Fancy a drink at the bar? A review of Emirates business class on the A380 from Dubai to New York
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Great ground experience, more IFE options than you'll ever need, comfortable and private seat.
No personalized service touches, the cabin is somewhat dated and over-blinged, dining options were limited.
It’s not every day you get to fly one of the most highly rated airlines in the sky. This discussion wouldn’t be complete without Dubai’s Emirates. The airline has a glowing reputation for its service, food, product and, of course, its glitzy A380s. But does it actually live up to that reputation?
On a recent trip to Cape Town, South Africa, I went to find out.
This fall, I was fortunate enough to attend the annual PeaceJam conference in Cape Town, South Africa with some members of our incredible team. If you’re not familiar, PeaceJam is a nonprofit organization that TPG has been working with since 2014. Its mission is to foster the growth of young leaders committed to positive change in themselves, their communities and the world. Jody Williams was the laureate picked to participate in this year’s South Africa jam. Williams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work toward banning and clearing land mines around the world. If you’re interested in donating to the organization, you can do so here.
We had a few options to get me back to New York from Cape Town, but ultimately landed on Emirates with a layover in Dubai (DXB). I had obviously heard amazing things about the airline and was really excited to fly it home.
To book the flight, we transferred 120,000 American Express Membership Rewards points to Emirates Skywards for this one-way business class flight. Emirates is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express U.K., meaning that for every Amex point you transfer, you’ll get one Emirates Skywards mile.
I’ll start this part off by saying that I was not feeling too hot (read: a minor bout of food poisoning — I’m fine now, don’t worry, Mom!) and hardly slept the night before. That said, this was still one of the more enjoyable flight experiences I’ve had, and that starts on the ground.
For starters, the lounge. Oh boy, the lounge. The Emirates Business Class lounge in Dubai International Airport (DXB) isn’t like all the other lounges. It’s absolutely massive. So massive, in fact, that it’s connected to the international gates. Yup, that’s right. You don’t even need to leave the lounge to board your flight.
It got a major makeover back in 2016 for $11 million … and it shows.
I spent eight hours in it, and though I did manage to catch a few hours of sleep, I spent the rest of the time exploring this magical lounge wonderland. It had, by my count, five places to grab a bite.
They varied in terms of cuisine, ranging from Western to Middle Eastern, so definitely take some time to scope out the options if you’re here.
(I know I did.)
There were plenty of seating areas, whether for just dozing off for a few hours or grabbing a chair to kill time before your flight. In fact, I was able to find a bed-like “chair” with a blanket to sleep for a few hours.
The spa, just outside the lounge’s doors, was open 24/7. The attendant at the front desk recommended, though, that you call ahead or email to make an appointment. While business-class travelers don’t get any special discounts, first-class passengers receive a few complimentary spa treatments. Living the dream.
That’s not all, though. There was also a children’s playroom and barbershop.
You can — and should — easily spend a few hours here enjoying and, well, lounging. Just don’t forget to actually get on your flight. This is one flight you’re not going to want to miss.
Cabin and Seat
I flew on the upper deck of Emirates’ A380, and it was, by any measure, also huge. Emirates uses the entire upper deck for business and first class.
If you’re traveling solo, you’ll want to sit in an A or a K seat in business — there’s extra privacy, as the seat is closer to the window and “protected” from the aisle. If you’re traveling with a companion, you’ll want to grab one of the seats in the middle, ideally an E and F pair since they’re closer together.
I think Emirates really gives a new meaning to the phrase “go big or go home.” While the airline is known for its bling, it’s a little bit like Juicy Couture: cool in 2005. I may not speak for all travelers, but I believe that in 2019, travelers are looking for more of an understated, chic aesthetic. But, if its new first-class cabins on the 777-300ER are any indication, it seems Emirates has picked up on these changing tastes. I’d be very interested to see how the airline adapts its A380 business-class product going forward.
This three-class A380 had 76 seats in business class, separated into two cabins on the upper deck. I was seated in the smaller cabin (I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a minicabin) behind the galley. In addition to the abundant business-class seats, this A380 had 14 first-class suites and a whopping 427 in economy. The business cabin appeared to only be about half full on my flight to New York.
The seats were arranged in 1-2-1 configuration, and each had a small “hydration station” next to them. While it’s not like the one you’ll find on the 777-200LR — let alone an actual hotel room — the “mini bar” is a staple of the Emirates premium-cabin experience.
Some people would argue they’re just for show, as they don’t actually keep drinks cool — and there’s no alcohol to be found. But, it certainly adds to the opulence of the Emirates experience.
That said, I really appreciated this 20 times over, since I drink a ton of water on planes. There were already two bottles of water, in addition to two cans of soda, waiting for me when I boarded. Not to mention it was also a convenient spot for more drinks throughout the flight, and didn’t take away any precious counter space for other items.
Speaking of counter space, there were two fairly spacious storage compartments next to the window, thanks to the wide fuselage of the A380.
There was also a footwell with additional storage, which perfectly fit my large bag.
The seats were also fairly private. They didn’t have sliding doors, but you could only see the people next to you while sitting up.
The mattress pad was stored in one of the aforementioned compartments. None of the flight attendants came by to set up the bed for me — although that’s likely because I was very noticeably dozing off — and not getting out of my seat. It wasn’t secured onto the seat in any way, but it was very comfortable.
