Business Class on the Emirates A380 Back to the US (Trip Report)

It’s time for part 3 of Nate’s Dubai trip on Emirates. After flying the 777 out to Dubai and spending time in the Dubai Airport, it was time for him to fly back. This time, it was on the A380 to JFK.

After getting wrapped up in Dubai Airport, I realized it was 8a and it was time to board. Since I was on the A380, I could board from the lounge level rather than the main concourse level. The gate was 201, directly outside the business class lounge.

Second Level Boarding in Dubai

October 17, 2011
Emirates 201 Lv Dubai 830a Arr New York/JFK 215p
Dubai (DXB): Gate 201, Runway 12R, Depart 15m Late
New York/JFK (JFK): Gate A6, Runway 31L, Arrive 5m Late
A6-EDC, Airbus A380-861, Standard Emirates livery, ~50% Full in First, 66% in Biz, 75% in Coach
Seat 23A
Flight Time 14h14m

I was expecting a massive line, so I was stunned to see only 5 people in the queue. After a few folks checked my boarding pass and ID (I should have just left it on my forehead), I was directed to an elevator that would take me down a level to board the aircraft. Everything was glass encased, so I could see the line for coach, and it was moving quite fast. I was the only one in the jet bridge, which was also glass encased, providing for some great views of my airplane and the A380 at the adjacent gate.

A380 Next to Us

I was greeted by three flight attendants and was pointed toward the rear business class cabin to take my seat, 23A. After reading FlyerTalk and some of the comments on SeatGuru, people seem to give this seat high marks. The cabin was bustling with activities as FA’s were passing out champagne or juice as passengers were getting settled in. I was surprised to find out we were two-thirds full in Business.

When I got to my seat, the first thing that struck me was the level of privacy it provided. Since the seats have a mini-bar and are fully flat, there is no one sitting next to you. My seat was inwards near the window with my bar/storage area/tv remote jutting out towards the aisle.

A380 Business Class

My seat had the customary pillow, blanket, and noise-cancelling headsets. The eye shades and socks were in a small pouch above the bar. I also had 2 storage units between my seat and the window – which could fit a nicely-loaded backpack (I would later notice the aging on this airplane as it was difficult to keep them closed) or the pillow and blanket when not in use.

As I sat down, I was disappointed to not see electronic window shades, but this massive window pane. The window was almost 8 inches or so from the inner plastic window which made viewing a bit, well, unusual. I was then offered champagne and some dates by the flight crew before departure, and had a short chat with Hetzel, the business class purser.

In-seat Bar 2

My mini-bar was well stocked with a variety of sodas and juices. There weren’t many announcements. Most of them were in Arabic and perfect English. The lengthy safety video was done on the TVs – first in Arabic then again in English.

I was still a bit euphoric about flying in the A380 when we pushed back – at 845a. During the engine start-up, I could not hear a thing. I wasn’t even sure the engines were running until I noticed us taxiing towards the runway. After about 15 minutes we were in queue.

Take off was very smooth – couldn’t even hear the engines spool up. After what seemed to be a long take-off roll, we finally lifted off and proceeded to do a slow climb towards Iran. It was a very stable departure thanks to the design of the A380 control surfaces. Our flight attendants then did a greeting in Arabic, then English, alerting the passengers to the many languages spoken by the flight crew (14). You can hear the entire announcement on the takeoff video towards the end of this video:

Thirty minutes after takeoff, service began with a glass of champagne and warm nuts. I was then given a tray with fresh fruit and yogurt in advance of breakfast, which I unfortunately never got to taste.

I was given a tour by the purser, ‘Apple’. She would not let me in any other cabin, citing TSA regulations (which isn’t an actual regulation at all). We sat at the full-size bar in back and she showed me many highlights of the A380, including the couches (2), large screen TV, bar food and options, and a new feature – pub tables that are placed over the doors, so people can stand and talk.

Pub Table at A380 Bar

She then showed me the First Class galley and everything provided – including formal high-tea service, special beverages for passengers after they are done with the spa/shower, and the catering. I also met the spa attendant, who is NOT a flight attendant, and her sole role on the airplane is to assist passengers in the spa/shower and do a thorough clean after each use.

Emirates makes it a high priority to over-cater First Class to ensure every customer gets their first pick of food. I also found out they stock 3 bottles of Dom Perignon on the aircraft, 9 types of teas, and an espresso/cappuccino machine. First class passengers are given a large Emirates hand bag to take any items with them – slippers, pajamas, spa lotions, or just as a souvenir.

