Emirates Airlines, Boeing B 777-300ER – First Class: Dubai to Zürich

Introduction

I awake early on Friday morning with a large red sore across the bridge of my nose from having had to wear a face mask for the last seven days. But the course I was in Ras Al-Khaima for is now done, and I’m ready to go home. Travelling in times of Covid 19 is tedious, cumbersome and tiring.

Getting to the airport

Ras Al-Khaima is about 80 minutes away from Dubai airport by car. Given that my departure to Zürich is just after eight in the morning and I really don’t feel like having to wake up at the crack of dawn, on Thursday afternoon I head back to Dubai to spend my last night at the Sofitel Downtown.

I’ve ordered an Emirates car to pick me up just before six in the morning; which is still early. The journey to the airport takes about twenty minutes. You can order the car yourself online in the ‘Manage my Booking’ section of the Emirates website, which is where you can also book a car to pick you up at the airport at your destination.

If you’re travelling in First Class, you get a larger and more ostentatious type of vehicle than you would in Business Class. And so, taking me to the airport this morning is a gorgeous BMW 7.

Check-in

Emirates checks in at Terminal 3, and there is a dedicated section of the terminal for Business and First Class check-in only. I wouldn’t say the place is teeming with people when I arrive, but it’s certainly a lot busier than I would have expected in the current situation.

There is no queue for the First Class check-in counters and I’m surprised by just how many counters are actually open. The check-in agent makes quick work of my suitcase and then I head for security and immigration.

The e-gates are available for passengers leaving the country. To use them you have to register your passport when you arrive in the country.

Emirates temporary First Class lounge

The lounges are located one floor up from the public airside area. The standard Emirates First Class lounge is temporarily closed to passengers, however. Instead, one half of the Business Class lounge has been sectioned off and converted into the First Class lounge.

The main feature of the lounge is the dining area. In accordance with the current situation, there is no buffet and passengers are served at their table. The menu is available online via QR code. There are some passengers in the lounge, but I wouldn’t say it is crowded.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts at 07h45. I arrive at the gate a few minutes later and the flight is already in the final stages of boarding. I ask the gate attendant and she confirms that while the load in Business Class is looking quite okay, in Economy it’s rather light. In First Class there are three passengers.

The cabin and seat

I’ve never really liked the look of the Emirates First Class cabin and seat. Generally speaking, I find the fake wood and fake gold trimmings a bit tacky. And the grey leather covers are about as bland and boring as Lufthansa.

But the seat is very comfortable and offers a lot of privacy and space.

I think what impresses me most about the seat, is the amount of thought that has obviously gone into the design to create a private space for the passenger that is functional, practical and very comfortable.

The minibar in the side panel of the seat has a standard stock of drinks. However, the crew are happy to change the contents of the minibar to suit your requirements.

Every passenger also gets a bowl of snacks, which are replenished throughout the flight.

There’s also a travel hygene kit at my seat. It contains two face masks, two pairs of plastic gloves and disinfectant.

On the shorter day time flights Emirates does not offer a vanity kit nor pjs. But they do offer cosmetics at the seat, and toothbrushes and toothpaste are available in the lavatory.

There’s also a drawer with a writing pen and a small notebook. The pen is rather useless though, and doesn’t write very well.

There is ample storage space for personal items in the seat.

Before we push back, the crew pass through the cabin handing out forms that need to be completed on arrival into Switzerland.

Next, they pass through the cabin for the traditional coffee and dates welcome, with every date packaged in plastic individually.

We take off in a southeasterly direction and then make a right hand turn to point us in the general direction of Europe. The SID takes us right over Sheikh Zayed Road and the fabulous Burj Khalifa.

A la carte service

The service is à la carte and passengers can order any time they like. I already had breakfast in the lounge, and so I decide to have a nap first.

Apéritif

Around three hours out of Zürich I order lunch. The menu is quite extensive and offers a good selection of breakfast items, starters, main courses and desserts. I start with a bowl of warm mixed nuts, a glass of sparkling water and a glass of the Dom Perignon 2008.

The first course

Next, the table is set for the meal. This is one area where I think Emirates could improve. The whole meal service, like the seat, it functional and on point but not really very elegant – be it in the design of the tableware or the presentation of the food on the plate.

