A Week in the Gulf: QR J, EK J, Qatar, Oman, and the UAE
The following is the long-overdue final installment of the trip report covering my trip to the Persian Gulf in June 2017. The previous installments can be found below.
- Introduction, Planning, and Booking
- Qatar Airways JFK Check-in and British Airways Galleries Lounge Review
- Qatar Airways A350 Business Class JFK-DOH
- 24 Hours in Doha
- DOH oneworld Business Class Lounge and Qatar Airways Economy Class DOH-MCT
- Grand Hyatt Muscat Review
- MCT Priority Pass Lounge and Emirates Business Class MCT-DXB
- Aloft Abu Dhabi
- Abu Dhabi Observation Deck at 300 and Cyacle Bikeshare
- Le Méridien Fairway Dubai
- Emirates Business Class Lounge, DXB Concourse A
- The Electronics Ban
- Emirates A380 Business Class DXB-JFK
One of the often-touted features of the Emirates lounge in Dubai is the ability to directly board from the lounge. While certainly not a necessity, being able to avoid the typical boarding frenzy makes the travel experience just a bit more smooth.
The boarding process was slowed by the checking of electronics on the jetbridge (my trip was during the current administration’s misguided “electronics ban”), and in particular by one passenger who was originally flying another carried but rebooked through Dubai due to IRROPS and who was evidently unaware of the ban. After throwing a fit and having to be calmed down by several Emirates staff, she was escorted onboard after holding up the process for about fifteen minutes. Otherwise the electronics checking procedure fairly painless and I was aboard within a matter of minutes.
- Emirates EK 201 DXB-JFK
- June 7, 2017
- Airbus A380-800
- Dep: 8:30 AM Gulf Standard Time
- Arr: 2:48 PM Eastern Standard Time
- Duration: 13 hours, 18 minutes
- Seat: 16K
Emirates has a number of business class configurations and products, with two different versions across its A380 fleet. On its 3-class A380s, there are 76 lie-flat seats split among two cabins, spread across the majority of the plane’s upper deck in a 1-2-1 configuration, with window seats alternating between being closer to the window and closer to the aisle, and middle seats alternating between closely-spaced “honeymoon seats” and more distant/separated seats. I had selected 16K, a “true” window seat closer to the window, in the middle of the cabin. The cabin is quite large, and despite the presence of overhead bins feels spacious.
Emirates A380 business class rear “mini-cabin”As I found my seat, I couldn’t help but notice the ’90s Top 40s music that was playing through the cabin, rather than the standard Emirates boarding music, which I would have much preferred. Emirates’ business class seat on the A380, while certainly not industry-leading, is lie-flat and perfectly sufficient for a long flight. There is plenty of storage space alongside the window, a small mini-bar with soft drinks, and a tablet similar to the one offered in first class, which can be used to control as well as display whatever is on the IFE. USB ports, charging ports, and a separate remote control for the IFE is under the display screen. Unfortunately, I found the screen to be pretty dim even with the windows closed, and with the windows open it was tough to make out anything on the screen. Footwell space was sufficient regardless of which position I laid/sat in.
The seat was definitely showing some wear, as evidenced by the covering over the power port starting to separate.
Unlike its rival Qatar Airways, Emirates does not offer pajamas in business class. A Bulgari amenity kit and some headphones, however, were available. Though not as nice as the Emirates first class amenity kit, the business class offering is pretty decent, and I found both the bag itself and the contents to be useful.
Emirates business class amenity kit
One of the big differences between first and business class is of course less personalized service with the latter. This was quickly made apparent during boarding as the flight attendants went about the cabin taking meal orders. Like on a number of carriers, this was done using mobile devices, and while passengers were greeted by name, it felt insincere as the FAs were glued to their mobile devices and it was more than obvious that they simply read names off the devices. While it’s nice that they try to make the experience more personalized, having flight attendants that robotically read off names negates that a bit. Despite this, Joanna the friendly purser came by and introduced herself to all of the passengers who had already boarded (this was only about 40% of the cabin at this point) and we had a nice but brief-ish chat. I asked her how the electronics ban and the (at the time) newly-imposed immigration restrictions were affecting the carrier, and she said that while bookings had noticeably declined, things at EK were still largely business as normal. She even briefly plugged the JetBlue partnership, which I found funny.
After I finished my glass of pre-departure champagne, I headed to the lavatory to change into the Qatar Airways pajamas I had received on my flight over. While I certainly hadn’t planned on wearing pajamas branded with the logo of one of Emirates’ main rivals on board just to be facetious, I didn’t have anything else that would have been as comfortable. While nobody outright said anything to me, I noticed several flight attendants staring at the Qatar logo and one pair of FAs whispering about it. All of it was in good humor, fortunately, and I even had a laugh about it with one of the flight attendants as boarding was finishing up.
With a ~70% full business class cabin, 4/14 in first, and a packed downstairs in coach, we pushed back at 8:55 AM and I took in the great views of one of my favorite airports in the world as we made our way to the runway.
