While Emirates' new Boeing 777 first class suite has yet to appear in Australian skies, there's still plenty to be said in favour of its original suite: the privacy afforded by its closing doors, a comfortable bed, full dine-on-demand and a great range of beverages on board, ranging from (vintage) Dom Pérignon through to top-shelf whiskies and cognacs, and on some flights, rare wine from the 1960s.
Australian Business Traveller put the 'current' Emirates Boeing 777 first class experience to the test on a recent flight from Singapore to Brisbane – reflecting the journey most Australian high flyers would still be having with Emirates on a variety of routes – to bring you this review.
- Frequent flyer program: Emirates Skywards, but through its partnership with Qantas, Qantas Frequent Flyer members can earn and redeem Qantas Points on Emirates flights, and earn status credits too when travelling on a QF codeshare flight number.
- Carry-on baggage allowance: 1x113cm bag, plus either a garment bag of up to 20cm in depth when folded or a 100cm briefcase, at a maximum weight of 7kg per piece.
- Checked baggage allowance: 50kg on most itineraries, increased to 62kg for Silver, 66kg for Gold and 70kg for Platinum (and Platinum One) frequent flyers of Emirates and Qantas, and 75kg for Qantas Chairman's Lounge members, with each checked bag to weigh no more than 32kg.
- Priority airport services: In Singapore, you'll arrive as close as possible to Emirates' first class check-in counters in Terminal 1. There's no priority line at passport control – registered Singapore Frequent Traveller members can zip through the ePassport gates – but priority boarding and baggage delivery is available, as expected.
- Boarding gate fast-track: Security screening takes place at the boarding gates here in Singapore, ditto a second passport check just before. On spotting my first class boarding pass, the staff here escorted me to the front of the shared business class and first class priority line for even speedier processing: no complaints!
- Complimentary chauffeur-drive: For passengers travelling on an Emirates (EK) flight number, including itineraries solely between Brisbane and Singapore, transfers are available on both departure and arrival for most first class passengers, including on both paid tickets and itineraries booked using Skywards miles or Qantas Points.
However, chauffeur-drive is not available for passengers travelling solely between Brisbane and Singapore who booked their journey as a Qantas (QF) codeshare flight, or on flights booked using miles from other partner frequent flyer schemes like Alaska Mileage Plan.
Emirates operates a dedicated lounge in Singapore for its first class and business class passengers, and eligible frequent flyers: you'll find it upstairs near departure gate C1.
While there's no separate first class section, the space was refurbished in 2016-17 to instil the airline's latest 'outstation' lounge design, being a little more modern and refined than the older style employed in years gone by, as remains visible in lounges like Sydney and Brisbane.
Dining here is mainly buffet fare, but with several dim sum plates available to order. Champagne is Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial NV, as is served in Emirates business class.
In Brisbane, Emirates also provides a dedicated lounge for passengers jetting to Singapore and Dubai – again shared by business class and first class travellers, and frequent flyers – which offers direct boarding from lounge to aircraft.
At the time of travel, EK432 was a mid-afternoon departure from Singapore at 3:35pm, arriving into Brisbane just after midnight at 12:55am: a journey of 7hrs 20min.
However, Emirates' new flight schedules now have this service leaving The Lion City at 10:10am daily, reaching the Queensland capital at 7:40pm after a similar flying time of 7hrs 30min.
As this is a 'fifth freedom' route, passengers can book journeys solely between Brisbane and Singapore without continuing onto Dubai, and can also book this flight as a Qantas codeshare.
That's handy for passengers who prefer to fly during the day rather than overnight, who could jump on Qantas' daytime Airbus A330 service from Brisbane to Singapore on the way up, and book this newly-timed Emirates Boeing 777 codeshare flight on the way home: although the Qantas A330 tops out at business class, with no first class service.
For passengers flying Emirates out of Brisbane, the airline's daily EK433 departure to Singapore pushes back at 2:35am (Brisbane Airport has no curfew), touching down at 8:10am in Singapore before the business day begins.
Having availed of Emirates Chauffeur Drive on this booking, I was collected in Singapore in a Mercedes-Benz E200 – the car arrived at my hotel 10 minutes before the scheduled pick-up time, as many professional drivers do – and was driven home in Brisbane in a Holden Caprice.
