- The Airbus A380 superjumbo, the largest and most expensive commercial airliner in history, turned out to be a failure, and Airbus announced this month that it would stop producing the plane.
- For my 14-hour flight from Dubai to New York, I decided to fly in business class for $US5,400 on an A380 operated by Emirates, Airbus’ biggest A380 customer.
- The flight was my first time flying in business class. From the chauffeur service and extravagant preflight lounge to the inflight cocktail bar and spacious pod seat, the experience was unforgettable.
- With business class far from full on my flight, it was clear why the A380 was not a success. As Business Insider’s senior reporter Benjamin Zhang has written, the plane is “too big, expensive, and inefficient for most operators.”
With tickets costing thousands of dollars, it’s never made sense for me to fly in business class.
That is, until last week, when Airbus announced that in 2021 it will stop producing the A380, the largest and most expensive commercial airliner in history.
For most of the A380’s decade in service, Airbus has struggled to find buyers – except for Emirates, the Middle East’s largest airline and the world’s fourth-largest, that has been ranked as the fourth-best in the world. Operating over 100 A380s, Emirates delivered on the $US445.6 million plane’s promise of unprecedented luxury in air travel.
The second deck of Emirates’ A380 is dedicated for first- and business-class passengers, each of whom gets a pod with a flatbed seat, a minibar, a tablet, and a widescreen TV. There’s even a lounge where flight attendants mix cocktails.
For many travel junkies, flying in business class on an A380 operated by Emirates is considered the crème de la crème of flight experiences.
With a 14-hour flight from Dubai International Airport to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on the A380 scheduled, I ditched my economy ticket and booked a $US5,400 business-class ticket.
Here’s what it was like.
Good morning! My journey last week started in Dubai. Though it’s my first time flying in business class, I’ve been travelling for business for the past year, as evidenced by my very compact (if I do say so myself) luggage.
Since my flight wasn’t until 2:35 a.m. (!) I had a lot of time to kill. Thankfully, my hotel let me use its facilities until my flight. I spent a not insignificant amount of time studying this plane diagram to pick the absolute best seat. It’s not every day you fly in business class, friends.
Business class with Emirates isn’t just about the plane — it starts before you even leave for the airport. The airline offers business- and first-class passengers complimentary chauffeur service to the airport from anywhere in the UAE. I booked the car on Emirates’ app, and the driver showed up right on time.
The driver took me to Terminal 3, Dubai International Airport’s Emirates terminal. The $US4.5 billion building is the largest airport terminal and the second-largest building in the world by floor area.
Source: Dubai Airports
Business- and first-class passengers don’t go to the main entrance with economy passengers. They go to a side entrance exclusively for VIPs. There were a dozen open counters to check in for business and first class and exactly zero people waiting on line. Now that’s service.
After I tucked the saffron deep in my luggage, the attendant printed my boarding pass. It all became real: I was flying in business class. I was starting to feel very much like an Emirati sheikh.
I couldn’t take a picture of security, as I didn’t want to get thrown out of the airport before my flight, but business- and first-class passengers have their own security screening. There were zero people on line.
Much to my dismay, the elevator from security did not drop me directly in front of the business-class lounge. As is en vogue for most new terminals, Terminal 3 looks more like a luxury mall than an airport. The concourse is lined with duty-free shops, restaurants, and luxury retailers. I didn’t even see a gate …
After getting lost in the maze that is Terminal 3, I found the lounge! As was quickly becoming a theme, there were half a dozen lounge attendants waiting to check in passengers and zero people on line.
The Concourse B lounge I was in is one of six Emirates lounges in DXB. The vibe is old-world luxury from the moment you step in. Everything is leather or rich, polished mahogany wood, and dim, atmospheric lighting. It was refurbished 2 1/2 years ago for $US11 million.
The lounge has eight dining stations, including Middle Eastern, Western, Asian, International, Mediterranean, the “Health Hub,” the Moët & Chandon champagne bar, and a Costa Coffee. After exploring every one, I went back to collect the greatest hits. I got okonomiyaki rice, teriyaki chicken, a fish masala, an Oreo cheesecake, and a dark-chocolate and raspberry truffle. It wasn’t Michelin-starred food, but it was way above what you usually find in a lounge.
