Flying is a metaphor of changing, freedom, leaving the problems behind us, being bold and brave. The dream of the human kind since the beginning of time (honorable mention to Icarus, the man who flew too high in his quest to glory), is now possible trough magnificent machines called airplanes. Not only the aeronautical engineering has changed over the years but the interior design of the planes has even more. First class in the 60’s were just comfortable seats with a good amount of reclining. Today this is called premium economy class.
After reviewing the business class it’s time to make a left turn when boarding the plane and head to the 14 suites of the first class, to discover its wonders and its surprises.
A suite is a private space with a door made of two parts that can be electrically opened and closed with a button on the armrest or via the touchscreen tablet. Before sitting you can place your jacket in a private hanger just behind the tv screen. There’s a desk with a lamp and a big screen for the infotainment. On the side there’s a space for your personal belongings and a magic minifridge that comes out at a touch of a button. On the floor at the side of the seat there’s a box to place your backpack or the duvet.
There are no overhead compartments here, therefore the cabin looks very spacious. Your hand luggage can be placed on the floor in a dedicated space with belts to secure it. The takeoff and landings are so smooth that you don’t really need to use them, but it’s always a good precaution.
ON THE GROUND
Let’s take a step back because the service before the flight itself is remarkable, especially in Dubai.
You will be picked up at your place by an Emirates chaffeur, in Dubai i got a Mercedes E Class while in Rome i got the mighty S Class, super luxurious ride. At Dubai airport you will be dropped off at the dedicated terminal for first and business class passengers. Dubai airport was pretty busy at 7.30 am on a Friday and the roads were clogged. Fortunately my driver knew a shortcut and I arrived on time. It is nice to know that even intercontinental flight board 40 minutes before and the gates close only 20 minutes before. I was traveling with a little backpack and a hand luggage and I arrived at the airport 90 minutes before and still had plenty of time. In this case even 60 minutes if you know the airport well would be sufficient.From there you just pass the dedicated security check and merge with other passengers for a little ride on an automated people mover and an elevator to reach the Concourse A. Once there just take the elevator to the first floor to access the first class lounge. It would be better to call it first class floor because it’s basically a separated level that runs trough all the terminal. This is even more calm than the business class lounge on the floor above. I was pretty much alone and, after passing some exclusive duty free shops i indulged for 20 minutes in the so called quite area. A semi dark room with huge sun lounger and sofas so long they can be used as beds. The bathroom are super clean with their white marble surfaces and equipped with showers if you need. The boarding is trough an elevator directly into the A380 upper deck. Something went wrong here as the buttons where not working and i ended up at the lower level boarding with economy class in the lower deck and had to climb the stairs with the baggage.
WHAT SEAT TO CHOOSE?
Window seats A-K if you are traveling alone are a good choice but I’d avoid row 1 and 4 because row 1 is too close to the bathroom-bar area and row 4 is too close to the galley where the crew hang out. 2 A-K and 3 A-K are the best. The side table is a bit larger so you have a little more space for your belongings.
Any central seat is excellent but I like to have the wall with the Emirates logo just in front so I’d choose seat 1 E and 1 F. I’ve traveled by myself and the divider provides the needed privacy, I’ve never seen my neighbor, only when i stood.
The seat is wider than the business class with its 23 inches against 18,5 inches. It is also softer because of an additional layer of soft leather. The space for your leg is even greater because there’s no ottoman in front of you. This is one of the main difference: the seat contains inside itself all the bed, included the final part for your feet thus leaving the floor free. There are endless electrical regulations including the headrest (manually adjustable in business), the lumbar support, the armrests, thighs angle etc. All the regulations can be easily made trough the touchscreen tablet or (only the basic ones) with the 4 buttons on the armrest.
There’s also the dining position: the seat will slide forward to get you closer to the table and the armrests will go down.