First class passengers with an Emirates Skywards number attached to their reservation also receive complimentary inflight Internet for the duration of their journey with no data download limits, while everybody else (including travellers who instead link a Qantas Frequent Flyer number) get 20MB of free data, with further access available to purchase for US$9.99 (150MB) or US$15.99 (500MB).
On boarding, first class passengers are escorted from the door of the aircraft to their suite, and I'm quickly offered a glass of Champagne as I settle in – it's Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial NV on the ground: the same as poured in the Singapore lounge.
But as you walk through the cabin, the first things you notice are the high ceilings and the absence of overhead lockers, which enable that...
... so each suite has ample storage space in front of your feet instead for bags and the like, with a small closet for your jacket or outfit, which is accessed from the aisle.
With first class a cosy two rows on these Boeing 777-300ER jets, the suites come in a 1-2-1 layout to accommodate up to eight passengers, lettered as A-EF-K. The solo seats (A and K) enjoy window views with electronic shutters...
... while the centre pairs (E & F) feature a large privacy divider that can be raised when flying solo (as shown below), or lowered when travelling with a companion to allow for conversation:
On the storage front, each suite has a side pocket suitable for reading material, laptops and your inflight menu, joined by a hook above for handbags and the like, which can swivel outward for more hanging space...
... while folding up your aisle-side armrest reveals a small nook, which I tend to use for jewellery, cufflinks, pens and other little bits, to keep them from getting lost:
There's a larger storage compartment to your side with a fold-open lid, with the surface above doubling as an extra shelf to use during the flight...
... and just behind that – right next to the 29-inch-wide seat – is a further storage zone, where you can keep any pillows, blankets, pyjamas, slippers and other items when they're not needed:
Once you're all unpacked and ready to fly, you'll begin to notice the suite's many features, beginning with a stocked minibar, which gives the flight a bit of a 'hotel' feel...
... although as the contents aren't refrigerated, I only ever seem to drink the water – and while it's nice to have both still and sparkling immediately available, and a glass to drink them from, you can stow the minibar when it's not needed, creating extra storage space:
Another 'open and closed' element of the suite is the lighted makeup mirror in front of you. When it's open, you'll find your personal spa kit inside with various creams, mists and oils by Byredo...
... but that lid also closes downward, giving you a flat shelf in front:
Just below, an international-style AC power point, tucked away behind a small panel. Sometimes on Emirates' Boeing 777s, I find that my Australian plugs won't fit into the outlet by default, or that the international adaptors I'm travelling with don't suit the plug – in which case, Emirates keeps a supply of travel adaptors on board that you can loan, although the socket on this plane was just fine...
... and not far from that, you'll find two USB ports as well: handy if your laptop or tablet is already plugged into the main socket, so that you can recharge smaller items like smartphones, headphones or suitable cameras at the same time:
These remain within easy reach when the large, sturdy tray table is folded out, so you can comfortably plug in and work at the same time...
... but not everything has to be electronic, so there's also an Emirates-branded pen and notepad in a separate compartment, which are yours to keep...
... and to help with your writing, work or reading, you'll find an adjustable and dimmable light just behind you, along with an air vent...
With a second, forward-facing vent to your side. I like that there are two, as I tend to open this side vent and close the one behind me when enjoying a meal, so that I'm nice and cool without my food getting cold. For other customisations, a line-up of keys gets the job done, just below the tablet-like 'mode controller'...
... which can also be used for the same tasks and further refinements, such as adjusting individual lights, your seating position, controlling the inflight entertainment...
... and, let's not forget, to open and close the doors at your suite, and to activate or extinguish the 'do not disturb' light.
Given the design of the cabin, you won't be able to see anybody walking past you when the doors are closed...
... and if 'do not disturb' is switched on, the crew won't interrupt you unless you're not wearing your seat belt when required, it's time to prepare for landing, or there's an emergency.
Twinkling stars in the ceiling emulate the night sky when the other cabin lights are switched off...
