Emirates recently announced that its A380 superjumbos would be flying until the ‘early 2040s’ so what’s it like onboard this double-decker plane, which comes complete with a bar? Jenny Southan experiences a return journey from London to Dubai in business class.
Emirates business class passengers benefit from four chauffeur transfers from their home or office to the airport included in the price of their ticket but they need to be booked in advance. I absolutely loved this – it really made the whole journey feel much more relaxed and seamless. My pick-up arrived on time and I was at Gatwick airport within an hour.
I downloaded the Emirates app, which is easy to use, and uploaded all my advance passenger information. I had only just managed to get a new passport in time – you can read about my mission to get a new one during a five-week HM Passport Office strike in The Times, The Guardian, Conde Nast Traveller and The Sun. In the end I had to fly to Belfast to collect it but it meant I was able to proceed with my trip to Dubai, so was worth it.
When I was preparing for my departure a few days before, I noticed that you could view the food menu in advance but there was no vegetarian option so I used the app to pre-select one. You could also change your seats and pay to upgrade to first class if you so chose. My flight was scheduled to depart at 1005.
AT THE AIRPORT
I was only travelling with hand-luggage so was able to go through Gatwick airport’s Premium security channel, which was much faster than the economy class one. Laptops and liquids came out as usual but new CT scanners are on their way meaning passengers won’t need to do this anymore (London City already has them). I did a quick shopping trip to Boots and Sunglass Hut and then headed over to the Emirates business class lounge.
Considering how good Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse is, this Emirates lounge looks pretty conservative, dated and lacking in personality. Don’t get me wrong – it’s perfectly comfortable and was peaceful when I arrived so I can’t complain. A breakfast buffet was laid out and travellers have to make their own coffee using a self-service machine. Plenty of alcohol is also available but I stuck with the caffeine. Free wifi was available to so I took the chance to send some emails before the flight.
Boarding took place from Gate 158 in Gatwick’s North Terminal, not too far from the lounge. First and business class passengers were given priority so I was able to jump the queue and walk straight onboard to the upper deck of the A380 superjumbo. A choice of champagne and orange juice were offered once seated.
Business class is at the back of the upper deck of this huge A380 superjumbo plane, the biggest in the skies. A member of crew told me that working on it feels like “infinity”. “We do a lot of walking,” she said. I had been assign seat 22K, which is by a window and also has direct aisle access.
The seat is not the newest in the skies so there are no sliding privacy doors and the design is a little clinical (something about the beige and the handle bars reminded me of hospital beds) but it’s undeniably spacious and luxurious. As you’d expect, it converts into a fully flat bed but as this was a daytime flight, I planned to work and watch movies.In terms of in-flight entertainment, each business class seat comes with a trio of devices – a large seat-back screen, a tablet for watching movies on your table or lap (maybe better for kids?), and an iPhone-style control with a screen. I really liked the minibar that is built into each seat and is stocked with free water and soft drinks. The slide-out table was great for working on a laptop and I felt extremely comfortable for the whole flight.
The staffed business class bar at the back of the plane is not a new concept but it certainly remains impressive. It’s much bigger that the social spaces on Virgin Atlantic planes (in fact there was space for more seating and stools around the bar).
I loved the cream leather couches, which gave the feeling of being on a private jet, and it was a nice place to stand and stretch your legs while watching football or chatting over a drink. I was amazed at how few people were using the bar during the flight – most people were happily eating, drinking, sleeping or relaxing in their seats. The toilets with a view were also a surprising addition.
The OnAir wifi worked really well, although I did have to pay US$17 to access it for the duration of the flight. It did drop a few times but was soon up and running again. (It costs US$3-6 for instant messaging.)
Since May 2023 (I travelled in April), all Emirates passengers in every class of travel have been able to get basic (for instant messaging) free wifi connectivity once they sign up to the Emirates Skywards loyalty scheme.
First Class passengers have unlimited full-service free wifi if they are Skywards members, as do Silver, Gold and Platinum Skywards members travelling in business class. Platinum Skywards members have free internet access in all classes.
The airline says: “The increase in free connectivity has been very well received by Emirates’ passengers following changes in January 2023 and the airline today sees an average of 450,000 users per month. This represents a 30 per cent increase of passenger use in 2023 versus the same period last year.
“Currently almost 10 per cent of all passengers are utilising the complimentary onboard wifi. On routes through the Americas, almost 20 per cent of passengers connect to wifi onboard, and on European and Africa routes the usage is over 11 per cent of all passengers.”
