Flying Up Front on Emirates to Dubai (Trip Report)

A couple months ago, Emirates asked if I’d like to fly out to Dubai to spend 24 hours in the airport so that we could experience all that it had to offer. Though the idea of impersonating Tom Hanks in The Terminal sounded fun, I couldn’t take the trip. Fortunately, Nate Vallier, one of our concierges and a blogger himself stepped up to the challenge and set off on an adventure. In the end, thanks to red tape in Dubai, Nate wasn’t allowed to stay in the airport the whole time, but he did have an eye-opening experience. This is part one, the trip out to Dubai. There will be more over the next few weeks. (And yes, Emirates provided the flight and accommodations for Nate without charge.)

View Out the Window

I’ll let Nate take it from here. . . .
——
When asked if I’d be willing to fly to Dubai and experience Emirates, it was almost immediately followed by “when can I go?”. Never in my life did I think of Dubai as a destination, nor did I think of flying Emirates. Being an American, I’m addicted to my frequent flyer loyalty and would have never considered Emirates.

The booking process was completed by Emirates Corporate Communications staff, but I did the research to make sure I picked the ideal seat. I chose 9K on the 777-300 on the way out, but after seeing how I’d be almost “locked” in at the window, I moved to 8K – bulkhead window despite SeatGuru giving it a low score (which it should not have, and as of today, the site still hasn’t updated the seatmap to reflect the inaccuracies there).

Emirates provides premium cabin passengers a complimentary chauffeur service to the airport. I was able to enter my pick-up point online along with my contact number, and select how many hours prior to departure to be picked up. Unfortunately Emirates doesn’t provide an e-mail confirmation, so there was no way to confirm everything, and I was a little nervous. I was relieved when I found the car waiting at my pick-up point in San Francisco. At 1:45PM we were set to go, with a chilled bottle of water and wet-wipes.

After a 35 minute drive, we arrived at SFO. I had previously arrived on an Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle and dropped my bags off at the Travel Agency – they will watch your bags for $20 per bag (higher for larger bags). At the Emirates counter, I found a long line for coach but no line for Business/First Class. At check-in, my bags were tagged with priority tags, and all carry-ons were also tagged and weighed. A pass for the United Club (the lounge Emirates is using until its own opens up) was given to me, along with my checked luggage tag and boarding pass.

I passed through security and then went to the club, which seemed “bare” to me. I was expecting a full service bar with televisions all over. There were lots of chairs and powerports, along with a self-service beverage bar and munchies, but the bathroom was not very clean and the overall club just felt very “sterile”. After 45 minutes, I went down to duty free then went to board my flight.


October 14, 2011
Emirates 226 Lv San Francisco 445p Arr Dubai 720p
San Francisco (SFO): Gate 99, Runway 28R, Depart 2m Early
Dubai (DXB): Gate 229, Runway 30L, Arrive 27m Early
A6-EGB, Boeing 777-300ER, Standard Emirates livery, ~50% Full in First, 100% in Biz, 98% in Coach
Seat 8K
Flight Time 15h15m

Boarding was done through 2 doors but it was really just 1 jet bridge that divided into two. There was a massive line for economy while the first/business line was very quick. As I walked down the jetway, I found an employee at the split, separating the passengers. I found my seat, stowed my luggage in the largely empty bins, and found a large pillow, blanket, and noise cancelling headsets waiting for me.

Emirates Business Class Seat

Within moments, Susan, who would be my flight attendant, came by offering champagne, orange juice, or water in a glass (something I haven’t seen on a US carrier in a long time). As boarding continued, I started playing with the ICE system, which has over 1500 channels and hundreds upon hundreds of movies on demand. The TV is controlled by two remotes – one is a phone and another is a touch-screen monitor that is about the size of a small tablet. The main tv screen is also a touch screen, but mine was on the bulkhead nearly 3 feet in front of me. There was a universal power port and 2 USB ports as well.

Emirates Remote Controls

One annoyance was 8J’s tv. . . it was built into a partition between our seats and was much closer to me than my own screen. Emirates does have a cool feature that allows you to watch what your seatmate is watching as well (but I didn’t use it, no offense to Babs fans, but I’ve seen Funny Girl a few too many times).

Emirates Business Class Screen

Announcements were in Arabic and English, and after the closing of the door the purser greeted me and advised she would show me around the plane after the service, which never happened. (Emirates had apparently alerted her that I would be onboard.) We pushed back on time, and I was able to watch us slowly taxi to the runway. Climbout was nice and smooth, and visibility was perfect.

Emirates Toiletry Kit

Service began 30 minutes after departure with warm nuts and my drink, the flight attendant was still shocked I only wanted water (which was delivered with no ice). Sleeping pads and amenities kits were then handed out (and it was by far the best amenity kit I’d ever received). Many passengers immediately went to sleep, but I opted to play with ICE and watch a movie.

The flight attendant came to pull out my tray table, but the linen and personalized service isn’t what impressed me the most; it was the fact the tray table pulled up then slid forward at least a foot.

