Review: Emirates – Dubai (DXB) to London Heathrow (LHR)


Business class, A380 – March 2013

Emirates A380

It’s always so tempting to booze it up on a long flight, but the experienced flyer knows the truth: the circadian rhythm is going to get you. Altitude and cabin pressure do terrible things to the body, which is why, in 1A, I’ve wept openly at so many dire inflight rom-coms after drinking what would, on terra firma, be a fairly restrained amount of Sancerre.

The four Australian businessmen who had a rip-roaring time on my night flight looked green as we landed at Heathrow. Each time I’d passed the bar, they were tucking into more of the Bordeaux blend and demolishing another bunch of cheese straws. One of them was so relaxed he’d gone shoeless. And sockless. Which is – like filing your fingernails – unacceptable on public transport. And Business class or not, it’s still public transport.

That bar certainly is tempting, though. The rear upper deck of an A380 is a little taste of what flying must have been like back in the day. The bar is always the highlight of every trip on Virgin Atlantic, but they’ve just deferred their first A380 order to 2017 at the earliest. For some real cocktail-shaking action, you need a double decker with a couple of curved sofas and stools around a real, horseshoe bar. The upstairs rear lounge on the Emirates A380 is somewhere you actually want to spend time, particularly on a day-only flight, when light floods in from both sides.

Emirates A380

There’s a lot to like about Emirates Business class. First and foremost, across the four flights I took in as many days, the cabin crew were totally on it. I couldn’t fault a single thing. What I could fault was discovering that one leg of my journey was on an ancient A340-300. I always wanted to experience Business class travel back in the 1980s, and thanks to this plane, I was able to. The “sleeperette” cradle seat – in 2-3-2 formation – would make for a generous Premium Economy product, but nothing more. The name itself is apt: you’ll sort of sleep in this seat, but not really. Apparently Emirates is in the process of phasing out the last of these old bangers. Begone with them.

The Emirates A380, of course, is a very different bird. I was one of the last to board my flight to London as I’d misjudged the time I’d need to take the train between terminals at Dubai. I then became lost, along with another tardy passenger, trying to get on to the upper deck boarding bridge, accessible only by an elevator that needs a staff swipe card. Architecturally, Dubai airport is a dream, but as with many such things, a simple and accessible staircase wouldn’t have gone amiss somewhere in the blueprint.

When it comes to interiors, Emirates likes to riff on its sand, red and gold palette, with a lot of walnut panelling. It’s slick, upbeat and distinctive. Arabic chic, if you will. The upper cabin on the A380 doesn’t feel as spacious as it might, but that’s because every inch of cabin has been used to fit the flatbed seats in, Tetris-style. The style of the seats is slightly peculiar – they are blocky, with rounded chrome bars, a little reminiscent of Le Corbusier. The panelling is pearlescent, covered with the dips and waves of sand dunes. It’s not the most elegant cabin you’ve ever seen, but in practice, it works like a charm. (One flier loved their experience after an apparent upgrade to Business on an Emirates A380 recently so much that they blogged about it in great depth on imgur, although there’s something very fishy about the amount of detail, the hyperbole and the clumsy spelling that has the fishy aroma of viral marketing about it.)

Why go to the extravagance of offering all the kit you need to wet shave – which no-one in his right mind is going to do on a plane – and not think of lip balm?

Once seated, you feel like you have your own cabin, complete with a somewhat awkwardly positioned “minibar” to your extreme left or right, depending on where you’re sitting. It must be said that these seats don’t impress on width: at 18.5 inches across, that’s only half an inch more than downstairs in Economy, and looks mean in comparison to Singapore’s 30-inch span. In the seated position, the armrests don’t quite cut it; either the left or right, depending on how you access the aisle, is too narrow. But still, this is a proper flat bed that slides into position and out again without any flipping or faffing, and I couldn’t – at six feet tall and customarily several pounds heavier than I might like to be ­– fault it on comfort. When it comes to lights out, there are mattresses, pillows and duvets, although no pyjamas. I slept exceptionally well on my flight – this is a genuine flatbed experience.

The large, luxe amenity bag for men is one of the most impressive looking I’ve come across of late, and the miniature Bulgari products inside are nice indeed, but why go to the extravagance of offering all the kit you need to wet shave – which no-one in his right mind is going to do on a plane – and not think of lip balm?

The AVOD features a sharp, bright and impressively sized screen, although the slate that’s stored beside your minibar, which controls the channels as well as your seat position, can be slightly tricksy, particularly when it needs recharging mid-flight. There’s paid wifi available, and on my journey one man spent a fair amount of time Skyping his wife from the bar. The window blinds are pleated, sandwiched between the glazing, and electronically controlled, which is a very slick touch. I liked being able to watch take off and landing from the perspective of cameras positioned outside of the aircraft.

Against the competition, Emirates wins hands down on pricing, and on most connections. Its Dubai hub is a gem if you’re heading anywhere east of Europe, and the lounge offering is epic indeed. If you can get to where you’re going on their A380, there’s an immense amount to recommend it, right down to the mezze starter dishes, the vintage 2004 Veuve they serve in generous amounts, and that oh so alluring bar at the back of the upper deck. C