Emirates first started flying the Airbus A380 in 2008, being one of the earlier airlines to pair a fully-flat bed in business class with direct aisle access from every seat, and now flies the superjumbo to over 40 destinations worldwide.
Australian Business Traveller last reviewed Emirates' A380 business class in early 2015 – nearly four years ago – when that prized pairing of a flatbed with aisle access was still more the exception rather than the rule on international flights from Australia: but how does Emirates' A380 business class experience hold up by 2018 standards?
We recently ventured from Dubai to Singapore to bring you this review, aboard the A380 that continues its journey from Singapore to Melbourne.
- Frequent flyer program: Skywards, plus range of partner frequent flyer schemes including Qantas Frequent Flyer, where members can earn Qantas Points when travelling on an EK flight number, or Qantas Points and status credits when travelling on a QF codeshare.
- Carry-on baggage allowance: 1x113cm bag, plus either a 100cm briefcase or a garment bag of up to 20cm in depth when folded, up to 7kg per piece.
- Checked baggage allowance: 40kg on most tickets, plus 12kg extra for Silver, 16kg for Gold and 20kg for Platinum (and Platinum One) frequent flyers with Emirates and Qantas, while Qantas Chairman’s Lounge members get a 25kg boost.
- Chauffeur-drive: Complimentary on both departure and arrival for most business class passengers, including those on journeys booked using Skywards miles and Qantas Points (although not those travelling using miles from other frequent flyer schemes).
- Priority airport services: In Dubai, your driver will drop you at Emirates’ premium check-in wing at Dubai Terminal 3 Concourse B, where you can also make use of fast-track security and immigration lanes, including Smart Gate lanes for Australian passport holders who have enrolled. As expected, priority boarding and baggage delivery come standard.
Speaking of baggage, on selected flights, passengers who use the Emirates mobile app can receive a notification when their bag has been loaded onto the aircraft.
I'd switched by phone to flight mode at the gate, so didn't spot this on boarding, but when activating WiFi later in the flight, was pleasantly surprised to find an alert assuring that my checked bag was travelling to the same place I was:
In Dubai, business class passengers can choose between up to four Emirates lounges, which are spread around T3.
Many passengers choose the lounge closest to the gate, but if you have time on your hands, you’re free to visit any of them. The Concourse A business class lounge is the newest of the lot and occupies an entire floor of the Concourse…
Down in Concourse C, the business class lounge is split across two levels but is much smaller overall and gets quite busy in the mornings, although may be the most convenient lounge if you’re flying from this part of the airport…
… while there’s also ‘The Emirates Lounge’ at the end of Concourse C, which is a combined business class and first class space – a great option to keep in mind if you don’t want all the bells and whistles: just some peace and quiet.
Emirates Skywards Platinum and iO members, along with Qantas Platinum, Platinum One and Chairman’s Lounge cardholders, can also visit the three Emirates first class lounges in Dubai.
All three have a la carte dining rooms, while those in Concourses A & B both feature day spas and provide complimentary treatments, so take your pick, or stretch your legs and explore a few if your schedule permits.
At the time of travel, EK404 was a morning departure at 9:20am from Dubai with an arrival into Singapore at 8:55pm, after a flight time of 7hrs 35min – and from Singapore, it continued to Melbourne shortly thereafter as an overnight flight.
However, Emirates has since tweaked its flight numbers and timings on journeys to The Lion City, so to travel from Dubai at the same time of day, you'd now book EK352 which retains that mid-morning departure and mid-evening arrival, albeit on a Boeing 777-300ER rather than an A380.
EK404 – the Airbus A380 service in this review – now pushes back in Dubai at 1:05am to reach Singapore at 12:10pm, before continuing to Melbourne at 1:55pm, to arrive just after midnight.
Whichever flight you book, most business class travellers have access to Emirates Chauffeur Drive for complimentary transfers on departure and arrival in a range of cities, including on journeys booked using Skywards miles or Qantas Points (although not miles from other partner programs).
In Dubai, I was collected from my hotel in a BMW 520i Touring, and in Singapore where I concluded this leg of the journey, whisked from the airport in a Mercedes-Benz S320.
AusBT review: Emirates Chauffeur Drive
During the flight, business class passengers also have access to complimentary inflight Internet.
Those with an Emirates Skywards number attached to their ticket enjoy free access for the entire flight with no time or download limits, while everybody else – including travellers with a Qantas Frequent Flyer number loaded in – gets 20MB of free data, with further access available to purchase for US$9.99 (150MB) or US$15.99 (500MB).
