14 thoughts after my first flight in Emirates’ game-changer first class

Nov 17, 2020

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What’s at the top of your travel bucket list… Going on a safari? Seeing the Northern Lights?

For me, it’s neither. Ever since Emirates launched the “game-changer” first-class suite on nine of its Boeing 777s, it’s been right at the top of my bucket list. After all, TPG’s Zach Honig flew the inaugural and dubbed it “best first-class product I’ve ever flown.”

So when I learned that Emirates was flying these fully-enclosed suites to JFK during the pandemic — and there was award availability — I knew this was my chance.

Well, the stars aligned: Zach Honig and I (aka The Zachs) ended up booking a week-long trip to Dubai, with round-trip awards in Emirates’ new first class. The trip itself lived up to the hype, so be sure to check out our Instagram pages for a full recap — mine and Honig’s.

As for the flights, what follows are 14 thoughts I had after trying the new first-class product.

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The amount of space is incredible

One of the biggest luxuries in the sky is personal space. And if space is considered a luxury, then the new Emirates first-class is a seven-star hotel.

Throughout my time at TPG and beyond, I’ve fortunately had the privilege to fly a good number of first-class products. But few, if any, offer as much space as Emirates does.

At 76-inches long and 60-inches wide, the suites are massive.

The seat itself occupies just a fraction of the overall suite footprint. There’s also a large rectangular table, oversized tray table, side table and two closets in the well-designed suite.

The most private suites in the sky

These days, privacy is more important than ever. And if you’re looking for the best cabin for social distancing, it’s hands-down Emirates’ new first class.

In fact, the “game-changer” is the only floor-to-ceiling fully enclosed suites in commercial aviation. With both the door and the small hatch closed, you have complete privacy from your fellow passengers and crewmembers.

Just because you’re isolated from others doesn’t mean you can remove your mask — Emirates requires all passengers, including those in first class, to wear face coverings at all times, except for a brief period when eating and drinking.

Middle seats are the best in the cabin

Have you ever met someone who prefers the middle seat? Well, you’re staring at one right now — as long as you’re asking about the new Emirates first class.

All suites are not created equal. Your intuition might say to avoid middle seats at all costs. But I’d argue that the two middle suites — 1E and 2F — are the best in the six-suite cabin.

That’s because they offer even more space than the windows. Due to the curvature of the plane, the window suites aren’t nearly as wide as the middles. There’s less shoulder room and the minibar isn’t nearly as big.

Plus, the middle seats offer one of the coolest innovations I’ve seen — virtual windows.

Virtual windows aren’t a gimmick

I’m usually a window seat flyer. On short domestic hops, you can often find me staring outside the entire flight, marvelling at the thrill of flying.

On Emirates, aviation enthusiasts like me can still enjoy the views when seated in the middle. Each centre suite features three virtual windows that display an HD projection of what’s going on outside the plane. There are cameras installed on either side of the plane beaming a live feed of the outdoors to the virtual windows.

You have to see it to believe it. When Honig first told me that I needed to sit in the middle, I laughed at him. Having now done it twice, I wholeheartedly agree — and would recommend the middle suite to anyone flying the “game-changer.”

I just hope Emirates recalibrates the screens to fix the alignment issues before my next first-class flight.

The December holidays came early

When you fly in the pointy end of the plane, you’ll typically receive an amenity kit and maybe a set of pyjamas. On Emirates, you’ll walk off the plane with enough gifts to stuff a Christmas stocking or fill a Hanukkah bush.

First-class passengers receive a well-stocked Bulgari amenity kit, eyeshade, hydrating pyjamas, slippers, Byredo care kit (with eye cream, sleep oil and more), a notepad and pen.

And during the coronavirus, all flyers receive a COVID-kit stocked with two masks, hand sanitizer, sanitizing towels and disposable gloves.

By the end of my flight, I needed another bag for all the goodies. Because I live in a tiny NYC apartment with minimal storage space, I decided to run an Instagram giveaway for the amenities!

Not one, not two, but three screens

I typically bring my iPad on trips to catch up on shows and stay connected back home. This time, I was travelling light and left Emirates in charge of the entertainment.

And the carrier didn’t disappoint. Each first-class suite sports a massive 32-inch, touchscreen HD entertainment display loaded with tons of first-rate content. Emirates’ ICE inflight entertainment system is hands-down the best in the sky. (Nevertheless, my favourite channel is most definitely the forward-facing outdoor camera.)

There’s no need to unbuckle your seat belt to control the screen. There’s a tablet next to your seat that’s designed to do just that. Plus, you can watch the moving map or make seat adjustments using the tablet alone.

If you prefer to go old-school, there’s a wireless remote located under your armrest that controls the main screen.

