Have you seen the Jennifer Aniston video commercial where she steps out of a shower on an Emirates flight? Well, I managed to do so too in mid-2015 and it was different from what I had expected.
Here’s a complete account of my experience flying First Class on an Emirates A380 from Mumbai to Dubai, purchased using Skywards miles I had accrued over many years through a credit card. I have previously flown on private jets, stayed at super luxurious hotel rooms from Sydney to San Francisco, and flown first class on an Emirates 777-300. So, do bear with me if I come across as pedantic.
Chauffeur Drive 2/5
The Emirates A380 first class experience begins at your doorstep with a call confirming the time of your chauffeur pick-up. This is not a ‘pretend’ ‘customer service’ call, but a ruthless give-me-a-straight-response kind of conversation. My driver arrived 45 minutes early, wanted to leave early, and I wanted to step-out late.
After receiving a few calls from him, we set off for the airport in a Mercedes-Benz C-Class, which is also offered to business class passengers. I thought perhaps having a different class of cars for first class passengers (like they do in Dubai) would be a good idea. My chauffeur ride was riddled with sudden jerks as either the chauffeur was inexperienced or the car was breaking down (I couldn’t tell for sure). Fortunately, I live just a 10-minute drive from Mumbai’s international airport and was relieved to get out of the car.
Mumbai Check-in Counter and Immigration 5/5
I carried my bags out of the car trunk and placed it on an airport trolley that an Emirates-organised staff was holding for me. Two minutes later I was at the special check-in counter for first class passengers, which was neatly hidden away. The guy at the counter checked-in my luggage and reserved my requested seat in a jiffy. He gave me my boarding pass, my lounge access details and I was ushered in the direction of the immigration counter.
There is a separate security check and immigration counter for first class passengers at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. I remember being the only person walking through that special area where my passport was stamped. Before I knew it, I was sitting in the lounge.
Yes, I had checked-in my luggage, completed immigration and security, and was in the lounge within 10 minutes of stepping out of the chauffeured car. Wow, now I was feeling special.
I think there was someone accompanying me throughout – from the car to the check-in counter to the security and immigration, and onwards to the first class lounge. And the person was so discreet I can’t even remember if it was a he or a she!
First Class lounge 3/5
In Mumbai, Emirates does not have its own lounge. The brief moments I spent at the GVK lounge reminded me of being in the VIP section of a classy restaurant (yes, there was a velvet rope you see at nightclubs separating the area I was sitting in). However, it did not have the discreet feeling of Hong Kong’s first class lounge or even the comfortable feeling of the Emirates lounge at Mumbai’s old airport.
I could order anything I wanted to eat, but at 2:30 am I just wanted to relax. Fortunately, Emirates first class passengers receive a 30-minute complimentary foot massage and I decided to take up the offer.
I went to the area where 10-odd spa chairs were lined up. I sat in one of the chairs where a young girl proceeded to rub my feet as I closed my eyes and tried to take a quick nap. Within minutes I was rudely awakened by a staffer working at the boarding gate asking me to make my way to the aircraft. “Why? There’s still 40 minutes before the gate closes?” I told him. That single untrained staffer was all it took to spoil what was until then a great flow. I was back to feeling like an economy class passenger being asked to rush.
I took a deep breath and calmly told him, as a first class passenger I would like to embark closer to the final call and that he could leave. He was too stunned to realise what had happened and he left. But he was back 15 minutes later, this time with a sheepish grin, and so mid-way I ended my amazing foot massage and proceeded to the boarding gate.
First Class Seat 4/5
The A380 first class seat at first reminded me of its counterpart in the 777-300, which I had tried a few years earlier. This is because both had similar looking doors that close, thereby giving you the privacy of your own ‘suite’. However, on closer look you realise that the A380 first class seat is better in every way but one.
