27 JANUARY 2020
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With Sir Tim Clark confirming his forthcoming retirement (see BTN 6 January) a trip to the Dubai Air Show seemed a great opportunity to fly “Up Front” on the iconic Airbus A380, he the saviour of what is undoubtedly the finest mode of air travel. Alison Chambers reports.
I am sitting comfortably in seat 17D on the 09:00 Airbus A380 (EK008) London Heathrow – Dubai, looking forward to this 7hr 30min flight enormously. I chose a day service and Emirates because it offers the optimum schedule from London, as well as what I consider the best inflight product.
The Emirates lounge at Terminal 3 is stress free. The space is light and comfortable, its flexible seating suits a mix of family and business flyers, with relax and work areas, a big selection of international newspapers and magazines. It offers shower facilities too for LHR transit passengers. I enjoy a mango smoothie, fluffy omelette and cherry tomatoes, washed down with fresh coffee before boarding. The range of food is extensive to cater for global tastes and the champagne is open and chilled to suit all time zones.
Business and First Class suite passengers board directly from the lounge, and as soon as we are settled with hand baggage stored in the generous overhead bins we are served champagne and soft beverages. Downstairs, and boarding at the same time, are the majority of travellers virtually unbeknown to us, or visa versa.
My seat is spacious, in attractive polished light cedar wood grain, with soft lighting and my own mini-bar of soft drinks. The 76-place Business cabin is spaciously designed in a 1-2-1 layout; seat pitch a generous 44in, extending to 78in in flat-bed layout. Up front is First complete with showers. Emirates know its passengers multi-task, so complementing the extra large 23in HD LCD seat back IFE screen, each seat has a stored ipad too. I have writing to do, send Instagram messages to the family, watch the whole boxset of Big Little Lies Series 2 and at least one of the new movies.
Emirates IFE, branded ICE, offers 4,500 channels of on-demand entertainment including many boxsets you never get time to watch at home. Eight live channels of sports and international news feature, including CNN, BBC World and Sky News. A Reuters ticker tape runs along the bottom of the screen.
Emirates leads in inflight evolution. For example, it made a world first in December when it live-streamed the BBC’s Seven Worlds, One Planet at the same time as its network TV launch, airing on 176 of its aircraft over six Sundays at 18:15 London time.
The IFEC has been passionately overseen by VP Customer Experience Patrick Brannelly for 28 years. Under his guidance Emirates was the first airline to install TV screens in every seat. The extra big screens on the A380 arrived in 2015. Connectivity is by SITA OnAir, accessed easily by touch screen and seat number. I paid just under £20 to use wi-fi on my own device. The service was good, but there where pockets where connectivity dropped out.
“Inflight connectivity is now a basic demand,” concedes Patrick Brannelly, noting every flight Emirates operates is now wi-fi connected with over a million passengers connecting every month – equivalent to 25% of customers. “Our passengers want to remain connected at all times, which is why we’ve invested well over $200m on connectivity so far, possibly much more. The existing satellites keep passengers connected throughout the flight, except over the Pole, but new ones may also offer that in the future.”
With more A350s and B787-9s arriving from 2023 Emirates will have even more options from potential connectivity partners. (It selected Thales for the B777X. In two years OneWeb, with its own low earth orbit satellites will bring in ultra-fast broadband including on the polar routes from the outset, opening up a whole new frontier in IFEC including NetFlix subscriptions and iCloud applications – Ed.)
Back in my comfortable seat the personal storage is excellent. I passed on the attractively presented continental breakfast of seasonal fruit, yoghurt and breads, and for lunch enjoyed the smoked salmon timbale, with seared tuna and avocado, followed by a delicious malwani chicken and coconut curry with buttered rice. Anything with salted caramel is a hit for me and the cheesecake, not too sweet, was delicious. Meals are served on Royal Doulton china, with exclusive Robert Welch cutlery. There is an excellent selection of sommelier selected wines and the hospitable inflight attendant was attentive, advising passengers which would be best for his/her selected choices. After an excellent three course meal digestifs were offered.
The pièce de résistance is the glamourous Onboard lounge, situated at the rear of Business Class. On a par with anything found on a wide-bodied business jet, it offers two chill out sofas and bar stools, a 55in LCD screen showing the aircraft’s position and views from external cameras. Ambient lit, the cool curved bar is tended throughout the flight. Business and First Class passengers can enjoy miniature sandwiches, fresh fruits and cakes – as well as a Martini or two.
Sir Tim retires from the airline this June after a 35-year tenure. Undoubtedly he has played a massive contribution to Emirates’ success and helped turn Dubai into a global hub. His first aviation job in 1972 was with British Caledonian (BCal) which coined the phrase – ‘Flights so good, you don’t want to get off.’ I’d apply that to Emirates Business Class. Many of us will miss his informative chats on the IFE too.
All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum
leo fewtrell, Dubai
Have had the wonderful opportunity of flying with Emirates many times over the years and also with other major airlines thanks to my lifelong employment in airline and associated industries. I have to say Emirates has surpassed any of the other major carriers consistently in its approach to customer satisfaction by far in its facilities and approach to all three classes; F/J and Y. Congratulations to all concerned.