It was finally time to board. One of the perks of flying in Emirates’ business class is that you board directly from the lounge. That sounds great — until you realise the lounge is the size of the concourse and you have no idea where your gate is or how to find it. Thanks to some helpful lounge attendants, I found it, but I was one of the last to board.
Outside the boarding hallway I could see my magnificent chariot: the Airbus A380. My plane was one of Emirates’ older planes, in service since 2010. It’s massive, with four turbofan engines.
Though I was one of the last people on the plane, the Emirates staff made me feel as if I had arrived right on time. Though Emirates is known for its ultraluxe planes, it was clear from the get-go that it’s the service that sets it apart.
The interior is positively massive, at 6,000 square feet. The second floor is dedicated for business- and first-class passengers. But that doesn’t mean you are one of, say, a dozen passengers, like on some planes.
There are 76 business-class seats and 14 first-class seats. The cabin was maybe two-thirds full, by my estimate. Economy on the floor below holds 427 passengers. Some configurations of the A380 hold as many as 800 passengers.
After thoughtfully dissecting the seat map, I picked 22G. There were no window seats available — the curse of booking last-minute — but 22G is at the beginning of the second business-class cabin. The upside is extra legroom; the downside is that passengers with babies are often seated here because of the bassinet next to the seat. I lucked out. No babies.
This was as close as I could get to seeing out the window. As I had recently flown on a Boeing 787 with extra-large windows, the A380’s windows looked tiny.
Another perk of the window seat (ignore the sunlight — I took this photo the next morning) is an extra storage compartment underneath the window.
For comparison’s sake, this is what the first-class seat looks like: enclosed, with 86 inches of pitch, and 78 inches long when fully extended as a bed. One day … one day.
Each seat has an overhead compartment. I could put both my backpacks, my sweater, and my souvenirs bag up there without having to fight with other passengers for space.
Each cabin has a smaller selection of magazines for passengers. It’s a heck of a lot better than the usual in-flight magazine you get in economy class.
Right above my seat was a bouquet of fresh flowers.
I snagged a copy of the latest National Geographic, which I rarely get to read these days. A flight attendant dropped off the menu and the wine list. We hadn’t even taken off yet.
Before takeoff, I wanted to see Emirates’ famous walk-up cocktail lounge, which is, for many, the centrepiece of the business-class experience. Unfortunately, it was not yet operational.
I went back to my seat to set up the “command station,” as veteran business travellers call it. (Note: No one calls it this.) Each seat has an HDMI port, two USB ports, a headphone jack, and AC power. I plugged in my phone, my laptop, and my Kindle and was ready to go.
Each seat also has a docked tablet you can use to control everything from reading lights …
… to picking from the thousands of movies, TV shows, and documentaries in the entertainment system. Emirates has taken home Skytrax’s award for best in-flight entertainment 14 years running. When you look through the selection, it’s clear why: It has a global range of film and TV.
Source: Business Insider
For those who don’t like using the tablet as a remote, there’s an actual remote! It’s a tethered handheld that has a touchscreen and can be used for everything the tablet can. I’m not sure why both are necessary, but hey, it’s business class!
Now it’s time to go through the goodie bags. There were complimentary socks and an eyeshade in this package.
The eyeshade was fuzzy and comfortable. The set came with three stickers you can tag to your seat so flight attendants know whether to wake you up or not.
The Emirates socks weren’t silk or anything, but I wanted to take my shoes off, and — ashamed as I am to admit it — my socks were stinky. I put the Emirates ones on as a courtesy to my fellow passengers.
Each seat comes with a soft duvet: a thick and weighty blanket that I would be happy to have on my bed at home (if it were bigger). It wasn’t your usual thin aeroplane blanket, that’s for sure.
The pillow was, if I had to guess, about 25% smaller than a regular pillow you might have on your bed. But the cover felt like nice cotton, and it had plenty of support.
Each seat comes with noise-cancelling headphones. While I wouldn’t trade them for a pair of Bose headphones, they were comfortable and plush, and offered solid sound quality.
I have to say, though, that this headphone connector baffled me. I get annoyed by airlines that use the two-pronged connector, and this adds insult to injury. The only reasoning I can figure is that it stops people from taking the headphones with them. But I’m sure there are plenty of passengers who would like to use their own noise-cancelling headphones with the entertainment system and can’t.
