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Review: “New” Emirates First Class Airbus A380 (DXB-IAH)

Vaseline 2 months ago

For the final portion of our trip to Zimbabwe, we flew Emirates’ Airbus A380 first class on the marathon 16+ hour flight from Dubai (DXB) to Houston (IAH).

I’ve reviewed Emirates’ A380 first class many times before, but there was something that made this flight special — it was operated by one of Emirates’ refurbished A380s, featuring updated interiors, and it was my first time on one of these planes. In addition to having a premium economy cabin, this plane also has updated first class suites with some improved features.

This flight was exceptional. Emirates’ A380 first class is so fun to begin with, thanks to the onboard shower, the bar, the endless caviar and Dom Perignon, and the entertainment. However, this flight was even better than usual, as we couldn’t have had better flight attendants taking care of us.

How I booked our Emirates first class tickets

I redeemed Emirates Skywards miles for our Emirates first class tickets. Specifically, I booked the following ticket in first class for 187,500 Emirates Skywards miles plus $1,261.26 per person (ouch, Emirates redemptions are expensive!):

2/19 EK764 Johannesburg to Dubai departing 6:50PM arriving 5:05AM (+1 day)
2/20 EK211 Dubai to Houston departing 9:45AM arriving 4:20PM

Emirates Skywards first class redemptions are very expensive nowadays, in terms of the number of miles required, but also in terms of cash. At least this was an awesome experience across the board, and unfortunately there weren’t any other great redemptions available on the day we needed to travel.

Emirates Skywards miles are super easy to earn, as Skywards is transfer partners with all major transferable points currencies, including Amex Membership Rewards, Bilt Rewards, Capital One, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou.

Emirates first class lounge & boarding

We had a bit over a four hour layover at Dubai Airport. On account of traveling in first class and connecting, we received the Emirates Premium Connections Service Dubai, whereby we were escorted from Concourse B (where our flight arrived) to the Emirates First Lounge Dubai Concourse A (where our flight would depart from.

Since I’ve thoroughly reviewed this lounge and nothing has changed recently, I won’t be writing an updated review. The Emirates First Lounge Dubai is far from intimate, as it spans the entire length of Concourse A. The benefit of this is that there’s direct boarding available from the lounge to many gates.

Emirates First Lounge Dubai gate signage

Our flight was departing from gate A21, with boarding scheduled to start at 9:10AM, 35 minutes before departure.

Emirates First Lounge Dubai departure gate

Boarding started right on schedule, so it sure is nice not to have to compete with 400+ other people to board a plane. From the lounge boarding gate, you simply take the elevator down a couple of levels, and then you’re right in the area leading up to the jet bridge.

The catch is that on US bound flights there are extra security checks (and not just for those with an “SSSS” on their boarding pass), so we both got our bags searched pretty thoroughly, and also had a pat down.

Emirates A380 first class cabin & seats

Emirates’ A380 first class cabin is located at the front of the upper deck, and it features 14 seats, in a 1-2-1 configuration. On the surface, this isn’t a terribly spacious first class cabin — not only is 14 seats one of the biggest first class cabins in the skies, but the upper deck of the A380 is also relatively narrow, so the cabin isn’t even as spacious as you’d find on a 777.

Nonetheless, I find this to be a lovely cabin, whether traveling alone or with someone. I was excited to be on one of the A380s with “fresh” interiors for the first time. As you can see, Emirates has changed up its color scheme — there’s less gold and bling, but rather the design is a bit more understated, which I quite like.

Dare I say, perhaps Emirates almost went to the other extreme with cabin finishes, as I think they almost border on boring? Or maybe Emirates had just been conditioning us to like bling for way too long…

Emirates A380 first class cabin
Emirates A380 first class cabin

The cabin has a total of eight window seats, with four on each side. These would be my first pick if traveling alone, so that you can look out the window, and have as much privacy as possible.

Emirates A380 first class seats
Emirates A380 first class seat
Emirates A380 first class seat

If you’re traveling with someone, I’d recommend selecting one of the three pairs of center seats, which allow you to enjoy the flight with someone else. I appreciate this, because many cutting edge first class hard products are so private and isolated that it’s tough to actually hang out during a flight (this even includes Emirates’ new 777 first class).

Personally I like the center seats in the last row the most, though they were occupied when we booked (just keep in mind there’s a camera right above the seat!), so we instead selected the seats in the second row.