One thing I particularly liked about the cabin was that it smelled really fresh, almost like flowers. Oh, and speaking of flowers, they had some hanging up on the bulkhead. It created a really peaceful, refreshing vibe on board. It almost made you forget that you were actually on a flying metal tube 35,000 feet in the air. The biggest downside about the cabin, though, was that I found it pretty hot throughout the journey.
Amenities and IFE
Emirates’ inflight-entertainment system is known as “ICE,” which stands for information, communication and entertainment. But it’s not just any inflight entertainment system — there are literally thousands of TV shows and movies to choose from.
One thing’s for sure: You won’t be bored on an Emirates flight. Some highlights for me were “Sharp Objects,” “Game of Thrones” and “The Office.”
There was also a very large side remote. Even though it was supposed to be removable, I could not get it out of its holder, no matter how hard I tried. So, I was forced to use it while turned to the side, not even looking at the screen.
The screen could definitely have been more responsive, and I wished they included synopses for each movie or TV show. The Wi-Fi, meanwhile, was pretty glitchy. There was a free texting package, but I even had trouble connecting to that. It didn’t stay connected, either, and I couldn’t even run a simple speed test.
Interestingly enough, Emirates suggests not using its Wi-Fi to stream videos. What it lacks in Wi-Fi capabilities, it makes up for in the thousands of movies and TV shows, I suppose. There’s virtually something for everyone.
The amenity kit was Emirates’ signature Bulgari and stuffed with Bulgari products, including moisturizer, lotion, a comb and even a towelette.
I was pretty disappointed, however, to not receive slippers or pajamas. That’s one of my favorite parts of any premium-cabin experience.
But the real amenity here was the onboard bar. Yup, I had a drink at the bar 35,000 feet in the air. Some might say it’s gimmick-y, but how many times in your life can you really say you had a drink at the bar on a plane? You may now call me Samantha Jones.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
Right after I was settled, flight attendants came around with some small glasses to drink. I ordered an orange juice, since it was really early and I wasn’t feeling great.
I actually ended up sleeping through breakfast, which was actually greatly needed. Had I been awake (and wanting to eat), I could have chosen between a mushroom omelet, poached eggs, vegetarian cutlets or continental cold plates. Here’s a closer look at the menu:
Lunch was served about 10 hours later. By that time, I finally had an appetite again. Of a cream of mushroom soup, mezze plate and smoked salmon tartare, I went with the mezze plate (when in Rome, right?).
I thought the salad was really fresh, and the bread tasted like it came right out of the oven. While the mezze — consisting of mujaddara (rice with lentils and onion), muhammara (a red pepper and walnut spread), stuffed vine leaf and hummus — was really tasty, I felt there wasn’t enough pita bread to accompany it all. They did serve a bread roll, but it didn’t exactly pair with the meal.
This was followed by crab cakes and prawn cakes. I wasn’t a fan of the mango chili salsa it came with, but the asparagus was, well, asparagus. If I flew Emirates again, I would probably try the grilled veal steak instead.
The other option was lamb kofta, which was served with potatoes, onion and rice. Translation: If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll want to book your meal ahead of time since the options were very limited.
I topped it all off with raspberry yogurt delice. This was definitely the highlight of the culinary experience on this journey.
As if this weren’t enough food, they also had a selection of snacks in the bar area. While it wasn’t technically a “dine on demand” service, I did appreciate how they had food to grab at your own leisure. The grilled zucchini sandwich with ricotta was my favorite, followed closely by M&Ms. They just taste different on a plane, don’t you think?
Emirates also offered a handful of wine options, including two types of red, two types of white, and a Port — specifically, Dow’s Colheita Port 1992 from Douro Valley, Portugal.
They also offered one type of Champagne, a Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label NV. It retails for about $40 on the ground.
While the food was definitely really tasty, it’s worth noting that the options were somewhat limited and not exactly on the healthy side. Virtually all of the options for both appetizers and entrees (not to mention the snacks) were either filled with carbs, fried, or a ton of cream.
This isn’t just unique to Emirates, though. Airlines really have a ton of room for improvement when it comes to healthy and customizable food options. If you do have some dietary restrictions, just be prepared.
Emirates is renowned for its service, and this flight was no exception. The crew seemed happy to have me there, although they definitely were not as warm as some crew members I’ve had on some Asian carriers I’ve flown. That said, they made it a point to make sure I was enjoying myself and comfortable. It is worth noting that there wasn’t a turndown service, as I know that’s important to many premium cabin flyers. Personally, I didn’t mind it since once I’m all settled in my seat, I want to stay there.
Call me crazy, but the biggest highlight for me was that they continuously brought around more water without me constantly having to ask. It’s a big pet peeve of mine when you have to hunt down flight attendants to stay hydrated on flights, especially when you’re flying in a premium cabin. Emirates passed this test for me with flying colors.
I really did love my flight in Emirates business class, and there was really no place I would have rather been considering I was not feeling well. If you have the opportunity to fly it, do it. You won’t regret it. The seat checks all the boxes for a long-haul flight, the service is top-notch, and you’ll eat yourself into a food coma.
Not everything was perfect, though. There are enough movies and entertainment to keep you occupied for days, but there’s some room for improvement in terms of the setup and functionality, as well as the health factor of the food. The seat was very comfortable with plenty of space, although the airline’s signature “bling” is becoming a little dated. Overall, it still can compete with the best of them, though until it gets a little nip/tuck, it’s not edging out the top of pack.
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