Each business-class seat has a 23-inch widescreen TV across from them. For those used to a 50-inch TV in their living room, that might sound small. But at the distance you are watching, it feels big.
Below the TV is a large footwell, which doubles as a storage area, and a shelf to divide it. I put my shoes in the lower area …
… and my feet in the upper area. At the beginning of the flight I used my blanket as a cushioned footrest. Even with my seat in its upright position, the footwell was a perfect distance for me. (I’m 5-foot-8, for reference.)
After passengers got settled, flight attendants handed out our Bulgari amenities kits. It’s a sleek little bag, and the inside fabric is covered with the Bulgari logo.
Inside, I found a dental kit with the same Colgate toothpaste and toothbrush in the Emirates lounge …
… a shaving kit with a Gillette razor and shaving cream …
… body lotion, aftershave balm, and cologne by Bulgari …
… and a comb, tissues, and deodorant. It’s a good thing I used up all my toiletries on my trip, because now I’m stocked up again.
Each seat has a minibar stocked with two water bottles, soda, and soda water.
As someone who is perpetually thirsty, I loved being able to have a glass of water as we watched the obligatory safety video. In a real glass, no less. It was played in Arabic and then in English.
It ended as we were taking off, with a rundown of the custom in-flight entertainment system, ICE, which stands for information, communication, and entertainment. There was complimentary WiFi up to 10 MB, enough to send a few messages on WhatsApp. You can buy more, but I found it to be deathly slow on my previous Emirates flight, so I skipped it.
As we took off, I stretched out and read National Geographic. It probably goes without saying, but legroom was not an issue. Seats in business class have 48 inches of pitch, about 16 inches more than those in economy. But surprisingly, they’re only about a half inch wider than economy seats.
A few minutes after takeoff, flight attendants came by with damp, lemony towels to wipe our hands with. They were piping hot.
The seat can recline into several positions, including flat, with these buttons. Depending on the seat, it will stretch to 70 to 79 inches.
Flight attendants came around to offer passengers a soft mattress pad to put over their seats. Seeing as it was approaching 3 a.m., most passengers were ready to sleep.
Not me, though — I was too amped for all the in-flight activities! By which I mean meals, drinks, etc. First I had to read the novel-length menu. There were four wine choices …
… a selection of cocktails, liquors, and aperitifs …
… a rundown of the night’s dinner options (with a short essay on Red Leicester cheese for some reason?).
… and snacks and breakfast. The flight attendant came around and took orders for both meals at once. I ordered the last Gruyère omelet for breakfast.
While I waited for dinner, I played some games. I wanted to play “Tetris,” one of my go-to plane games, but the system kept crashing. Instead, I played “Trivial Pursuit.”
A flight attendant took drink orders. I got a Manhattan, both my go-to drink and my destination. It used solid whiskey (Woodford Reserve) but went a little heavy on the vermouth, giving it an overly acidic aftertaste. It’s hard to complain, though: I was playing “Pac-Man” and drinking a cocktail on a plane.
With dinner coming, I started watching the TV show “Atlanta.” Before any program starts, there is a series of commercials for Dubai real-estate companies trying to persuade you to move to Dubai. As much as I like Emirates, it’s not going to happen.
After pulling a thick table from the console next to my seat and laying down a white tablecloth, a flight attendant offered wine. Longtime readers will know I rarely drink on flights; it’s a one-way ticket to a migraine for me. But maybe Business-Class Me doesn’t get migraines? I got the Spanish white wine. It was crisp and acidic.
The silverware is, in fact, silver — or at least a heavy metal that doesn’t feel like flimsy tin or plastic.
For my first course, I ordered the traditional Arabic mezze. I reasoned that cold dips would taste better than a mushroom soup. When in Rome, as they say.
Flight attendants came around with fresh breads to go with dinner. I selected the brown bread. I was disappointed there was no sourdough.
The mezze included four small cold Arabic appetizers, including a roasted-eggplant salad, hummus, sautéed spinach with chickpeas, and stuffed grape leaves.