Emirates A380 first class seats
Emirates A380 first class seats

I sat on the left side, in seat 2E, while Ford sat on the right side, in seat 2F. Despite the cabin finishes having less bling, Emirates first class is still really “extra.” In the area of the personal television, you’ll find a vanity that can be folded up and down, as well as a couple of lamps.

Emirates A380 first class seat

There’s also a well stocked snack basket, which can of course be refilled any time. This is at the seat upon boarding, then it’s removed for takeoff, then it’s brought back after takeoff, etc. You’re free to take as many of those items home as you’d like, and those strawberry and cream candy things and white chocolate dates are addictive — you’ve been warned!

Emirates first class snack basket

There’s also a stationery set here, in case you… I dunno, want to hand write a trip report, or want to send a postcard to a friend, or something? 😉

Emirates A380 first class seat stationery

On the opposite side of the front of the suite of the stationery set, you’ll find the AC power outlet and USB-A outlet (there’s also a second USB-A outlet closer to the seat).

Emirates A380 first class seat power outlet
Emirates A380 first class seat power outlet

Then to the side of the seat is the minibar, with bottled water and snacks.

Emirates A380 first class seat minibar & tablet

There’s also a tablet that can control all of the seat’s functions, from the entertainment selection, to the seat recline, to the lighting, to the “room service” feature. While this is stored in a “bay,” you can also remove it, in the event you want easier access.

Emirates A380 first class seat tablet

In the back corner there’s also a storage unit, where you can place some items during the flight.

Emirates A380 first class seat storage

The tray table folds out from right in front of the minibar, and is quite large.

Emirates A380 first class seat tray table

On the opposite armrest you’ll find a small storage compartment, plus seat recline and door control buttons.

Emirates A380 first class seat controls

The Emirates A380 first class door opens and closes with the push of a button. With Emirates having updated its A380 first class, it’s my understanding that the door is now a bit higher than it was previously. This was noticeable, though in a minor way.

Emirates A380 first class seat door

One thing I love about Emirates first class is how there are proper individual air nozzles near the seat, meaning you can be sure there’s some airflow into your private space. This is something that’s missing on far too many airlines.

Emirates A380 first class seat air nozzle

Now, one thing I don’t love about Emirates’ A380 first class is the lack of storage. To make the cabin feel more spacious, there are no overhead bins. Instead, you’re supposed to store all your bags by your feet, which isn’t ideal. When your seat is turned into a bed, expect that you won’t actually be able to access items easily. This is an area where the compactness of the cabin is pretty evident.

Emirates A380 first class seat storage

Each seat also has a closet at the very front, though in reality this also goes into the space of your legroom, since stuff just hangs freely there.

Emirates A380 first class seat storage

All-in-all, Emirates’ “new” A380 first class is a nice improvement over the old product, as there are some functional improvements, and most people will probably prefer the cabin finishes as well.

Emirates first class amenities

Upon settling in, the stellar first class flight attendants all came by to introduce themselves, and started showering us with the typical Emirates pre-departure amenities. We were first presented with very well stocked BVLGARI amenity kits, containing everything from a dental kit, to a shaving kit, to a variety of BLGARI toiletries.

Emirates first class amenity kit

We were also given pajamas, which are described as being moisturizing. I find these pajamas to be really comfortable, and they don’t feel nearly as warm as you’d expect, based on looking at them.

Emirates first class pajamas

We were also given the Emirates tote bag, which is offered on the A380. The intent is that you can use this to transport stuff to and from the shower suite. Emirates really does think of everything.

Emirates first class amenity bag

The pajamas were accompanied by slippers. It seems Emirates recently updated its slippers, and now they’re almost more like shoes you can slide on and off. I love these, and they’re easily my favorite slippers offered by any airline.

Emirates first class slippers

There were noise canceling Bowers & Wilkins headphones at our seats, which I found to be high quality.

Emirates first class headphones

We were also offered pre-departure drinks of choice, and we both decided to have a glass of champagne — Emirates serves Dom Perignon 2017 — yum! Just keep in mind that if you’re originating from an outstation, the airline might not open the Dom Perignon until after takeoff, so you may want to plan your consumption accordingly.

Emirates first class pre-departure champagne

We were also presented with warm towels during boarding.

Emirates first class warm towel

Lastly, we were poured Arabic coffee, accompanied by a selection of dates.

Emirates first class Arabic coffee & date

The crew went above and beyond to offer refills of both the champagne and coffee.

Lastly, after takeoff the purser stopped by our seat to present us with the menu and drink list, displayed in a leather binder.

