Emirates flies a mixture of Airbus A380 and Boeing B777-300ER (77W) services to Australia, with the Airbus operating the non-stop services between the airline’s mega-hub in Dubai and Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane. The Boeing operates one-stop services between Dubai and the aforementioned state capitals via its mini hubs in Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
We flew first class between Melbourne and Singapore on EK405, a one stop flight from Melbourne to Dubai.
While the flight usually boards from the gates closest to the Emirates lounge in Melbourne, recent construction projects at the airport meant that today’s gate was a bit further out. After we made our way to the podium, the gate agent led us down the jetbridge reserved for First Class passengers and handed us over to the Flight Services Manager (FSM). Not too long after that, we’d made ourselves comfortable in seat (suite, really) 1A, with luggage stowed away and portable electronic devices stacked close to hand (or plugged in to charge, in one case).
As we settled in, the FSM came by with an arabic coffee accompanied by some dates, along with a very well stocked amenity kit, slippers, and pyjamas.
Left to our own devices as the crew completed their post-boarding, pre-departure rituals, we made ourselves familiar with the knick-knacks around the well appointed, albeit extremely kitsch and gaudy suite.
First, there is the minibar. A gimmick if ever there was one, given this is an eight seat cabin with three flight attendants looking after it. Because it is lit and not chilled, the drinks in the minibar are decidedly warm.
Next, there is a touchscreen controller which lets you control every moving bit in the suite – the seat, the doors, as well as the in-flight entertainment (IFE, which Emirates calls ‘ICE’ for Information, Communication, Entertainment). While on topic, Emirates display the aircraft registration in the flight details view of the IFE, something which is relatively uncommon (Qatar Airways for one, do it as well).
Below the controller are switches that control the electronic window shades on the three windows (the fourth switch controls all three window shades at once), the crew service button, and an air vent. The air vent is especially notable given how many airlines these days don’t have individual air vents on Boeing 777 aircraft.
The seat (suite?)
The seat itself is the same hard product Emirates uses on their flagship A380 product. While not to everyone tastes (we prefer the muted tones in use by Emirates’ close neighbour Etihad) this would be one of the more instantly recognizable hard products in civil aviation. Even with the privacy doors open, the suite is feels relatively private.
And with the doors closed, it feels really quite private.
The seat, in our opinion, could be wider – there’s a whole heap of space wasted between the seat and the fuselage in setting up the minibar and an awkwardly shaped storage area (the hatch by the controller in the picture below). While this ‘wasted space’ phenomenon is often the case on other airlines, we feel this first class seat is much narrower than the competition (that’s Etihad in the first instance). Other airlines with first class suites laid out 1-2-1 on Boeing 777 aircraft seem to get this just that bit more right.
The seat is amply adjustable, and you’d be hard pressed to not find a position that works for you, be it to work, lounge, or nap. There is also an in-built massage function – which we found a bit underwhelming.
The seat does transform into an extremely comfortable bed. Kitted out with a ‘mattress’, a doona (that’s a duvet for our international readers), and an extra pillow, it was comfortable enough for us to get a good nap for the last 3 or 4 hours of the flight, waking up at the top of descent into Singapore.
As an aside, we are not really sure of our feelings about the mood lighting on Emirates. We think the airline is trying to set the mood to a sunset here, but they just didn’t quite get it right. For what its worth, we find the simulated stars on the ceiling once the lights are out to be well done.
Emirates has an extensive menu on offer in First Class, and allows passengers to dine anytime they choose, while mixing and matching from a range of dishes. It is worth noting that the Hennessy Paradis – an excellent cognac – is being phased out.
We kicked off the proceedings with canapés, washing them down with more than a few glasses of Dom Pérignon. The Lamb Kofta was divine (so we may have consumed more than what you see here). No table cloth for us with the canapés. We preferred to have them as a finger food with our drink, rather than as the first course of the main meal.
With the canapés done, and upon motioning to the flight attendant that we were ready for dinner, our table was promptly laid. Emirates make up the table in first class with Salt & Pepper Grinders, little vials olive oil and balsamic, and your very own bread basket.
The first course was caviar, with its usual accompaniments. A mother of pearl caviar spoon was a surprising omission.
Caviar devoured, it was time for the mains. As the flight was getting on a bit, it was also time for the mood lighting to kick in!
Our choice tonight was butter chicken served with basmati rice and a dry potato & cauliflower curry. It is hard to beat perfectly fluffy rice and delicious curry served at 37,000 ft. About the one thing that we felt was missing was a freshly made naan. Oh well! We had another glass of Dom Pérignon to compensate!
Rounding out the meal tonight was a coffee and vanilla cake served with Crème Anglaise.
While the flight attendant was making our bed, we wandered around to the galley area and found them setting up this ‘bar’. We put its usefulness alongside that of the in-seat minibar. The space here (mere meters away from the cockpit) is hardly conducive to people congregating together, let alone the free flow of alcohol. As it is – especially with three FA’s looking after an eight seat cabin, one’s drink is hardly ever empty!
Emirates has a solid first class product which is mostly* consistent across their wide body fleet. When the current suites were originally introduced they were regarded as breaking new ground in the world of air travel – and not just for the shear amount of bling packed into each seat. Now with the hard product approaching seven years in service, most other carriers have caught up to it.
That leaves service as a differentiator. Emirates has left it to the service to blow our mind. And we found that to not be the case on this flight.
In Emirates first class, we find that the hard and soft product comes together very well to deliver an ‘as expected’ experience. Maybe that’s what Emirates seeks to deliver – or maybe we need to experience Etihad’s new first class apartments on its A380 aircraft to have our mind blown. Time will tell.
* There are some A330s with a different F product plying some low yield routes and obviously the Airbus A380 has the distinction of an in-flight shower and more expansive bar area.