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Even with less than one hour in the air, the airline and the crew didn’t skimp on the first-class details. The pros: attentive and fast service — even including a full meal — and a great seat. The cons: The food didn’t quite feel like first-class level.
Airbus A380s are one of the greatest wonders flying today. Their sheer size is enough to make anybody, AvGeek or not, stop in their tracks and marvel at the four-engined giant zip past. The 238-foot long double-deckers, weighing 1.235 million pounds at maximum weight, usually fly around 500 people, on long-haul routes up to 9,000 miles. But not always: On Sunday, Emirates operated an exceptional flight just over 200 miles with an A380. It was the shortest flight by the biggest passenger jet, and we had to be on it. (Note that Air France used to fly its A380 between London and Paris to train crew, which comes in at one mile shorter than this Dubai to Muscat route.)
Emirates, the world’s largest operator of A380s, flew one of the 104 it owns between its home base of Dubai (DXB) and Muscat (MCT) in neighboring Oman on Sunday. The route is typically operated by one of its smaller (relatively, at 300-plus seats) Boeing 777s, but Sunday the airline substituted an A380 for a 777. Air transport watchers had known for a while this would happen, and TPG was ready.
The one-off A380 flight would be the world’s current shortest operated by the superjumbo. At 217 miles and averaging around 40 minutes of flight during the week prior, EK862 would be a short hop indeed. But the opportunity to fly on an historic flight and to test out Emirates’ famed first-class cabin (my first-ever first class!) was irresistible, and off I went.
The one-way ticket from Dubai to Muscat cost 4,870 Emirati dirhams, or $1,326. Because the flight was booked with the Business Centurion Card from American Express, the cost of the airfare booked directly with the airline allowed us to Pay With Points and get 50% of those redeemed points back. The flight ended up costing 66,300 American Express Membership Rewards points — worth $1,260 based on TPG’s most recent valuations.
Emirates Skywards charges 28,750 miles + AED 1,070 ($291) for the flight, which would have been a good redemption compared with the cash price, or to the price when using Pay With Points with the Business Centurion. However, for my desired travel date there was no availability, and my plans weren’t flexible.
If you’re interested in booking Emirates’ first class, there are plenty of ways to do so using points and miles. Namely, you can redeem Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, Japan Airlines Mileage Bank, Korean Air SkyPass, Emirates Skywards or Qantas Frequent Flyer. Check out this post for the best ways to book Emirates first class.
During the booking process, the first-class experience on this short flight was pretty much the same as that offered on a typical long-haul Emirates A380 first-class flight.
Check-In and Lounge
Even though this was just a 217-mile journey, Emirates didn’t skimp on the details of the first-class experience, starting before I even got to the airport. Upon booking, I was prompted to input my information for Emirates’ complimentary chauffeur service, which is available to both first and business class passengers in select cities.
The morning of my flight, a BMW 520i Touring promptly picked me up at the St. Regis Dubai. En route to the airport, a number of chauffeurs with “Emirates” emblazoned on the driver door could be seen driving in the same direction. A great way to start the journey.
Departing from DXB’s Terminal 3, Emirates’ exclusive terminal, I had access to the best of Emirates’ offerings for first-class passengers, exactly the same as flyers who would spend 15 times as long as I would on the plane. After breezing through the exclusive first-class check-in area and security, I checked out the Emirates First Class Lounge in the B Concourse.
Just after 5:30am, the lounge had abundant empty seats. During my early visit, I saw several travelers sprawled out on couches in the lounge.
After taking some time to explore (unfortunately, I didn’t have time to take advantage of the lounge’s complimentary spa services), I settled in the dining area to indulge in some breakfast. I wasn’t sure what the dining situation would be on my flight, at under one hour in the air.
While the buffet options were both plentiful and impressive, I opted for the sit-down service. I ordered the Eggs Benedict, as well as a cappuccino and a berry and banana smoothie. I was a fan of the simplicity of the plating for the Benedict. Emirates has a tendency to go over the top at times with some of its offerings. But I found it nice that the First Lounge menu lets the food speak for itself — at least in this case.
Cabin and Seat
The plane was a very recent build, delivered last year with the Emirati registration A6-EUV. For AvGeeks, this plane might look familiar from TPG Editor-at-Large Zach Honig’s detailed visit in November. “Uniform Victor” is Emirates’ 100th A380, and one of five featuring the special “Year of Zayed” livery, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding ruler of the United Arab Emirates. Inside, the plane still felt new and fresh.
After boarding, the captain came over the speakers to inform passengers that this wasn’t any old Emirates A380 flight. It would be a celebration in honor of 25 years of Emirates flights to the Omani capital, and to show that MCT’s newly-renovated airport completed in March 2018 is capable of handling an A380.
I’d heard a lot about Emirates’ first class. I knew I wouldn’t have the time to recline and catch some sleep behind the closed door of my suite. But I was looking forward to doing each of those things for even just a second.
Because this was a special flight, we boarded differently than most A380 flights. Dubai International Airport — especially at Emirates’ Terminal 3 — is well-equipped to handle A380 flights, with jetways into both the upper and lower decks. However, given that there were a number of Emirates high-level employees who could be identified by their thawb — the traditional long robe — and VIP-branded lanyards, with a camera crew, we boarded via the lower level and took the stairs to the first and business class cabins, presumably for more impressive footage. My seat was 3A, a left-side window.
The seat was larger and more extravagant than I expected even after reading countless reviews. The seat itself is rather narrow, at just 23 inches wide. However, I felt perfectly comfortable in it.
