I may have skipped posting some of the trips I did after my return from the UAE with Gulf Air via Bahrain and London Heathrow. Since then I’ve done only short-haul trips which are usually not worth mentioning. In fact, I only just returned from another uninspired trip to Luxembourg yesterday evening.
This trip report sees me returning to the UAE for yet another
course with the Emirates Flight Training Academy.
This is my fourth visit to the UAE this year, and despite the
flying dutchman’s insistence, I’m pretty sure it probably won’t be the last
time… still, I don’t mind. Especially given the fact that the A380 programme
has been officially shut down and I don’t know how many more chances I’ll get
to fly on this magnificent bird.
In any case, here in Switzerland it feels as though summer is only
just around the corner. It’s already warm but not stifling, and the sky is a crystal
clear blue, unblemished even by a single cloud.
Emirates checks-in on row 1 of check-in 2 and there are ten counters open for the flight.
Considering it’s such a lovely day, I figure I might as well go
out onto the viewing gallery and while away the time until boarding begins
there. And as my luck will have, I arrive on the terrace just as the lunchtime
rush of outbounds gets underway.
By the time I can tear myself away from the long line of departing widebodies, it’s already 14h40. The flight leaves at 15h25 and I still have to make my way through security, immigration and then take the shuttle across to the E dock, from where my flight will be departing.
For some reason or other, the usual A 380 stand was still occupied when my aircraft arrived on the inbound from Dubai. And so, instead we’re parked at gate E19 today, which is a single level gate. At least, by the time I arrive at the gate boarding is nearly completed, so the queue is fairly short.
Ahead of me is some old guy in a suit. As he passes the gate, the
scanner beeps. He turns to me and says ‘oh my, not another complimentary
upgrade to First…’. He’s obviously going for unimpressed indifference with this
one, trying hard not to sound gleeful and clearly failing miserably. I actually
feel kind of sorry for the guy when the gate agent looks at him and simply say
‘ ah…no actually, they just hadn’t scanned your passport’. Aw…!
On today’s flight I’m sitting on 7A, which is the window on the bulkhead row and the first row by the window in the main Business Class cabin. I like the A seats because they’re removed from the aisle and thus offer quite some privacy.
The wine and food menus have already been placed at my seat and there is also a thick blanket, a pillow and a pair of earphones.
In short succession I’m handed a glass of the Veuve Cliquot, which
gives me a headache before we even leave the ground, and then a warm, scented
Ahead of the lunch service I order a virgin mojito, which is served with a small plate of warm mixed nuts.
The First Course
The first course is served together with a salad, which are both delivery on a tray. I’ve ordered the mezze for the starter, which includes black olives, a stuffed vine leaf, muhammara, houmous, and baba ghanouj.
The Main Course
Next up, I’m having the beef with green beans, mash and leeks. To be honest, I’m not much of a meat eater at the best of times. But I’m a total sucker for mash…
And for dessert I have the chocolate cake with Earl Grey infused vanilla sauce.
One of the things I really like about Emirates, is that the meal
service is always very efficient but never rushed. Two hours into the flight,
the trays have been removed and it’s time for me to extend the seat into a bed
Incidentally, on day flights Emirates does not provide amenity
kits. However, a pair of eye shades with ear plugs is provided at every seat
and dental sets are available in the toilets. The dental kits are Colgate
branded and the tooth brush is of good quality.
Eventually, we arrive in Dubai on time without having to do a single circuit in a holding pattern. Judging by the sound of his voice, I think even the pilot is surprised.
Immigration is swift. The Emirates Business Class boarding pass
entitles the holder to use the fast track for security. There’s still a queue,
but it’s nowhere near as bad as that for Economy Class passengers.
Getting into Town
Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about the queue for the taxis, which is ridiculously long. It takes me thirty minutes just to reach the head of the queue. And then, once I get a taxi, it’s another forty minutes to my hotel, which is just down the road from the Emirates Flight Training Academy.
Today I’m on my way from Luxembourg to Dubai. As there are currently no direct flights between the two cities, I have a choice of connecting flights with either BA, KL, AF, LH, TK or LX. I’ve decided to fly SWISS this time, for the simple reason that their flight already arrives in Dubai at 20h45. Which is good, because from Dubai I’ll still have to travel all the way to Al Ain, where I’ll be giving a course starting early the next day. Al Ain is about ninety minutes away from Dubai by car.
Getting to the Airport
Late in 2017 Luxembourg introduced a tram to the city. Right now it only runs along a short stretch of about 5km on the Kirchberg plateau. But this year the line will be opened up all the way into the city, and within three years it should also run all the way to the airport. Until then, to get to the airport by public transport I first have to get the tram to LUXEXPO, and then from there transfer onto the bus line 16. The journey from the Kirchberg to the airport takes no more than 20 minutes to complete.