Unlike Emirates’ Boeing 777 jets which feature a mix of 2-2-2 and 2-3-2 business class seating, flying aboard the airline’s Airbus A380s guarantees a 1-2-1 seating layout, offering every traveller direct and uninterrupted aisle access:
My pick of the cabin are the seats closest to the windows – specifically, the A and K seats – because over and above the storage options afforded to other travellers, you can also make use of these handy window-side bins:
What’s more, you get even more usable space when the lids are closed…
… which can be a great place to keep your laptop, tablet and/or smartphone when they’re charging and not in use, given the location of the nearby AC and USB power outlets:
Directly in front of you sits another storage pocket, accessed by pulling down on the tab, just below the inflight entertainment remote control:
Below that, a padded floor with an almost-secret storage compartment, opened by lifting the tab between the two cushions, and large enough for shoes and the like…
… and down a little further sits a foot rest, which can be adjusted to an outward angle by using the seat controls…
… which are located within the inflight entertainment system, and the separate touchscreen mounted next to you. This is also where you’ll find the seat’s massage controls…
… being next to a (room temperature) minibar – handy for grabbing a quick drink of water, but for anything else, you’ll probably want to request some ice from the crew, and at that point, they may as well have just brought you the drink:
The seat provides a sturdy tray table that’s released from within the console and folds out to form a larger space, or can be kept in ‘half mode’ if that’s all the space you need…
… and when it’s time to sleep, your seat transforms into a fully-flat bed, measuring 18.5 inches (47cm) wide. With broad shoulders, I found that a little less comfortable compared to many other business class seats I've flown, and passengers of size might also find themselves wanting a little more space.
Emirates provides a mattress topper and pillow, but here's a trick to maximise your inflight comfort, particularly for taller travellers: if you're sitting in the B, D, G and J seats – those directly beside the aisle – the length of your bed is a tight 178cms, but if you opt for an A, E, F or K pew (those away from the aisle, being by the windows or in the centre), you can stretch out in a 200cm bed instead. Pyjamas are BYO, though.
(Emirates' A380s adopt a 1-2-1 seating layout, but alternates the lettering from one row to the next between A/B on the left, D+G/E+F in the centre and J/K on the sides, depending on the positioning of each row. Seats B, D, G and J are always next to the aisle – featuring the shorter beds – with the others always away from the aisle, providing more space.)
It's worth noting that the business class seats of Emirates' newest Boeing 777-200LRs are almost four inches wider (22 inches/56cm versus 18.5 inches here), but top out at 180cms in length and adopt a less-ideal 2-2-2 seating layout.
As such, taller travellers will likely prefer to fly on Emirates' Airbus A380s (in an A, E, F or K seat, for maximum bed length), while larger passengers may find more comfort in the new Boeing 777 seats.
AusBT review: Emirates’ new Boeing 777-200LR business class seat
The journey begins with a drink before take-off – Moët & Chandon being the standard Champagne on most flights, with a Moët Rose also offered on routes from Dubai…
… followed by a lunch service, from the following choices and joined by a side salad and bread:
- Mushroom soup served with chives
- Salmon gravadlax with lemon blinis and cucumber
- Smoked duck with mango jelly, pickled beetroot and asparagus
I felt like something light, so went with the soup and wasn't disappointed. The marks up the sides of the bowl here were due to turbulence, which bounced the dish around, so I was glad that the crew only filled the bowl up to where they did, which avoided a mess:
For the main course, options were as follows:
- Coconut braised beef short ribs with star anise and ginger, served with creamed potato and sautéed Asian greens
- Chicken with Moroccan spices served with tomato and lemon salsa, steamed broccoli and moghrabieh with olives
- Grilled king prawns on egg fried rice with Chinese mustard and orange sauce
I found the chicken nice and fresh, and was pleased that the greens still had their flavour, which often seem to lose their taste when prepared and served by airlines.
Dessert offered these choices, all with Godiva chocolates on the side:
- Chocolate mango torte with mango compote
- Passionfruit tart garnished with fresh berries
- Assortment of seasonal fresh cut fruit
- Cheese board
The cheese plate sounded good, so I went with that – comprised of an Isle of Man Extra Mature Cheddar, a Pave d'Affinois (a French double cream cheese) and a Cropwell Bishop Stilton (Nottinghamshire blue), paired with a glass of Sandeman 20yr Tawny Port:
Cabin service remains available throughout the flight, where the seat's side shelf proves a handy place to rest a glass of wine, which avoids keeping your tray table open or using the seat's cocktail table on the aisle side – which, while practical, makes the glass easy to bump over when accessing that aisle:
On Airbus A380 flights, Emirates also offers its inflight bar and lounge area, which looks like this on most A380s:
Being a business day for me, I skipped the bar in favour of working at my seat, although if I’d wanted to socialise, the space provides standing and sitting space, including seat belts to continue your conversation if the sign illuminates during the journey.
