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Emirates’ business class on the A380 is still a great experience, though it’s not perfect. Pros: a comfortable seat, incredible service and little touches that help set it apart. Cons: a convoluted boarding process, the seats are showing some wear and the food wasn’t fantastic.
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Emirates is widely regarded as one of the best airlines in the world. Its premium classes are known to offer some of the better products — both hard and soft — in the skies. I’ve flown with Emirates in business class before and was thoroughly satisfied with my experience.
On a recent trip to Dubai to AvGeek out and fly on the shortest A380 flight (in Emirates first class!), I decided to get there via another experience with Emirates. Again, on an A380, and again, in business. Almost two years after my first time in the cabin, I was thrilled to experience the Emirates business-class experience one more time.
This one-way ticket was booked at the last minute — just three days before departure. At that point, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan was showing no saver level availability for Emirates business class on the route for the date of departure I was looking for. I kept my eye on it though, hoping that availability would open up at some point.
Sure enough, the following day when I logged into my Mileage Plan account, the site was displaying business-class award availability just on the date I needed — score! I learned a few lessons here: 1. It never hurts to be patient; 2. It’s true that sometimes the best availability opens at the last minute; and 3. Scenarios like this are when ExpertFlyer is incredibly valuable.
So, I ended up booking the one-way business-class ticket for 82,500 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles + $20.
You can also book Emirates’ famed first-class seats via Alaska’s program. While Alaska miles can give you some great redemptions, they’re on the harder side to earn. The best way to earn quickly is by signing up for the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card, which comes with a sign-up bonus of 30,000 miles after spending $1,000 within the first 90 days.
Aside from using Alaska miles, you could book a similar flight through Emirates’ own Skywards program, though rates are variable and can sometimes be absurdly high. That being said, if you’re patient and can find a reasonably priced award flight, it’s easy to gain Skywards points, since the program is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards.
Lounge and Boarding
The check-in process was smooth, and within a few minutes I was through security with my TSA PreCheck — thankfully Emirates is one of the participating international airlines in the PreCheck program.
Unfortunately, Emirates’ lounge at JFK was under construction when I left on my trip, though it reopened soon after my flight — you can check out our first look at the new space here. So, instead of lounge access, I was given $40 to use toward dining at any restaurant in the terminal. And for first-class passengers, Emirates offered $55 for the same dining service.
I quickly found out that $40 at JFK doesn’t get you far. I stopped at Le Grand Comptoir in Terminal 4 and ordered a glass of wine, which cost a mind-boggling $20. I didn’t want to exceed the $40 I was given, so the high price of the wine quickly limited my options for a meal… priorities! I settled on the caprese appetizer — fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil and a balsamic drizzle. Even though it wasn’t a ton of food, I ended up not too opposed to this voucher situation, as I was certainly less stuffed than I would have been had I gotten to visit a lounge. That being said, it would have obviously been more pleasant to relax in a more private and comfortable lounge before my flight. Now, though, all is back to normal — if you’re flying Emirates in a premium cabin, you’ll be able to take full advantage of the carrier’s recently reopened lounge.
Shortly before boarding was set to begin, I headed to the gate where there were a number of passengers already lined up. But there was no signage. With masses of people waiting to board, it was near-impossible to find where premium passengers were supposed to board. Naturally, I headed toward the area closest to the boarding door, where I found a few other passengers with “Business” or “First” on the corner of their boarding passes.
Emirates Flight 202 had a scheduled departure time of 11:00pm, and boarding was set to begin around 10:20pm. That time came and went, and passengers were still congregated around the gate at 10:45pm with no word from the gate crew as to the cause of the delay. Passengers clearly grew frustrated — if nothing else, because of the lack of communication. Eventually, around 10:50pm, boarding began for those with children and those who required more time to board. Then, both first- and business-class passengers were allowed to board at the same time.
After making my way through the jet bridge to the upper deck of the enormous A380, I was greeted by a friendly Emirates flight attendant who welcomed me back to Emirates business class. Having flown the product on the A380 only once before in 2016, I found it a nice touch that the airline recognized me for returning to the cabin.
Cabin and Seat
Our A380, registration A6-EDZ, was delivered to Emirates in 2012 and has been flying for the carrier ever since. It features a three-class configuration: first class (14 seats), business class (76 seats) or economy (399 seats). The lower deck of the aircraft is comprised only of economy seats, which are arranged in a 3-4-3 configuration. Each of the economy seats offers 32-34 inches of pitch and is 18 inches wide.
Because I was sitting in the business-class cabin, we boarded on the upper deck, which is where I stayed for the duration of the flight.
On this particular A380, the upper deck is comprised of 14 closed first-class suites arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, which I later tried on a new version of the aircraft on the world’s shortest A380 flight from Dubai (DXB) to Muscat (MCT). Behind the first-class cabin, you’ll find 76 lie-flat seats, also arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration. Each of the seats has 48 inches of pitch and is 18.5 inches wide, which seems narrow on paper, but I actually found it to be spacious enough since there was room to stretch out and I could place my belongings on the generously sized side table.