I’ve already checked in on the SWISS app. I’m on 1A on the first leg and then on 4A on the second leg to Dubai. Security is quite busy this morning and the process in not really that well organised either. In any case, by the time I’m through security and take a seat by the windows overlooking the ramp, it’s just gone 09h15. One hour before boarding. Roughly around the same time I receive an text message from SWISS informing me that the flight to Zürich will be delayed by thirty minutes due to the late arrival of the aircraft in Zürich, coming from Paris.
This all rather unfortunate of course, because even if the flight were on time, I only have 45 minutes to make the connection in Zürich. So this ought to be interesting… A bit later on an announcement is made that boarding for the flight is expected to start at around 11h10, with a delay of about forty minutes. I approach the gate agent and ask her about my connection, to which she answers that the information they received from Zürich is that all connections are guaranteed.
Eventually we push back from the gate at 11h30, with a delay of just over one hour. The flight time is announced as forty minutes, which means we’ll be arriving in Zürich at 12h10, fifteen minutes before my scheduled departure time to Dubai.
This is my first time on SWISS’s Bombardier CS300. Which isn’t that much of a big deal, given that the cabin is identical to that of the shorter CS100. To speed up the turnaround, they obviously didn’t bother to clean the aircraft, which probably explains why there are chunks of apple (I think) on the floor and pieces of red cabbage stuck in the seat.
There are three crew on this flight. And I really must say they’re rather useless. At least the two males up front are. There’s also a female working the rear cabin, but I only notice her towards the end of the flight when she briefly visits the forward galley. But yeah, the other two? Totally vapid. The maître de apparently thinks it’s the height of sophistication to just nod at everyone and give them a curt ‘monsieur’, he doesn’t look you in the eye when he talks to you, smiling is apparently not part of his contract of employment and he quite obviously really couldn’t give a shit.
The other one is just a walking, talking cliché of a male flight attendant. Totally clueless and obviously far more invested in what’s happening on his mobile phone than in doing his job well.
The meal service consists of three small ramekins, which is the standard on this flight. One is filled with a rice and vegetable salad and topped with bacon/duck/something unidentifiable.
The second is fish mousse (I think, but I’m not sure).
And the third one is the dessert – a tasty sweet white chocolate thing.
No chocolates are served on this flight.
Missed Connection in Zürich
By the time we reach Zürich, we miraculously managed to increase our delay. We’re now running seventy minutes behind schedule. The maître de comes on the loudspeaker and advises passengers that those continuing to Montreal and New York will have a direct connection bus. He then gives a whole list of destinations, flight numbers and gates. But he doesn’t mention the Dubai flight once. When I ask him, he tells me that, strangely, he has not received any information about this flight. Which, in hindsight, is just a blatant lie.
Eventually we touch down at 12h20. As we taxi in I switch on my mobile to find a message from SWISS informing me that I’ve been rebooked on the Emirates flight in the afternoon. As if to add insult to injury, we’re parked on a remote stand. And once we come to a stop, it takes another five minutes for the stairs and busses to arrive.
So instead of heading directly for the E gates, I exit through arrivals for Terminal A and then head two floors up and over to Terminal B for the Emirates check-in. The check-in agent prints my boarding pass and then sends me over to the Emirates counter to book the chauffeur service to take me from Dubai to Al Ain, which is more convenient than a taxi.
The Emirates Meal
I won’t bore you with yet another Emirates trip report. However, I’m glad to report that since my last journey with them, Emirates has finally changed the menu. So here it goes:
For a pre-meal drink I have a virgin cucumber and lime gimlet, which is very refreshing. The drink is served with a small dish of nuts.
The First Course
For the starter I have the warm smoked salmon, which is served with fava beans. The salmon is a bit dry, but otherwise quite good. I don’t touch the beans though because I’m allergic to them. The starter is served on a tray that also includes a small salad and bread.
The Main Course
For the main course I go with the chicken cordon bleu, which is served with pizokel and vegetables. Pizokel is a very Swiss speciality from canton Graubünden. It’s basically Switzerland’s answer to the German Spätzle. This dish is quite good. What I like in particular is that the food is still hot, and not just warm, when it is served.
And then for dessert I go with the chocolate mousse on a dark chocolate ganache and raspberry compote. Dessert is something Emirates does really well I think, and this one is no exception. It’s obscenely rich, with a dense texture that just melts in your mouth.
Eventually, I arrive in Al Ain at 01h30 in the morning. I’m exhausted! Delays happen, and I can hardly fault SWISS for that. Also, they did proactively rebook me onto the very next departure to Dubai. So that’s something. Even so, I do feel that the delay was not handled very well. I got the distinct impression that the staff at the frontline – the handling agent in Luxembourg and the cabin crew – was not properly trained in dealing with such an irregularity. I think next time I’ll just book Emirates to begin with and save myself the agro…
The end of the year is quickly approaching and so it’s time for me to make my last business trip for this year. I’m on my way to Dubai again, this time to give a course for Emirates Airlines.
Getting to the Airport
I leave Winterthur on the 12h25 train to Zürich airport. The train is not very busy. It’s a sunny, warm day and it feels like a typical lazy Friday afternoon.
