Emirates / 9 Jan 19 / A380-800 / EK16 LGW-DXB / Business Class / 19G
Returning from my trip to London after the New Year holiday, I booked myself on Emirates business class via Dubai back to Singapore. I was pretty excited since it was my first time trying out their business class product.
On this journey, I deliberately booked myself on both the A380 and the Boeing 777, which are the only two aircraft types that Emirates operate, to get a taste of what the business products Emirates serves its customers.
London’s many airports
Travellers familiar with London will definitely know Heathrow Airport, one of the main gateways in and out of London. That is also the airport many international airlines fly into as a first choice airport to access London, so chances are you will land at Heathrow on your first visit.
There are several other airports connecting to central London, including Gatwick, Stansted and London City airport. Of which, Gatwick is often the next most popular airport, albeit a little further than Heathrow is to central London.
For my flight to Dubai, I’ve taken a slightly different route to fly out of London Gatwick, instead of the usual Heathrow departure. For those who are not aware, apart from the hefty UK air passenger duty you pay when travelling out of any UK airport, each airport also levy its own passenger service charge. Heathrow tops the UK airport list with a fee of GBP44 in departure fees, while Gatwick charges only GBP14.
Emirates operate 10 services to London a day – six A380s to Heathrow, three A380s to Gatwick and one daily Boeing 777 service to Stansted. That’s an awful number of passengers travelling via Dubai.
Gatwick International Airport
Gatwick airport is located about half hour away by car or train from London. The airport is a second home to British Airways, but also served by several key airlines, including easyJet, Norwegian Air, TUI Airways. For Asian services you can count on Qatar, Emirates, Cathay Pacific and some Chinese airlines.
Singaporeans used to have a direct flight from Changi to Gatwick, served by low-cost carrier Norwegian Air. Unfortunately, that route has been suspended less than a year after it began.
While Gatwick airport is not connected to the London Underground like Heathrow airport, travellers can make use of the Gatwick Express trains (GBP19), or regular trains to London Victoria station. For those who are travelling outside of the morning and evening peak hours, the regular train fares can be as low as GBP8.30 (off peak fare) each way. Taxis are also widely available, although that will set you back by about 50-60 GBP each way.
Emirates is located at the North Terminal at Gatwick airport. If you are arriving at the airport by train, you will need to follow signs to the North Terminal via a shuttle train.
The Emirates A380
Emirates operate only the A380s to both London Heathrow and London Gatwick airports. Given that they have well over 100 A380s in their fleet, you may get subtly different configurations, but by and large all the London services will feature a three-class configuration, offering First, Business and Economy class. Emirates have a small fleet of two-class A380s as well, although the business class cabin will remain similar.
The Emirates A380 is only of the most densely packed aircraft in the world. In a three-class configuration, they carry 489 to 517 passengers. If you are on one of the two-class A380s they have, you are sharing the air with 614 other passengers.
In contrast, Singapore Airlines carry between 379 to 471 passengers, while British Airways and Qantas carry 469 and 474 passengers respectively.
The Emirates business class cabin is on the upper deck of the aircraft, right behind the first class cabin extending all the way to the back of the aircraft. The lower deck is fully economy class, so that means that no one is likely to use the stairs between the two decks.
The layout in business class features a 1-2-1 seating arrangement, so all seats have direct aisle access. Each seat comes with a side table console, with a private minibar stashed with soft drinks and water.
The seats are all forward facing, with each seat’s foot hold extending into the side table of the seat in front. This means that the seat alternate between having your side table on the left and on the right. And with this configuration, couples travelling together have a choice of some middle seats where they are seated right next to each other and the side tables between them and the aisle.
Boarding was relatively fuss free, with first and business class passengers boarding first. Given that there’s a direct bridge to the upper deck of the aircraft, you get to avoid the crowd going to the economy sections.
The seats are all forward facing, and can be fully converted into a flat bed at a touch of a button.
On board service
After I got into my seat and checked out every nook and cranny, I realised the crew hasn’t come around to serve drinks. And true enough, they were pretty busy although I wasn’t sure what with.
Just as I thought that they weren’t going to serve drinks after all, the crew started coming around to offer champagne, juices and water. I was craving for a coffee, and thought I’ll have a final cuppa for the day.
Once we are up in the air and the seatbelt signs have been turned off, the cabin crew got down to work real quick. First matter of the day was to offer a mattress to all passengers, even though this technically was a day flight. The mattress was simply a foam padding placed atop the seat. I honestly didn’t feel any material difference.
Next, the crew was busy setting up the bar area. As I was seated close to the bar, you could hear a fair amount of activity coming from that area. I went out to take a look, the crew was placing all the alcohol bottles, glassware and laying out the snacks at the bar in double quick time.