... and your seat transforms into a 201cm (79-inch) fully-flat bed, which the crew will make with a mattress, duvet and pillow, leaving your slippers, eye shade and pyjamas within easy reach: if you didn't already retrieve them and head off to get changed, of course. An orchid on the pillow was also a nice touch:
Finally, to save fiddling with the 'mode controller' or the other panel for basic tasks like opening the doors, your arm rest provides handy shortcut keys as needed:
Missing from the suite is anywhere for a companion to sit – such as to dine together at the same table, as is possible in first class with Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Etihad (A380, Boeing 787 and Boeing 777 aircraft), and in business class with a small number of airlines, such as Virgin Atlantic.
Also note that Emirates' inflight shower spas are exclusive to the airline's Airbus A380 aircraft, so are not available on Boeing 777 flights: although the superjumbo doesn't fly between Brisbane and Singapore.
Before take-off, there's an offer of Arabic coffee: not to my personal taste, but if you haven't tried it before, this is the perfect opportunity – and the date that comes on the side is nice and sweet, to offset what's otherwise quite a bitter coffee taste...
... but fear not, there's also pre-flight Champagne, and a snack basket with a variety of goodies that disappears for take-off and returns shortly after:
As mentioned earlier, Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial NV is poured on the ground – but wait until you're in the sky, and you'll find the iconic Dom Pérignon 2009 waiting for you:
Emirates' wine list offers tasting notes and food pairing suggestions for every drop...
... and for this special Champagne, Emirates has curated a selection of canapés to match, in partnership with Dom Pérignon chef Marco Fadiga – here, there's confit duck with curried pineapple, a parmesan and truffle arancino, and a poached prawn and guacamole tartlet, which were all refreshing and tasty:
In first class, the entire menu is available as dine-on-demand, so whether it's a hankering for a simple snack or a multi-course meal at a time that suits you, it's no problem.
This flexibility allowed me to pick and choose what I wanted to eat, without being stuck into the traditional 'starter, main and dessert' format – so I began with the caviar, presented with finely-chopped onion, grated egg, sour cream, lemon and blinis: an Emirates signature first class dish that I always look forward to (but would have liked a caviar spoon)...
Among the many flavours here: hummus, moutabel and muhammara – these go well with the pita from the bread basket – along with labneh, artichoke salad, Arabic salad, a stuffed vine leaf, lamb kibbeh, cheese sambousek, spinach fatayer and several other bites.
The Champagne went well with the spreads and prawns, but I switched to the Y d'Yquem 2016 for the rest of the feast, which was a better match to the more varied flavours: although a red could have equally been paired.
Given the ability to eat what you like, when you like, I hit 'pause' on the food for a while, with Godiva chocolates offered as a snack in the meantime...
... but if I'd wanted to continue dining, the menu also listed these other appetisers:
- Butternut squash and sweetcorn chowder with crème fraiche and herb croutons
- Chicken laksa: Penang-style broth with chicken and rice noodles, flavoured with coconut, lemongrass and galangal
- Salmon gravadlax, served on lemon and potato blinis with citrus crème fraiche
- Tandoori chicken salad with pappadum crisps and mango
- Seasonal leaves with your choice of toppings and dressing
Beyond that were the following main courses...
- Seared beef tenderloin with mushroom jus, colcannon potatoes and buttered green beans
- Roasted chicken fillet with cacciatore sauce, sautéed green beans and creamed potatoes with tarragon
- Lamb rendang: slow-cooked spicy lamb and coconut curry, served with cauliflower masala and turmeric rice
- Penne Pomodoro served with roasted pumpkin, broccoli and toasted almonds
- Grilled grouper filler served with charred lime, red lentil dal and broccoli with almond butter
- Side dishes of Lyonnaise potatoes, saffron rice, blanched green beans and steamed carrots
... and various 'light bites':
- Sandwiches: smoked salmon and cream cheese, chicken with mayonnaise, roast beef, or egg mayonnaise
- Stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts and ginger, served with egg fried rice
- Turkey monte cristo: a French toast sandwich with smoked turkey, brie and cranberry sauce, served with potato crisps
- Penne pasta with Tuscan herb sauce
- Instant cup noodles
As the mezze was rather filling, I returned to the menu about two hours from landing to order a beautifully-presented cheese course (with crackers, not pictured)...
... and paired that with a glass of Port – not just any Port, mind you, but a W & J Graham's Single Harvest Tawny from 1963: a 55-year-old wine matured in the barrel until it was bottled in 2018, from Douro Valley in Portugal.
