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Wandering Dubai Airport (Trip Report)

Nate is back with part two of his trip report. This time, we look in depth at Dubai Airport. If you missed his flight out, see Flying Up Front on Emirates to Dubai.

After spending a very long and exhausting day in Dubai, I wasn’t looking forward to getting up at 3a for my return trip so I could check-in early and maximize my time in the airport, board a 13 hour flight, then fly 4.5 more hours on 2 additional flights followed by a 3.5 hour drive. In one day. My past life travels would have made Ryan Bingham jealous, so I was ready for the challenge. And it started off with an incredible Dubai airport experience.

I left the hotel at 4a in a Lexus sedan, courtesy of the hotel, and arrived a few minutes later at the “exclusive” First/Business Class terminal for Emirates. An employee and a porter promptly greeted me, and they walked me to the Business Class check-in.

First Class Terminal Check In

At first glance, the terminal was like customs when I arrived – very open and airy, with tall columns and decorative tile. There weren’t many people up this early, so I walked to an agent who alerted me that I couldn’t check-in for another 15 minutes. Fortunately there were some comfortable chairs nearby as I sat and waited (according to Flyertalk, I should have been able to check-in and check my bags up to 24 hours). When I was able, I took my bags to the same gentleman who checked me in.

I did the “hike” to security and was glad to see there wasn’t a line. My Acer Tablet caught the interest of the security guards. They asked about it and turned it on. At first I thought it was for security, but it was actually because they hadn’t seen one before and wanted to buy one! One good thing about this checkpoint – it is ONLY for First Class & Business Class customers, there is no mixing with economy customers, at all. After 10 minutes, I took the elevators up to the departure level, expecting an empty concourse.

Boy was I wrong.


I could barely walk. This place felt like it housed the entire world population. Of the 115 or so airports I have visited, I don’t think I’ve been on a concourse this busy, EVER.

The airport boasts a massive shopping system, run by Dubai Duty Free, which will sell you everything from Tums to a car (well, there was at least a “lottery” for it). I was very impressed with all of the shopping options, and the food choices (which even included a Burger King) could satisfy every taste bud. Every single restaurant was open, and it was barely 5a – something unheard of in the US. The zen garden was even quite busy, which is touted as a “quiet oasis” in the airport. Sure. Quieter, maybe.

Side Corridor Behind Shops

I did discover that each side of the concourse has a corridor behind the shops, which was MUCH quieter and easier to navigate if you knew where you were going. The signs at the airport also showed you how far, in minutes, the gates were – which was a very handy thing to know. I must admit, the airport provides plenty of places to sit, so I never had to walk too far if I wanted to take a break.

Free wifi seemed to be available all over the airport.I It wasn’t very fast, but I was able to check my cranky e-mail and Facebook without a hitch and without having to sign up to Boingo or another annoying service. It was quite slow in the lounges, though, maybe due to high use?

After walking around the zoo concourse for a while, I opted to head upstairs to the First Class lounge. The clubs are accessible by 1 set of escalators or stairs in the middle of the concourse, with the First Class lounge on one side, Business Class on the other, and a hotel/spa above the lounges. Upon entry, I came across the largest floral arrangement I have ever seen and enjoyed the smell. (I’d later find out this cost over $900 and is replaced every 3 days with fresh flowers).

Floral Arrangement at First Class Lounge

Friendly staff checked my reservation and allowed me in (I was told that Emirates will soon be limiting which lounges passengers can access once the new concourse is built, making things a bit more “exclusive”). To the left was a very nice and quaint water feature/pond with small cushions around it. There was sporadic seating spread about with numerous bars/food stations served by waitresses eager to please. I continued down the hallway and noticed it wasn’t very noisy, despite being able to look down and see the concourse below.

First Class Lounge Seating Area

There were very few passengers in the lounge and at every turn an employee asked if I needed anything. “My pleasure to assist” was said more frequently than at a Four Seasons or Ritz. I came across the restaurant where I sat down and was offered a 3-course breakfast along with buffet. I opted for the buffet as I didn’t want to overeat.