Christmas is already in full swing at Zürich airport, there are chandeliers hanging from the ceiling everywhere, with ornately decorated Christmas trees and even the occasional selfie-taking snowman thrown in for good measure.
Emirates clearly managed to get the best counters in check-in area 2. You can hardly miss them, seeing as they are located right opposite the escalators. There are two counters open for Business Class passengers and there is no queue when I check in just after 13h.
Check-in is done by DNATA for Emirates in Zürich. The check-in agent is a friendly young lady. She sees my Maltese passport and tells me she knows the islands very well, because her husband spent two years living there. A few years back SR Technics opened an MRO in Malta and sent down expertise from Zürich to help build up the facility.
I still have one hour to go before boarding starts and I’m starving. So instead of taking the sky metro and heading across to the E concourse, I decide to have lunch at the main restaurant on the upper level of the airside centre. This restaurant serves typically Swiss fare. At least, it serves what tourists to Switzerland think is typically Swiss food.
I decide to go with the Wurst-Käse Salat, which is a cold dish made with pieces of Swiss cheese and Cervelat – a type of sausage. Their rendition of the dish is not entirely authentic I think. But it certainly hits the spot. Although that may also have something to do with the chips I ordered on the side…
At around 13h45 I make my way across to the E concourse. The terminal seems very quiet and empty. You see, the Emirates flight leaves Zürich at the tail end of the lunchtime departure bank.
Boarding for the flight starts on time. The flight boards from two gates: E59 is the upper deck gate for Business and First Class passengers, while E67 is the gate for Economy Class passengers on the lower deck.
The boarding process is fairly calm and laid back, which gives me the opportunity to take a few pictures of my chariot from the glass encased airbridges.
I’m sitting on 25K, which is the penultimate row in the rear Business Class cabin, which is smaller than the main cabin and only has five rows of seats. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, I really would not recommend row 25, because there is quite a bit of noise coming from the bar at the very end of the cabin. I’m on a day flight, so it’s not as though the noise will keep me from sleeping. But on a night flight I think I would be seriously annoyed.
But the view of the wing is excellent…
The service on this flight is very polished. The crew are all very friendly and polite. One thing that strikes me though, is that the crew use red, iPhone-sized devices to take and check the status of passengers’ meal orders. I understand that it’s probably quite an achievement to organise the service on an aircraft the size of the A 380. But while this system seems to work quite efficiently, the downside is that the crew spend most of their time staring into the little devices as they pass through the cabin.
The service starts on the ground with the distribution of welcome drinks, the menu for the flight and a hot towel.
I’ve only just had lunch in the terminal, so I decide to just have the chocolate Brownie with the little éclair and caramel sauce, which really tastes very good. The sauce has a rich texture and the Brownie is moist and dense.
The service looks very efficient and what ever you ask the crew for, you never have to wait for long for them to bring it to you. I also like that the crew serve drinks and smaller items from these round trays that they hold in one hand.
Eventually though, the service winds down and the cabin settles as we fly into the night.
On day flights Emirates only provides a pair of socks and eye shades at every seat. However, dental kits are available in the toilets. And I have to say, they really are very good kits with Colgate products.
About an hour out of Dubai the crew come through the cabin with ice cream and the last of three scented hot towels handed out on this flight.
Our approach into Dubai is quite cool, as they bring us in from the northwest, to fly past the airport. On the downwind I can actually see the lights of the aircraft ahead of us lining up for arrival like a string of pearls. As we begin our turn to line up, I look back and see the lights of five aircraft following behind us.
Eventually we come to a stop at a stand on the A pier, which is not so good because it’s the remotest concourse from the terminal and you need to catch an underground train to get you to arrival and baggage claim. The good thing though, is that by the time I reach the conveyor belt, my suitcase has already been delivered.
It really is interesting how our perceptions are influenced and shaped. I admit that I did think it was kind of cool to watch the spectators watching our aircraft taxi out for departure. The A 380 is the kind of beast that still has you stopping in your tracks to look at – because it is inconceivable that something that size should be able to fly at all.
But then, just over five hours later, you land in Dubai and your A 380 glides down the runway past a long row of other A 380 that are just standing outside the MRO facility waiting to be checked. And nobody turns a hair. In Dubai, the A 380 is just business as usual…
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 Emirates Business Class Lounge
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.
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.
The First Service
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 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.
I have just completed a course in Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates. The list of course participants includes an Emirati, two Australians, a Kiwi, one Zimbabwean, one Pakistani, two Indians, two Americans and two Brits. Which is pretty cool me thinks. All the people I met on this course were just so friendly and very welcoming. But I’ve been travelling for two weeks now, having previously done a course in Luxembourg before coming straight to the Gulf. So I’m glad to finally be on my way back home again.
Getting to the Airport
I have ordered the Emirates limousine service to pick me up from the Doubletree in Al-Barsha, which is located behind the Mall of Dubai. The service can be ordered online under the ‘manage my booking’ section of the Emirates website or otherwise via the app. You only need to select your hotel from a drop-down menu and Emirates will suggest a time for the car to pick you up to be at the airport at the latest two hours before departure.