Between the pita that came with the mezze, the brown bread, and the dinner roll, I had a lot of options to dip in my hummus. Having spent the past three months in North Africa and the Middle East, I’d consider myself a minor expert on hummus. Emirates’ version was creamy yet textured and tasted as if it had been made fresh, not scooped from a Sabra container.
The roasted-eggplant salad had a sharp tang and a citrusy aftertaste. The sautéed spinach was forgettable, and I ate the grape leaves so fast (they’re one of my favourite foods) that I can’t remember any of the flavours.
For dinner, I ordered grilled veal loin, which came swimming in a mushroom sauce, with green beans, veal rashers, and potato gratin.
By no means did the food taste as if it were cooked by Gordon Ramsay — I don’t think there’s a chef’s kitchen at the back of the plane — but it adequately mimicked fine dining. The potato gratin, for example, was layered with gooey cheese and topped with a cheese crust as though it had been finished in an oven.
After the dark-chocolate truffle and ice cream I had in the lounge, I took it easy on dessert. I got the cheese board, which included an aged Dutch gouda, a mild French rind cheese, and a creamy blue cheese. All three were excellent. The gouda, in particular, had an umami sharpness I typically associate with hard Italian cheeses.
As if reading my mind, the flight attendant brought over two chocolates: a dark sea-salt square and a white truffle.
After dinner, it was time to check out the bathroom. I opened the door to find … just kidding. This is the first-class bathroom, complete with a shower.
The business-class lavatory, on the other hand, looked identical to those in economy.
There was one difference between the economy lavatory and the business-class one: Ours had Voya hand lotion, combs, and dental kits, cloth towels instead of paper towels …
… as well as cologne and perfume by Bulgari. I have to assume no one ever uses these, because otherwise the entire cabin would smell like Bulgari.
The lounge area in the back was stocked up with drinks and snacks like fresh fruits, sandwiches, pastries, chips, and other goodies. The oranges were fresh, but the cherries were out of season.
After dinner, the lights were dimmed to a calming purple for all the people trying to sleep. Like many newer long-haul planes, the A380 uses mood lighting to help passengers adjust throughout the flight.
About four hours into my flight, having binged the entire second half of season two of “Atlanta,” I decided it was time to sleep.
I asked the flight attendant if she could dig up one of those mattress toppers for my seat. Here’s what the bed looked like, all made up.
It was surprisingly comfortable. I rarely sleep on planes, regardless of the departure time, but I was confident that I could sleep. I had plenty of space lying on my back, but as soon as I shifted to my side I was touching the end of the footwell. Tall folks will be less comfortable.
The lights were out in the cabin, but there were small twinkly star lights mimicking constellations on the ceiling. After sleeping for four hours or so, I woke up. It was still dark out, and we had several hours to go, but I decided to check out the lounge area.
I found a lively group of passengers drinking at the bar and having a conversation with the flight attendant/bartender. I had assumed the lounge was a gimmick that no one used. I was very wrong. Passengers were hanging out there the entire flight, even though it was a red-eye. I imagine it’s even busier during the day.
I made fast friends with the three other passengers — a pair of physicians, and a guy who works in finance. One of the physicians recounted how his flight to Dubai was during the Super Bowl and the lounge turned into a party as passengers watched on their phones and cheered. Lest I seem like a weirdo, I did not take a picture of my fellow passengers.
I intended to grab water from the lounge. Instead, I ended up spending three hours hanging out there. It was my favourite part of the flight. The bartender mixed an experimental drink at my request, turning the cucumber-fizz mocktail into an alcoholic drink.
The lounge provided an easy way to get to know the staff more personally — attendants were always joining in the conversation, sharing horror stories or talking about their travels. The quality of Emirates shines through in its staff members, who are personable and sharp, and know how to connect with passengers.
There were several open seats in business class. I even found two open window seats to watch the sunrise. It was then that I remembered why I hadn’t picked those seats: They were right next to the lounge.
With exactly 2 1/2 hours to go in the flight, I watched another program. To give you an idea of how deep the entertainment selection is, I ended up watching “Summer Wars,” a critically acclaimed Japanese anime film from 2009.
Before breakfast, flight attendants came around with another round of hot towels. Bleary-eyed from my four hours of sleep (and over 10 hours in the air), I found the towel to be an excellent wake-up.
