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TO THE POINT: Emirates’ 777-300ER business-class product is a decent, albeit outdated option for a long-haul journey. The pros: a bright cabin, extremely friendly service and great food. The cons: a less-than-desirable 2-3-2 configuration and angle-flat seats.

Last month, after an incredibly inspiring trip to Cape Town, South Africa for my very first PeaceJam Conference, I needed to fly back to the Big Apple. While TPG would be heading to Toulouse, France, for a special Singapore Airlines Airbus A350 delivery flight, NYC was calling me home. And while we flew on a perfectly comfortable South African Airways A340-600 to get to Cape Town, I was curious to try something different on the way back.

I’d never flown with Emirates before, so the Middle Eastern carrier seemed like an appealing option — I’d only ever seen photos and advertisements featuring Jennifer Aniston, but everything about it looked like it’d be a super-luxe experience. Needless to say, I had to try out the Emirates business-class product, even if it meant a layover in Dubai.

Booking

Emirates flight 773 from Cape Town (CPT) to Dubai (DXB) is operated by a 777-300ER aircraft. I booked my one-way flight from Cape Town to New York using Mileage Plan miles from Alaska Airlines, which is one of Emirates’ airline partners. Using Alaska’s partner award chart, you can book a one-way ticket from Africa to the continental US in business class for 120,000 miles — worth about $2,160 based on TPG’s most recent valuations — plus $79 in taxes and fees. Otherwise, on average, a one-way revenue ticket for this route costs about $2,469 at the Flex level.

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Emirates is also a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards at a 1:1 ratio. Based on Emirates’ award chart, you can redeem 131,250 Skywards miles, worth about $2,494 when transferred from Amex. In other words, you’ll be getting a better deal by booking through Alaska Mileage Plan like I did.

To pay for the taxes and fees, we used an Amex Premier Rewards Gold Card to earn 3x points on airfare booked directly with the airline — if only I’d booked my flight just a few weeks later, I could have used my Amex Platinum Card to earn 5x points on airfare.

Next, I went online to manage my reservation and select my seat. During the booking process, I noticed there wasn’t much available in terms of preferred seats, so I chose seat 8K to see what the bulkhead experience would be like on Emirates’ 777-300ER.

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Check-In

I arrived at Cape Town International Airport (CPT) and headed straight to the Emirates check-in counters, which weren’t busy at all — there were maybe 10 other travelers in total, and they all seemed to be waiting for the economy counter anyway.

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I was able to go to the business-class counter and check in immediately. As a business-class passenger traveling from Africa, I was allowed to check two bags of up to 32kg each. I didn’t have that much with me, so only checked one and was on my way to security in no time.

The Lounge

After passing through a rather seamless security checkpoint (also with no line), I was on my way to immigration, which wasn’t bad either. The International Terminal was very clean and quiet, with plenty of room and natural light.

After immigration, I headed straight for the Emirates Lounge, which is two stories high and located next to the British Airways Lounge at the end of the terminal.

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Once inside, I took some time to explore the two levels, which have relatively similar offerings as far as seating and beverage options go.

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There was plenty of seating available downstairs. I was at the lounge about two hours before my flight was scheduled to depart — there were so many open seats it felt pretty deserted, especially compared to other lounges I’ve been to.

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The downstairs level featured an office space with some computers.

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There were also some standard lounge beverage options at the back of the room.

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The dining portion of the lounge was upstairs, and again, there was plenty of seating to go around, including comfy seats as well as tables and chairs.

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The spread was pretty good, too, with both hot and cold options ranging from roasted chicken breast and halibut with lemon butter to beef sandwiches with french fries. I tried a few different bites and was very impressed with the offerings. I will say, however, that the food could have been replenished a little more often, especially since the lounge was so quiet — it was all just sitting there and some of the food had a thin, congealed coating on it.

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There was also a separate dessert and appetizer bar area. While I tried some of the fresh fruit, I wanted to save room for the meal service on this flight, so I didn’t overindulge.

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The opportunity for plane spotting was pretty ideal. From my table upstairs in the dining area, I was able to keep an eye on our 777-300ER long before we boarded.