The limousine service is available at both Amsterdam and Dubai. However, as I will continue from Amsterdam back to Basel later on today by plane, I only needed the service to get me from the hotel to Dubai airport. The type of car you will get is subject to availability.
Thirty hours before departure I receive an e-mail reminder from Emirates informing me that check-in is now open. I am seated on 12K, which is a window seat. The check-in process works really well and the upload of the boarding pass to my passbook is seamlessly.
Emirates is an airline of superlatives. Where other carriers have a dedicated Business Class check-in area, Emirates and its own dedicated Business Class terminal with its own security screening facility and immigration.
My flight will be departing from gate A23, which is on the pier that was purpose built for the A 380. From security you need to catch an underground train to reach the A concourse.
The main transit area is on three levels. The lower level is for Economy Class passengers, the mid-level for First Class passengers and the top level for Business Class. This means that apart from the fact that you will not need to mix and mingle with the travelling riffraff, you will also be able to board the aircraft directly from the Business Class lounge.
The Emirates Business Class Lounge
The term ‘lounge’ is relative for the likes of Emirates. Given that it sprawls across the entire length of the A pier, I’m not even sure you can still call it a lounge. It certainly does not feel like a lounge and it’s not exactly cosy either.
The facilities in the lounge are very good though. There is a fully equipped business centre, numerous buffets with a good selection of hot and cold dishes, newspapers and showers (expect long queues though). The toilets are nicely appointed and clean and Emirates provides toothbrushes and shaving kits. Complimentary wifi is available throughout the lounge.
The style of the lounge is rather old fashioned and dated, it reminds me a lot of the lobby in a hotel you might find in the States.
I arrive at gate A23 at 07h25. Most of the passengers have already boarded. So I can take my time to snap a few pictures of my chariot to Amsterdam this morning.
I step aboard the aircraft, the cabin attendant looks at my boarding pass and says: ‘Bongu, Sur Agius! You must be Maltese too’. She points me in the direction of my seat at 12K, wishes me a good flight and tells me she’ll come check up on me once we’re in the air.
Throughout the flight she comes by to check that everything is okay and that I have everything I need. We chat about Malta, Emirates and the likely imminent demise of Air Malta. I know it’s just something small but I think it’s kind of nice that the flight attendant acknowledged also being Maltese. It lends the whole experience a more personal touch.
The seat is comfortable in the sitting, lounging and sleeping positions and if you’re seated by the window on the A 380, there is ample storage space. Emirates or Airbus have taken full advantage of the curvature of the aircraft’s hull by installing bins on the side. There is also plenty of storage space in the seat itself.
There is the small bar installed at every seat which contains a selection of soft drinks and juices. Other than that, every seat has an AC power outlet and HDMI and USB port. The seating configuration is 1 + 2 + 1. For a single seat you have a choice between and aisle seat and a window seat. Personally, I much prefer the window seats. Not only because of the view, but also because these seats feel way more private.
All in all, I think the Emirates seat on the A 380 is well designed, practical and very functional. The only thing I don’t like is the design. The faux wooden panelling on the cabin walls and the seat just looks really very cheap and quite tacky actually.
At the rear of the Business Class cabin there is the infamous Emirates lounge. I admit it does look rather cool and certainly makes you realise just what a beast the A 380 is. However, it does tend to get rather noisy at the back when the bar is busy, so if peace and quiet is what you’re after, you may want to sit far, far away from the bar area.
I am very impressed by just how quiet the cabin is during the flight though.
There are twenty two cabin crew aboard the flight today. The atmosphere in the cabin is pleasant and relaxed and the crew take good care of the passengers.
The service begins with a welcome drink of freshly pressed orange juice, water, apple juice or champagne. Next come the menus and the scented hot towels.
Blankets and pillows are on the seat as I board the aircraft. The mattress is stowed in one of the lockers for my seat.
Emirates does not provide vanity kits on day flights. But everything you may need and that you would normally find in a vanity kits is available from the crew upon request or in the lavatories. Socks and eye shades are placed at every seat.
On the way down to Dubai from Amsterdam I was on the night flight that leaves Amsterdam at 21h50. The vanity kit I was given is Bulgari branded and contains a toothbrush with Colgate toothpaste, tissues, a comb, a shaver and shaving foam by Gillette, as well as a range of products of Bulgari’s Essence de Thé noir which is a very heavy scent that seems to be very popular in the Middle East but probably gives most people a seriously bad headache.
The First Service
On flights departing Dubai in the morning, a continental breakfast is served with orange juice and tea or coffee right after take-off. The tray contains:
Swiss Emi apricot yoghurt.
A croissant with butter and Hero strawberry jam.
A small dish of cucumber, chicken breast, cold cuts and cheese.
The trays are served individually and the crew make repeated rounds with the breadbasket.
