I awake to my 43rd birthday at five in the morning at the Sofitel Downtown Dubai. I’ve spent the whole week giving a course in Al Ain and now it’s finally time to head home. So I shall be spending a large part of my birthday on an Airbus A380 somewhere between heaven and earth. I could think of worse ways to spend the day…
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Emirates’ chauffeur service really works rather well and can be booked online when you make your flight reservation. From what I understand, there is a maximum range for the drop-you off/pick-up at the outstations, but from their hub in Dubai the service covers all of the Emirates.
One day before I’m scheduled to fly, I even receive a text message from Emirates to confirm the service with the time of the pick-up.
The Sofitel Downtown is located on Sheikh Zayed Road, within walking distance of the Burj Khalifa and right next door to the metro station by the same name. The journey from the hotel to the airport will take you about 20 minutes by car. Although if you’re traveling in the evening, it is likely to be significantly longer with all the traffic. In fact, unless you are, like me, travelling in the wee hours of the morning, I really would recommend you take the metro to the airport instead and save yourself some serious agro.
By metro it’s 36 minutes on the red line from the Sofitel to the airport and a single ticket will cost AED14.
Emirates has a dedicated terminal for First Class and Business Class passengers, which is fairly deserted this morning. Check-in is swift and my suitcase is tagged all the way to my final destination. There are not many passengers checking in at this time of day and half the check-in counters are closed.
In contrast, the transit area is packed with bleary eyed transfer passengers –Emirates’ bread and butter – transiting through Dubai on the carrier’s morning wave.
The flight today is leaving from the C concourse, which is in the original midfield terminal at Dubai and is thus much older than the A and B piers that were purpose built for the A380. As a result, there is no segregation between Economy Class passengers and Business Class/First Class passengers. It’s also quite a schlep from the security check-point to the C concourse.
The Emirates lounge on the C concourse is much smaller than those on the A and B concourses too. It’s a bit gloomy and looks quite old-fashioned, although the latter can also be said of the other lounges, which are somewhat conservative in their design.
Boarding is from gate C25 and there is a long queue to enter the holding pen. Once boarding starts, Business Class passengers are invited to head one floor up via the escalators to board the upper deck of the aircraft.
The aircraft deployed on the Amsterdam route do not have a First Class cabin. So upon entering the aircraft on the upper deck, you find yourself in the Economy Class cabin. During boarding this isn’t really such an issue, and the fact that the Business Class cabin is located in the aft of the aircraft means you don’t have half the aircraft filing past you through the cabin. However, it also means that when deplaning, Business Class passengers have to wait for most of the upper deck to disembark before they can finally get off the plane.
I don’t much like the design of the cabin. The colours are not especially attractive, the faux wood panelling is just tacky and overall the cabin is starting to look a bit dated, especially when compared to what airlines like Air France or Qatar Airways offer these days. Even so, the layout of the seat is good and if you’re seated on an A or K seat, there is a lot of storage space. The A and K seats are also very private.
The Emirates ICE inflight entertainment system is just brilliant and offers a huge selection of films, television programmes, games, etc. As a rule, I don’t normally have any use for the IFE. However, on this flight, I manage to watch two Pirates of the Caribbean films (don’t judge, okay…) and a whole season of the Big Bang Theory.
THE CREW & SERVICE
A while back I had the impression that Emirates went through a bit of a bad patch with their cabin crew and the on board service. I suspect their growth was so rapid that perhaps this may have had a negative impact on cabin crew training. But that appears to have been remedied and the crew on this flight, as on the outbound, are friendly and professional.
On daytime flights, Emirates does not distribute amenity kits. However, socks and eye shades can be found in the seat and tooth brushes and shaving kits are available in the toilets.
The service before on the ground consists of a selection of juices and champagne for a welcome drink, the distribution of the menus and the rather nicely scented, thick hot towels.
On the morning flight leaving Dubai for Amsterdam there are two meal services. Immediately after take-off a light breakfast is served, which is delivered on one tray. It consists of
- a yoghurt,
- a raisin brioche,
- butter and jam
- a bowl of cold cuts, cheese and cucumber
- a choice of juices and coffee or tea.
Just over two hours out of Amsterdam the main meal is served, which is lunch. Much to my surprise, it’s still the same menu they were offering when I last flew with Emirates back in April this year.
Back then, I had opted for the chicken main course, which was not very good. The two other options for the hot meal do not sound too appealing either. And so, instead, I decide to have two starters: the tomato soup and the fish appetiser.
The food is served on one tray and includes a small salad, a glass of still water and one roll. The crew pass through the cabin with the breadbasket during the service.
The dessert is served separately once the tray has been cleared away.
Emirates has managed to establish itself as the industry benchmark for comfort in travel, through a whole series of innovations in all service classes, both in the air and on the ground. However, on this trip I got the impression that their product is gradually starting to get a bit long in the tooth. The lounges are starting to look old-fashioned and dated and their Business Class cabin can no longer keep up with the competition either. I think they’re still a good airline, but I think they’re going to have to work a bit harder to make sure that stays that way. In future, they will not be able to rely solely on the reputation they have built for themselves over the years.
Other than that, I still think the Airbus A380 is ugly as sin. But the passenger experience remains impressive, each time I fly with this beast. Apart from the fact that it is truly is quite difficult to wrap your brain around the fact that something so big can actually fly, the sound in the cabin is just so quiet.