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Almost flawless onboard experience and an incredibly well-designed and posh suite.
Messy boarding experience and not-quite-first-class lounge in Dubai.
We had such a great time reviewing British Airways in all four classes that we were desperate to get the next one in the diary. One of the most highly requested airlines for our next multiclass review? Emirates.
With availability popping up using Emirates miles in all three classes, we jumped at the chance to book a last-minute trip to Dubai (DXB). Our flights out were booked minutes before I hopped in a cab to Heathrow (LHR) to position for this flight.
The really exciting part was that the award availability came on the Dubai-Stansted (STN) route, which Emirates serves with a 777-300ER, complete with the new first-class suites. They are even about to launch a second daily service on this route, to what is usually considered a low-cost London hub.
Flying Emirates first class is truly within reach for the avid points collector. It costs 85,000 Emirates Skywards miles plus £369 taxes and fees, which can be transferred from the UK Amex Membership Rewards programme at a 1:1 ratio.
The Emirates site is easy to use to look for award availability. In fact, business class costs 65,000, but I would say that the extra 20,000 points gets you incredible value in terms of the onboard product.
I arrived by taxi to Dubai International Airport, and because my cab had overshot the entrance to the first- and business-class drop-off, I entered Terminal 3 through the main doors and took the short walkway through to the premium check-in area.
There were a huge number of both first- and business-class desks, and I approached an empty desk. I was checking in a little hotel laundry bag, as were my colleagues Ben Smithson and Jean Arnas, who were flying in the other two classes, so that we could test out Emirates’ baggage priority system. It caused some raised eyebrows, but later some laughs! For the record, they lost my bag, along with the business-class bag. The economy bag flew out on the belt without issue!
I proceeded through the separate immigration and security channel for premium passengers without needing to wait.
I was then spat back out into the main terminal, and I caught the train to Concourse A.
The train pulled in, and I headed straight up to the fourth floor, where the first-class lounge was. Before entering, I popped into the spa, outside the lounge, and booked a treatment for later. They had various slots available, and I booked a de-stress back massage. The massage itself was pretty good, but the masseuse asked me rather aggressively four times to rate her on TripAdvisor!
The lounge ran the length of the concourse on the fourth floor and could only be described as vast. It ran left and right from the entrance, but I was assured it was almost identical going both ways, so chose the direction of my gate, to the right.
I was truly astonished by the size and scale. There were numerous seating areas and many hundreds of seats to choose from. Adding to the vastness were dedicated first-class duty-free shopping and the lack of any other passengers. You could have fit thousands into this area, and I probably saw five fellow passengers the entire time I was there.
It was so big it had its own dedicated map!
The lounge featured a smoking room, where cigars were on sale in a comfy, leather-clad setting. Smokers would have felt incredibly well-looked-after here. An 8am Cohiba did seem a little aggressive, so I didn’t partake.
There was a shower area with a nice, relatively spacious, well-stocked shower and toilet rooms. I didn’t actually shower, as I had just come fresh from the hotel, but would have been more that happy with these facilities, should I have needed them.
The business centre was large and empty when I peeped in.
The quiet room was empty and looked like a great place to relax on a long layover.
I entered the fine dining area and was shown to a seat. My order was quickly taken, and I told the waiter I was in a rush.
Within a few minutes, a slightly lumpy but fresh-tasting orange juice was delivered, along with a good (skinny!) cappuccino. They also brought a basket of warm pastries and toast. The croissant was particularly amazing.
The poached eggs were nice. (I was offered a choice of how I’d like them cooked, and they came perfectly runny, as requested.) The hash browns were good, but the chicken sausages and English muffin were lacking, both tasting artificial.
Finally, the Emirati bread, and egg-and-tomato breakfast was brought over and was delicious.
A buffet was available with a wide selection of hot and cold food.
I followed the lounge signs to Gate A6, a remote boarding gate. Usually, you can board aircraft directly from the first-class lounge, with Concourse A designed especially for A380s. However, I had to take the lift down, and join the rest of the passengers at the gate.
There was a separate first-and-business-class queue, but this wasn’t properly manned, and there was a gathering rabble. It didn’t take too long to make my way to the front, but nothing about this part of the experience felt premium.
I was then told the separate first-class bus had not arrived yet and I should take a seat and wait and they would call me.
I waited about 10 minutes and was then told to come forward. Four passengers had checked in last minute for our flight, and so I thought we would be two, but now we were six in the cabin! We navigated our way between the economy buses in the sweltering heat and boarded a rather lovely bus.