Newer A380s also feature tables for working and dining, as the lounge area on these aircraft adopts a different design:
On aircraft new and old, you can also swing by the lounge for a quick bite throughout the journey. The following selections were available on this flight:
- Cheese straws
- Chicken and vegetable rice paper rolls with hoisin sauce
- Poached prawns with cocktail sauce
- Skewers of seasonal fruit
- Sandwiches: smoked salmon with caper mayonnaise, grilled chicken with mango and basil chutney, roast beef with onion jam or felafel with tahina
- Selection of Arabic and continental pastries
- Hazelnut and apple cake
- Ice cream
A separate ‘anytime dining’ menu covers you the rest of the way to Singapore, from which you can indulge straight after lunch if you’re still peckish, or enjoy as your second meal closer to landing, with choices as follows:
- French-style Provençal Salad with marinated Yarra Valley feta, hard-boiled egg, green beans, heirloom tomato and potato
- Pepper steak pie: a home-made butter pastry willed with braised beef, with pepper
- Laksa: Asian-style spicy noodle soup with prawns, chicken, kamaboko and tofu
- Indonesian-style Nasi goreng: fried rice, served with grilled chicken skewers and cashew nut satay sauce
- Flourless chocolate cake served with mango compote
- Instant cup noodles
I was nearing the end of a 28-hour journey from Sao Paulo to Dubai to Singapore, so again just felt like something simple, selecting the steak pie with a Diet Coke, which hit the spot.
All things considered, that's a huge menu with a wide variety of food available whenever you desire, joined by a solid wine list (from which the Grosset Springvale Riesling 2017 from Australia was my go-to), and an extensive range of cocktails on offer as well, whether enjoyed at your seat or back at the bar.
Travellers can also sample their choice of Chivas Regal 18yo, Glenfiddich 15yo single malt and Jura Superstition single malt Scotch whiskies, plus Jameson Irish whiskey, Woodford Reserve bourbon whiskey, Hennessy X.O. Extra Old cognac and a long list of other spirits.
Entertainment & Service
Fixed in front of you is a 17-inch inflight entertainment screen – however, I was travelling on one of Emirates’ oldest A380s, and found the screen to be well-used and not particularly bright: so much so that even after cranking it up to maximum brightness, it was hard to see any content until the aircraft windows were closed, to remove the sunlight:
Once the screen is visible, of course, you can access a range of movies, TV shows, games and music, along with three of the Airbus A380’s external cameras – one facing forwards, another downwards, and the third positioned on the aircraft tail…
… and, the ‘moving map’, which appears on two different channels in various formats:
There are several ways to control your viewing, with the screen in front of you responding to touch; there being a remote control below that; and a third option: the ‘mode controller’ – an iPad-like touch panel which can be detached from the seat and held in your hands while you make your selections…
… whether that’s the latest blockbuster, a TV box set, or a night at the symphony, with noise-cancelling headphones provided, which were acceptable but not on-par with a top-quality BYO pair:
Service-wise, things didn’t get off to a great start as the crew missed my seat during the initial round of pre-departure drinks, but as another staff member came through the cabin to greet each passenger not long after – and to ask if there was anything they could do to help – a quick mention of this saw a glass of Champagne promptly arrive at my seat, with apologies.
For an airline that carries millions of passengers every year, small things like that are bound to happen from time to time, especially during the busy period before take-off when the crew have many things to do concerning both passenger service and safety, and given the issue was promptly addressed at the first interaction, I was happy, and for the rest of the flight, the crew were attentive with no further issues.
There is one noticeable difference to the business class service between Emirates' Airbus A380s and its Boeing 777s, however, and that's how wine is served with meals.
Order a wine with your business class dish on the Boeing 777s, and the wine comes delivered with the course you paired it with, as it should.
But on the Airbus A380, the crew instead place an empty wine glass on the table when your first course is delivered, and later make their way through the cabin with wines in-hand to fill those glasses.
If you’re seated further back, it’s not uncommon for your preferred drop to arrive once you’re well into your main dish, and the same is true if you’d prefer a red but the crew member in your aisle only has the whites, or vice versa, which isn’t ideal.
Otherwise, the crew responded promptly to the occasional call bell, and left me to work uninterrupted throughout the journey when I looked busy, which is exactly what I wanted.
Well-stocked Bvlgari amenity kits are also provided, with gents receiving one of the following four kits...
... and for the ladies, their own set of four bags to collect:
Overall, business class aboard Emirates' Airbus A380s remains a nice way to fly, with excellent inflight drinks and dining, additional extras like free inflight WiFi and chauffeur-driven airport transfers, a broad selection of inflight entertainment content and of course, the inflight bar and lounge area.
But having said that, Emirates' older A380s could certainly do with brighter inflight entertainment screens: the current ones being exhausted from years of use; and a wider seat with longer beds for all – not just those who carefully pre-select their preferred spot – would be most appreciated, too, as would new fabric for the seat's floor area and cushions, as the current material also appears well-used.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Dubai as a guest of Emirates.