Don’t fret if two screens and a physical remote isn’t enough for you. There’s a third, small screen located at shoulder level next to the closet.

Create-your-own light show

The third screen is unlike the others. It’s what I’d call the “home suite hub.”

With it, you can control every setting in the suite, including lighting, climate control, TV on/off and do not disturb. Emirates really nailed the details; there’s even a green/red indicator to let you know if the lavatory is occupied.

Speaking of details, there isn’t just an on/off switch for the lights. You can control the brightness, as well as the colour!

I had some fun experimenting with the pinwheel, and even created this GIF of the eight different colour scenes.

Raid the minibar

The crew took great care of me. Anytime I got up, I was asked if I needed something to eat or drink.

But what if you’re feeling peckish and don’t want to disturb the crew? On Emirates, you have a fully-stocked minibar for just that.

My minibar had three bottles of Evian, one Perrier, five Pepsi-branded sodas, M&Ms, caramel popcorn and mixed nuts.

In addition, there were eleven other snack options available on request. (Before COVID, these would’ve been displayed in a snack basket at every seat.)

The full service is back…

…with some COVID-related changes.

On 15 October, Emirates restored the full first-class service. This includes dine-on-demand food and a well-stocked, top-shelf beverage selection. In addition, the shower suite and walk-up bar on the Airbus A380 also reopened.

Emirates posts menus online well before your flight, so you can get a sense of what to expect when onboard. If you’re not happy with the options, you can preorder a special meal.

When you’re ready to eat, flight attendants will take your order and then serve everything wrapped in plastic on a single tray.

This includes an individually wrapped breadbasket. (Don’t worry, it only took a few seconds to make everything look pretty.)

All food and drinks are served on proper flatware and glassware.

You can order room service

Everyone has a different perspective on ringing the flight-attendant call button. Some people think it should only be used for inflight emergencies. Others believe it’s fair game when you’re thirsty.

But we can all agree on one thing — using the flight attendant call button is highly encouraged when flying Emirates first.

What if you want to limit your interactions with the crew and want something more substantial than what’s available in your minibar? Well, there’s room service!

Using the tablet, you can make a room service video call. The crew answers the call from the galley and asks what they can bring you. “Another glass of Dom and some nuts, please.”

Am I on safari?

If you’re sitting in a window suite, the first thing you might notice when boarding is a pair of binoculars waiting on your table.

No, Emirates isn’t giving you a gift for your African safari. Instead, the $250 Steiner binoculars are there for your use inflight.

Some aviation enthusiasts might try to spot other passing planes, but I didn’t see a single window-seat passenger use the binoculars on either of my flights. Nevertheless, I commend Emirates for thinking through every last detail.

I’m having a feast

These days, the most you can expect when flying domestically is a snack box and maybe a sandwich. A full five-course meal? Not happening. U.S. carriers have heavily modified the inflight service across all flights.

On Emirates, the food is still aplenty. The menu hasn’t changed, and all service is done on demand. Want caviar for breakfast? Check. Want a pizza in the middle of the night? Check.

Although the presentation was hardly the most luxurious (thanks to COVID), everything I tried on both of my flights was delicious. Some of my favourites include a pan-fried salmon trout and lasuni gobi.

And drinking liquid gold

On some airlines, the highlight of the inflight service is a top-shelf Champagne. In Emirates first class, Dom Perignon 2008 is just the start.

There are six wines on offer, as well as an assortment of aperitifs, beer and more. Honig and I even had some fun and decided to do a blind scotch tasting — stay tuned for the results in the next episode of Airplane Mode!

But when it’s time for dessert, don’t forget to order a glass of Hennessy Paradis. Retailing for over $1,000 a bottle, this is one of — if not the — most expensive liquors served in the (commercial) skies. It’s like you’re drinking liquid gold.

Time to catch some Z’s…

I usually sleep better on planes than I do on the ground — except when it’s my first time flying the new Emirates “game-changer.”

While the bed itself was one of the most comfortable I’ve tried, I struggled to fall asleep, probably because of the adrenaline rush. Plus, I pre-ordered the iPhone 12 Pro right in the middle of the flight (read my review; it was worth waiting up).

Instead, Honig and I took pictures of the starry sky and competed in who could make a better-looking bed — stay tuned to Airplane Mode to see who did a better job.

Bottom line

As we were preparing for the trip, Honig and I couldn’t decide what was more exciting: the flights or a week on the ground in Dubai.

Ultimately, both far exceeded our expectations. But as an aviation enthusiast, flying roundtrip in Emirates’ new first class was the real highlight.

So much so that I wholeheartedly agree with Honig — the product is the best first class in the skies.

All photos by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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