About two hours and thirty minutes out of Amsterdam, the second service begins, which is in fact the main service. The cabin attendant suggests I should try one of their mocktails. Eventually I can’t decide, so I tell her to surprise me. When she returns a few minutes later, she has both an apple spritzer with mint and an orange fizz made of orange juice and ginger ale. She tells me she’s decided I need to try both. Okay, thanks! The drinks are served with a bowl of warm nuts.
The menu is rather extensive and there are three options for the first course, main course and dessert.
The First Course
For the first course I have the salmon roulade filled with cream cheese and served with seared tuna, smoked halibut and asparagus with a lemon sauce. The first course is served on a tray with a small mixed salad and a warm bun. The flight attendant also comes by offering slices of warm garlic bread.
The Main Course
For the main course I have the roast chicken in a pepper coulis, which is served with baked potatoes and broccoli. This is, admittedly, rather bland and quite vile. The pepper coulis tastes of nothing, the potatoes are like pulp and feel like sand in my mouth and the chicken is giving off such a strong smell I don’t even touch it.
For dessert I have the chocolate cheesecake with raspberries and vanilla custard, which is rather tasty.
The meal concludes with a scented hot towel and a box of chocolates.
We arrive in Amsterdam fifteen minutes behind schedule. Apparently there had been some delay in leaving Dubai as two passengers and their luggage had needed to be offloaded for health reasons.
Transfer in Amsterdam
In Amsterdam Emirates uses the end gate at the F pier. From here it’s a short walk to the new centralised security checkpoint. It’s fairly quiet and I’m the only person there.
From the security checkpoint its another ten minutes to Schengen immigration.
So far I have tried three Middle East carriers: Emirates, Oman Air and Qatar Airways. Of the three I think Qatar Airways is definitely the one that offers a very polished service and a truly premium experience. Oman Air is kind of nice too and is a bit of a boutique airline, if there is such a thing, which is a nice way of saying they sometimes seem slightly amateurish in the way they run their operation. Which just leaves Emirates. Truth be told, I don’t quite get the fuss people always seem to make about them. Admittedly, they have a few nice perks like the limousine pickup or the direct access to the aircraft from the lounge and the crews seem professional and personable. But even with all that I think it’s quite apparent that theirs is a product designed and intended for mass production. It’s not elegant and it lacks finesse. Don’t get me wrong, from the passenger’s perspective I think Emirates are okay. I just don’t think they’re any better or worse than any of the others.
Transport: BMW provided by the hotel. Departs from: Right outside the hotel lobby. Journey time: About 40 minutes, depending on traffic and the extent to which the driver’s sense of self-preservation is developed.
In case you are wondering, the Emirates website explicitly states that their limousine service is not available to passengers travelling only between Bangkok and Hong Kong. That is why I had to organise a car from the hotel to take me.
Location: Entrance 9 on the departures level, rows T and U. Facilities: One First Class counter, four Business Class counters, nine Economy Class counters. The day before the flight I receive an email from Emirates inviting me to avail myself of their web check-in service.
We pull up to the terminal near entrance 9, where the hotel’s airport concierge is already expecting me. He takes my luggage and guides me to the Emirates check-in counters. The check-in agent is very friendly and all smiles. She hands me my boarding pass, together with a voucher for the Premium Lane security check and immigration and sends me on my way. In the meantime, the concierge has been waiting dutifully. He then accompanies me to the entrance for security, wishes me a pleasant and safe journey and bids me goodbye.
The entrance for the Premium Lane is on the same level as check-in. All other passengers however, need to go one floor up.
The Emirates First Class Lounge
Location: One floor down from the check-in level. To reach the lounge, turn right after immigration until you reach the intersection of the D and E concourses. Take the escalators one floor down to level 3 and do a 90 degrees left turn at the bottom. Keep on walking until you reach to lounge. Type of Lounge: Dedicated Emirates only lounge. Facilities: Toilets, showers, workstations with printer. Internet: Wifi is available, password required.
This is a really nice lounge. There is a lot of wood, with beige and brown leather sofas. There are two things that really strike me about this place: first of all, there are toilets and even showers in the lounge itself, which is quite unusual in Bangkok. In fact the only other lounges with facilities at Bangkok airport are those of Thai Airways. The second thing is the food. There is so much of it and it is so tasty! There is even a separate dining area with proper dining tables.
I am quickly coming to the realisation that most airports that receive the A380 are not really equipped to handle the beast. At least not properly. If you think that providing a third airbridge that goes to the upper deck is enough, I think you better think again. Alas, Bangkok is no exception here. Boarding starts and very soon it becomes apparent that there simply is not enough room for all the passengers wishing to board the plane (Just to give you the general idea, I have sequence number 543 on my boarding pass). At some point, one of the Emirates ground agents asks the passengers to move to the back of the gate and take a seat while we wait for boarding to begin. Nobody moves. The agent obviously has some serious attitude issue going on, and simply gives us this rather cocky ‘hello’, behaving quite as though we are deranged or mentally challenged for not falling in with his instruction to move to the back and take a seat. I think it never even dawns on him that there is simply no getting through to the back of the gate because it is in fact full.