The only flaw of the A380 first class seat is that it feels slightly narrower than the 777-300 first class seat (which later even a flight attendant mentioned to me without my asking). That extra width you lose gives you a plethora of gadgets and hidden storage spaces. There is a fancy lamp, a giant TV screen, a small tablet, a small area containing your drinks, lots of little freebies that I surprisingly liked, it was just an amazing space. I missed receiving the pyjamas and slippers but I did get the writing kit and the kit of body products.
The one thing you should know is this. The young smiling flight attendants you see in TV commercials and print adverts, actually does exist on most aircraft. They are, however, limited to assisting first class passengers. They talk to you with such pleasantries in first class, it is to be experienced to be believed. You will be forgiven for believing that you are a cool dude, and that they find you interesting, and funny.
On this aircraft, everyone in service was smart. There must have been like 6 people to take care of just 2 first class passengers; one of whom was asleep throughout and the other was me. One flight attendant was a tad over smart and made things worse when I asked him to get me an Indian newspaper and he got me a Hindi one. I had to explain to him that while he was technically correct there are English newspapers too in India.
Other than that, I was extremely happy with the service.
Food and Drinks 5/5
I asked for champagne when I got on board and they uncorked a sealed Dom Pérignon Vintage 2005 just for me. Later, when I decided to walk back to the end of the upper deck beyond the business class (which is where the bar and lounge is located), my flight attendant said I should take my champagne along as it would not be available at the bar. Yes, poor business class passengers must make to with 15-year Glenfiddich and its ilk.
The food and drinks for first class passengers is extra special and you can really taste the quality of things they let you consume. What completely blew me away was the bowl of mixed nuts they gave along with the champagne. Oh my goodness, I never ever knew that almonds or macadamia nuts could taste this awesome. They had warmed the highest quality nuts and served it a temperature where the nuts just melted in the mouth.
I did order the food, but after over a year as I write this, I simply do not recollect what I ate. I do remember that you can ask for your food to be served at any time you want to eat. I’m sure the food was good, else I’d have remembered.
As for the bar and lounge area, it’s a nice place to head to if you like to socialise. Even if the place is deserted (quite unlikely), the flight attendant behind the bar will have a good conversation with you.
The real reason I wanted to fly the A380 in first class was to experience its shower. It is the only thing that has excited me about premium airline seating since wide seats and flat beds. As a side note, did you know every A380 has a couple of people on board whose only job is to keep the shower ready for the next guest?
Even though my flight duration was short – just under 3 hours – the flight attendant said I could take a shower if I wanted to. I sure wanted to.
If you are someone like me, who is accustomed to economy class toilets, the shower spa on the Emirates A380 will simply mess with your brain. It is so large and spacious you will feel physically awkward with all the extra room. You can hop, skip and jump and you will be left with enough space to do another hop, skip and jump.
The awkwardness increases when you take off all your clothes before heading into the shower room (a separate enclosure within the shower spa) and see yourself surrounded with full size mirrors that are long and never ending. There are fresh flowers and fancy toiletries and you are far from comfortable. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all amazing until your brain tells you, ‘Hey! You are in an aircraft flying at an altitude of 35,000 feet and no one can stop you from attempting a pirouette in the nude.’ See, the brain is just confused because all it has seen is corporations go to lengths to save space inside an aircraft and there comes Emirates giving you a shower spa that’s more spacious than the average bathroom in a middle-class home.
As for the actual shower, Emirates allows you 5 minutes of running water with light indicators and a button to switch on and switch off the water as desired. It is a decent shower with reasonable force and allows you to take a comfortable bath with soap and shampoo.
Is it worth the money? Well, if you have the kind of money it takes to fly first class, then absolutely. My last thoughts on this flight was a bit of anger and sadness because we landed in Dubai 15-20 minutes earlier than scheduled. As Jennifer Aniston says in her Emirates commercial (paraphrased), it isn’t fun to see the journey come to an end, after all, it is so nice up here in the Emirates A380 first class.