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Overall, the Emirates Lounge really set the tone for what would be a fantastic flight.

Boarding

The boarding process was fairly uneventful. I got caught up working in the lounge and ended up running a few minutes behind on boarding for business-class passengers — by the time I’d arrived at the gate, priority boarding had already ended and I was able to walk straight through the line without any further delays.

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Cabin and Seat

Emirates’ 777-300ER has three cabins: first, business and economy. The first-class cabin is made up of eight closed suites, each 20.5-inch wide with 69 inches of pitch. The business-class cabin, where I was, consists of 42 angle-flat seats, each measuring 20.5-inches wide with 60 inches of pitch. The economy cabin is made up of 310 seats in a 3-4-3 configuration, with each seat measuring 17-inches wide with 32 inches of pitch.

After walking through the cabin door, I turned right to go to the second portion of the business-class cabin — there are 14 business-class seats in the front portion of the cabin behind the first-class seats, while the remaining 28 are located behind the galley.

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The business-class arrangement in a 2-3-2 configuration isn’t ideal, as passengers sitting in the window seat and those sitting in the middle of the middle rows will have to climb over their seatmate in order to get up. On my flight, however, the cabin wasn’t anywhere near full, so everyone essentially had a row to themselves.

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There’s a privacy screen and ample room from the armrest between the seats that extends far enough to keep legroom between you and your seatmate separate.

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Each seat came with a pillow, blanket and a set of headphones. The overall feel of the seats was pretty nice, although the purple-ish fabric seemed a bit dated.

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In the bulkhead row, the in-flight entertainment screens varied. While the IFE screen was mounted on the wall in front for the three seats in the middle of the cabin, for my seat and the ones on the other side of the cabin, the IFE screen came out from below the armrest. It’s nice to be able to get to it when needed, but it’s not ideal to have an IFE screen that needs to be stored during taxi, takeoff and landing.

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One of the most noticeable features is the iconic Emirates wooden finish that can be found on the interior portions of the cabin as well as the seats. In business class, the wooden finish was shiny and appeared new and refreshed, which was nice.

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There was plenty of legroom at my bulkhead seat, as well as a small pouch to store some things I needed during taxi, takeoff and landing — I also put my laptop and book there from time to time so they’d be within reach.

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The IFE remote was located on the topmost part of the armrest, which made it pretty difficult to reach — I really had to maneuver in order to get the remote out of its holder. It’s also worth noting that the headphone jack is located right below the remote on the armrest, so it was also a bit of a pain to get to.

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Directly underneath the privacy screen and built into the side of the armrest was the touchscreen remote, which connects to the seat and in-flight entertainment system. With this being my first Emirates flight, I’d seen pictures of the remote before, so I was excited to finally get to use it. Unfortunately, mine was a bit laggy and not very responsive to my touch commands, which was pretty disappointing and frustrating at times. I tried using as many functions on the remote as possible, including the massage function — unfortunately, the massage wasn’t the greatest and one of the portions of the seat was incredibly loud.

Also located right next to the touchscreen remote were the bed function buttons. On the 777-300ER, the business-class seats are angle-flat, meaning you can’t lie in a totally flat position. Fortunately for me, I was so exhausted that I reclined to the full angle-flat position after the meal service and was able to sleep for about five hours of the approximately nine-hour flight regardless.

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The cabin and seat on Emirates’ 777-300ER are nice, but not the same quality you might expect from the carrier on a long-haul aircraft. While the cabin’s interior certainly looks appealing, there are a couple of flaws in its design — like a 2-3-2 configuration and angle-flat seats — that make this a less-than-ideal set-up, especially for a long-haul flight. Fortunately, when I went the business-class cabin was rather empty so each passenger had plenty of space to stretch out without worrying about climbing over their seatmate(s) in order to reach the aisle, but others might not be so lucky.

Food and Beverage

Since this was my very first Emirates flight, I had high expectations for everything — especially the food — and much to my pleasure, the carrier didn’t disappoint. Because this flight left around 1:30pm from CPT, we had a full lunch as well as a “light bite” when we were about two hours from Dubai.