Before the crew start serving the food, they ask me if I would prefer the dishes to be served with the covers still on and remove them myself or if I would rather have them removed.

The breads in the breadbasket come individually wrapped in plastic that can be heated in the oven. They’re not really good though, because the steam cannot escape properly and as a result, the bread turns soggy fairly quickly.

For the starter I go with the cold-smoked ocean trout, served with pickled potatos, capers and crème fraîche. It’s a lovely piece of trout, but the presentation is a bit of a mess.

The salad

The salad is very nice. There is the option to add some grilled beef or shrimps and it is served either with a French dressing or olive oil and Balsamico.

The main course

For the main course, I go with the prawns in a shellfish sauce, served with wild rice with lemon zest and cardamom. This is a flavourful dish, and the rice complements the prawns nicely. The cardamom and lemon zest really make the dish and add an exotic twist to it.

Dessert

To end the meal, I ask for the chocolate fondant and some mint tea. The dessert is a bit of a let down though. The centre of it is still not quite melted and the outer texture is rubbery. It’s hard to say if the dish was just not properly heated in the oven or if it just isn’t a good recipe.

The meal concludes with a small box of Emirati pralines.

The meal service is nicely paced. There are no long waits in between the individual courses, but the whole service is still unrushed. I guess it probably helps that there are only three passengers in the cabin on today’s flight.

Arrival

Thirty minutes out of Zürich our Spanish captain comes on the loudspeaker to inform us that we have reached the top of descent have have another half hour to run to Zürich. The temperature is minus 2 and they’re expecting it to have just finished snowing by the time we land. From above it certainly looks pretty outside.

We touch down on runway 16, which is quite unusual. I’m not sure if this is due to the snow (perhaps runway 14, which is normally in use for landings, has not been cleared) or if it was specifically requested by crew because it allows for a much shorter taxi time to the gate.

The E concourse, which is normally used for the non-Schengen flights, is currently in hibernation and all flights now depart from the D concourse on the B pier. This also means that there is currently no lounge available for Emirates passengers, as this is also located on the E concourse.

Immigration is swift. The e-gates are currently only available for citizens of Switzerland and Lichtenstein, though.

There’s a bit of a hold up with the luggage, and eventually we end up waiting for forty minutes before the first bags appear on the belt. I exit through customs and turn right, as instructed by the Emirates ground crew, in search of my driver.

Getting home

The chauffeur service is very well organised. In Zürich, Emirates works with a company called Blacklane. After I booked the service on the Emirates website, I received a mail from Blacklane directly, confirming the reservation. If you download their app and log in using the mail address and name used in the Emirates PNR, you can see the reservation with the contact details of the driver.

My driver today is a friendly young lady. She is quite petite and looks oddly out of place behind the steering of the enormous Mercedez. But she does a brilliant job and tells me not to worry about the copious amounts of snow everywhere. The drive back to Basel takes us a bit less than an hour and is very comfortable.

Conclusion

This has been an interesting trip for me. On the one hand, it made me realise just how much I’ve missed travelling. On my way from Dubai to Ras Al-Khaima we came across a group of camels standing in the middle of the road. I found the sight quite moving. Not necessarily because I’m particularly fond of camels, but because the experience perfectly captured what I enjoy about travel – the opportunity of doing and and seeing things you normally wouldn’t be able to. Having said that though, I can’t really say I enjoyed the trip – because with Covid 19 the outside world has become a hostile place to me.

Emirates Airlines, First Class – A 380: Bangkok to Hong Kong

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Getting to the Airport

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.

Check-in

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.

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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.

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Boarding

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.

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The Cabin

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.

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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.

The Crew

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.

The Meal

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*

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. The salad is really puny, like something SWISS would serve in Business Class. And that is not a compliment.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. For dessert I try the chocolate pear tart, which, for some unearthly reason, is salty and not sweet and generally not very tasty.
  7. And finally, to finish, a cup of instant coffee.
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The Salad

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The Main Course

Rigatoni with a creamy tomato sauce, aubergine and courgettes.

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The Dessert

Chocolate pear tart.

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Arrival

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.

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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.

Conclusion

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.