FOOD AND DRINK
I ordered the mezze platter to start, which came with Arabi flatbread and delicious hummus, followed by a spicy curry with curry and a cheese baord. The crew delivered the dishes on proper china crockery as three seperate courses and were generous with the drinks. There was an excellent selection of wine and even signature cocktails to choose from. I went for an Aperol Spritz as my aperitif.
The flight time from London to Dubai is about seven hours. We landed at 8pm local time. Dubai International is a stunning modern airport with gleaming halls and state-of-the-art technology. There was a short queue at passport control but I was able to go straight through to arrivals as had no luggage to collect.
Dubai International is a huge airport but very well signposted with a shuttle train that swiftly zips between terminal. I was dropped off at the first and business class drop-off zone by my chauffeur (a perk of flying business class, as I previously mentioned) at 11.30pm. My flight was at 2.45am, which is a horrible time to depart but offers the chance to have about six or seven hours’ sleep before landing at 7.20am, giving you the whole day ahead of you, which I appreciated.
I had hand-luggage only and had checked in on the app so made my way directly to Terminal B (my flight was taking off from Gate B29). There are multiple Emirates lounges at the airport so I chose the one in Terminal B so I had less far to go when the gate opened (even then it was a 15-minute walk). There were automatic gates for scanning boarding passes.
I have never seen such as huge business lounge – this one was an enormous, open-plan mezzanine space stretching right above the main departures floor. There were hundreds of seats and multiple canteen areas serving different kinds of buffets – Asian, Western and Middle Eastern. There was curry and rice, noodles, salads, hummus, pasta, desserts and even and ice cream trolley that people were queuing at.One of the best features was the Moet champagne bar, which served several different types of fizz including vintage and rosé. There was also an adjacent self-service spirits bar. Beer was available on request and there were dishes of smoked salmon and other cold appetisers to go with the champagne. I also appreciated that there was a kids’ play zone.
There were no flight departure announcements in the lounge (apart from if there is a gate change or final call for missing passengers) so you have to keep an eye on the screen for when your plane starts boarding. I headed down at about 1.45am – even though I was flying back on an A380 superjumbo with hundreds of other people, first and business class passengers get priority boarding so can skip the queue.
Passports were scanned automatically at the gate and matched to your profile using facial recognition. It was very quick and easy. I was in 11J on the upper deck of the A380, towards the back. A choice of champagne, orange juice and guava juice were offered once seated.
BUSINESS CLASS BED
I fell asleep for the first hour of the flight sitting up but once we were allowed to get up and recline our seats, I converted it into a bed by pressing the button on the side panel. A padded cotton underlays, cotton blanket and pillow is provided and I soon feel asleep on the fully flat bed. It was quite an old seat so the cushioning had lost its support – it felt quite hard – but there was a good bit of extra width compared to other business class seats such as the new Virgin Atlantic Upper Class, which is narrow on the shoulders.Depending on the configuration, some seats are more private than others, which is a consideration for a night flight. Mine was open to the aisle so was a little less private. Amenity kits containing Bulgari moisturiser, a dental kit, deodorant and lip balm were provided, along with socks and an eye mask. There were no pyjamas as you get on some overnight business class flights.
I woke up at 9am Dubai time and went to the bathroom to freshen up. With about one hour to go before landing, I had time to have a coffee and eat some breakfast. I chose the bircher muesli with soya milk, granola and berries. The tray also came with fresh fruit, a bread roll and a croissant with butter and jam. Other options were of mushroom omelette with Lyonaisse potatoes, sautéed spinach and baked beans; or vegetable frittata with hollandaise sauce, veal rashers, shredded potatoes and sautéed spinach.For those not sleeping, there were other light bites and snacks available during the flight including a health-sounding tofu and pumpkin poke bowl, as well as herbed gnocchi with cheese sauce, roast beef sandwiches and cakes.
The plane landed on time and we soon disembarked via an airbridge directly in the terminal. As I didn’t have luggage, I was able to exit immediately and find my driver. It was one of the most seamless journeys I have ever experienced.
I absolutely loved flying Emirates business class between London and Dubai. The A380 is such as huge plane you almost forget you are in an aircraft and the onboard bar was incredible. I wished I had been travelling with a friend so I could have really enjoyed it. The business class seat does need updating but the overall experience feels very VIP. Top marks for providing the chauffeur transfers, which probably saved me about £300 in taxis, if not more.
A return business class flight on an A380 from London Gatwick to Dubai in July 2023 cost from £3,298.