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After a 16+ hour flight with his toddler son in his arms, TPG Contributor Leigh Rowan won the loyalty lottery: an operational upgrade from economy to business on Emirates. Here’s his report on six hours of bliss in one of the aviation world’s most unique business-class cabins.

At DXB, anxiously waiting for my op-up to clear.
A taste of luxury – Emirates 777-300ER Business Class (seats 4J & 4K pictured)

Late last year, my wife and I booked a long-haul flight with our toddler, flying San Francisco-Dubai-Bangkok on Emirates—for only $514 per person! After scoring this deal, I made it even sweeter by status matching to Emirates Skywards Silver, effectively giving me more miles, Dubai business class lounge access and more opportunities to get super lucky with an operational upgrade.

Getting the Upgrade

I had status matched to Skywards Silver with the hope that it would pay off in an operational upgrade (op-up) for me, my wife and infant son. In order for that to happen, we had to be on flights that were fully booked in economy but had open space in business or first, and there would need to be enough open seats in business (and enough oversold in coach) for even a lowly Emirates Skywards Silver member like me (Silver is the lowest elite tier) to get upgraded from economy to a premium cabin.

Before our trip, I fastidiously monitored ExpertFlyer to see what seat availability and fare classes looked like on our flights. Before our outbound SFO-Dubai flight, it looked like the back of the 777 bus was overbooked, but that business and first had space. Arriving at SFO airport (early, well-dressed and eager), I informed the check-in agent that we would love an op-up if possible, and she told me that there was no chance. A big group had canceled that morning, so the flight wasn’t oversold in the back. There would be empty seats up front, but no op-ups to be had.

The same thing happened in Dubai, as we connected to our Bangkok flight. Though ExpertFlyer showed a very full flight, there were no op-ups available. Womp womp.

Enter the Crowded Bangkok-Dubai Route

IMG_6937
At BKK before boarding; minutes before total boarding madness ensued.

Emirates operates several daily flights between Bangkok and Dubai—most of them on the A380 with 14 suites in first and 76 seats in business—so it’s not a huge surprise that my op-up happened on this very crowded route. Our 2am flight was oversold by at least a dozen seats, and to my (and the airline’s!) surprise, most everyone showed up for the flight. When approaching the gate check-in desk, my boarding pass was scanned and the computer spit out: “PAX NOT FOUND” on the screen. I was either very lucky, or something terrible had happened to my ticket. The gate agent reviewed my reservation, separated my wife’s ticket and infant son’s lap ticket out of my reservation, and, voila!

I was handed a boarding pass for seat 4F – I was upgraded from my cheap economy ticket to business as a Silver Skywards member, a miracle in my book!

Review the Flight Already—How Was It?!

In short, it was excellent. Emirates‘ reputation as an amazing airline, particularly in business (and first—see TPG’s review of his Dubai – JFK flight experience) class, is well earned. Our overnight flight departed Bangkok around 2am, but I stayed awake for the first 90 minutes to get the full in-flight service experience.

Our two-class Boeing 777-300ER featured 42 business class seats and 385 economy class seats. The business class was in a 2 x 3 x 2 configuration, with spacious—but not fully lie-flat—shell seats. My seat, 4F, was an internal aisle on the starboard (right) side of the plane and reclined almost all the way, but still had a slight angle to it. When I asked the flight attendant if this was normal, she told me it was. Still, the nearly flat bed was very spacious and comfortable.

Overall, service was friendly and attentive. Before departure, flight attendants offered me a hot towel and Moët Chandon Champagne. I also received an amenity kit with a nice disposable razor, a small bottle of Bulgari cologne along with lotion and aftershave, a toothbrush and a comb. I asked for a female version of the amenity kit for my wife instead, and the flight attendant kindly let me have one of each. (Knowing that my wife and child were back in row 23, the flight attendants asked me if they could do anything for them and checked on them periodically, which I appreciated.) The bathroom featured full-size cologne bottles, as well as cloth towels. The in-flight sleep kit for business-class passengers included a regular eye mask and socks, which is identical to the offering in economy.

The first course of the oddly timed breakfast.
The first course of the oddly timed breakfast.

While I enjoyed my six hours in Emirates business class, I did find one unwelcome quirk on the flight. The relatively light, two-course breakfast was served two and a half hours before landing—only three and a half hours into the trip—which struck me as very odd timing. Who needs that much time to eat before landing? As for the meal itself, I was served fruit, my choice of bread and pastries, yogurt and a cheese-and-herb omelette for the main course. I also had a delightful cappuccino served with a biscotti, which was definitely one of the highlights.

The Downward Camera channel on Emirates' in-flight entertainment system.
The Downward Camera channel on Emirates’ in-flight entertainment system.

The Verdict

Flying Emirates in business class from Bangkok to Dubai gave me an opportunity to enjoy great service and some nice amenities. The six-hour journey isn’t the most luxurious business-class experience available—if anything, it felt more like a regional business-class product, without fully lie-flat seats, which are becoming an industry standard for long-haul flights. I also found the 2 x 3 x 2 seating configuration to be a bit too cozy, though considering how little I paid for my ticket ($514 roundtrip!), I don’t have much room to complain. I look forward to flying other Emirates business and first-class products in the coming months—especially as I hope to keep my coveted Skywards Silver status!

Have you flown Emirates business class? Share your experience in the comments below!

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