Traffic at DXBAfter waiting for an Emirates 777 and an A380 to take off, we began our takeoff roll at 9:13 AM. As usual, the lumbering whale jet’s roll was smooth, and within a minute we were up in the air. The climb out was smooth, and service began quickly, just 8-9 minutes after takeoff. Given the morning departure, the first main meal of the flight was breakfast.
The menu was as follows:
I decided to go with the aloo bhurji, and it was quite tasty. The meal service was, as others have reported, impersonal and felt like an assembly line. The flight attendants simply came up and down the aisles with trays containing the meals. Drink refills, as well, were very assembly line-like, with a FA simply pushing a drink cart through the aisle. To be sure, this was by far better than what’s offered on any American carrier and the service was for the most part very efficient, but ultimately I found the meal service to be not particularly noteworthy in any way. Disappointingly, my finished tray was not picked up for quite some time.
As the meal service was wrapping up, I figured it was time to go have some fun. Despite the other superior products out there, I still find Emirates first and business on the A380 one of the most enjoyable ways to fly. This is largely because of my favorite feature of these planes, the bar in the rear of the business class section. On past flights, I’ve spent 8-9 hours straight hanging out at the bar, and once my meal tray was picked up, I quickly made my way back.
The bar was initially pretty empty when I first arrived, so I asked for a glass of Glenfiddich 15 and struck up a conversation with the bartender, Rim. Emirates typically has a few FAs who work coach but also double as bartenders and are stationed at the bar for shifts of several hours at a time. Over the 6-7 hours I spent at the bar, I ended up chatting with the other two FAs who also worked the bar on this flight, Siulai and Adam, and all three were fantastic. I find that Emirates FAs, while polished, are most notable for their gregariousness, and the three bartenders on this flight were no exception.
Another unique feature of Emirates crew, is their diversity, which the carrier promotes with a boarding announcement listing the different countries and languages represented on board, as well as with flag pins that crew wear on the uniforms representing their home country. Unfortunately due to the diplomatic dispute between China and Taiwan and the former’s political and economic strong arm-ing, Emirates had instructed its crew to stop wearing those pins not long before my flight. I was still able to ask, however, where crewmembers were from, and enjoyed hearing various funny anecdotes about the home countries of a number of crew who passed through the bar area. As more passengers starting making their way back, the bar got more rowdy. In my experience, the bar on some EK flights can be pretty tame and even empty, whereas on other flights the bar is packed and bumping the whole flight. Invariably the latter is much more fun, and I was glad to be on a flight with plenty of engaging and social passengers.
Emirates A380 bar/lounge areaA few hours into my visit at the bar, I was ready for a snack. While there are small sandwiches and other finger foods set out and constantly replenished at the bar, none of them looked particularly appealing . One of the cool features of the bar, however, is that you can actually order a meal off the menu and have it delivered to the bar rather than your seat. I was having a blast and not quite ready to return to my seat so I did just that. I simply placed my order for the shrimp dish from the lite bites menu with the bartender, and it was brought out to the bar about 15 minutes later. While the dish itself was fairly mediocre, it was pretty awesome to be able to order food, to the bar, on an airplane.
I spent a couple more hours at the bar before deciding it was time for a nap. I bid adieu to my new friends and headed back to my seat to doze off for a few hours. In bed mode, the seat was comfortable and I slept well for a few hours. As I woke up to the sound of clinking glassware and the beginning of the lunch service, I tried to play around with the IFE, which is generally regarded as the best IFE out there, but found the screen too dark to really do much.
For lunch, I ordered the Arabic mezze to start and the Mughlai chicken as my entree. The service was, as with breakfast, fairly impersonal, but the food itself was good. The presentation of the mezze was certainly not as nice as that in first class, but it tasted no different from what I remembered getting up front on previous flights. The chicken dish was very flavorful, and I scarfed that down within a matter of minutes.
I opted to pass on dessert and my tray was cleared away quickly as the flight attendants began wrapping up the meal service and preparing for landing. It was a clear day in New York and there were some great views of the city as we descended. Our approach and landing were uneventful and we touched down at 2:25 PM and had a slow taxi to our gate. Once near our gate, we had to wait for another plane that was occupying our gate to push back. After about fifteen minutes, we were parked at the gate by 2:48 PM. After quickly making my way through customs and immigration, I headed to the checked electronics retrieval area, which I covered in my previous post. By 3:25 I was on my way to T8 for my connecting AA flight.
Overall, Emirates business class on the A380 is an enjoyable way to travel. With a decent hard product (that, admittedly, is showing its age), above-average service, and fairly good catering (by business class standards), the experience is good but not particularly outstanding. That said, if you’re social and want to mingle rather than lay in bed and watch movies on your flight, the bar alone is a compelling reason to in my book to pick Emirates over other carriers. Though nothing about Emirates business class is industry-leading, it continues to remain one of my favorite ways to fly. And now given that Emirates first class awards are much more difficult/costly to book than previously, Emirates business class gives much of that experience (sans, of course, shower) for a more reasonable price.