FIRST IMPRESSIONS As with Emirates business class, a chauffeur drive to and from the airport can be prebooked. For both business and first, there is no mileage limit or charge for this within the UAE. I had been told I should confirm the car booking 24 hours before departure, but when I called I was kept on hold, so I asked my hotel concierge to try for me. He did so, but later told me he had to ring back a couple of times before getting through. I was glad to have passed on the task – phoning from a hotel room, even for a local call, becomes expensive when you are listening to recorded music. Right on time at 6am, one of the Volvo V70 Estates, with Emirates branding emblazoned on the side, turned up at my hotel (Kempinski Mall of the Emirates) as requested. I was travelling on a Thursday, so the nightmare that is Sheikh Zayed Road was relatively quiet and I was at the airport by 6.30am.
There are two points worth mentioning here: online check-in is available only between 12 and two hours before departure – it would be far more useful if this was extended to 24 hours. Secondly, the queue for online check-in (or bag drop) is next to the ones for those who wish to do a full check-in, so the incentive for using the internet is simply not there at present.
From check-in I was quickly through dedicated passport control for business and first passengers, then had to struggle through an extremely busy airport to the lounge.
THE LOUNGE There are two sets of Emirates lounges for both business and first class at Dubai (making a total of four). There is a pair around Gate 23 and a pair at the other end of the terminal around Gate 8, which are also for Skywards silver and gold members. The Emirates first class lounge near Gate 23 is hectic at this morning departure time and I had trouble finding anywhere to sit. The new terminal at Dubai airport doesn’t open until 2008, so at busy times it seems this situation will continue until then. There are several computer terminals available, but the connection speed is very slow.
BOARDING As I waited, flights were called every few minutes, showing the sheer volume of flights going to the UK, to Glasgow, Birmingham, London Gatwick and Manchester. Our flight boarded close to the lounge at Gate 19 and we were quickly on board, with priority boarding (effectively queue jumping).
THE SEAT The new first class seats on these Boeing 777-300ERs are among the best currently available. Seats have a pitch of 229cm, width of 58cm and full recline. Configured two across, both the seat controls and the IFE are controlled by a handheld video screen. The first time I used this, 18 months ago, I found it baffling, but having used the IFE in the other cabins on other Emirates flights I now find it simply fiddly. One negative point is that, as with the business class controls, if you accidentally touch the wrong button you end up changing channels, and when you return your film will have reset and you have to fast forward to where you were before. The noise reducing headphones are remarkably effective, and also offer good sound for the IFE. The choice of viewing is the same throughout the plane, but there’s no doubt that the giant screen (36cm) adds to the enjoyment of the films.
On this flight the cabin was full on both first and business class.
ARRIVAL We landed on time, but then had a long taxi and wait for a stand at Heathrow. There was no queue at immigration, but despite having a priority tag on my hold luggage, it was nearly half an hour before it appeared on the carousel. Once through customs I used the chauffeur service home.
VERDICT An excellent service and an excellent seat, perfect for overnight and longer flights. In fact, the only problem with returning from Dubai during the day was that the flight didn’t give me an opportunity to use the seat properly and have a sleep.
PRICE For return fares from Heathrow to Dubai Emirates (emirates.com) quotes £2,163 for first class, booked a week ahead.