What It's Really Like Flying Business Class on Emirates
Many years ago, when I flew Emirates for the first time—to India via Dubai—my experience was a revelation. This was the early days of the Middle Eastern carrier’s expansion, and it hadn’t yet entered entered into the global consciousness as a world-class brand. Yet here was a thoroughly modern experience: brand-new aircraft product; a sophisticated, international flight crew; some of the best entertainment, dining, and amenities in the air.
On that trip, I flew both in business and in first class—first was especially noteworthy, with semi-enclosed cabins which at that time were a totally new phenomenon—and both were exceptional experiences. I felt I had definitely experienced an airline on the up and up, an assessment that proved correct.
Fast forward to today and, despite that positive early experience, I haven’t actually flown Emirates too much over the years. Although the airline’s rapid expansion of routes and fleet—including its enthusiastic and early embrace of the Airbus A380—make routing through its Dubai hub easy, for those of us who guard our status in one alliance or another, the inability to earn miles/points from Emirates flights on most of the major carriers serves as a not insignificant deterrent. (If you’re a loyalist of Alaska, Virgin America, or JetBlue, or a handful of international carriers like Korean Air, Quantas, and Japan Airlines, then you’re in luck, but those with status on American, United, or Delta won’t accrue points from Emirates flights—no matter how long.)
So a few months ago, when Emirates offered to fly me in business class to the Seychelles via Dubai—the carrier has some of the easiest connections to the Indian Ocean nation—I decided to give it a go, to evaluate whether it’s worth it for most travelers to forego the miles in exchange for what is meant to be an exceptional experience.
My conclusion is that Emirates, at least in business class, still stands out relative to other carriers in certain aspects and is on par with top-tier competitive products in most others, and it’s therefore well worth considering, particularly in instances where direct flights from the U.S. to your final destination are not an option and the routing through Dubai provides a convenient connection.
Read on for a step-by-step description of the experience on one leg of my journey: flying home to New York from Dubai on an A380.
One of the really nice things about flying in business or first on Emirates (from major markets like Dubai) is its Chauffeur-Drive Service, which will pick you up at the location of your choice and whisk you to the airport. Here I am getting dropped off before my flight. The car was comfortable, the driver pleasant, and it was a nice value too, since a taxi ride from my hotel, One&Only The Palm, would have been fairly expensive. Be sure to book it as far in advance as possible to ensure driver availability at your preferred time.
In Dubai Emirates operates a special express check-in desk for first- and business-class passengers; I found it a speedy and pleasant way to get checked in and, because there is a dedicated screening zone around the corner, it also provides an efficient way to get through security.
The Emirates lounges at Dubai are gigantic, including many different dining areas, business centers, a spa, a cigar bar, showers, prayer rooms, play areas for kids, quiet areas for sleeping, and duty-fee shopping. The facilities repeat themselves over the length of the lounge, so once you’ve found a zone that suits, you can settle in and have everything within relatively easy reach.
The Emirates lounge is filled with people from all over the world—I ran into three people I knew in transit to different places—and so the carrier provides newspapers from every corner of the world. It's a (perhaps minor) feature I particularly enjoyed.
The lounge decor is what I call “global lobby style,” with lots of beiges and golds and reds, and then every so often there’s a big semi-purposeless space like this with a grand sculpture thrown in, the kind that an evil oligarch from a James Bond film would have at the center of the room where he plots global domination. Perfectly pleasant, and I must say they keep everything spotless.
These private sleep cubicles are fantastic; just be sure to set an alarm so you don’t miss your flight.
There is all manner of food and drink set out at stations throughout the lounge—everything from finger sandwiches and fresh fruit to hot curries and hummus. Because everyone is on a different time clock in the lounge, they’ve pretty much got whatever you feel hungry for at any given moment, whether you need an espresso and a breakfast pastry or a full dinner. I found most of it to be quite good, particularly the Middle Eastern and Indian fare.