Eventually boarding starts with a delay of thirty minutes.
Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1 Seat: 1K, window seat on the starboard side of the aircraft. The Emirates First Class suite hardly needs an introduction. When it was first introduced, the airline truly caused a sensation. The suite is very private, due to the fact that it has sliding doors to screen passengers for more privacy. The suite is not completely closed though, and if you are standing in the aisle, you can still look into the individual suites from above. The First Class cabin is located on the upper deck and there are fourteen suites in total. Emirates operates the A380 in two configurations. In both cases, First and Business Class are on the upper deck. Economy Class is on the lower deck and the difference between the two configurations is the number of seats in Economy Class. Pitch: 86 inches. Width: 23 inches. Facilities: 110 volt AC power port, wifi available through OnAir (who also provide the wifi for Qatar Airways), individual bar with a selection of soft drinks. Audio and Video: Each seat is equipped with Emirates’ ICE inflight entertainment system with a huge selection of films, games, music and television programmes. The selection is extensive and has a good mix of classic and fairly recent films.
Crap! The seats are covered in faux leather. I really do not like that because the plastic makes me feel sticky and sweaty. But apart from that, I think I shall never be a fan of this seat. In fact, I think it is in really bad taste. There is fake wood and gold coloured plastic everywhere. Furthermore, the design of the seat does not really make much sense either. On the side of the seat/suite there is the cabinet with the drinks. This is also where the remote control is. As a result, there is not really any space to put any drinks here. Either because the remote control is in the way, or because then you cannot open the drinks cabinet. As a result, the crew place things like drinks, nuts or the hot towel on the shelf in front of the screen. Which is okay. The only problem with that though, is that the shelf is too far away to be reached when you are sitting in your seat. There are a few other issues like this. There is a button on the left armrest to move the seat closer to the dining table. The only problem though, is that once the table is open, you can barely reach the buttons because they disappear under the table.
Oh yes, and after about thirty minutes the remote control decides to die on me. No more battery. And so I resort to using the touch screen, which again cannot be reached from a sitting position. All this is really no big deal, but it is hardly what you would expect from a first class product.
There are twenty-three cabin crew on this flight. There is not really much I can say about them. They all seem friendly enough, although there is nothing personable about them and interaction with the passengers is kept to the minimum.
Welcome drink on the ground: Coffee and a date filed with walnut. Hot towel before the meal: Scented hot towel served on the ground. Unlike Qatar Airways, the towel is not handed to you on a dish but placed straight in your hand. Pre-meal drink: Orange juice with mixed warm nuts. Choice: There are two choices for the starter, four choices for the main course and four choices for dessert, including cheese. Type of meal: Lunch.
And what an appalling meal it is! I mean seriously? Where shall I start? *Standby for a major rant*
Both appetizers on the menu do not sound or look overly attractive (really dry looking salmon or greasy duck), so I give that one a pass and simply start with the salad.
I have just managed to put one macadamia nut in my mouth when the salad appears. We have a flight time of two hours and fifteen minutes and only five passengers in First. Do you think you could maybe slow down a bit guys?
The salad is really puny, like something SWISS would serve in Business Class. And that is not a compliment.
About thirty seconds after the salad arrives, the main course makes its first appearance. I ask the cabin crew if she would mind bringing it back in a few minutes, once I have finished the salad.
Big mistake. By the time I have finished the salad and the pasta arrives, it has already cooled down and is somewhat crispy… At least the portion is minute so I will not have to have a guilty conscience for not finishing all of it.
For dessert I try the chocolate pear tart, which, for some unearthly reason, is salty and not sweet and generally not very tasty.
And finally, to finish, a cup of instant coffee.
The Main Course
Rigatoni with a creamy tomato sauce, aubergine and courgettes.
Chocolate pear tart.
Shortly after the table is cleared again, it is already time for us to start our descent into Hong Kong. When we land, British Airways, Air France and Emirates are already there with their own A380. The odd one out is Lufthansa, who operate to Hong Kong with the B747-8.
Getting into Town
Transport: Airport express and metro. Departs from: Terminals 1 and 2, arrivals level. Journey time: roughly 40 minutes. Fare: HKD19.- for the airport express to Tsing Yi for two persons, and HKD18 for the metro from Tsing Yi to Mong Kok for two persons.
I am staying at the Langham Place Hotel in Mong Kok this time round. The easiest way to get there from the airport is to take the airport express and alight at the first stop, which is Tsing Yi. The journey from the airport to Tsing Yi takes about 15 minutes. From Tsing Yi you have to take the orange line one stop in the direction of Central. Then from there, all you need to do is cross the platform and catch a red line train also heading to Central. Mong Kok is the sixth stop.
Do not worry, I still have quite a way to go. Even so, following this somewhat sobering experience on Emirates First Class, I think now is a good time to share some thoughts.
