What it’s like flying Emirates first class during the pandemic

Nov 28, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Every airline has made adjustments to the onboard service due to the coronavirus.

Some, like Delta, have stopped serving meals on all domestic flights, including in business class on the premium transcon routes from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Internationally, the story varies widely. Even the world’s top airlines have made significant adjustments to promote safety.

TPG’s Zach Honig and I flew our first pandemic-era international flight together — in Emirates’ “game-changer” first class. Here’s how the experience has changed due to the pandemic.

Sign up for TPG’s free new biweekly Aviation newsletter for more airline and airport-specific news!

Masks are required, even in your suite

In the U.S., every major airline requires passengers to wear face coverings throughout the end-to-end travel journey.

Emirates has the same policy too. All passengers, regardless of class of service, are required to wear masks except when eating or drinking. This applies from the moment you enter the departure airport to when you exit the arrival airport.

I posted on my Instagram throughout the flight (catch the highlights on my page!) and the question I received most was: “Do you need to wear a mask in your suite?”

Yes. Even though Emirates’ first class is one of the best premium cabins for social distancing, the policy is that you must be wearing a mask throughout your flight.

Related: The best premium cabins for onboard social distancing

The crew is decked out in PPE

Some might think that wearing a mask for a 14-hour flight is too hard. (It really wasn’t bad.)

The crew, however, was decked out from head to toe in personal protective equipment. All flight attendants wore an eye shield, masks and disposable gown.

Some crew members wore disposable gloves as well. Although the crew wasn’t wearing the standard uniform, the service was just as good — if not better – than before the pandemic.

We got negative COVID tests

Every passenger terminating their travels in Dubai must present a negative COVID PCR test certificate taken within 96 hours of departure. If you’re transiting Dubai en route to another destination, you aren’t required to get a COVID test, unless it’s mandated by your final destination.

Additionally, Dubai-bound travellers must fill out a health declaration and contact tracing form, and download and register for the DXB COVID-19 mobile app.

COVID kits

One of the perks of flying in premium cabins is all the goodies you receive. On Emirates, you get a Bulgari amenity kit, hydrating pyjamas, writing pad, Byredo beauty set and more.

But nowadays, Emirates has a present for everyone, even if you’re seated in coach. All flyers receive a travel hygiene kit when checking in (or at the transfer desk when connecting)

The kit is stocked with two surgical face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes.

Where are the snacks?

The service in Emirates first class is among the best in the sky. In my experience, the flight attendants have bent over backwards to ensure you’re comfortable.

Although the crew is just a call button away, each first-class suite features a well-stocked minibar with water, soft drinks and snacks.

Before the pandemic, the minibar also included a snack basket, featuring chocolates, mints, dried fruits and more. Before departure, the crew would come into your suite and remove the basket. Once airborne, they would bring it back.

To minimise touchpoints, the snack basket has been temporarily removed. The minibar is still stocked; it’s just the snack basket that’s missing.

But don’t fret. All the snacks are still catered — they’re just available by request only, as you’ll see below in my “raid the minibar” picture.

Meal service modifications

Let’s start with the good news: you can still expect multiple full meals in first class. Emirates hasn’t changed the food menus, nor has it modified the selection.

While you can still eat a five-course meal, you’re going to need to course it out yourself. That’s because Emirates is now serving your entire meal (sans dessert) on a single tray.

Plus, your food will be delivered with the plastic covering intact (unless you specifically ask the crew to remove it). This includes the bread basket which is delivered to your suite with multiple individually wrapped rolls.

Space is perfect for distancing

In the U.S., I’m doing all that I can to ensure I have an empty middle seat next to me when I’m flying.

Internationally, I’m committed to sitting in a lie-flat business class pod (or nicer) to maximise my personal space and distance from others. That’s easy thanks to points and miles.

There are plenty of premium cabins that are great for social distancing, but there’s one clear winner — Emirates’ first class.

The new fully enclosed suites set the gold standard for onboard space and privacy. There’s simply nothing better than closing your door and saying goodbye to your fellow passengers… just remember to keep your mask on.

You can keep interactions to a minimum

Emirates debuted the “game-changer” well before the coronavirus pandemic was front-page news.

Little did the carrier know that come 2020, passengers would want to minimise interactions with the crew. Ironically, one of the most innovative features in the first-class cabin doubles as an anti-coronavirus safety measure.

The tablet next to your seat doesn’t just control the inflight entertainment system. It also sports a video camera for you to place a room suite service order from the crew.

You call the crew, place your order and minutes later your request is delivered through the small hatch — limiting your interactions and keeping touchpoints to the bare minimum.

The lavatories are cleaner than ever

One of the dirtiest places on an aircraft has long been the lavatory, especially at the tail end of a long-haul flight.

Emirates recognizes that — and is staffing an additional crew member whose job is simply to clean the bathrooms.

For flights over 90 minutes, the dedicated crew member cleans each cabin lavatory every 45 minutes. On both of my flights, the first-class lav was in spotless condition every time I used it.

Showers & bars are back

Before the pandemic, Emirates was one of just two airlines offering first-class passengers on the double-decker Airbus A380 an onboard shower. (Its Abu Dhabi-based rival, Etihad, was the other.)

Back in May, the carrier decided to temporarily close the shower suites. On 15 October, Emirates turned the water back on. High rollers and points enthusiasts can once again experience the thrill of showering at 40,000 feet.

As part of the news, Emirates also reopened the onboard bar on its A380s reserved for first- and business-class passengers. Nevertheless, I would still prefer to fly the “game-changer” on the 777 than “regular” first-class on the A380.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Zach Griff (@_zachgriff) on

But if you’re a premium cabin passenger headed to Amman, Cairo, Jeddah, London, Moscow or Paris, the good news is that the A380 is once again offering the “full” Emirates experience. (November schedule data for the Emirates’ A380 provided by Cirium.)

Bottom line

The coronavirus is causing airlines to rethink every element of the onboard experience.

In Emirates’ first class, passengers can expect a modified meal service, trimmed down minibar, extra clean lavatories, COVID kits and more.

Nonetheless, even with the anti-coronavirus measures, Emirates’ first class remains the gold standard.

All photos by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.