The business-class cabin is split into two mini cabins. The front one is the larger, with a total of 58 seats. Behind the barrier, you’ll find a smaller cabin with just 18 seats. I find the rear mini-cabin to be more comfortable and offer more privacy. In part, it’s because of the lavatory configuration. The barrier separating the two cabins doesn’t include a lavatory so if you’re sitting in the rear section, there isn’t much foot traffic — unless passengers are going to use a lav at the rear of the aircraft or if they’re heading to the bar. That being said, because of the location of the bar, the smaller mini-cabin could prove to be a bit noisy on some flights, particularly if you’re sitting in the last row,
At each seat you’ll find your own minibar, massive amounts of storage space and a side table on which you can put your small devices. While the bottom shelf of the minibar offers a small selection of soft drinks — soda, still water and sparking water — the top shelf contains a set of headphones and a small kit with socks and an eyeshade.
Not all seats in the business-class cabin are created equal. Some offer much more privacy than others — particularly those flush against the cabin wall — while others are better for passengers traveling as a couple. My seat, 24J, was a window seat that had its table and mini bar closer to the window, meaning my seat was closest to the aisle and subject to foot traffic and more chances for awkward eye contact with other passengers.
The last time I flew Emirates business class, I was seated in seat 23J. And while it was just one row in front, it was both a bulkhead seat and flush against the window, which made it much more private. If you’re seated in the front mini cabin, even-numbered seats offer more privacy, while odd-numbered seats are facing the aisle. In the rear mini cabin, the reverse holds true — you’ll want to select odd-numbered seats for maximum privacy. If you’re traveling with a partner, you’ll want to get an even-numbered seat in the front mini cabin or an odd-numbered seat in the rear.
The two seats in the center of the cabin do feature adjustable privacy screens. So, if you’re traveling alone and sitting in one of the two seats, you can raise the partition to make your seat more private. Alternatively, you can choose to leave it down — likely the preferred choice for couples.
Opposite from the seat, you’ll find a large footwell — it felt comfortable even with the seat in its fully flat position. Directly above the footwell is the in-flight entertainment screen, which is built into the seat-back in front.
When it comes to storage, this particular seat is a mixed bag. Because my seat’s table and minibar were flush against the cabin wall, the main storage compartment was difficult to reach. In order to get to it, you had to reach over the table and into a deep well. For smaller items, it was particularly hard to reach the bottom of the space. Instead, there’s a small slot directly next to the seat, which is labeled as reserved for the in-flight literature. However, I chose to use it to store some of my smaller items that would have otherwise been difficult to reach in the main compartment — my phone, AirPods charging case and some light reading.
Emirates is the world’s largest operator of A380s by a large margin. The carrier’s known for its extravagant details in its cabins — think lots of burled wood and gold trim. And while the carrier’s updating some of its newer A380s — including a fresh, new bar that’s a bit less gaudy — some of its older aircraft are showing their age. A6-EDZ, the aircraft servicing this flight, is about six years old, and there was noticeable wear and tear at my seat. Of course, a little wear is expected on a plane, so this wasn’t a big deal to me, but with some A380s getting a minor refresh, it could lead to some inconsistent experiences for passengers.
Overall, I found the cabin and seat to be comfortable. One thing Emirates does very well is the little touches. Because the cabin is open, not only does it feel airy, but you’ll also be able to see the stars — not literally, but the roof of the interior features sparkling lights. (Think of a childhood bedroom, twinkling at night.) Additionally, I am a fan of the mood lighting that was employed on my flight. Warm colors were featured around dinnertime to prepare guests for bed and the same to wake you up in the morning. While one might argue that Emirates doesn’t have the best business class in the sky — in fact, many would save that honor for Qatar’s Qsuite — it does a great job at offering travelers a comfortable experience.
Food and Beverage
Meal service on board this flight included both dinner and breakfast. In addition, there were a number of snacks offered throughout the flight — particularly at the rear of the aircraft at the bar.
After leaving the gate around 11:45pm, dinner service started with a choice of beverages and Emirates’ signature pre-meal warm nut mix. I opted for a glass of the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, a 2017 vintage from New Zealand, which is refreshing and aromatic. It retails for about $30 per bottle.
About an hour and a half after takeoff, crew came around the cabin to take orders. The ordering process took longer than I expected because the FAs started taking orders at the very front of the cabin, not just at the front of each mini cabin.
On this flight, appetizer choices included:
- Yellow pepper and lemongrass soup, served with red pepper and herb croutons
- Pan-fried prawns, served with wakame salad with pepper chèvre, dressed with wasabi and nigella seeds
- Smoked duck, served and chilled with carrot and celery kimchi and raspberry truffle vinaigrette
I opted for the lemongrass soup, which was light and tasty, though not the best in-flight soup I’ve been served.
For the main course, options on this flight included:
- Roasted beef fillet, served with thyme jus, gnocchi and grilled vegetables
- Miso-glazed cod, served with edamame beans and steamed kai-lan
- Bangalore chicken, a spicy chicken with mango, served with steamed basmati rice and green vegetable curry
I chose the miso-glazed cod, which was very dense and kind of tough for a typically flaky fish. The edamame and kai-lan didn’t add much flavor, but the miso glaze — served on the side rather than on the fish itself — added some flavor. I enjoyed the dish overall, but it definitely wasn’t a slam dunk.