First of all, personally I think Emirates really cannot keep up with Qatar Airways, both in terms of hardware and the overall experience. The Qatar Airways First Class cabin is very classy and understated. In contrast, the hardware on Emirates is in really quite bad taste. Honestly, who designed this kitsch? As far as usability is concerned, the Emirates suite also has some serious shortcomings. I also think that the Emirates First Class cabin and suite are starting to look a bit old fashioned and rather drab.
Furthermore, the crew on Qatar Airways are very friendly and pay a lot of attention to detail. It is little things. Whereas Qatar Airways will hand you the hot towel on a dish, on Emirates the flight attendant just places it in your hand, which is somewhat inconvenient if the towel is still hot.
And secondly, I think it is quite apparent that Lufthansa’s Mr Spohr and his colleagues with all the American carriers have found an excellent scapegoat to hide their own shortcomings and failures in Emirates. Repeatedly, Emirates has been made responsible for the ailing carrier’s appalling financial performance. But quite frankly, if Mr Spohr seriously thinks the premium product of an airline like Emirates is competition, then I can only deduce from this that he has obviously never tried them. But apart from all that, I really do think that the Middle East carriers – and that includes Qatar Airways – will always be at a serious disadvantage because no matter how short the transfer time at their hub in Doha, Dubai or Abu Dhabi is and not matter how fancy their premium product on the ground is, they will not be able to make up for the loss of time and inconvenience of not taking a nonstop flight.
And finally, as far as Emirates is concerned, there was a time when they set the industry standard. I very much feel that this is no longer the case.
I just spent the last week giving a course in Dubai together with my colleague, the valiant M. The course was held in the control tower building at the new Al-Maktoum International Airport Dubai. Since my last visit here two years ago, traffic appears to have increased at the new facility, although it is still far from reaching capacity and most of the traffic is freight. There are a few passenger services to and from Al-Maktoum. But as far as I can tell, Qatar Airways is currently the only carrier offering a daily schedule. Other passenger services include charter flights by Finnair or BH Air from Bulgaria.
Fortunately, my flight home from Dubai to Amsterdam will be leaving from the old airport, which lies much closer to the city.
Getting to the Airport
Transport: chauffeur driven car Price: complimentary for Emirates Business Class passengers Duration: 30 minutes Frequency: n/a
The Emirates chauffeur service is free of charge for passengers travelling in Business and First Class. As my flights had been booked through a travel agent, I had to call Emirates to make the booking for the car, so I could not really say whether it might also be possible to make a booking online at the time you make the flight reservation. The service will pick you up or drop you off at any location within the UAE.
For this service Emirates operates a large fleet of Volvo station wagons, which is particularly convenient if, like me on this trip, you are travelling with a lot of luggage.
Emirates has its own dedicated premium terminal for passengers travelling in Business and First Class. We arrive at the curbside where a young lady in the smart Emirates uniform is already expecting me. She opens the door for me while one of the porters unloads the copious amounts of luggage onto a trolley. We are then escorted to the check-in counters. It really is quite amazing to see an entire facility of this size dedicated exclusively to premium passengers.
The young woman checking me in is highly efficient. I explain to her that my luggage shall be continuing on from Amsterdam to Basel, while M.’s things will need to go on the KLM flight to Zürich. But obviously all of this is not really a problem for her. She duly tags all the bags and even labels the boxes with the fragile instruments we are carrying with us to make sure they are handled with care. She also gives me my boarding pass for my onward connection to Basel.
The Emirates Business Class Lounge
Type of lounge: dedicated Emirates Business Class lounge Facilities: toilets and showers, business centre, transfer desk, newspaper stand Catering: hot and cold dishes, international cuisine Wifi: available for free, there are signs with the password on the tables
My flight shall be leaving from gate B17 today. I still have about an hour or so to pass before boarding starts, so I figure I might as well check out the Business Class lounge located one floor up from the common departures area.
Terminal 3 is an interesting facility that was clearly built with the Airbus A 380 in mind. Passengers in First and Business Class are segregated from the Economy Class passengers more or less from the moment they enter the premium check-in area to setting foot aboard the aircraft. All the gates at the B dock are equipped to handle the A 380 and are therefore accessible from the upper level as well for premium passengers.
The lounge itself provides a good selection of hot and cold international dishes. Other than that though, it is more functional than elegant or luxurious.
Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1 Pitch: 48’ Length as a bed: 76’ With: 18.5’ Recline: 180 degrees, fully horizontal Facilities: reading lamp, handset, mini bar with drinks, USB and power outlets, divider screen for more privacy Entertainment: AVOD – the Emirates ICE entertainment hardly needs an introduction, the screen is quite large and is operated either via touch screen or via one of the two handsets, there are noise cancelling earphones as well
The configuration of the seats is convenient. If you happen to be seated in the middle row of seats, you have two options. The seats in the even numbered rows are quite far apart. As a result, you have more than enough privacy. On the down side, seats on the even numbered rows are adjacent to the aisle, so people might brush passed you as they walk by.