The presentation was done very well, but I opted for sweet tomato soup and immediately noticed it was cold. I figured it was just the Arabic way of serving it, only to be advised by the galley flight attendant he should have served it warm. He asked if I wanted a new one, but I passed as I was already halfway done. Once done, Susan took it away and brought my steak with garlic mashed potatoes, carrots, turnips, and a garlic spinach flan. (And yes, mom, I ate the turnips!)

I opted for some red wine – the Sarget de Gruaud Larose – and I was impressed that Emirates flight attendants used a wine carrier with 3 to 4 bottles on it along with glasses. It made the wine service very efficient. The meal was good, and the steak was fairly juicy. The only negative? The passenger in 8F was shaken awake for meal service. . . .

After dinner, I opted to pass on dessert so I could nap for a few hours. The bed controls were in two places – one built into the seat on the right, and another on the TV remote. The bed took about 30 seconds to get into the full flat position, and I immediately noticed that below the arm rests, the storage areas double as “shoulder room”, which resulted in a very VERY restful nap. (My previous flat bed experience was in the United First Class Suite and I felt very claustrophobic.)

I kept my monitor on the airshow and listened to music while I slept. I woke up just past the north pole and was able to easily slide past 8J to use the lav. It had toothpaste/toothbrushes along with shaving kits, and a fresh flower. As soon as I went back to my seat, Susan offered me more water and I noticed some Godiva chocolates in the cupholder.

I looked out my windows and noticed I hadn’t put the shades down. To my amazement they were electronically controlled with 2 shades – one paper-type shade and then a black-out shade. I was hoping for my inflight-bites, but apparently I had to ask for it. I ordered chicken tikka marsala, and for my first taste of the middle east, it was really good.

I then napped again for another 2 hours to wake up over Russia approaching the Caspian Sea. According to airshow, we were in daylight. I started to raise the window shade and noticed the sunrays fill the cabin, so I closed it as to not disturb others. I remembered the purser never came to show me the plane, so I asked for her, and Susan asked if anything was wrong (apparently only the purser knew I was on board to write about the product).

Breakfast was served while over the Caspian Sea as the cabin was transitioning from stars/blue to a nice gentle orange color. The first setting was a great fruit plate with rolls followed by pancakes. The pancakes were tasty but could have used maple syrup. After breakfast the purser came to welcome me into First Class and I took seat 1F. My mouth was on the ground. . . this was a ROOM, not a seat.

Emirates First Class Suite

The seat was very comfortable and felt like a Cadillac seat. There was an electronic mini bar in the console along with the tray table. There were electronically controlled doors with a “do not disturb” option. There were 3 light fixtures in the “suite” – a small lamp, a reading light above the seat, and one adjacent to the tv. Each light had 2 dim settings, all controlled by the remote.

Emirates First Class Minibar

The TV was a bit larger than the business class ICE, and the seat had a lot more storage. It also had a vanity with very handy lotions and “sniff kits”, which help reduce jetlag – and they were simply AMAZING. Under the TV was also a writing kit, including a pen and paper.

There were no overhead bins in First Class, so it had a very open feeling, despite being ‘compartmentalized’. The bar was more of a social “standing” area, and there were no passengers using it.

As it started to get dark, again, we were approaching Dubai. I could no longer remove the remote and the doors wouldn’t close on the suite. I had the remote tuned to the nose camera and kept flipping through the TV. There was a short feature prior to landing in Dubai, followed by more clean-up by the FAs. I then flipped over to the nose camera hoping to get a good view of our approach, however it was very humid and visibility wasn’t very good. Our landing was smooth and we had a short taxi to the gate.

Upon landing, I noticed that the flight attendants held back the economy cabin passengers until all first/business class passengers were off. The flight attendants wouldn’t let me go back to coach during the flight (probably, annoyingly, to prevent a negative review), so after a 10 minute wait on the ground, I headed back to coach to check it out.

Emirates Coach Seat

Seeing a 10 abreast layout on Seatguru, I knew it would have been a tight fit. And thank god I was in business, as I would not have lasted in economy on this flight. Sure, I felt a good 2 more inches of legroom, but the seat was much tighter than other seats (while I could put the arm rest down, my shoulders ate up a good 1/4 of the middle seat). At least economy seats had the same ICE system and power ports.

Upon arrival in the terminal, it was a decent hike to the “sky train”, which is an elevator that looked more like a room, down to immigration. I was able to use the fast track line and was through in a few minutes.

My first impression was that I entered a Las Vegas casino, with huge columns and a very open customs and bag claim area. My VIP meet and greet had my bags and we walked right through customs with no questions.

I’d like to thank Nick B at Boeing, who has spent many months on this route flying between Seattle and Doha. His tips of not sleeping the entire journey and taking shorter naps with movies at intervals really helped, as I did not feel jet lagged at all, which was one of my largest concerns of the trip. While walking to customs, I was kind of shocked that I had just gotten off of a 15 hour flight, my body certainly didn’t feel like it.