The bed button magically transforms the seat into a fully flat (this is really 180° flat) bed, with the exception of the part where your feet are which is placed a bit (only a bit) lower and the bump of the headrest at the very top that remains there, but I’m 180 cm tall and placed my pillow just below this bump and still had plenty of room to fully stretch my legs. It also makes some sense to have your feet slightly lower because the lower leg is thin and it widens with the malleolus and feet. The crew will place the mattress just after takeoff if you’d like and a soft duvet. I could take some hours of solid sleep especially in the Dubai to Rome route when we were just 3 people in the entire cabin and there were no turbolences. You can really feel how much softer, flatter and larger this bed is compared to the business class. And also in newer airplanes you will sleep under a sky full of stars…the intermitting led lights are so beautiful and soothing, what a beautiful dream.
As I said at the beginning the suite is equipped with your own closet but you have to go into the aisle to access it. There are two hangers, one for your coat and one for your pants, yes because one of the pleasure of the first class is to immediately wear the Emirates pyjama and slippers. You can see in the above photo of the floor that my pants and coat are hanging down there.
There are three personal lights: the first is right above your shoulder, the second is above the fresh orchid on the table and can be rotated to illuminate the desk or the foldable table and the third is the abat-jour on the side of the table, well designed but a bit clumsy because it blocks the access to the space behind.
The storage is provided by one open space behind at the side of your seat (pretty uncomfortable to reach), a closed box next to the armrest where I put my wallet, phone, belt and little objects and some tiny compartments in the armrests. The other places are just surfaces to place your objects like the side table and the main table in front of you. There’s a wonderful motorized mini bar coming out of the lateral desk and its heavenly gold lights gave me the impression I was having a preview of paradise…brilliant! It’s not a masterpiece of usability because that is as far as it goes.
Maybe the only things I missed about the windows seats of the business class are the two big storage spaces under the windows where i placed my backpack and the duvet when I was not using it.
The amenity kit provided by Bulgari (pronounced bUlgari and not bulgAri) is serious stuff here. It is enclosed in a leather pouch and it includes: various creams, balms, body lotions, a comb-brush, a Gilette shaving foam, a 3 blades razor (much better than the 2 blades of the business), a tooth brush, tooth paste and in the table in front of the tv there’s an additional box with feet cream, soothing balm and other creams. In a nice pouch you will find the noise canceling headphones, eye masks and earplugs are also available upon request.
Moreover you get a pyjama and a pair of slippers. It is a two part composed by pant and a turtle neck long sleeve top. I love the dark/light grey contrast and the design of the neck. The material is special because it allegedly hydrates your skin when you wear it. Honestly I didn’t feel any difference. I was very disappointed to learn that they don’t have the Small size for men and this happened in every flight, therefore I was forced to choose the M. The pant was ok but the top was very large for me so I opted for a Women’s Small during the last flight, this time everything was a bit narrow and short.
I didn’t use the infotainment much apart from the aerial view the cameras give you. Anyway the selection is the same as business, only in a bigger screen and much better tablet and joypad (coming out from an armrest compartment). Honestly I spent most of my time listening to music from my iPhone on speakers taking advantage of the privacy and reading a book on my Kindle.
FOOD AND DRINKS
The food and drinks is delicious, served in fine dishes and cutlery.First you are offered dates with arabic coffee. You can find on your desk a basket full of snacks that will be removed just for takeoff and landing. This includes english butter biscuits, Lindt caramel and chocolate snack, chips, mints etc.
I started with the breakfast: Yoghurt and granola with mango purée, coconut granola and pomegranate seeds, soy milk (they heat the cup too so don’t touch it) with cereal Choice of cornflakes and muesli. Breakfast is served with freshly baked bread, pastries and fresh fruit. Avoid the granola, everything else is excellent.
From the appetizer menu i tried:
Caviar Presented with a traditional selection of finely chopped onion, grated egg, sour cream and lemon, served with melba toast (crunchy bread slices at the very top left corner) and blinis.