Some argue that the Emirates first and business class cabins on its A380s especially are a bit gaudy. Between the burled wood and gold, it can be a lot — especially to take in all at once. But I didn’t find it outrageous.
The A380 first-class cabin features a total of 14 seats, arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration. Each of the seats offers 86 inches of pitch, and 78 inches in the lie-flat bed position, or 6 feet and 5 inches.
This may not be a floor-to-ceiling enclosed suite like its newer counterpart found on some Boeing 777-300ERs, but the A380’s first class still offers fantastic privacy. For this flight, which ended up clocking in at just more than 49 minutes from takeoff to touchdown, I didn’t have any significant time to spend with the privacy doors closed. However, just after I’d finished meal service, I closed them just to see what the experience was like and to take a picture. I was thrilled with the amount of privacy they offer.
Inside the suite, ahead of you, you’ll find a huge in-flight entertainment screen, a built-in mirror with lights and small storage compartment, a built-in light, a notepad and pen and a nice flower arrangement closest to the door. My attention was immediately drawn to the 27-inch TV screen, larger than the one I can fit in my New York City apartment.
First-class passengers also have a tablet to control the TV. The touchscreen is pretty far from the seat. Underneath one of the armrests you’ll also find a smaller retractable controller. (Under the other armrest is a very small storage space. It could probably fit a pen.)
The first-class cabin on the A380 doesn’t provide passengers any overhead storage space. Instead, you’ll be required to store your belongings in one of several areas in the suite. The largest is underneath the monitor and vanity. Additionally, there is storage space behind and to the side of the seat, as well as forward to the side underneath the vanity. In the photo below, that space is located just below the lamp on the left of the vanity.
As I previously mentioned, Emirates did not skimp on this first-class experience. The minibar was fully stocked with options from Pepsi to water, Perrier, 7-Up and a mango-flavored juice. Of course, like everything with the suite, it would be too much work if it were a manual open. Instead, one of the buttons below it will both automatically open and shut the minibar. (The other opens the tray table.)
I found myself thinking that I’d begin saving my Alaska miles to try out the product on a longer flight.
Food and Beverage
Upon boarding, I was immediately greeted by one of the first-class flight attendants who offered me a pre-departure beverage. Given it was not even 8:00am, I skipped the Champagne and opted instead for an orange juice. Within a few minutes, the OJ was brought to my seat. It was the first indication that Emirates would indeed be offering a meal service on this short flight. 10 minutes later another flight attendant came around to offer another beverage. This time, I got a water with lemon.
Shortly before we pushed back from the gate, another FA came around offering Arabic coffee and dates. I’d never eaten a date before. My first was sweet and delicious.
Shortly after takeoff, flight attendants came around once more to distribute menus and wine lists (yes, they had the famed Dom Pérignon 2009 available in Emirates first, but I couldn’t bring myself to drink Champagne for breakfast.) Given the short flight, we didn’t really have a choice of what to order. Instead, a flight attendant passed through the cabin, asking passengers if they would be joining for meal service.
I opted in; she set my tray table with a clean white cloth; and within two minutes returned with the meal — the only option. I could hear one of the flight attendants explaining to other passengers that because it was such a short flight, the crew’s only option was to serve one breakfast choice.
The meal consisted of a classic omelette, served with rösti, sautéed spinach and butter beans in a tomato sauce. Fresh fruit, bread and yogurt came on the side. Flight attendants also passed through the cabin with a selection of fresh pastries.
Having flown Emirates’ business class a couple of times, the omelette was the most disappointing meal I’ve had with the carrier. That being said, by no means was it bad. It just wasn’t my favorite. The eggs had a strange, spongy texture and the sides were a bit tasteless. However, the (very) fresh fruit and the yogurt were great adds.
In-Flight Entertainment and Amenities
First class on the Emirates A380 suggests immediately one thing: The shower! Every AvGeek knows the plane has not one, but two showers for first-class passengers. (Limited to five minutes, because there’s only so much water you can carry, even on an A380.) I can only imagine how refreshing the shower experience is on a long flight. And I am going to have to keep imagining, because this one was too short to try it.
I did manage to use the lavatory prior to takeoff just to say that I saw the shower. The lav itself is huge, with fresh soaps and lotions, a large mirror and plenty of storage space. As one would expect, the shower is the highlight of the bathroom. Though it looks nice, it’s not tall enough to pass the TPG shower test.
While the shower wasn’t available, flight attendants did walk around prior to meal service with hot towels.
I did mention that Emirates didn’t skimp on much for this flight. But the one aspect that was noticeably passed on was the amenity kit. I got one on my Emirates business-class flight to Dubai two days before, but was disappointed not to get a first-class offering on this flight — if nothing else, for the sake of comparison.
As mentioned earlier, the in-flight entertainment screen is arguably the highlight of the suite. Loaded with plenty of entertainment options, it has enough to keep passengers entertained, no matter the length of the flight. The AvGeek in me kept switching programming between the outside cameras and the flight path. Unfortunately, the tail camera on the system was out for this flight. But the underbelly camera and the one looking straight ahead were fully functioning.
My short experience in first class on Emirates’ A380 left me wanting more — in the best way possible. Flight 862 clocked in at just more than 49 minutes (49:09) — a bit longer than the average time for the week prior. Because this was such a special flight for both Emirates and Muscat International Airport, we were greeted by a water cannon salute — a beautiful sight for any AvGeek.
I wouldn’t recommend splurging on first class on this short of a flight if you want to get the full experience. But, I know that the short time left me with a good taste, and I’ll be saving up my Alaska Mileage Plan miles to hopefully fly the product on a longer flight in the future.
All photos by the author.
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