There’s a battle going on in the sky where the contenders periodically present their new products like Apple presents the new iPhone at a keynote: the first and business class. They are complex products formed by the seat design, the amenity kit, the menu, the service and the extras offered. This is a mixture of hardware, software (the inflight entertainment) and human touch.
I’m going to review the business and first class of Emirates on the Airbus A380. Be aware that, especially for the business class, the configuration is different if you fly on a Boeing 777. Don’t worry, when you book the flight you will see the aircraft. Although the aircraft can be changed last minute due to operative reasons, this occurrence is extremely rare especially between different planes like the 777 and the a380, which are basically the only two planes in Emirates fleet. Let’s start with the business and, in the next article, let’s finish in style with the most luxurious product.
ON THE GROUND
The business class experience starts with the complimentary chauffeur service. You will be picked up at home or at the hotel situated within a certain radius from the airport and, upon arrival, you will be dropped off at your designated destination. Car used varies on the location as Emirates uses external private hire car companies. In Rome it was a Bmw 5 series and in Dubai a Volvo. In general it should be an equivalent Sedan like Mercedes E Class.
At the airport you have a fast lane for security check, access to Emirates, Quantas or partners’ lounges and a separated boarding.
In Dubai, the headquarter, the experience is even more special, you will be dropped off at a dedicated terminal for business and first class passenger. Once at the terminal you can take the elevator to first floor for the first class lounge and to the second floor for the business class lounge. In the business class lounge you will find the business center, the quiet area and bars where you can drink or eat. Everything is included in the fare. The boarding is made trough a dedicated gate (in Rome) and in Dubai you will board at business class floor directly into the a380 upper deck after a brief ride in an elevator. This means you won’t cross the traffic of the economy class because the upper deck is business and first class only.
CABIN AND BEST SEATS
The business class is divided into two cabins. The first from row 6 to 21 and the second one, after the bulkhead, from row 22 to 26. The seats are very similar to each other but not equal. Seats A and K are the best windows seat because the seat is next to the window and you have the two extra storage compartments just under your arm. In the A and K seats I bump my head when i fully stand up to leave the seat so be aware if you are very tall. From this aspect a central seat is better because there’s more space. Seats B and J are technically window seats but the seat is next to the aisle, therefore the extra storage compartments are far to reach and the experience is less private. E and F are considered the seats for couples or friends (even though you can raise a separator) and D and G are far apart on the aisles. You also have to be aware that certain seats are slightly longer than others, I would say 15 cm, and you can notice it by the extra slim pillow you find in the ottoman of seats like the 23 a-k or the 21 g. Those are the seats I’d choose if given the chance.
As for rows, I’d avoid the 6 and 7 because it’s close to the first class galley and bathroom and the hostess will stay there to prepare food, chat etc. This also means that if you have to go to the bathroom you have to go all the way to the back of the cabin where the 4 business class bathrooms are located. I don’t think this rule is so strict because first class passenger uses the two front bathroom which are huge and luxurious so you should be allowed there. Anyway a little walk is a good way to feel better in long flights. I’d also avoid the last two rows because they are too close to the sky bar. It is a flagship feature of the a380 and it’s a place where you can have a snack or a drink and chat with other passengers. There are also two little sofas to sit with seat belts if needed.
There are two slightly different version of the business class. The first photo shows the newest version with a thinner and bigger tablet, the usb ports, plugs and joypad near the seat. The second photo shows the first version with bulkier tablet, different tray table and more direct access to the minibar and storage space.
Design wise I like the cabin, this wooden finish recalls the arab tradition and has that touch of exotic.
The seats are not so wide compared to other business classes because most of the space is occupied by a tower containing a minibar. You can recline the seat whenever you want and the ottoman is in line with the seat, which is not the case in Singapore’s A350 business class where you have to lay diagonally when in full flat position and you need to call the flight attendant to remove the back rest and make the bed. The seat is quite comfortable even though it could have been softer. The regulations can be done with the buttons at your fingertips or via the tablet. This means that you can go in bed position immediately after take off with or without the mattress the flight attendants will place. There’s a adjustable foot rest but I’ve never used it, it’s quite narrow.