The bus was “First”-branded and had comfortable armchairs and was pumping out cold air at a rate of knots. We set off and took a wonderful drive across the apron before pulling up to the Boeing 777-300ER.
Three sets of stairs were attached to the plane, with one dedicated set for first class. I scuttled up and was welcomed warmly on board by the purser.
I really love remote boarding and being out on the apron, and so the messy experience was OK for me, but apart from the bus and the separate stairs, I think the usual boarding directly from the lounge down a jet bridge to the plane would have felt way more exclusive.
Cabin and Seat
The welcome was warm, and I was greeted by name. I was shown to my cabin, 1K, by Mira, the lovely Albanian crew member.
I chose 1K because I really love windows. However on this aircraft, the cabin had a 1-1-1 configuration, and the middle seat even had windows in the form of digital screens being fed images from external cameras. It was an incredible feature, but right up until we boarded, I had thought the two middle cabins were free and I would get to experience the screen in flight for a little while. The four additional passengers scuppered my chances, but I did get to have a play around when we landed in London.
Mira showed me around the seat, explained all of the features and made sure I had everything I needed.
The individual cabins and their seat had real wow factor.
First of all, the Mercedes-inspired seats were wide and incredibly comfortable. The leather was soft and luxurious, and the seat went from fully upright to a full recline at the touch of a button.
The cabin was a little smaller than I expected for some reason but was still spacious, with more legroom than you would ever need.
There was a very large table that pulled out in front of the seat and was larger than you would ever need for dining and working. There was a smaller cocktail table by the seat for drinks.
In the front console under the main screen, there was a vanity mirror and storage area for amenities.
A number of storage options were available. There was a shorter wardrobe in front of the seat, the perfect size for a large backpack.
A taller wardrobe with hangers was positioned next to the seat.
A smaller storage pocket sat in the armrest, which was perfect for a phone or other small bits that you’d need easy access to, especially at night.
There was a charging port with a universal socket and two USB slots.
Privacy was really incredible in this seat. A floor-to-ceiling door could be completely closed, and a service window next to it could be pulled up and down. When everything was closed, you were completely shut off from the rest of the aircraft in your own space.
For a day flight, I actually enjoy a bit of action, and so I left my hatch and door open for most of the flight, and enjoyed the comings and goings and chats with the crew as they went about their work.
The cabin had three windows, complete with electric blinds with a shade setting and a full blackout setting, and a set of curtains, giving that extra touch of class.
In terms of artificial light, there were endless options with modes for eating and reading, and even twinkly lights in the floor that you could control the brightness of, and mood lighting with a huge array of colour options.
There were two toilets for first-class passengers at the very front of the cabin. One was slightly more spacious than the norm, but nothing to shout about. They were stocked with nice amenities, including a stack of Emirates-branded soap, dental kits, individual tubes of hand cream, a fresh flower and lovely, soft hand towels (no need for those scratchy paper ones!).
I had the bed made up midway through the flight and was wowed by the comfort. The thick mattress, soft duvet and large pillow came together to create a cosy bed that I didn’t want to get up from. There was more space than I needed, plenty of shoulder and foot room for wiggling around, and the enclosed space with the doors closed and blinds and curtains shut was just an exceptional cocoon for sleeping. I was devastated that I had barely any time to rest. I am longing for a longer overnight flight to enjoy this bed properly!
Amenities and IFE
There was no defined amenity kit per se on day flights, but lots on offer for a first-class passenger.
Slippers and eye mask were handed out at the start of the flight. The slippers were far more luxurious than the usual cheap pairs, with fluffy soles, but I thought the eye mask lacked in comfort and thickness.
Beneath the vanity mirror, passengers were provided with Byredo products including a towelette, facial toner spray, eye cream, pillow mist, an Emirates-branded pen and a lovely Emirates notebook.
Pyjamas are not available on shorter day flights, but they do carry them for later sectors. I really had to lay on the charm to get a pair, but get a pair I did, and they were really lovely. They were moisturising (apparently) and very high-quality and comfortable.
Noise-canceling headphones were provided by Bowers and Wilkins and were excellent quality, comfortable and did the job well.
You even got a pair of premium binoculars for window spying.
The suite had screens and controls galore. There was a large tablet screen, bigger than you would get in some other premium cabins as a main screen, that sat alongside a 32-inch screen in front of the seat. The inflight-entertainment selection was incredible, with a huge number of movies, TV shows, live TV (I watched live BBC for much of the flight), flight information and live cameras (forward and downward facing).