With the flight was winding down, it was time for my final meal: breakfast.
Breakfast came with pan-fried chicken sausages, which were crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside …
… sautéed spinach …
… button mushrooms, which were meaty and tender …
… pan-fried potatoes, which I wished were crispier but had plenty of flavour …
… and an omelet loaded with Gruyère cheese. I’ve had so many aeroplane egg dishes that tasted like a sponge, but this one was a revelation.
A flight attendant came around with coffee, tea, and pastries. I grabbed a croissant. It wasn’t from Paris, but it was a lot better than most of the croissants I’d had in the Middle East and North Africa over the previous three months.
There was also fresh fruit: strawberries, pineapple, orange, blueberries, and melon.
As we got into the homestretch of the flight, the mood lighting in the cabin was switched on to gently wake up passengers.
As we made the descent into New York, I figured it might be fun to watch the “air show.” Emirates has three cameras attached to the plane that you can watch in real time.
While there’s not much to see for most of the flight, as you get closer to the ground you can spot landforms. This looked like Long Island, or maybe Massachusetts.
As you land, you can switch to the camera on the nose and watch the plane touch down on the runway.
Just like that, it was all over. Business class may have its own deplaning process, but it still takes some time with 50-plus passengers.
In full New York mode, I sprinted to customs to beat out my fellow passengers, but it was hardly necessary. No longer in business class, I had to wait for my baggage like an average joe.
Emirates did have one last piece of luxury up its sleeve: the complimentary chauffeur service. As I exited the baggage area, I headed to the Emirates stand outside the door and was connected with a chauffeur to take me home.
What did I think about business class on Emirates’ Airbus A380? If it wasn’t already clear from the previous 186 slides, I was enamoured.
Though I had a solid experience on Emirates’ economy class on the A380 several months ago, it was clear from the moment I booked the business-class ticket that the airline’s luxury services are its specialty.
There were little (and big) touches that made me feel taken care throughout my trip.
The complimentary chauffeur service meant I didn’t have to think about how I was getting to the airport or home. The separate airport entrance and security check-in at Dubai International Airport made getting to my flight a breeze.
It would be impossible to talk about flying in Emirates’ business class without talking about the lounge experience. In the past year, I’ve visited dozens of business-class lounges thanks to my Priority Pass membership. The Emirates lounge at DXB was way better.
As far as the flight, I don’t have a point of comparison because I’d never flown in business class before, though I’d seen business-class cabins countless times as I walked to my economy seat.
The Emirates’ A380 business class seemed on a different level than business class on most other airlines. Rather than taking up a small part of the front of the plane, business class takes up an entire floor on the A380. And rather than having slightly roomier seats, Emirates has pods for each person, with a seat that turns into a bed, that feels secluded.
I can see why aviation junkies are so hyped on the A380. It feels huge, particularly in business class. I never felt as if I was going to bump into another passenger. There was tons of room to stretch out and walk around.
Ultimately, the best parts of the flight for me were the lounge area and the staff.
The flight attendants were exceptionally cheery and always willing to help. Many times they came around to offer things I didn’t even know I wanted. More than that, though, they were personable. They took the time to chat with passengers and get to know them. It made the flight fun in a way I’d never experienced before. That’s obviously not possible when attendants are serving 300 passengers in economy, but that’s a benefit of having business class on a separate floor: There’s a staff serving only those passengers.
I’d expected the lounge/bar area to be a gimmick that no one really used. But throughout the flight, there were always a few passengers there chatting or, more often, talking with the staff. An open social place creates a totally different atmosphere. I have to think it makes for happier staff members as well. I hadn’t planned on hanging out in the lounge – it was a flight in the middle of the night, after all – and I ended up spending two or three hours there. That speaks volumes.
Whether I fly in business class again will come down to price. A long-haul nonstop business-class Emirates flight is likely to run $US5,000 or more. That’s far more than I like to spend on airfare. But for the business travellers or wealthy travellers Emirates is targeting, the price most likely doesn’t matter.
If you’re an aviation geek, flying the A380 in business class is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. With the demise of the hub-and-spoke airline strategy, the A380 is most likely the last superjumbo of its kind. My advice? Don’t miss it before it’s gone forever.
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