To round out meal service, Emirates offered a selection of desserts, though at that point, I was too full to indulge. Choices included:
- Chocolate fudge brownie, topped with a salted caramel profiterole, served with caramel sauce
- Mango and raspberry torte, a vanilla mousse with raspberry center, topped with mango cremeux, served with raspberry compote
- Seasonal fruit
- Cheese board
Finally, flight attendants came around with a small box of two chocolates — one dark and one milk. I saved them for later in the flight.
During the flight, there was a light bite option, but I slept right through that. A little more than two hours before landing in Dubai, flight attendants woke passengers with soft, red mood lighting and took orders for breakfast.
Choices for breakfast included:
- Eggs florentine — poached eggs with sautéed spinach on English muffins, topped with hollandaise sauce
- Courgette and goat cheese frittata, served with sautéed mushrooms and red onion chutney
- Waffles, served with cherry compote and maple syrup
- Continental cold plate, served with sliced smoked turkey, beef pastrami, feta, Monterey Jack and goat’s cheese with herbs
I chose the eggs florentine, which I really liked. The eggs were served over hard and weren’t as runny as I’m used to with a dish like this. That being said, they were still tasty and didn’t have a spongey texture. The fruit and pastry were also very fresh.
Overall, I found the food on this flight to be good, but not great. On my first Emirates A380 business class flight, I found the food to be amazing, so this was a step down. That being said, by no means was the food on this flight bad — it just didn’t meet my expectations that I had from my last experience. Maybe it’s because this flight was catered in New York, whereas my other flight was catered in Dubai.
In-Flight Entertainment and Amenities
Emirates takes its in-flight entertainment and amenities seriously. It’s those parts of the soft product that help to set it apart from many of its competitors. Arguably the most famous amenity on board the Emirates A380 — aside from the onboard shower, which is reserved for first-class passengers — is the bar in the rear of the upper deck.
The bar actually feels more like a lounge. There’s a swanky design, a staffed bar, snacks and seating areas. It’s a great place not only to grab a drink, but also to mingle. During my flight — and especially toward the end — the bar area got a bit noisy. The national cricket team of Sri Lanka happened to be on my flight and hung out in the bar area for much of the end of the flight. Because it can get noisy back there, I’d recommend sitting a bit farther up in the mini cabin if you have a choice — especially if you’re a light sleeper.
I found myself hanging in the bar/lounge area quite a bit during the flight (when I wasn’t sleeping). After I finished dinner, I went back to grab an Aperol Spritz. Small finger foods of the sweet and savory variety were also on display and available to grab throughout the flight.
Aside from the premium bar, which is available to travelers in business and first class, Emirates offers several other notable amenities. Business-class passengers have access to a loaded in-flight entertainment system, complete with a 23-inch touchscreen. The screen itself is huge and can be controlled three ways — via the touchscreen, a small handset in the armrest or via a small tablet, which is also capable of displaying content of its own. I found myself using the small side tablet to display my flight info, and I watched movies on the main screen. (“Ladybird” was offered on the flight. If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend!) Options included newly released films and TV shows, as well as some great exterior camera shots of the aircraft, perfect for AvGeeks.
Aside from the seatback screen, passengers also have access to a power outlet, which is located right below the screen, and a USB port.
At boarding, flight attendants distributed amenity kits for business-class passengers — women and men received different kits. Inside my kit was a brush, tissues, mirror, a set of lotions and perfume from Bulgari and a dental kit. I liked the bag itself, and kept it to reuse.
Aside from the major amenities, I also found some of the smaller touches to be especially noteworthy. Each business-class passenger got a set of three stickers, which you can place on your seat when sleeping: one alerting flight attendants to not wake you at all, one telling them to wake you up for meals, and one telling them to wake you up for duty free. It’s a simple way to avoid the awkward interactions that can come with the sleeping patterns on a long-haul flight.
On every flight I’ve taken with Emirates, the service has been consistently excellent. Emirates takes the service aspect of its soft product very seriously — and that shows in the result. I’m a firm believer that the service on board can make or break an experience, and the friendly, welcoming crew here completely made this experience a memorable one — from offering to take pictures of me to going above and beyond in every aspect of the flight.
Part of the pre-flight announcement from the cockpit included the tidbit that the operating crew hailed from 19 countries and spoke 15 languages. For a global airline like Emirates, having such a wide range of crew who can communicate with a multitude of passengers is incredibly appealing.
While there are definitely some cons to the Emirates A380 business-class experience, it’s still worlds better than what you can expect flying with many other carriers — especially those based in the US. On this flight in particular, the meal service didn’t quite meet my expectations, and the hard product looked a little worn in spots. However, the service and in-flight amenities really help to set it apart.
Is Emirates one of the best ways to get across the Atlantic in business class? Absolutely. (Plus, who can turn down an A380?) But, as the carrier has shown it’s willing to do in the past with upgrades to the in-flight bar and lounge area, I hope it continues to improve on an already-impressive flying experience.
Know before you go.
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