetisers included Iranian caviar, salmon and chive fritters, poached king prawns and smoked salmon, while main courses are served on china crockery with Arthur Price steel cutlery, and ranged from grilled fillet steak with horseradish gravy, to lobster fishcakes, chicken tikka masala, and spinach and porcini mushroom lasagne (delicious). There were also "light bites" including sandwiches, pizzas and empanadas, and for the sweet-toothed sticky toffee pudding and homemade chocolate cookies. Dom Perignon was available by the glass, and there was also a signature frozen martini cocktail. Coffee is served with a small box of Godiva chocolates.
I found the seat very comfortable, but it would have been useful if the table had the ability to slide forward, as it felt just slightly too far away for eating from. The seat functions were pretty easy to figure out (I passed on the stewardess' offer to run through it with me), with everything being controlled electronically through the wifi handset, from the recline, to the massage functions and the sliding doors. Once I realised the touchscreen TV could be used to activate the IFE functions I ended up using this method for the rest of the flight, as the wifi handset was at times slow to react to choices, and involved undocking and redocking from its charger for each use. A little tip for controlling the volume – it can be done directly from the telephone handset underneath the armrest (which also has some other limited IFE controls), rather than going to settings on the wifi controller.
This is the first flatbed I have used where despite stretching out as far as I could, my feet did not touch the end of the suite. This is helped by the fact that there is some space at the end of the bed which is effectively the bottom of the coat storage cupboard, so I could hang my feet over the edge of the bed into this space – a welcome bit of extra legroom for a six-footer used to having his feet sticking out from under the duvet. I slept for a couple of hours, and when I awoke my Ice system had frozen, but was reset by the stewardess and worked fine after this.
Arrival and transfer: As predicted we landed just ahead of time at 1820, with premium passengers disembarking first. Immigration was swift, and having hand luggage only I was through to arrivals by 1835. Emirates offers chauffeur transfers at both ends for business and first class passengers, and my driver was waiting with a board as I exited customs. His Vauxhall Vectra was parked in a nearby car park, and the journey to my hotel in the south of the city took around 40 minutes. Emirates will transfer premium passengers anywhere within a 70km radius of the airport – anything over this incurs an excess charge.
Verdict: A fantastic product. It's hard to find fault in such an excellent service, from the comfortable fully-flat bed and comprehensive inflight-entertainment options, to the on-demand food and beverage service.
Price: When Business Traveller checked online today, a return flight from Dubai in first class (leaving November 12 and returning November 15) cost £4,802.