There was also a control in the armrest and a further control panel to the lefthand side of the seat.
Wi-Fi cost $16.99 for the whole flight (other packages were available. I should have received free Wi-Fi, but that relied on my logging into my Skywards account — and I didn’t have my password).
The Wi-Fi worked well and switched easily between devices. A test showed speeds of 0.22 Mbps for uploads and 2.53 Mbps for downloads. At these speeds, downloading a 5 MB file would have taken 18 seconds, and a 35 MB video clip two minutes.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
There was an extensive dine-on-demand offering on board, and the crew were ready to stuff me to the brim with as much on the menu as I could manage.
Before you even got going, a snack basket was at your seat containing crisps, chocolates, mints and an assortment of other luxury goodies. A minibar in front of the fridge was stocked with soft drinks and popcorn for easy access,
Before takeoff, I was offered drinks, Arabic coffee and dates.
Service began with warm towels, warm nuts and a glass of lovely 2009 Dom Perignon.
I ordered the caviar, with all the accompaniments, and it was served on top of a crisp white tablecloth with heavy, metal silverware. It was as delicious.
A basket of warm assorted breads was also served, with butter, oil, balsamic vinegar and miniature salt and pepper grinders. The warm garlic brioche was especially fantastic.
Next up was the mezze, a meal in itself. Standouts here with the mujaddara (lentils, onions and rice) and herbed feta, though I didn’t love the kibbeh (bulgur-and-meat balls), which was lukewarm and crumbly, and the bread could have been warmed up. I’m a hummus snob, and this hummus was well above acceptable but not close to anything you would get in Israel!
The salmon gravlax was the best-looking dish I sampled, and equally tasty.
Then the bzar (spiced) chicken with flavourful rice was also a solid pick.
For precheese dessert (I have made that a thing), I took the lemon-and-almond cake which was soft, warm and delightful, and a plate of fresh fruit.
I am not a big drinker on planes, but the Dom P got my juices flowing and a glass of Francois Villard Condrieu De Poncins 2016 was beautiful with my meal. The crew told me the best wines were the ones at the top of the menu, so I trusted them on that, and it was excellent!
There were incredibly premium spirits on offer, running into hundreds of pounds per bottle, but to wash down dessert, there was no other option than a glass of Hennessey Paradis, which retails for as much as £1,250!
I really couldn’t resist taking every single cheese on the menu, and I don’t regret that decision for a second. I was a really joy to have more than a selection of two or three cheeses, like on some other airlines.
Chocolates were handed out with hot towels later in the flight, which was a pleasant extra.
I finished up with a cappuccino, which was good for an inflight coffee and had half-decent froth, and it was cute to have the Emirates logo powdered on top with chocolate. It was served with two nice and crunchy chocolate chip biscotti.
From the first moment, having a laugh with the purser about my last-minute attempt at sunbathing at the aircraft door whilst boarding, the crew were brilliant. They were much more relaxed and fun than I expected, but perhaps I was coloured by my experience flying the Etihad apartments, the most comparable product that I’ve flown, where the crew was far too formal for my liking.
I think a full cabin made a slight difference in timing, but I was in no rush. It was one hour and 20 minutes after takeoff until I was getting my first drinks and food, but had I have pushed for this to be quicker, I’m sure it would have been. Service further into the flight was also not lightning-fast. For example, my coffee took a good 15 minutes to arrive after ordering it, but again, I had stressed to the crew that I wasn’t in a rush for the things I was asking for and didn’t need anything immediately.
I was provided absolutely everything I needed and asked for, and enjoyed the crew’s advice on food and drink. I also had some great chats about topics from techno raves across Europe to shared obsessions with gorging on cheese.
I had high expectations of this products, as it was right up there on my bucket list, and on board, I was not disappointed.
The food and service were exceptional, and the seat and suite had such a wow factor. More understated perhaps than the garish previous Emirates first-class seat, but lashings of class, luxury and comfort make this the best seat I’ve flown on in the sky so far, and as a bed, it was impossibly comfy.
Downsides were the ground experience. There is was no true flow to the premium experience at DXB. The lounge was nice enough, but so big it did not feel exclusive, and the boarding process was messy and stressful.
But this was always going to be about the onboard product, and if you put this new suite on an Emirates A380, with the bar, shower and the quiet, smooth ride those big whales provide, this truly would have been the greatest onboard experience I would ever have had. This was up there, though, and I can’t wait to try the product again on a much longer flight, and for 85k miles, this trip was a bargain.
All photos by the author.
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