Traditional Arabic mezze: spread of local savoury dishes including houmous, moutabel, muhammara, labneh, artichoke salad, Arabic salad, stuffed vine leaves, lamb kibbeh (the two pieces of…), cheese sambousek and spinach fatayer. I had never tried this arabic plate and I won’t try it again in the future, enough said.
Seared beef tenderloin with mushroom jus, colcannon potatoes and buttered green beans. Roasted new potatoes Ratatouille Steamed basmati rice Mashed sweet potatoes. The meat was excellent, soft , medium done with the right temperature and the mashed sweet potatoes basket delicious.
Thick chicken breast with potato purée and green beans. The chicken could have been better.
All the meals are served with freshly baked bread. As a fan of the italian cuisine and the one of the south of Italy in particular I’m very demanding when it comes to bread and i can say that the bread is very very good on Emirates flights, crunchy and warm in the right amount. It comes with the Beurre d’Isigny, a balanced french butter.
Beef consommé With vegetable brunoise. This dish was served from Dubai to Rome, it was nothing special. I tend to eat the solid ingredients in a soup and leave the rest and this soup is very liquid so…
Braised lamb shank with rosemary Served off the bone with mashed potatoes, steamed carrots and fava beans. Very good too, recommended.
Beef pie, Served with tomato sauce and crushed peas with mint. The beef was very hot inside and was mixed with some spices that covered the taste of it so I’d choose something other from the “light bites” menu, which also includes at least four types of sandwiches.
Cheese board A carefully chosen assortment of fine boutique cheeses from around the world, served with crackers and accompaniments. This is one of the most interesting plates on the menu to enrich the culinary culture regarding the wonderful world of cheeses. It is also finely presented in a slate rectangular plate. Nice to the eyes nice on the inside. My favorite? Cricketers oak-smoked Cheddar and the Old Amsterdam, a Hard matured Dutch Gouda . Honorable mention? Saint Germain, a mild and unctuous French cheese, with orange rind developed with gentle brushing over a two-week ripening period
As for sweet dessert i tried a Chocolate mousse, not unforgettable as taste or presentation.
As for DRINKS there is an infinite wine list a tea list a coffee list. I personally chose to pour my trip with their vintage 2009 Dom Perignon champagne, excellent and also very well tolerable for my delicate stomach. I also had fresh juices and a drink made of orange and kiwi juice, but they have every kind of alcoholic and mocktail you can dream of!
Another exclusive place accessible to first class passengers is the minibar in front of the bathrooms, I must of paint is not the ideal location but look at the photo how nice is that. During the flight it was equipped with sandwiches, alcoholic bottles and juices. During the last hour of the flight it was arranged with candles and a spiced tea with ginger.
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.
PRO TIP 2: In first class you decide when to eat and, off course what to eat so I think it’s a clever idea not to choose the menu order (starting with breakfast at 11 pm in Melbourne) but rather your own biological clock and preferences. Read all the menu trough the end and plan the type and the type of meals.
PRO TIP 3: Stay light and don’t exceed the reasonable amount quantity of food ingested. You are in the air after all and you don’t know if turbulences are ahead.
PRO TIP 4: Stay away from hot liquids , for the same previous reason ask the flight attendant to pour the beverage on her cart and not on the cup on your table. There also can be weird accidents. Here’s mine: the hostess was pouring the champagne in my glass on the table and all of a sudden I noticed that her hand was shaking and she was pouring it on the desk and on the floor next to my feet. I was in disbelief, shortly after she managed to regain control of the situation and she apologized telling me she had a cramp in her hand due to the heavy weight she managed before, imagine if that would be hot liquid. And it’s not quite finished yet, during another flight, the flight attendant brought me a glass of water filled up to the edge and left it on the desk. I was in flat bed position and during a strong turbulence the water spilled and wet my duvet that had to be substituted, again imagine being woken up by hot liquids on your legs.
