I recently booked a flight from New York City to Milan for a quick getaway. Faced with the choice of flying Delta or Emirates, both of which had round-trip economy-class tickets for around $US800, I quickly opted for the Middle Eastern airline.
Emirates, which is owned by Dubai’s government,
has exploded onto the US market in the last several years. It’s regularly rated one of the top airlines in the world, and I was psyched to experience it on the eight-hour flight.
The trip did not disappoint. I ate salmon and saffron risotto, drank complimentary (and surprisingly decent) wine, and watched a bunch of movies, including recent Oscar winners “Birdman” and “Whiplash.”
Even before I boarded my flight from Milan to New York, I could tell this would be different than a flight on most domestic airlines. Any passenger -- not just those in business class -- could take a newspaper or magazine for the trip.
There were freshly poured mimosas upon boarding, but unfortunately for me, those were reserved for business class travellers.
But I wasn't prepared to pony up several thousand dollars for an 8-hour flight, so I kept heading towards the back of the plane.
My seat, 27K, was a window seat, and my row was full. Even so, I had plenty of room to wiggle my knees around. I'd hoped to fly on one of Emirates' impressive new A380 planes, which have two decks and slightly larger economy seats. But it was hard to complain.
And one thing's for sure ... I lucked out with the view. That's one very large aeroplane wing, with the Swiss Alps in the background!
The stickers had a cool purpose: passengers were instructed to put them on their seatbacks to let flight attendants know if they wanted to be woken up for food or shopping.
I made sure I would be awoken for dinner. I'd heard good things about Emirates' cuisine (Saveur's experts have named its business-class in-flight fare the best two years in a row), and didn't want to miss it.
After takeoff, I started browsing the complimentary issue of Italian fashion glossy Grazia, which I'd picked up at the newsstand. It almost immediately put me to sleep...
But I was awoken soon after when the drink cart rolled up. Unlike on most domestic airlines (even those that fly internationally), the booze was free. The white wine wasn't half-bad, and the flight attendant passed me a second bottle before I even had to ask for one. My seat neighbour collected mini bottles of Johnnie Walker Red Label like it was going out of production.
The menu was printed in both English and Arabic. Normally I'd avoid seafood on an aeroplane, but I decided to try the pan-fried salmon. How bad could it be?
It was actually excellent! The fish and risotto were both flavorful, no small feat for aeroplane food. The food was served hot, and the utensils were made of metal, not plastic.
I was ready to take advantage of 'ICE,' Emirates' entertainment system. Airline review site Skytrax just ranked Emirates the best airline for in-flight entertainment, and I was pretty impressed with selection.
There were hundreds of movies to choose from, including recent Oscar winners like 'Birdman,' 'The Theory of Everything,' and 'Whiplash.'
There was also a program that let customers call each others' seats. I was flying solo, so I didn't try it out, but I could see kids having a field day making prank calls with it.
I was thrilled to find a charger next to the infotainment system. It was compatible with all kinds of plugs.
Shortly before we landed, the flight attendants handed out our 'snack' -- 'pizza margherita al pesto.' I had high expectations ...
But it was a real letdown. The dough was soggy, and I didn't taste any pesto at all. It was still better than most aeroplane food I've eaten, though, so I decided to give them a pass on the dish.
After eight hours, even a first-class suite couldn't have enticed me to stay on the plane a minute longer. But I'd definitely choose Emirates over any of the domestic airlines for my next international trip.
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