First Class Lounge Restaurant

The buffet offered a large variety of hot and cold foods, including eggs, chicken sausage (white, by the way), baked beans (really? for breakfast?), and pastries. Anything I wanted, the server would get or make for me. Behind me was the smoking area/lounge, and I kept smelling the smoke as I ate. As soon as I was done, I discovered the shower room, which had about 8-10 private showers and shower attendant waiting for you, along with the La Croc wine shop, Spa/hair salon, and more sitting areas. What I appreciated was the fact they had real sofas and chairs, not just office furniture, and TVs in most of the sitting areas – perfect if you are traveling with friends and want to watch TV or chat.

First Class passengers are given express treatments, free of charge – they include de-stress back massage, reflexive therapy (leg/feet – this one struck me odd as I thought Islamic law forbade touching or exposing one’s feet?), refresh manicure, hair shaping, and blow dry. Other treatments were available for US$21 to $55 and full spa treatments start around $100 and go up to $200.

The lounge was very spacious and had ample places to charge any electronics. The business center was very nice, with fairly large work stations, nice chairs, and a TV in an enclosed room. The lounge provided many magazines and newspapers from around the world (was surprised to see the Charlotte and Houston papers available!) and the vibe was very relaxing. Someone mentioned I had just missed Kim Kardashian (oh darn), who was in town to launch her overly expensive milkshake store at the Dubai Mall. Apparently her soon-to-be-ex-hubby wasn’t with her.

My next stop was to check the Business Class lounge. Entry was much more chaotic, with twice the welcome staff at the door,. My initial view of the lounge showed that it was very crowded. Like the First Class lounge, it had ample places to sit in a variety of areas that all had different layouts. I didn’t notice a restaurant but found numerous eating areas – the food wasn’t quite the same as found in the First Class lounge.

Business Class Lounge Again

I noticed a long line for the showers (as noted on FlyerTalk) and the bathrooms were quite busy. The Business Class lounge also had a Timeless Spa, and there didn’t appear to be a wait had I chosen to get a massage or manicure before the flight. Like the First Class lounge, there was an enclosed business center with computers, TV, and leather chairs (not the lazy boy kind, but the nicer office-type chairs). The children’s lounge was also enclosed, keeping screaming kids separated.

Overall, the lounges were very nice. To Emirates’s credit, both lounges were very clean, which was surprising considering the time of day was at their peak use.

Pool at Timeless Spa (Closed at the Time)

Next stop was to see if I could go for a swim. . . . I went up one level and saw the pool in a glass-enclosed room behind the elevators and no one using it. I followed the signs to the Timeless Spa, but found the doors to be closed, and wasn’t even sure if this was the correct entrance. I continued walking down the corridor and was in the hotel. The airport has a 60-some room hotel above the lounges in the concourse.

I tried to research the hotel and came up with almost nothing on the Emirates or Dubai airport websites, including how to make a reservation and rates – nada. I found the staff very welcoming and willing to show me a room, which seemed to be very “acceptable” for $50 an hour or $160 for 4-6 hours. The rates are slightly higher if you occupy a room between 6p and 6a, and the agent showing me the room said that you can get lower rates online (great, but where online?).

2 Doubles Room at Hotel

24 hours in a room would easily cost you $350, even though you could leave the airport and get a room at Le Meridien for $150 and have the use of 3 outdoor pools and 18 restaurants. The hotel is about as “full service” as you can get, and amazingly you don’t hear any noise at all from inside the rooms.

Considering that Emirates is using the “original” U.S. airline model of hub-and-spoke, they have done a great job of controlling their product offered inflight, on the ground, and in the airport. The airline is using super jumbos like the A380 and larger Boeing 777 models to link the world – connecting big planes to other big planes – as their business model. While at the airport, I saw every nationality and gender represented.

Departure Screens

I felt more like I was in the Pittsburgh Airport in the ‘90s (when USAirways had a mega-hub there) than I did in an Arabic country. . . and I think that’s what the UAE is trying to do. They did a great job of it. The airport is already overcrowded, and Concourse 3 is almost completed, which will be exclusive for the A380. Hopefully this will give passengers a bit more breathing room as it was quite crowded.

You can see more of Nate’s photos on Flickr

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