BATHROOM AND SHOWER!
The bathroom, because it’s a proper room we’re talking about, will make you forget the cramped airplane toilets. The two exclusive first class bathrooms are located at the very front of the upper deck, just next to the stairs and the little first class bar. I didn’t enjoy hanging out there because the big ramp of stairs gave me a sense of insecurity. Anyway the bathroom is huge. It features a full length mirror, a sink with commands hidden by a mirror and cotton towels. The mirror can’t be placed at the height of the eyes because it’s where the fuselage bends, I didn’t like this and I didn’t like the hidden (also next to the mirror) trash bin. The rest is awesome, the toilet is cleaned after every use and there’s a double hatch to make it a flat sitting surface. Next to the mirror there are the storage space for the hair dryer and the amenity kits and also a wooden hanger to place your clothes while showering. Yes! Showering, how cool is that. The crew will ask you when you want to book the shower and you will have 30 minutes all for yourself and ten minutes of running water. I was so delighted to get into the round box and press that button. The temperature was easy to regulate and there were plenty of products on display in the box of the sitting area you can see above: from the shower gel, shampoo and conditioner to the body cream and nail kit. The hair dryer was as good as the one you find in hotels. When I exited the shower though the bathroom temperature hit me like a freezing hurricane and i had goosebumps all over, that’s because the temperature in the bathroom is lower than the cabin and there’s cold air constantly pumped. I think they should raise the temperature, at least for the shower sessions. Anyway after drying up with a full sized towel I couldn’t believe how relaxed and fresh I was. Unforgettable!
BUSINESS VS FIRST CLASS.
After two detailed reviews let’s make a list of the main features of the two classes.
- SUPER SOFT 180° FULL FLAT BED
- ALMOST TOTAL PRIVACY WITH DOORS CLOSED
- PRIVATE CLOSET WITH TWO HANGERS
- EXCELLENT FOOD AND ON DEMAND ANYTIME MEALS
- HUGE BATHROOM AND SHOWER
- HUGE SCREEN AND CAPACITIVE TOUCH SCREEN TABLET
- BETTER AMENITY KIT AND PYJAMA
- DEDICATED FIRST CLASS BAR (THE SKY BAR IS ALSO ACCESSIBLE)
- DECENT BUT NOT 180° FLAT BED. COULD BE SOFTER
- GOOD LEVEL OF PRIVACY FOR A-K (WINDOW SEATS) and E-F (AISLE SEATS)
- MORE STORAGE SPACE IN WINDOWS SEATS BUT NO HANGERS
- EXCELLENT FOOD (ALMOST AS GOOD AS FIRST)
- DECENT SIZED TV BUT HEFTY AND LOUSY RESISTIVE TOUCH SCREEN TABLET
- GOOD AMENITY KIT
- SKY BAR
PRO TIP: don’t forget to become a Skyward club member or your airlines fidelity club member. Upgrade to first class can be obtained with the miles you collect.
Like summer is a mood more than a season, Emirates first is a mystical experience more than a product. The feeling of sheer joy and uncontrollable excitement is so rare in adulthood that it was the real privilege of the first time. I laughed and cried, I singed and danced, I saw all my life going trough in front of my eyes. I wanted it to last forever.
It is scarying, however, how fast we adapt to luxury. The second time I was certainly happy and relaxed but it already had become somewhat normal. It’s easy to upgrade but it’s not as easy to go back.
This is one of the things in my “to do before I depart from this life” list and I didn’t even know it before I tried it. I think everyone should try it at least once in life.
And don’t waste your money in a first class of a lousy airlines. You want to do even better? Book a flight from Dubai to Geneva or Brussels on the Boeing 777 and you will experience the revolutionary fully enclosed first class!
Meanwhile I hope you enjoyed my review and have a clear idea of what to expect! Leave a comment below if you’d like to know more!