Pros: Good service, quality of food, check area, new planes
Cons: First class seat and choice of food not as good as some other airlines
We all know Emirates: the airline from Dubai who win award after award, year after year, for their top service both in the air and on the ground. They set the standards that others follow or aspire to. They are second to none, the best of the best, for comfort, food, service, everything.
Well this is what I have heard. Is it all true, all deserved?
I flew with Emirates for the first time in late April 2003, in First class, on a flight a little over three hours. I was looking forward to finding out just how good they really would be!
At Dubai Airport, Emirates have a separate check in area at the far end of the terminal for First and Business class. As the taxi pulled up, before I had even got my wallet out to pay the fare, the door was opened by a lady in Emirates uniform who welcomed me. As I paid the taxi, someone took my bag from the car, then the lady escorted me to the check in desk.
Entering the terminal, The First class check in area is ahead, Business class on the right and there is a separate counter for hand baggage only on the left. In the centre there is a counter for ticketing and customer service. In the near left hand corner there are two internet kiosks. The far left corner, in between the hand luggage only and First class check in, leads to immigration and security check.
The Emirates First and Business class area has its own passport control and security check areas. There were four passport control desks but only one was open, so the result was a short queue and wait. From there it goes directly to security.
Here it was let down a bit. They were checking all laptop computers and asking the owners to switch them on . Of course nowadays a lot of business people carry laptops; both the gentleman in front of me and the one behind me had laptops, as did I. However, there were only two people doing the checks, one watching the X-ray screen and just one other security agent doing the additional checks at a small desk, so there was a bit of a queue building up. When it was my turn she stopped to have a cheerful chat with another employee who had approached. By the time I was through, there were several people waiting behind me. Now, I am all for security, and the checks were thorough - she took out and inspected the laptop battery and CD ROM drive - but when they are being this thorough I would have thought they would have more than one person to do it.
Once we were through there, we rejoined the main terminal for the long walk to the duty free and gates area.
Boarding was called and there was the usual congestion at the gate. One through onto the air bridge, there were one entrance for First and Business passengers and another for economy. I was one of the first on board and it was clear that the crew were not quite ready - there was only one person at the door who was busy with putting some things away. However they quickly got sorted out.
A stewardess took my jacket to hang up and immediately returned with a tray of water, juice or champagne. It then got a bit busy, there was a steady stream of people through the First class cabin - not just First and Business passengers but engineers, several people from catering going back and forth, banging large metal boxes against the seats, and someone in a Cargo jacket. I was a bit surprised that all this traffic was bumping its way through the First class cabin but I assumed that maybe the second entrance was more congested.
The aircraft was a new Airbus A330, wide body aircraft and the seats in the First class cabin were in a standard paired layout, ie 2 either side of each aisle. I had a window seat in the third row.
The seats were quite comfortable, though not particularly wide and there was not a huge amount of elbow room. There was plenty of leg room so even if the person in front put their seat way back you would still be able to get out into the aisle.
The seat back reclined quite a long way, but was still some way from being flat. The leg rest came up to horizontal, so on maximum recline my legs were flat out in front of me and my back was fairly well reclined, I guess similar to leaning back in a recliner, or a sun lounger two or three notches from flat! Not bad, but still a way from the flat beds that several other airlines offer in First Class (in some cases even Business).
The leg rest was a bit unusual. On most seats that have a leg rest, it is a vertical padded section, running from the seat cushion to the floor. When you raise the leg rest, the bottom end slides forward so that as it rises it supports your whole leg. On these seats, though, there was a kind of a shelf that slid forwards from under the seat, almost like a drawer. It slid forward about two feet and then when it was fully extended, the end nearest the seat lifted up, until it was flush with the seat cushion. When it was fully extended, it was comfortable as it supported the whole leg but until it was fully extended it would only support the ankle, or the bottom part of the leg, so in effect the choice was to extend it not at all, or all the way.
Overall, comfortable when upright, or fully reclined, but quite a long way short of the flat bed offered by several rival airlines. And the leg rest was quite uncomfortable unless fully extended.
The menu was presented in a leather bound folder, which was a nice touch. There was also a wine list which offered a good French champagne and a choice
There was a choice of two starters and three main courses, followed by a desert and cheese and biscuits.
I opted for a seafood starter followed by a lamb main course. The food was excellent: fresh, very tasty and in generous portions. Another nice touch was that the main course was dished up on a trolley right by the seat, so you could watch them fill your plate and ask for more or less of this or that.
Desert was a light cheese cake, and there was a choice of cheese and biscuits afterwards and liqueurs. Finally a little box containing two individual chocolates was placed by the seat, with the coffee.
Overall the food was very good; plentiful, tasty, nicely prepared and presented. The only slight disappointment was the choice. I have been on several airlines where the choice in business class is equally varied - two starters and three main courses. I cannot fault the food itself but I know rival airlines, with a lesser reputation, who offer a wider choice.
There were three crew in First class: The Purser, an English stewardess and an Arab stewardess. After the first minute, when all of us passengers arrived unexpectedly, they were very good.
All three were efficient, from start to finish, offering the drinks, snacks, serving the meal, clearing away quickly, etc. The Purser and the English stewardess were both very friendly, warm, cheerful and joking. There was a steady banter between them; as she offered a tray of dates, as we were taxing away from the terminal, he joked, she wants to know if youd like a date. During the meal service he smiled and jokingly apologises, sorry about her, sir, shes still learning. When he made the announcements, he included, if you have any questions at all, please ask Kerry. She took it in good humour, laughing with him. it was obviously a bit of fun and led to a lot of laughs. The Arab stewardess, while polite and efficient, did not have the same warmth - she was not unpleasant at all, just maybe more serious.
After boarding we were offered a choice of water, juice or champagne. Then there were newspapers, Arabic coffee and lastly, as we were taxing, dates. Straight after take off there was the bar service followed by the meal. The empties were cleared away quickly and one of the crew came through the cabin every few minutes to check if anyone wanted anything.
Overall the service was excellent throughout, and this really seemed to be one of their main strengths.
There were TV screens at the front of the cabin which had a nose wheel cam for takeoff. As we turned onto the runway it switched to a view from the nose wheel, which gave a great view of the takeoff run.
Each seat had an in-seat video and we were offered a catalogue with about thirty movies in English plus several more in other languages. The movies were mostly recent, mostly blockbusters, with some classics in there as well.
The seat was good, comfortable, better than many but several leading airlines are now offering flat beds in First (one or two even offer flat beds in Business).
The food was good, plenty and very nicely presented. The choice was good but not exceptional.
The service was very good, the crew pleasant, efficient and friendly.
Overall, a nice, comfortable flight. I really enjoyed it. But it didn't quite live up to expectations, and I know that some other airlines offer more. Maybe the food was not so good because it was not such a long flight, but the seat - I am sure - is the same as on longer flights.