Route: Dubai to Bangkok
Airplane: Airbus A380
Our ride on the A380 followed a business class leg from Heathrow to Dubai, on a plain old Boeing. Great seats, Emirates’ excellent staff (just the right side of friendly, with a couple of cheeky chaps to keep things interesting) and, for airline food, a decent on-board dinner, plus a couple of movies on the excellent ICE inflight entertainment (IFE) system.
Dubai’s international airport is, itself, an eye-opener: a vast glass-clad sky mall with cavernous halls and enormous seating areas. Its business class “lounge”, in contrast to the cosy, well-equipped Heathrow lounge, was astonishing – bordering on the comical. Seemingly as large as a city airport anywhere else in the world, it was thronging with people queueing for food, seating and drinks. Some slept, others tapped away at their computers. It certainly did not feel exclusive as hundreds upon hundreds of passengers milled around, waiting for the call to their aircraft.
Despite a delay of about 45 minutes, due to a heating problem on the A380, there was still a sense of palpable excitement as we boarded the upper deck of Emirates’ A380 in Dubai. For those making their first trip on the behemoth, it was something of an event, and there was collective awe at its sheer size. Even from seasoned travellers there were nods of approval and knowing glances: this was going to be a wonderful flight.
Despite having to travel for my work, I’m not the world’s most confident flyer – once we’re up and a stiff G&T has been placed into my trembling hands, all is well, but until then I’m a little jittery. But with a host of gadgetry to fiddle with, little alcoves in which to perfectly pack my inflight essentials (cashmere socks, couple of books, a fine selection of glossy magazines, laptop, pen and Moleskin notepad – you know, just the essentials) and with the ICE IFE system cranked up and working before take-off, my nerves were being wonderfully distracted. (The IFE is paused while the safety demo takes place, but as soon as you board you can start consuming its excellent library of films and TV programmes, or for those with a stomach stronger than mine, switch the forward camera on so you get a pilot’s eye view of take-off).
The interior’s designer clearly had great fun putting together Emirates’ A380 business class – touches such as your own private mini bar (stocked with soft drinks and amenities – socks, ear plugs and eye mask), a little cubby hole to pop your shoes into, as well as the public bar to the rear of the cabin shamelessly celebrate the glamour of flying business class with an esteemed carrier with an emphasis on passenger comfort and privacy. In terms of the seating layout, it’s been cleverly done. We were sat in the middle bank of seats (best for if you’re travelling with someone you know), but each seat unit is slightly staggered so that the fully-flat beds can not only stretch out, but so that all passengers have aisle access – the last thing one wants to be doing, having paid for a business class seat, is to be clambering over the sleeping person next to you, especially if you don’t know them.
While passengers downstairs in coach boarded, we supped champagne, chatted with the staff – who made us feel very comfortable and welcome – and made our ICE viewing selection. The addition of BOSE headphones is a luxurious touch that increases the media viewing experience even further, as does the 21-inch screen.
As we taxied, it was clear already that this was going to be a beautiful flight. Not a jolt or bump could be felt on the plane’s tyres and I could barely believe we were up and on our way, such was the quiet in the cabin and smoothness of the ascent. Normally I’m a window seat girl – I like to know where we are, check on how the pilot’s doing and generally keep an eye on things (it’s the nervous flyer coming out in me again) – but I was so occupied by the entertainment system, chats with the staff and banter with fellow travellers in the convivial bar area, that I only padded out to the back to look out of the windows twice.
So to the gadgetry: at the side of your mini bar there are buttons for lights, while on a handset there are three pre-set positions for your bed/seat as well as the option to turn on the massage function. With the handset you also control your viewing options. It’s pretty straightforward to work, but my colleague did need a little extra help, as did other passengers around me.
After a good full five-course dinner (it’s all relative, naturally, but in terms of inflight meals, this was one of the best I’ve eaten) and a couple of well-chosen wines, I decided to test out the bed. In terms of comfort, once fully-flat I slept as well on it (just for a 40-minute power nap) as I did in some of the five-star hotels I stayed in during my trip – although the post-prandial gin and tonics, admittedly, may have helped! Press the service button, and a steward or stewardess will come and make your bed up for you, complete with duvet, while you pad to the loo and change into something more comfortable (I’m terribly old-fashioned when it comes to flying: wearing something smart and appropriate for boarding). My colleague, who I often travel with, is known for her astonishing ability to stay awake on even the longest, red-eye flights. On the A380, however, she slept soundly and deeply for nearly four hours. A waste of precious A380 air-time, in my opinion. While she gently snored I watched a trashy rom-com movie (a guilty pleasure of mine when in the air), chatted with the staff, had a nose around the first-class cabin (with permission, obviously), poured my fellow travellers Champagne at the bar, had a couple more G&Ts, and nattered about the A380′s perks with staff and passengers. It was great to hear – and see – the staff really enjoying their new office and working in new ways, the most obvious being the ditching of the service trolley as the stewards hand-delivered food and beverage. No more being woken up by the smack of trolley to a seat’s edge or the clatter of its contents.
Descent was as perfect as take-off – we glided in over a sprawling Bangkok’s outer limits and touched down gently into the tropical heat of the city. Before we’d arrived at the carousel, our baggage was waiting on a dedicated business class carousel and we were out through security, feeling refreshed, rested and wonderfully relaxed. To see Banyan Tree signage with our names printed beautifully ended a perfect flight. And how often can you say you’ve had one of those?
Thanks to Emirates Airlines for arranging an on-board tour of the A380 and upgrades to business class. We flew from London Heathrow to Dubai and then on to Bangkok with Emirates.