Talking about bed, despite the common knowledge, it is not a flat one. Business class seats on a380 are not 180 flat. The ottoman (where your feet and part of legs are) and the seat itself form (with some approximation, also given the annoying edges between the different parts) a 180 angle but the backrest doesn’t recline fully and it forms a considerable angle. This means that your neck and your thorso are going to lay diagonally while your hips and legs are flat. That’s why i slid down bending my knees as much as I could so that my neck was just at the beginning of the slope. Pretty uncomfortable, hitting the knee in the hard plastic given the unjustified big minibar tower and ended up with stiff neck despite having my own travel pillow. Even with the mattress, the bed is a bit stiff and I wasn’t able to sleep properly, it’s better to ask for a second one.
Also the ottoman fabric changed color because of tear and wear (2011 a380) and there were pieces there that were about to detach (the plastic covers). Note the USB ports, electrical plugs and joypad below the screen in the old configuration.
FOOD AND DRINKS
The flight starts with an offer of juices, mocktails (without alcohol), soft drinks, tea (Ceylon, chamomile, Moroccan mint, Earl Grey or green), coffee, aperitif and cocktails. Everything you can dream of.
The meal is composed by an appetizer, a main dish and a dessert with a fine selection of chocolate to end. You can choose up to 24 hours before the flight between different types of meals: vegetarian, vegan, religious meals etc. I chose the light one.
I was served a starter with bread and butter, a salad with carrots, a sliced cold beef with grilled vegetables. Honestly not the most unforgettable one, I regretted not having the regular menu. Next, as a main dish white rice, chicken breast, boiled spinach and other vegetables including, guess what, pepper! What exactly is light about roasted peppers?
To end i had a selection of chocolate and sliced fruit where I found a hair so that the meal was over with disgust. The crew was ready to apologize and tell me the issue haad been signaled to the catering.
At the sky bar I had a glass of Moet & Chandon champagne although I was disappointed they didn’t have any rosee.
Overall the selection of drinks is excellent and the food is very good if you do the right choices.
PRO TIP: look on google your flight number and the word menu after. For example “EK97 menu”, you will end up on Emirates website where you will select the flight and date and have a PDF you can save on your phone and starting making up your mind. Also you won’t need the menu to occupy the precious space next to your seat.
Honestly I didn’t try the infotainment much. With the 1 ton heavy and thick tablet with unresponsive resistive touch the desire faded. The selection of movies and music should be good anyway. Moreover the battery died after only two hours it was undocked and the flight camera on the tail of the plane was not working so my experience is a mixture between not used and bad. Emirates do something please.
The amenity kit included a pretty weird pair of white socks made out of a strange fabric, a pair of eyeshades, the dental kit and the shaving kit for men. I’d suggest you to avoid to shave with the just two blades razor, i got many irritations in my neck, unacceptable in 2018, 3 blades are the minimum. The bathroom is a pretty standard one, you will find Bulgari perfume, soap and creams. You will also find additional kits stowed in the drawers.
I’m not sure business is worth the money for flights under 6 hours. The experience is completely different from economy class but the cost is 4 times higher or even more. If you want to lay down, have high quality food/drinks and a large and private space to work then business is your way to go. But honestly on the 6 year old A6-EDV airplane i flew with, everything felt the weight of time too much. From the bulky and unresponsive tablet of the infotainment to the worn down falling to pieces ottoman.
I think Emirates needs to refresh this product. I would broaden the seat, give less space to the minibar and get rid of the ottoman to incorporate all the bed into the seat and finally make it a true 180° flat bed. Much like Qantas business(which has a 2-2-2 config though).The new business class, inspired by Mercedes Benz seats has already taken this direction but it’s just for the 777-300ER.
Where do you fancy to go for your next trip?