So the lounge has a spa—appropriately called the Timeless Spa—and yes, dear reader, I simply had to have a massage to test it out. It was very nice—not the best massage I’ve ever had, but totally satisfying. It is of course an excellent way to revive yourself between legs of a journey.
You can board many flights directly from the lounge to the upper deck of the A380, and of course there are the usual welcome drinks when you do—I’ll take champagne and orange juice, thank you very much. You can get a sense of the seat setup in this shot; they’re in a 1-2-1 configuration, and have this burled wood veneer detailing as the dominant aesthetic gesture. There’s a console screen at your side that serves as an alternate means of controlling the entertainment system, and a thoughtful compartment that holds water and soft drinks. The two seats in the center aisle have an adjustable panel which makes them feel private if you are not seated next to someone you know. I found my spot roomy and thoughtfully laid out, on par with the best business-class seats in the air today.
On the flight from Dubai to New York there is both lunch and dinner; you can get a sense of the menu in this shot. There are three choices per course, one of which is Middle Eastern or Indian. The wine selection is international—on my flight there was one European and one New World selection for both red and white, and the champagne was Veuve Clicquot.
This gives you a sense of what the meal setup looks like: real glassware, utensils, china, and linens. I ordered the cream of mushroom soup for a dinner appetizer, which was served with warm bread and a green salad. Here, and throughout the flight, I found the food attractively and professionally presented and also slightly blander than I’d hoped—not the very best I’ve had in the air, but perfectly good.
I really like the bathrooms on the Emirates A380: attractive and spacious, kept spotlessly clean throughout the flight, and filled with light from the window above the loo. Washcloths to dry your hands rather than paper towels are a nice touch.
Each business class seat has a nice big screen for the entertainment system, which comes with a very extensive selection of movies and music, in my experience one of the best out there. In addition to really wide international selection (if you want Bollywood, boy have they got Bollywood) and your usual recent films, the system also has an especially good selection of classics; I took a stroll down memory lane and watched “Arthur.” Each seat comes with noise-cancelling headphones as well if you’re not traveling with your own. (Note the handy power port convenient placed right in front of you at arm’s length too.)
I’m not someone who cares a heck of a lot about amenity kits, but Emirates’s is a quite good one. I especially appreciate kits that include things you might want to use after the flight as well, in this case, for me, a proper travel-sized toothpaste and a portable pack of tissues. This men’s kit also has deodorant, shaving cream, and a nice little box of Bulgari lotion, after shave, and cologne. Socks, eye mask, and ear plugs come in a separate packet in a compartment beside your seat.
You may have heard about the bar at the back of business class on the A380 and I’m here to tell you it is kind of the best thing about Emirates’s service. First of all, there are some tasty round-the-clock snacks back there, and it’s just pretty terrific to have a bartender mix you a martini at 35,000 feet. But it’s also an interesting and rare opportunity to get to know your flight crew—they rotate who works the bar—as well as your fellow passengers. On my flights there were some fascinating folks congregating in the space. (One thing to note: although the bar was never rowdy on my flights, I am told it can happen, so if you are noise sensitive you’d want to avoid the rear of the business-class cabin directly in front of the bar.)
A word about service and the flight crew: by and large, I found the Emirates team to be both efficient in doing their jobs and kind in their manner. There’s always variation from flight to flight, and on this Dubai to New York leg the crew seemed more relaxed and a bit looser than the somewhat more harried and no-nonsense crew we had from New York to Dubai. What is fun about Emirates is that the cabin crews are composed of individuals from all over the world—the purser tells you in an announcement after taking off how many languages the crew speaks, and it’s always something like 30—and many of them have interesting personal stories. It seems fitting that a carrier that has positioned itself as “global” rather than national or regional should have such a varied group of professionals representing it.
When it comes time to get some sleep, your seat reclines to a fully flat position at the touch of a button. I appreciated the setup, with a fluffy mattress you place over the seat cushions underneath you in addition to a duvet to cover yourself. Cabin lights dim to a soft bluish color which I found created a nice, soothing atmosphere. I found I slept as well as I ever have in business class—to me the most important thing of all.