Emirates first class menu & drink list

Emirates A380 first class entertainment & Wi-Fi

Emirates offers among the best inflight entertainment of any airline in the world, with its ICE system. There’s an endless selection of movies, TV shows, live TV, audio, games, and more. The quality and quantity of the entertainment selection is tough to beat.

Emirates A380 first class entertainment system
Emirates A380 first class entertainment system
Emirates A380 first class entertainment system
Emirates A380 first class entertainment system
Emirates A380 first class entertainment system
Emirates A380 first class entertainment system

Now, as an aviation geek, my single favorite thing about Emirates’ A380 inflight entertainment is the tail camera, though unfortunately that wasn’t working correctly on this flight. I mean, I guess it was kind of cool in an artistic way, but it was also hard to know what was going on.

Emirates A380 first class tail camera

The map feature was working as expected, and I enjoyed keeping an eye on the progress of the flight, especially given the unique route.

Emirates also has Wi-Fi on its Airbus A380s, provided by OnAir. While some connectivity is better than no connectivity, this is among the slowest internet you’ll find in the skies. On the plus side, it’s priced accordingly.

Emirates offers free Wi-Fi for Skywards members in premium cabins, so I got free Wi-Fi throughout the flight by logging in with my Skywards credentials (Skywards members in non-premium cabins receive free messaging).

Emirates A380 Wi-Fi portal

For those who aren’t Skywards members or traveling in a premium cabin, you can buy a full flight Wi-Fi pass for $19.99, which isn’t terrible, given the length of the flight. You can also purchase a cheaper messaging pass.

Emirates A380 Wi-Fi pricing

Do note the limited coverage map, as there’s no Wi-Fi for much of the flight if you’re taking the polar route. I found that Wi-Fi cut off for around six hours in the middle of the flight, a bit longer than expected based on the map.

Emirates A380 Wi-Fi coverage map

Emirates A380 departure from Dubai

Boarding was quite efficient for an A380. 30 minutes after boarding started, at 9:40AM, the captain made his welcome aboard announcement. He informed us of our flight time of 16hr5min, and our initial cruising altitude of 31,000 feet, prior to eventually climbing up to 39,000 feet, as we burned off fuel.

Fun fact — this was actually the longest Emirates departure from Dubai that day. Our flight time was longer than the flight to Auckland (Emirates’ route that covers the most distance, but there’s a tailwind), and also longer than the flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco (which many would assume are longer, but they aren’t).

I usually luck out when flying Emirates first class, and have a nearly empty cabin (after all, I usually redeem miles, and space is typically only released when there are lots of open seats). However, on this flight there were 12 of 14 first class seats taken. Despite that, as I’ll cover below, the crew couldn’t have been any better, and they paid so much attention to each passenger.

Three of the first class passengers were deadheading Emirates pilots, positioning to Houston. My gosh, talk about a cushy deadheading assignment! The rest of the first class crowd was a bit different than I was expecting, but perhaps that’s Houston specific.

Anyway, at 9:50AM the purser made his welcome aboard announcement, introducing the 26 cabin crew, coming from 19 countries, and speaking 18 languages. At 10AM we began our pushback, at which point the safety video was screened.

We then started up the engines and taxied to the departure runway, where we were cleared for takeoff at 10:20AM. It was a smooth climb out, and the seatbelt sign was turned off about 10 minutes after takeoff.

Emirates first class meal service

Emirates has a dine on demand concept in first class, and you can order whatever you’d like, whenever you’d like. What impresses me most is that unlike on some other airlines, I find that Emirates almost never runs out of food, even later on in the flight.

You can find the Emirates first class food menu below. As you can see, there’s a ton of flexibility. There are both breakfast and lunch options, a light bites menu, a movie snack menu, and more.

Emirates first class menu
Emirates first class menu
Emirates first class menu
Emirates first class menu
Emirates first class menu

You can find the Emirates first class drink menu below.

Emirates first class drink list
Emirates first class drink list
Emirates first class drink list
Emirates first class drink list
Emirates first class drink list
Emirates first class drink list
Emirates first class drink list

With a flight departing shortly before 10AM and arriving shortly 4PM, the way people go about eating isn’t necessarily what you’d expect. Keep in mind that on Emirates, a vast majority of people are only transiting Dubai, and already had a long day prior to the flight.

Almost everyone had lunch or dinner after takeoff, and then breakfast before landing, as backwards as that may sound (at least in terms of local time at the destination).

After takeoff, Ford and I had some more of the Dom Perignon. We were offered mixed nuts, olives, or chips to go along with it, and I selected the mixed nuts.