18 Responses to Flying Up Front on Emirates to Dubai (Trip Report)

  1. Nice report and photos. I think seeing my neighbors montior closer to me then my own would drive me crazy be distracting. To bad the front of the monitor didn’t have a swing out panel that could block its view to be less distracting.

  2. Sanjeev M says:

    The premium chaffeur service that Emirates and Etihad offer is something extraordinary. I can only think of LH’s Private First Class Terminal with chaffeur to the plane as a comparison.

    Interesting you weren’t allowed into Economy (I want to hear about this red tape Cranky speaks of). The 3-4-3 in Economy may be a tight fit, but seems to work for the local flights, as the average Asian is a lot narrower (similar to Japanese cars in the US). Maybe Emirates should have done 3-3-3 on the long haul and saved 3-4-3 for the short haul, but that’s probably why Emirates makes money.

    Due to the 1920 arrival time into DXB, most of the economy passengers are connecting onward to India, BKK, other GCC cities. Nice pictures, the wing shot is especially impressive.

    • mallthus says:

      Actually VS have a chauffeur service for their premium customers as well. That said, it is nice.

    • travelnate says:

      Sanjeev,

      I was told “its horrible back there right now, you don’t want to see it” by the purser. The return flight was even more interesting, but you have to wait 2 weeks for that one.

      Coach seats were comfortable and had the universal powerports & USBs, and the same ICE system…. they were just fairly thin. And on our flight, we only had like 5 open seats back there, so obviously EK isn’t about to give up 40 seats just because of “larger” passengers. I was wondering if EK was going to roll out a product similar to Air New Zealand or at least let you buy the middle seat…. 2 people traveling together in EK-Y on a 777 will be very comfortable with it open.

      And the chauffeur service is on both sides of the flight – arrival *AND* departure. It appears Emirates had a dedicated fleet of sedans outside customs in DXB rather than using a vendor, which is what happened in San Francisco.

      • Sanjeev M says:

        Interesting idea Nate. You would think with 3-4-3 that they’d give you 34″ pitch, but I think it’s just 32″ on EK. However, I have plenty of friends and cousins who sware by EK and would pay more to fly with them to India.

        @James below, the slumber party idea is just about right. When I go to India, it’s especially true particularly on the second leg. For example, US-DXB/AUH/DOH/IST/LHR/FRA is a mix of different people connecting all over the place so people tend to act “normal”, but on the India leg people tend to get comfortable (since people generally have the same culture and speak the same language). This can be quite fun if you know the language, and I’ve heard the same is true for flights to all VFR destinations of SE Asia.

        Dare I also say that the Gulf airlines’ higher service standards forced the European airlines (esp. AF) to reduce discrimination against Indians in favor of Caucasians.

    • CF says:

      The initial plan was to have Nate fly in, spend 24 hours in the airport, and then fly back without ever leaving the place but that was scuttled. Something about visa issues and immigration rules that has changed over the last couple months. I don’t know the details, but I just know the end result was that Nate had to leave the airport.

  3. james says:

    If the coach cabin was like most of my overseas flights I wouldn’t want to show it off either upon landing.

    I tell my non international traveling friends that overseas night flights (in coach) are like a big slumber party with 200 strangers; contorted bodies attempting comfort, mouths hanging open and pillows strewn about, blankets and clothes all over the place.

    Not complaining – but I wouldn’t want to show if off..

  4. Doug Swalen says:

    Well I have done this route in an Economy middle seat and I had no problems…though I was in a bulkhead exit row so there was unlimited legroom. I wasnt very jet lagged either…but I still had to endure a 7 hour layover in terminal 3 with a 3:30 am departure to Male and that did do me in.

  5. Sean says:

    Im curious as to why they comped a business class ticket and not a first class ticket. Or is the return in first?

    • CF says:

      Actually, the idea was originally to do coach one way and biz the other but that ended up becoming biz both ways for some reason or another. Biz is pretty standard for a trip like this. I don’t know anyone who would comp first.

  6. FRANK says:

    Service began 30 minutes after departure with warm nuts and my drink, the flight attendant was still shocked I only wanted water (which was delivered with no ice).
    ====================================================

    I find this part amusing. You asked for “water” and that’s what you got. Many times passengers will comment to me and say, “where’s the ice?” I say, “that’s ICE WATER, you asked for water”.

    • travelnate says:

      FRANK, I know it sounds odd, but in every instance of asking for water in a U.S. based premium cabin, it is almost always served with a cup of ice. I even recall Air Tran asking me what kind of water I wanted (back when they had 3 or 4 different kinds of bottled water). So this took me by surprise.

      • Sanjeev M says:

        Asian custom is generally water with no ice. You have to ask for the ice if you want it.

  7. Mark SFO 1K says:

    Nate, there is a full service bar in the United Club after ascending the escalators, you make a u-turn and walk all the way to the end. There’s a bar with seating both at the bar and at high chair bar tables and further back a lot of new seating with dedicated power ports. A single TV above the bar is provided as well.

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