The Bar

One interesting feature was the purser controls. She said there are cameras near each flight attendant station so she can observe and manage her crew of 26. Apple said there have been flights where entire families have purchased every open seat in First to ensure privacy. With the new flights to America, they added cranberry juice and bagels with cream cheese (water served with ice should be on their list).

As our interview wound down, I headed back to my seat and noticed the makeup of our cabin. We had a significant number of people dressed up and couples occupying the middle seats that adjoin. For such a long flight not many passengers were dressed casually. I was only one of four Caucasian Americans in Business, and I’d later find out that 2 of them were from Atlanta but they purposely fly Emirates to India/Middle East via New York, despite Delta providing service from their hometown.

I noticed my tray was gone, but I was able to get some munchies at the bar, where I met another flight attendant who asked me for any criticisms about Emirates (apparently everyone knew who I was by now). I told her my main issue is that I haven’t seen a water service every 30/60 minutes, which is customary on U.S. long haul flights. She said “well, just use the call button.. we are here to serve you”.

The Atlanta passengers started to join in our conversation, and I told the flight attendant that as Americans, we are “trained” to never touch the call button. The Atlanta frequent fliers agreed, “yeah, even in Delta BusinessElite, they bark at you.” The Emirates flight attendant looked at us in horror.

After a very relaxing 3-hour nap, I woke up and watched a movie. I had to call a flight attendant over to ask for my “Lite Bites” (2nd meal) option. I really wish Emirates would put something in the menus alerting passengers that the 2nd meal is “on demand”. I ended up getting the Emirates club sandwich, and it was served warm. But they did have “hot bites” in the bar area at this point, in case a passenger didn’t like what was on the menu.

Pre-Dinner Appetizer

After a few movies and restful naps it was time for the dinner service. I opted for the Arab kabob meal, which included large chicken and beef chunks and served with rice and beans. It was amazingly tasty, and the salad was still fresh despite being 10 hours into the flight. The flight attendants told me that the galleys are packed 2 carts deep and everything is frozen and then thawed to ensure its safe to serve.

Beef and Chicken Kabob Dinner

I also noticed the flight attendant shook 22D awake for his meal, and he didn’t seem like a happy camper. I think Emirates needs to work on this, or come up with a way to communicate to passengers the meal service expectations and if they want to sleep or be woken up.

I asked the purser for access to coach earlier in the flight so I could at least get a photo of the coach meal service, but I was told TSA didn’t allow switching cabins. So I was taken aback when I saw a passenger from economy in the upstairs galley who even went down the stairs. One would think it would have been beneficial to show someone writing a story the main deck during the flight, but no.

Delta RJs at JFK

The landing was very smooth and we didn’t seem to use up much of the runway. As we taxied by the Delta terminal, I noticed how close our wingtip was to the smaller Delta CRJs and hoped we didn’t want to play “tag” with one of them, like the Air France A380 did this past summer. We eventually docked at the International terminal and deplaning was very fast.

I opted to stay and talk to the pilots and take a look at the coach cabin downstairs, and I was again rushed. I am still trying to figure out why Emirates flight crews didn’t want me to see or experience the economy cabin. Both times I had to wait until we were on the ground and the seats actually felt fairly comfortable, but I didn’t get to spend enough time to decide if they were really good or bad.

Coach on A380

The window seats felt cramped due to the curvature of the plane, but each seat had the customary ICE system, universal powerports, and only industry-standard legroom.

Seatback Video in Coach

Customs was very efficient, and I was able to recheck my bag with Emirates so they’d get put on my Delta flights. I opened my duffel to make sure everything was in there and repacked some items to prevent anything breaking and I was off to Delta. At some point between there and my arrival in Kansas City, my bag was ripped open and half my items were gone.

Emirates’s PR firm offered to replace all of my items, which I declined and said I’d rather pay for them. Within a week of filing my claim, Delta agreed to pay for my items.

Overall, my A380 experience was a memorable one. This was a big airplane that had a tremendous amount of amenities to keep passengers occupied for the entire journey. The one downside – lack of personalized service. I can’t tell you the name of the flight attendant assigned to my section, unlike on my San Francisco to Dubai flight).

You can see more of Nate’s photos here.

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