Emirates first class Dom Perignon & mixed nuts

We decided to wait a little bit to eat, and then finally had a meal a bit over an hour after takeoff. You’ve gotta love when your flight is so long that the route can barely fit on a map.

Emirates A380 first class map

With around 15 hours remaining to Houston, our tables were set, in anticipation of the meal.

Emirates first class meal service — table setting

This included a bread basket. Emirates’ garlic rolls are sinfully delicious.

Emirates first class meal service — bread basket

At the start of the meal we were offered the amuse bouche, comprised of a mango salad with feta, and some sort of an egg tart. Yum.

Emirates first class meal service — amuse bouche

For our first course we had caviar. Emirates serves “unlimited” caviar in first class, and loads an obscene amount for each passenger (don’t worry, it’s not wasted if not consumed, as it eventually makes it back to Dubai). To say that Emirates’ caviar servings are generous would be the understatement of the year.

Emirates first class meal service — caviar

For the starter, I selected the prawns, served chilled with pomelo and papaya salad, roasted cashew nuts, and sriracha dressing. This was delicious, though I don’t believe the prawns were pan-fried, unlike what the menu suggested (no biggie, though).

Emirates first class meal service — appetizer

Ford ordered the beef consommé, served with vegetables and a beef meatball. Emirates does a phenomenal job with presentation, as the broth was poured into the bowl at the seat.

Emirates first class meal service — soup

For the main course, I had the mixed grill, with chicken kebab, chicken tikka and kofta, sautéed spinach, zaatar lavosh, and roasted tomato with black pepper. This was excellent… and you’re welcome, dear OMAAT readers, for me not ordering fish for once. 😉

Emirates first class meal service — main course

Instead of going with a traditional main course, Ford ordered the Arabic mezze, comprised of hummus, tabbouleh, kisir salad, fattoush, tahini, stuffed vine leaves, smoked aubergine dip, falafel, and beetroot walnut kibbeh. Emirates has the best mezze in the skies, and it’s even better than in the past, in my opinion.

Emirates first class meal service — mezze

After such a feast we were stuffed, and couldn’t even bring ourselves to order a dessert. The flight attendants still came around to offer us something from the decadent first class chocolate box.

Emirates first class meal service — chocolate selection

Emirates A380 first class bathrooms & shower spa

At the conclusion of the meal, I checked out the lavatories, which might just be the best part of the Emirates A380 first class experience. Behind first class, you’ll find a pretty standard lavatory, which you’ll only want to use if the other two are occupied. The lavatory is decent enough, but nothing special.

Emirates A380 first class lavatory
Emirates A380 first class lavatory

The stars of the show are the two lavatories at the front of the cabin, which are in fact shower suites. There’s one on each side of the staircase leading to the lower deck.

Emirates A380 staircase
Emirates A380 first class lavatory

You’ll also find a little bar setup here, where you can help yourself to drinks and snacks.

Emirates A380 first class bar

No matter how often I fly Emirates first class, I can’t stop getting giddy about these lavatories, because it’s so hard to process the fact that these are in the sky. There’s simply nothing else like this in commercial aviation.

Emirates A380 first class shower spa
Emirates A380 first class shower spa

There are many things to love about the shower spas. For one, the sheet amount of space you have makes it easy to change, shave, or whatever. Furthermore, there’s a dedicated shower attendant, who just constantly refreshes the bathroom.

I think one underrated aspect of a good first class is consistently clean bathrooms, and they don’t get cleaner than on Emirates. Heck, you’d be hard pressed to go into the lavatory and not find the towels in a perfect triangle.

Emirates A380 first class sink
Emirates A380 first class amenities
Emirates A380 first class toiletries

The lavatory even has heated floor, which, again, is kind of next level.

Emirates A380 first class lavatory temperature control

Each passenger can reserve a shower slot, and then take a shower at some point during the flight. I’ve written a guide to the Emirates A380 shower suite, so check that out, as I won’t go into too much detail here.

Emirates A380 first class shower spa
Emirates A380 first class shower spa
Emirates A380 first class toiletries

I showered around three hours before landing… WHAT FUN! Since passengers tend to shower toward the end of the flight, the bar area at the front of the cabin is transformed into a spa like setting, with a cute water feature and tea setup.

Emirates A380 first class bar area

Also, after the shower, the crew places a warm towel and some fruit at your seat, intended as a refresher.

Emirates A380 first class post-shower treats

Emirates A380 business class bar

The Emirates A380 isn’t just known for the shower suites, but also for the bar, located at the back of business class. On this flight, every seat in business class was occupied.