Enjoying a wine that was harvested long before you were born is one of life's rare treats, so it was only fitting to indulge in a second glass with dessert, even if the wine list's Chateau Suduiraut 2007 would have technically been a better pairing to my pineapple and ginger cake, with raspberry crème fraiche:
Other dessert options were:
- Mango panna cotta with sago pearls and grapefruit
- Seasonal fruit
- New York cheesecake
- Fruit tart
- Chocolate brownie
- Lemon meringue tart
Having already compiled a full meal from canapés, two appetisers, a cheese course and a dessert (because why not!), I certainly didn't step off this seven-hour flight hungry or in need of anything further, despite the plethora of dishes available.
Emirates' Boeing 777s don't feature an inflight bar and lounge area as offered on the Airbus A380s, so instead, first class passengers will find a small walk-up bar counter in the forward galley serving snacks and drinks, including some of the other highlights from the beverage list.
Among them, Hennessy Paradis Extra Rare cognac, Cognac Tesseron Lot 29 XO Exception, Chivas Regal Royal Salute 21 Year Old Scotch whisky and The Dalmore King Alexander III single malt Scotch whisky.
All things considered, the huge food and beverage offering on this flight would have seen me content on the longest of journeys to London, let alone this relatively shorter flight from Singapore to Brisbane, so it's great to see the airline putting its best foot forward even on routes like this one, where Emirates is the only airline with a first class cabin.
Entertainment & Service
As Emirates has over 100 Boeing 777-300ERs in its fleet and has tweaked its suites over time, the size and quality of the inflight entertainment screen in front of you can vary from aircraft to aircraft.
On most Boeing 777s, including the plane that served this flight, the screen measures up at 24 inches: providing access to a wide variety of movies, TV shows, games, music, and the aircraft's external cameras – great to run in the background if you're working during the day...
... while on a smaller number of newer planes – yet not the newest aircraft sporting Emirates' next-generation suites – the screen is boosted to 32 inches:
Having just flown Emirates' new Boeing 777-200LR business class seat on a return journey between Dubai and South America, I did find that business class screen to be more crisp and vibrant compared to the monitor here in first class, but that said, the first class viewing certainly wasn't blurry, and its reminder of the flight number was handy when completing Australia's obligatory incoming passenger card:
The screen responds to touch, but as it's so far in front of you, that's only really useful to pause your movie after standing up – instead, you can browse content, make your selection and otherwise control the system using the 'mode controller', which can be detached from the seat and used wirelessly...
... or via the remote control, tucked away within your armrest: a much easier choice for quick tweaks like volume:
In first class, Emirates now provides Bowers & Wilkins E1 headphones – I found these took some getting used to, particularly with the swivel manoeuvre that's needed to put them on, but the sound quality was good and they were comfortable to wear.
I was also curious to try the airline's 'self-moisturising' pyjamas as offered on this route – and did so on the ground for a night's sleep after returning home, as this wasn't an overnight flight – although didn't particularly notice any difference with my skin compared to wearing normal airline loungewear.
On the service front, cabin crew were polite and attentive without being intrusive, topping up my glasses during meals without being asked, but leaving me to my work when the suite doors were closed, with the occasional call bell answered promptly.
A quick stroll to the bar counter to stretch my legs and fetch a bottle of water also found the crew sociable and engaging, so much so that I spent a good 20 minutes chatting away.
To complete the offering, gents receive one of four Bulgari amenity kits – similar to the designs currently offered in business class, but with a faux leather finish...
... while ladies have four of their own faux leather Bulgari kits to collect:
All things considered, even though this is the 'oldest' first class product that Emirates currently flies, the door-to-door experience is still up there with the best – particularly with the various improvements Emirates has made to its meals, wine list and service over the years – and as a solo traveller, you're left wanting very little.
However, high-flying couples are more likely to notice the absence of a 'companion seat' for dining: or as some competitors now offer, double beds, distinct sleeping and living areas, and even adjoining suites, in which case, the Emirates A380 may be preferable on longer flights to Dubai and Europe, given its social bar and lounge area, not to mention the inflight showers.
Chris Chamberlin travelled as a guest of Emirates.