Meal service started off with a beverage and selection of warm nuts — macadamias, almonds, cashews and pistachios — and I selected a white wine, which was nice and paired well with them. I liked having the mini coaster-like tray come out from the armrest for this pre-meal course so I didn’t have to take my full tray table out just yet.

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And now, for the real meal: I chose the cauliflower and leek soup for my appetizer, which was served with a choice of bread or mini cheese breadstick and a small salad. The soup was delicious — perfectly creamy and not too overwhelming in taste.

Other choices for appetizers included char siu duck, which was served with red coleslaw and sweet barbecue dressing, and a seafood trio, which consisted of smoked salmon, poached prawn and lobster tail served with lemon and capers.

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For my main course, I chose the salmon fillet with salsa verde, which was served with sautéed green beans and carrots, steamed fennel and crushed potatoes with capers and parsley. The salmon was cooked nicely and well seasoned, however the crushed potatoes and vegetables were a little disappointing — the veggies were a bit overcooked and there was essentially nothing to the potatoes. I chose to save my salad to eat with my main course — it ended up being pretty basic, nothing too special.

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Other options for the main course included murgh makhanwala — a creamy butter chicken curry served with spiced roasted aubergine and rice — or stir-fried beef with soy sauce, pak choi, baby corn and steamed rice.

For dessert, I chose chocolate cake, which was served with fruit coulis and a small piece of chocolate. The cake itself was great, the perfect way to wrap up a good lunch meal service. Other dessert options included an apple streusel tart with crumble topping, seasonal fruit or a cheese board with crackers and other tasty accompaniments.

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About two hours before landing, flight attendants came around the cabin to take orders for a “light bite” meal. I chose orange juice, which was really fresh, and opted for a spinach quiche, which was served with sautéed mushrooms and red pepper coulis. I thought the quiche itself was great and the red pepper coulis went really nicely with it.

Other choices for the “light bite” included cold snacks — a continental cold plate with sliced smoked chicken, roasted beef fillet and haloumi with grilled marinated vegetables — and hot snacks, like satay ayam grilled chicken with cashew nut sauce, nasi goreng and penne bolognese with parmesan.

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Overall, I was really impressed with the food options on board this Emirates long-haul flight. For me, the cauliflower and leek soup was arguably the highlight, while the vegetables with the main salmon course could have been better.

Amenities, In-Flight Entertainment and Service

Aside from the seat, I was pretty excited to test out the other in-flight products of Emirates’ business class, like the amenity kit. Emirates offers two business-class amenity kits — one for men and one for women. I got the women’s kit, which was made out of a silver, satin-like material. Inside it were Bvlgari products, including hand lotion, face emulsion and perfume, as well as some basic items like a dental kit and tissues. There were also some gender-specific items in the mix, like a hairbrush and mirror. The variety of products, especially from Bvlgari, were welcomed and left me feeling refreshed upon our arrival in Dubai.

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The in-flight entertainment system was stocked with some pretty basic options. There were some new releases available in, but nothing really piqued my interest. Considering how tired I was, I decided to read for a little while before finally falling asleep for about five hours.

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The last area of this flight that left me impressed and excited for my continuing flight from DXB to JFK was the service. When I first boarded, one of the flight attendants who was greeting passengers noticed I was taking a lot of pictures. Instead of threatening to kick me off the plane — something TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig experienced on a recent American Airlines flight — the FA offered to take a photo of me in the seat! For the rest of the flight and throughout meal services, service was welcoming and friendly on all accounts.

Overall Impression

My first Emirates experience was one to remember. Although there were a few drawbacks, like an unfortunate 2-3-2 configuration and angle-flat seats, the service and meals helped to set Emirates apart from its other business-class competitors. My bulkhead seat was quite comfortable, although the in-flight entertainment screen had to be stowed during taxi, takeoff and landing. The amenity kit and overall look and feel of the business-class cabin also helped make this a great flight.

Have you ever flown in business class aboard Emirates’ 777-300ER? Tell us about your experience, below.

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