Emirates A380 business class cabin
Emirates A380 business class cabin

We checked out the bar a couple of times during the flight, mainly to stretch our legs. If you’re in first class and are introverted (like me), I’d recommend visiting when there’s a meal service in business class, since that’s when it will be quietest (Emirates doesn’t have dine on demand in business class).

There are a few different versions of the Emirates bar, and the aircraft we were on had two couches of sorts along the side of the fuselage.

Emirates A380 business class bar
Emirates A380 business class bar
Emirates A380 business class bar
Emirates A380 business class bar

Emirates A380 first class bed

I’m an awful airplane sleeper. Like, I’m convinced I rank in the top 1% of people who suck at sleeping on planes. Of course I’m lucky to travel in comfort, but even then, I often have a hard time resting. It’s the exact opposite of how I am at home, where I get great sleep.

Anyway, with about 13 hours remaining to Houston, we decided to get some rest, so the crew prepared the beds for us. While Emirates’ first class bed isn’t the largest, I find the bedding to be plush, and I am usually easily able to get comfortable. Unfortunately that’s not the same thing as staying asleep, though.

Emirates A380 first class bed
Emirates A380 first class bed

I ended up getting all of two hours of sleep, waking up with just under 11 hours remaining to Houston, as we were flying over Russia.

Emirates A380 first class map

That was the extent of my sleep on this sector, sadly. Oh well, it allowed me to at least be productive and also watch some shows, which isn’t the worst thing on earth.

Emirates first class snack service

Upon waking up, I ordered a cappuccino, which had the Emirates logo stenciled on it — how cute!

Emirates first class cappuccino

With about eight hours remaining to Houston, I was a bit peckish, so had a look at the movie snack menu. While the movie snack options are printed in the main menu, Emirates has a separate movie snack menu in the shape of a popcorn container.

Emirates first class movie snack menu

I decided to have some popcorn, edamame, and kimbap (basically Korean sushi). How cool is this presentation, especially for an airplane?

Emirates first class movie snack options

In the end, that was all we ate on the flight. We chose not to have a pre-landing meal, because after sitting for so long (and also having a fair bit of champagne), we just weren’t hungry.

Emirates first class service

While there’s so much to like about Emirates, what was best about this flight was the service. The crew working first class on this flight couldn’t have any better. Period. Honestly, I didn’t have very high expectations of attentiveness, given how full the cabin was, but boy was I wrong.

As usual, there were three flight attendants working first class, and the purser also checked on us every so often. Gail from New Zealand was working my aisle, and she was a superstar. Just about every time I went to the bathroom, my seat would be refreshed. And even when I wasn’t using the blanket, it would be folded up, and in some cases a flower would even be placed on it.

Attention to detail in Emirates first class

There was barely the chance to even ask for anything during the flight, since the crew checked on everyone so often, and was anticipatory.

Service on Emirates can be a mixed bag, and I’ve had my fair share of great crews, and also my fair share of subpar crews. This was among the best I’ve had.

Toward the end of the flight, the crew also passed through the cabin with boxed of chocolates, as if we hadn’t enjoyed enough already.

Emirates first class chocolates

Emirates A380 arrival in Houston

This flight felt really, really long, especially given how little I slept (I can only imagine how it felt in economy!).

Emirates A380 first class map feature

After what felt like an eternity, the captain made an announcement at 3:35PM local time, informing us that we’d be landing in around 50 minutes, at 4:25PM. 20 minutes later we began our descent, and then 10 minutes after that, the seatbelt sign was turned on. Sure enough, we touched down at 4:25PM. From there we had a roughly five minute taxi to our arrival stand.

Emirates A380 upon arrival in Houston

Upon arriving at the gate, we bid farewell to the crew, cleared immigration, and then took a United flight back to Miami. Goodness, reality hit hard…

Bottom line

Emirates’ A380 first class remains one of my favorite first class experiences in the sky. Yes, there are a lot of seats, and the space dedicated to each passenger isn’t huge, at least compared to Etihad’s A380 First Class Apartment and Singapore’s A380 Suites. But on a good day, Emirates absolutely nails it.

The food and drink selection are extensive and impressive, the entertainment selection is huge, the amenities are great, the bar is a fun place to stretch your legs, and the shower spa is unlike anything else in the sky. When you combine this with the great service we had on this flight, we couldn’t have possibly asked for more.

I’m also happy I finally had the chance to try Emirates’ refreshed A380 first class. I do think it’s mildly better than the old product, though I wouldn’t say it makes that much of a difference.

What’s your take on Emirates’ A380 first class?