- Introduction: Flying All 3 Big Gulf Carrier Airbus A380s in First Class on a Single Trip
- Check-in and Houston Airport Executive Club
- Air France and KLM Lounges
I’ve been remiss in writing the details of my trip to the Mideast and Asia redeeming miles for the Airbus A380s on all 3 of the big Gulf carriers: Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar first class.
It’s was a great quick trip to eat in Bangkok and see the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, and I’m determined to return to sharing it with you.
After sampling three lounges in the international terminal of Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport, I had burned off nearly enough time that the flight was preparing to board. The gate area was packed, because it turned out that both Emirates first class and economy were nearly full (business class was mostly empty).
The Airbus A380 is an amazing sight, and one of the things that struck me while waiting for the ground crew to ready the aircraft for boarding is just what it takes to turn the plane after a long journey from Dubai. The amount of trash removed was truly unreal.
I was lucky to be flying the A380 from Houston earlier this year. It was a gimme for first class award space, and it’s not surprising that with the decline in the energy industry of late they replaced the aircraft with a smaller Boeing 777. The first class seats themselves are nearly identical but there’s no onboard showers or bar.
First and business were boarded together in somewhat chaotic fashion, but once on the plane I was happy to see the familiar site of the Emirates first class suites.
These aren’t the most up-to-date first class seats in the world. Singapore Airlines puts its 4-across suites on the wider lower deck of the A380. Etihad puts fewer seats (single aisle!) in first class on the A380’s upper deck. Emirates really packs in seats into first class.
However, the seats make fantastic use of space and don’t actually feel crunched. And with the doors closed they’re sufficiently private that the relatively large first class cabin doesn’t feel crowded at all. And it’s pretty high tech as the seat is controlled electronically — seat adjustments as well as lighting.
Plus Emirates is simply fantastic with their dine on demand food service menu and especially their shower spas. There are two shower spas at the front of the cabin, and there’s another bathroom at the back of the cabin.
I’ve never quite understood the minibar though since as a first class passenger there’s plenty of crew to ensure you have the beverages you want and even at the temperature you want. A first class passenger doesn’t generally need to get their own beverages!
And yet in front of the first class cabin is a display of self-serve alcohol and snacks.
On each side is a shower spa and there’s two crew members whose only job is to keep them clean between uses. When they aren’t being used for their showers they are available as lavatories — some of the biggest and most attractive lavatories in the sky (the only lavatory that I think is more gorgeous is Qatar’s).
There’s a parade of service throughout the boarding process. Not only did we have to get amenity kits, pajamas, menus and of course a predeparture beverage of choice and arabic dates and coffee but there’s a snack basket at the seat that’s available before departure. It’s removed for takeoff, and then returned once you’re in the air.
Here’s the snack basket. Honestly I don’t quite ‘get it’, other than it’s more stuff to take with you!
There are amenities not just in the amenity kit, but already in the seat’s vanity. And there’s a writing kit. In fact there’s so much swag that they even give you an Emirates ‘to go’ back to take your souvenirs with you.
On this flight we weren’t given brochures for the shower spa. Those used to describe the feature and note that you’d have 20 minutes’ use with 5 minutes of water. In practice I think that 30 minutes is actually fine, and no one told me about any limit on the flight.
The first thing I do when I board a plane with showers is to request my shower slot. I’m a big fan of taking the very last shower booking prior to arrival, and if I wait until they come ’round asking or until we’re in the air I might lose out on that spot. So it’s a priority whenever I board an Emirates or Etihad Airbus A380, the two planes with onboard showers.
After a long wait for takeoff without explanation, we pushed back and were on our way. The A380 always gives such a smooth liftoff that it’s almost concerning, you don’t feel like you’re heading into the sky.
The crew were remarkably efficient with all of the elements of service in a cabin that had 12 of 14 seats occupied.
I began the flight by snacking on a few bites from several different items off the menu.
To conclude they brought a mini box of godiva chocolates.
After that I retired to bed and slept for about 8 hours. I got up and headed back through the cavernous and mostly empty business class cabin and to the bar.
Emirates has a very nice business class product on their A380, it’s really too bad that their existing fleet of Boeing 777s has angled seating still and the new 777s will be so densely configured with flat seats.
When I got to the bar I found there wasn’t a single passenger there. Crew were congregated chatting trying to keep awake, they were especially bored because with a business class load you could count on two hands and those passengers mostly asleep they really didn’t have much to do for the flight.
They were very excited by my arrival and pounced to offer me a drink, bring me any alcohol from first class that I wished, and just generally talk to me about what I had planned for the trip.
I had a glass of champagne, and then a cocktail, and then headed back to my seat. I watched a bit of television and then ordered some food before arrival into Dubai. I actually repeated dishes from the beginning of the flight. For instance, more caviar!
Before I knew it, it was time for my pre-arrival shower. A flight attendant came to get me, but I didn’t need an introduction. I was ready for a refresh after a long flight.
The shower room is large, much larger than what Etihad offers, and that’s great for getting ready in comfort. The decor is relaxing and refreshing. I can spread out my carry on, which I bring into the room with me, and enjoy a nice shave as well. There’s plenty of product at the ready as well.
The shower itself is set to allow you 5 minutes of water, but you can turn that water on and off at will. Get wet, turn off the water, use some shampoo and soap, wash it off. It turns out 5 minutes of water is plenty.
There’s a bench in the shower (with no seatbelt) you can sit on in the event of turbulence.
I think the small thing that impresses me the most is that Emirates even has a custom bathmat for outside the shower that is designed to fit the curve of the rounded shower cabin. That and the heated floors of course, but they didn’t just put out a generic bath mat. They had one specially made for their fleet to ensure no space on the ground when you step out of the shower. Those are the sort of little things you don’t see on American or even European airlines.
Upon return to my seat there’s always a plate of fruit waiting post-shower. And since I took the last shower booking it was only 30 minutes to approach in Dubai.
I realized that I had never been to the back bathroom before, so I decided to pop in before landing. Late inflight the two shower rooms were constantly in use so the back bathroom gets used and there’s sometimes even a wait when the cabin is full. It has a window looking directly out at the plane’s right engine.
On arrival into Dubai our taxi was relatively quick and painless. It was time to clear transit security and head onto the first class lounge for our Airbus A380 first class flight to Bangkok!