The seats in uneven numbered rows are not directly on the aisle. However, this then means that you end up sitting shoulder to shoulder with your neighbour. But there is a privacy screen that can be raised and which is rather large.
Apart from that, the seat is indeed very comfortable and spacious. The only thing I really do not like, are the colours and materials that were used – plastic painted to resemble varnished wood is not for me. I also think it clashes with the mother-of-pearl and blue panels of the back of the seats.
The seat is partly leather upholstered, which I usually find a bit uncomfortable to sleep on because the leather will make you sweat. With Emirates this is not so much of an issue as they provide you with a mattress to place on the bed.
Emirates does not provide a vanity kit and I salute them for it. Does anybody actually ever use those things anyway? Instead, eyeshades and socks have already been placed at each seat before the passengers start boarding. Toiletries such as shaving kits and toothbrushes are available in the lavatories. Incidentally, the toothbrushes and toothpaste are both by Colgate and very good.
A pillow, blanket and the menu have also already been placed at my seat.
Our departure is to the southeast, I believe. We line up on the runway and immediately accelerate. I really do think that there are only few aircraft out there that can match the A 380 in terms of overall ugliness. Having said that, the absence of any noise in the cabin, even on take-off, and the acceleration really are quite amazing.
The First Service
Hot towels: one before pushback and another after the breakfast service Welcome drinks: orange juice, champagne is also available (Veuve Cliquot) Choice: none
apple of orange juice
a selection of fresh fruit
croissant, various buns
additional pastries served from a basket
tea or coffee
Service begins on the ground with a round of welcome drinks and hot towels. The hot towels are nicely scented and very refreshing.
Being an early morning flight, Emirates has reversed the order of the food service. The first meal is just a breakfast snack. But it hits the spot nicely. My only complaint is that the service lacks a certain amount of coordination: Emirates provides an individualised tray service, which is nice but tends to take longer. As a result, by the time I was asked if I wanted any juice I had already more or less finished the meal. Coffee and tea were only served after the meal.
The meal concludes with the distribution of another hot towel.
The second service starts just over two hours out of Amsterdam with the distribution of the third hot towel of this flight and an aperitif with warm nuts.
The First Course
Local Arabic Mezze – Hummous, Muhammara, Makdous, Moutabil, Tabouleh, Shanklish salad: the appetizer is very tasty. The individual dishes are full of flavour and taste quite authentic. The only drawback is that bread appears to be in short supply. Most passengers around me have already finished their starters by the time the crew eventually do a round with the breadbasket. Furthermore, the service process seems somewhat uncoordinated.
Salad with a choice of balsamic and olive oil dressing.
The Main Course
Next up comes the main dish, which takes seemingly for ever for to arrive. And when it does, the portion seems rather small. The taste is alright though, but certainly nothing special – roast chicken with mushroom sauce, vegetables, mashed potatoes and chives.
I finish the main course but it looks as though the crew is hardly in a hurry to remove the tray. Apparently there would have been dessert or cheese, but the crew appear to have forgotten all about that and do not bother to ask anybody if they would actually like dessert, tea or coffee.
Apparently there is a crew complement of twenty-five in the cabin on today’s flight, speaking no less than seventeen languages. Generally speaking the crew are very attentive, polite and friendly. So it is all the more of a pity that the service should take so long and be so negligent.
The flight eventually draws to an end. We land in a southerly direction on the famous Polderbahn, from where it takes ages to reach the apron area. Perhaps it is because of the size of the aircraft or because the pilot is unfamiliar with the airport, but today the taxi seems to take even longer as we are moving at a very low speed. At long last we pull onto our stand at the very end of the G concourse in Amsterdam.
I now have another four hours to make my connection to Basel with KLM, which is a good thing because I only realise once I’m in the KLM crown lounge that I have actually forgotten my wallet on the plane. So I quickly head landside and make my way to the Emirates ticketing desk at the departures level of the G sector. Fortunately my wallet has already been found and brought to the desk.
I have never fully understood what all the fuss is about with Emirates. And to be honest, I still don’t. Indeed I found them quite okay. Their Business Class product is not at all elegant or refined, but it offers a lot of convenience to passengers, starting with the chauffeur service – which would also have been available for me in Amsterdam – to the on board experience. The only issue I have is with their service concept on the A 380. I really do not think that it was a case of the crew not doing their job properly but quite simply that the service concept they have is unsuitable to be able to efficiently serve 76 Business Class passengers with the number of cabin crew available.
The European legacy carriers in particular are always keen to use and abuse Emirates and the other carriers from the Middle East as an excuse for their own failures and deficiencies. But I don’t really think that’s quite fair, is it? From what I can tell, Emirates is an airline just like any other. But where the old legacies try to pretend as though Business Class were something exclusive and luxurious – presumably to justify the extortionist fares – Emirates is far more pragmatic in its approach. And I rather like that.
Would I fly Emirates again? With out a doubt: yes!