Belly up to the bar again on Emirates A380 flights; who else has onboard lounges?
Since last Friday, first- and business-class passengers on Emirates A380-operated flights have an excellent reason to uncork the Champagne and the ideal place to do it.
On Feb. 11, the Dubai-based carrier brought back one of the world’s most exclusive inflight experiences for the second time in the last two years.
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With concerns about the severity of the omicron variant starting to abate and many countries relaxing their COVID-19-related restrictions, Emirates’ A380 Onboard Lounge, which is what Emirates' inflight bar is officially known as, is again open for business and leisure.
This exclusive onboard bar is one of the distinctive features of Emirates’ premium cabins. This social area offers a space to sip a drink or grab a snack at any time during the flight (provided the seat belt sign is not on!), and also a place to stretch your legs and socialize with fellow travelers.
This social aspect is precisely the reason that the bar was, understandably, one of the first things to go in early 2020 as soon as the world started to learn about the spread of the coronavirus. Emirates also grounded most of its A380s soon after, which is the only aircraft in its fleet that features this amenity.
Related: A tale of 2 cabins: A review of Emirates first class and economy from New York to Mauritius
The Onboard Lounge made its first comeback in October 2020, as the first waves of lockdowns and border closures were easing a bit, although in a rather limited form: takeaway only and with limited seating in order to enforce social distancing rules. Drinks and prepackaged snacks were delivered directly to the seat rather than having people hanging around the bar area.
More recently, in January 2022 the Onboard Lounge was closed again due to the emergence of the highly transmissible omicron variant. Fortunately, this second closure proved to be much shorter than the first.
This time the lounges are going to be fully functional, with mask-wearing rules in force (although, considering they may be lifted when eating or drinking, it is not clear how the mask mandate will be enforced in this type of bar-like environment).
Emirates is one of only a handful of airlines to have a proper onboard bar.
Related: Fancy a drink at the bar? A review of Emirates business class on the A380 from Dubai to New York
Two of the others are also major Gulf carriers, Etihad and Qatar Airways, which, just like Emirates, have them on their A380 fleets only.
This means that the chance to enjoy their onboard bars are rather limited at present: Etihad’s entire A380 fleet remains grounded and Qatar Airways has reinstated only half of their A380 planes, operating them only to London (LHR) and Paris (CDG) from Doha, Qatar (DOH), for now.
Another airline that offers a bar experience to its premium passengers on its A380s is Korean Airlines, although not currently. A notice on the airline’s website reminds would-be travelers that its “Celestial Bar” service, which has Sweden’s Absolut Vodka as its official partner, has been temporarily suspended due to the pandemic.
Qantas’ A380s, which were brought back into service in January, also have a lounge area with a self-service bar right behind the cockpit. The aircraft being brought back into service have had their interiors refurbished, which may come in handy for those traveling to and from Oz the moment it reopens its borders to vaccinated travelers on Feb. 21.
It's not surprising that most of the inflight offerings are found on board A380s. After all, one of the selling points of this aircraft, when it was launched, was the possibility of fitting it with all sorts of amenities from showers to inflight gyms, which never materialized.
However, there are other possibilities for those hoping to enjoy the thrill of ordering cocktails at 30,000 feet as they would on a Saturday night out.
Virgin Australia, for example, used to have an onboard bar on its Boeing 777s. However, following its restructuring and the COVID-19 groundings, the airline has retired this aircraft type from its fleet and doesn’t have plans to bring it back.
That's not the case for United Kingdom-based Virgin Atlantic though. Onboard lounges are again open for Upper Class passengers on this carrier, including the aptly named The Bar, which is available on its Airbus A330 and Boeing 787 aircraft. If you find yourself on board one of the airline’s A350-1000 aircraft instead, you will still be able to enjoy two different lounge-style social spaces, either The Loft (available on seven of the aircraft) or The Booth (on the remaining two aircraft), which have private rest areas fitted with couches, tables and screens, although, alas, no bar!