Director boarded an Emirates A380-800 ‘super jumbo’ from Heathrow to Dubai for the first leg of a trip to Indonesia. Travelling on an economy-class ticket and sat at the rear of the lower deck, did the experience delight?
Emirates, owned by the Dubai government, was founded 30 years ago. Since then it has become the world’s biggest international carrier (and seventh largest in terms of revenue) and boasts a vast dedicated terminal at Dubai International airport.
The airline operates five return flights a day from Heathrow Terminal 3 to Dubai, employing the services of the Airbus A380 ‘super jumbo’. While not my first trip aboard an A380-800, this flight, taken in early October, was my first travelling economy on the double-decker beast, and my first passage with Emirates.
It is the largest operator of the twin-deck Airbus product in the world with a fleet of 67 A380s. In November, Emirates showed off the world’s first two-class A380 (which forgoes the first-class cabin) and just weeks later, Emirates announced it will retire over 50 older jets in the next three years as it prepares for delivery of a further 36 A380-800 and Boeing 777-300ERs.
Close to two million people visit Dubai on business-related activity annually, though millions more – like me – will only see the airport, to catch a connecting flight. Favourable geography – the airport sits within eight hours flying time of two-thirds of the world’s population – goes some way to explain how Dubai was able to knock Heathrow from its position as the world’s busiest airport in late 2014 with almost 69 million passengers passing through that year.
Director packed a case to sample the Emirates experience.
Flight: Emirates EK030 Heathrow to Dubai (economy)
As I was flying as part of an organised group I was checked in online. Arriving by Heathrow Express, it was a brisk four-minute walk to my 14:30 [BST] rendezvous at the Emirates desks at Terminal 3 to meet my travelling companions. The queue for bag drop was short and moved quickly. Learning that the flight wasn’t full, staff offered us a choice of seats and issued our boarding passes while checking our luggage through to our final destination of Jakarta, Indonesia. Economy passengers are afforded a generous 30kg for checked-in luggage, plus one piece of cabin baggage and either a handbag or laptop. Mobile boarding passes are also available for flights departing from Heathrow.
The escalator adjacent to the Emirates check-in wasn’t working so we took the lift to the first floor and security where confusion over which lanes were open resulted in a couple of minutes’ delay. Clearing security was quick enough, with no queues to report. I spent an hour exploring the high-street retail outlets in the departures lounge before my gate was called. 9/10
Gate seven is dedicated to Emirates flights and a mere hop, skip and a jump away from departures. Staff at four large reception desks ensured a smooth passage into the waiting area. Newspapers and magazines were available and I took the opportunity to photograph the impressive whale-like bulge of the A380 through the floor-to-ceiling window. Three air bridges extend onto the A380, with Director boarding via an air bridge to seating zone C at the ground floor rear of the aircraft. 9/10
Economy seats are mostly laid out in a 3+4+3 configuration. I was assigned window seat 82A on the left-hand side of the cabin, six rows from the rear bulkhead, but swapped with a companion for 82C next to the aisle. The middle seat remained free and many of my fellow passengers, realising the flight wasn’t full, took advantage to stretch out across the row of four seats towards the middle of the aircraft. The A380’s overheard lockers are much larger than many conventional aircraft. Those directly above my seat were full of kit but there was plenty of space in adjacent lockers to store my hand luggage.
Everything on the A380 feels large, with 32in–34in seat pitch in economy. The seat-back in front of me featured a large 13in touchscreen monitor, USB charging socket (the middle and window seats also included a UK socket), coat hook, pull down tray, separate cup holder and a pocket containing reading material including two duty-free brochures and in-flight magazine Open Skies. A removable wired remote control also operates the in-flight entertainment system. 9/10
Departure was scheduled for 17:00. We pushed back from the stand at 17:11 but it was 18 minutes before we took off. A beige blanket was left on each seat along with complimentary headphones but these felt so uncomfortable that I soon swapped them for my own. The inflight entertainment system, called ICE, offers around 500 movies, TV box sets, games and music. Unfortunately my in-flight entertainment system wasn’t working properly and required a full reset of the entertainment system on my row once we’d taken off.
Emirates offers WiFi for the duration of the flight – 10mb for free or $1 for 500mb, payable by credit card. I paid for the full service but pages were very slow to load, failing more often than not.
Hot towels and a menu card were handed out 15 minutes after take-off and it was about an hour before dinner was served: tuna niçoise to start; five bruschetta pieces; chicken (lamb was also available), mash and mixed vegetables; seeded granary roll; Jacob’s crackers with cream cheese spread; tomato and piri piri dip; cherry confit encased in chocolate mousse; and a tub of water. I passed on the offer of an alcoholic beverage.
Later, the crew offered water, juices, savoury biscuits and ice cream. 8/10
At 01:46 Dubai time (22:45 BST), the first-officer announced that we would be landing ahead of schedule and while the crew prepared the cabin, the video screens displayed terminal information and connections – including ours to Jakarta. We landed at 02:30 (20 minutes ahead of schedule) and I disembarked on to a jet bridge by 02:45.
My connecting flight to Jakarta was due to depart at 04:10. Connecting flights are well signposted – via security – though as my body clock adjusted to the three-hour time difference I wasn’t prepared for the hustle and bustle of Dubai airport’s 24-hour retail economy. By the time I arrived at Gate B2, the queues for my onward flight were already moving promptly. 10/10
It would be hard to knock the Emirates flight thanks to an attentive crew, comfortable seats, modern aircraft and seamless boarding and connection. Niggles with the in-flight entertainment system were quickly resolved and had the WiFi worked better and the headsets been more comfortable, I would be giving the flight close to full marks. Being sat in a cabin with so many free seats perhaps helped the experience – I imagine the meal service would have been slower and queues for the loos longer if every seat was taken – but for my inaugural Emirates economy flight I was impressed. 45/50