Finally, the crew got around to begin meal service. Menus were presented, and a short while after, they came around taking orders for lunch and drinks.
A bit more about the meal service.With a flight time of six hours, there was only one meal service. I was pretty alarmed to begin with, but trust me, it was more than enough.
As the galley prepares the lunch, a drink was served first, although that took a while to come as well. I was long done with my champagne before my table was finally dressed for lunch.
One thing you will notice is that Emirates kind of operate a no-trolley service, so everything is carried out from the galley to you by hand. With over 60 business class passengers that’s an awesome lot of walking on the plane!
The menu for lunch today consisted of three courses:
- Cream of celeriac soup with sauteed mushrooms
- Smoked duck on cucumber capaccio with sesame seeds, shiso cress and masao sauce
- Portland crab involtini – crabmeat rolled in cucumber ribbons, served with pickled celery and virgin Bloody Mary gel
- Seared beef fillet with horseradish jus, served with grilled asparagus, carrots and buttered cauliflower topped with pine nut crumble
- Chicken baharat, roasted chicken with Arabic seven-spice, served with fragrant rice with minced lamb, fried cashew nuts and pistachios
- Samundari khazana, seafood curry served with tempered green beans and steamed rice
- Pulled chicken sandwich, barbecue chicken with emmental and onion jam in focaccia, served with coleslaw and potato crisps
- Chocolate and walnut torte, chocolate cremeux on a brownie base, topped with dark chocolate served with fruit and nut compote
- Raspberry and coconut tart, coconut mousse layered on raspberry cream, served with mango compote
- Seasonal fruit
- Cheese board
I went with the Portland crab involtini for my appetiser. It came out quite differently from how I expected it to be, it was essentially a cucumber roll filled with the crabmeat (I think it’s crabmeat) filling.
The resulting combination was good, you get the crisp refreshing bite from the cucumber, combined with the savouriness of the crabmeat paste. I found the crabmeat mix a little too salty for my liking, but that is a known problem for airline food.
For my main course, I decided on the samundari khazana, which is a seafood curry.
When the portion first came along, I was slightly disappointed. It looked almost like a premium economy casserole: a lot of food crammed into a small dish. This is similar to what Cathay Pacific does, but I always tend to like larger plates (like how Qantas or Singapore Airlines does it), which gives the impression of grandeur.
When I dug into my first bite, all was forgiven. It was yummy like hell. The choice of a long grain rice complemented the curry very well, and the fish didn’t crumble like it usually does for airplane food. I definitely walloped all of it pretty quickly, along with another glass of shiraz.
Finally, it was time for dessert. I was a tad sad that they didn’t offer ice cream, so I went with a safe choice, which is typically anything chocolate. The Chocolate and walnut torte came as a long and thin slice of cake on a brownie cake base. I took two bites into it and left the rest alone; it was too sweet for my liking.
The Emirates A380 bar
After lunch service was done, I decided to visit the bar at the rear of the deck. When I got there, there was only one other passenger there. The bar is a pretty compact one, but pretty well stocked. There was even a small tray of condiments – Tabasco sauce, syrups, garnishes, lemons and limes. On the bar was also a cake stand with a whole orange sponge cake, all sliced up ready to be served, as well as fruits, pretzel sticks and other little bites.
Soon enough, several other passengers came around, asking for drinks, wines, and snacks. With about two more hours to go on the flight, the crew came around offering ice cream to everyone too. This is when I realised that I was still pretty full and actually didn’t need more food, even though it was a six hour flight.
The bar is an incredibly good idea. Passengers were gathering around, chatting up with one another, and at one point in time, a mother brought along her very young toddler and the entire bar, both passengers and crew, was watching this little pack of joy crawling around and taking turns to carry the young boy.
I surveyed the space and saw that it could easily fit in another 6-8 business class seats, translating to potentially several million more dollars in revenue each year, per aircraft. But instead, Emirates have decided to devote a social space on the aircraft, which has become a signature and one of the strongest reasons why people want to fly with them.
The Emirates A380 business class is a solid product. While gaudy at first glance given its predominantly brown and gold fittings, everything works. The in-flight entertainment system is extensive, the seat was comfortable, and I liked the idea of a minibar so I didn’t have to trouble the cabin crew for my first drink (at least).
In terms of catering, the food was good, although not exceptional. The main course was tasty, but I felt the portion could be a little more generous. Having said that, this is not uncommon across many business class cabins. Despite the food, the service was attentive. During the course of my lunch, I had the crew walking around to top up my drink every so often.
The only thing that was less than stellar was perhaps the speed of dining. As an Asian, I’m incredibly accustomed to speedy service, even in business class. I like my meal to be completed within the first two hours so that I can do my own stuff. However, having said that, this is a personal preference; I do know of many travellers who like to dine at a leisurely pace and could do a full business class meal over the length of a movie or even two.