Emirates breathed new life into the business class experience with its first A380 and today it continues to thrill business travellers from across Asia, discovers Nick Walton.
Dubai-based airline Emirates was among the first carrier to return the A380 to Hong Kong post-Covid, and that’s great news for business travellers looking for a consistently excellent inflight product that goes far beyond just a comfortable seat. The airline offers two services between Hong Kong and Dubai, a direct service, and one via Bangkok, which I travelled on.
With many cities on the Emirates network, a business class ticket will also reward you with chauffeured airport transfers, provided by Blacklane, but unfortunately Hong Kong is one of the exceptions. I had checked-in on Emirates’ great app, which I always find very easy to use, and arrive early for my flight, EK385, knowing that an A380 carries a lot of passengers which often places pressure on check-in staff.
By the time check-in staff arrive at section G there are massive queues, with many in the first and business class lounge seated on their luggage (some even on the terminal floor) but once the process began the line moves quickly.
Once it’s my turn, the check-in staff advise me to make my way to a Plaza Premium-managed lounge beneath gate 35. I was looking forward to returning to Emirates’ own lounge at HKIA, which was always one of the airport’s best, and don’t have a lot of time for Plaza Premium lounges anywhere I travel as I find they are almost always packed, the staff tend to be either surly or disinterested, and the amenities and dining are usually bare-bones (they also have this thing where the bathrooms are constantly in a state of being serviced).
I arrive at gate 35 only to find a barrier across the stairs; a staff member from the company’s Allways meet-and-greet service tells me the lounge wouldn’t open until 11pm (my flight was at 9.30pm) and to try another Plaza Premium lounge, but when I double checked with the airport info desk, they tell me gate 35 is correct. In the end it turns out to be the right place and the staff, who I find chatting in an office downstairs, had simply forgotten to move the barrier. As soon as they did, many guests started arriving.
The lounge itself, typically used for passengers overnighting in the terminal, is a clean, newly renovated space, with a range of hot and cold dishes to choose from, including Japanese chicken curry, deep-fried Thai fish cakes, and fruit salad, as well as a selection of drinks. There’s a “relaxation area” but that just proves to be more seating. It’s not the Emirates signature lounge experience but it’s perfectly adequate. As with many other Plaza Premium experiences, the hardware is sound, it’s usually the software that’s failing.
Boarding an A380 is no easy feat, so it’s no surprise the lounge staff make boarding announcements 20 min before the stated time on the boarding pass, just to get things moving. I make my way to Gate 60 where business class passengers board directly onto the upper deck of the A380, which is split between business, first class and the Onboard Lounge (a hugely popular Emirates amenity), with 76 seats in business class in a 1-2-1 configuration.
At the seat is bedding and a pillow, bottles of still and sparkling water and soda in the personal minibar, and the airline’s new Bulgari amenity kit. Crew offer water, juice and glasses of Moet & Chandon Imperial Brut.
I just love the A380 and always have. The way is looms at the gate, its massive wings, its huge engines, the way if effortlessly defies expectations by leaping into the sky with the slightest prodding. While business class on the Emirates A380 isn’t the prettiest out there, this is still one of my all-time favourite set ups, mainly because the A380 offers high ceilings and huge storage spaces beneath the windows, enough to store two full sized pillows. These storages spaces are stylishly secreted under faux mahogany panels.
In addition, there is the minibar in each seat, a large main monitor (with additional storage for little essentials above) and a separate (if not a little bulky) monitor controller, which on my seat doesn’t seem to be working, plus personal air vents, a broad arm rest, easily reached AC power, dual USB A and headphone jacks; a pair of large windows with electric shades; and a pair of reading lamps. At 18.5-inches wide, the seat converts into a 70-inch-long bed.
When it came time to sleep, the business class seat proves to be quite comfortable by airplane standards, especially when paired with a plump pillow and a mattress topper set out by the crew.
My only niggle with the seat (and this is only on one of Emirates’ three A380 versions) is that with the headphone jack just below the screen you need quite a long cable to use your personal headphones (no Bluetooth yet sadly) and if you use the airline ones it will reach but the cable runs across your dining table. However, the Emirates headphones are among the best noise reduction headphones supplied by an airline I’ve used, so kudos.
Crew take dinner selections as we prepare for pull back and the captain advises a slightly bumpy two hours 15 min flight time to Bangkok. The Purser adds that the crew are from 20 countries and speak 15 languages.
The dinner service begins with a drink, in my case a Negroni from the airline’s extensive cocktail list, followed by salmon tataki with red radish, cucumber, toasted sesame seeds, furitake, and a soy ginger dressing.
For the main we’re given a choice of Chinese-style braised chicken with jasmine rice, choi sum and baby corn; stir-fried prawns with celery, shimeji mushrooms, and a spicy seafood sauce; or pappardelle pomodoro pasta with tomato sauce, smoked aubergine, roasted pumpkin, green peppers, and parmesan.
The salmon tataki is chilled and zesty, while the chicken is succulent with a hint of sweetness.
Desert options include salted caramel cheesecake with orange compote; seasonal fruit; or a cheese board with boutique cheeses, crackers, and dried fruit. However, it’s a short evening flight so I decide to forego desert.
Wine options include a Clos de L’Oratoire Saint-Emilion 2011; and a Mas de Daumas Gassac from France, as well as a Sanderman 20-year-old Tawny port.
For the onward journey to Dubai, the post 3am service includes the choice of a continental breakfast; a gruyere and cream cheese omelette with braised beans, sautéed mushrooms, and pan-fried beef sausage; buttermilk pancakes with mascarpone cream, maple syrup and blueberries; or a Thai rice noodle wrap with dark soy sauce, braised pak choi, lotus root, and shiitake mushroom. However, like many passengers I decide to sleep on through the meal service.
As soon as the seatbelt sign is off many guests rise and head for the Onboard Lounge; for those flying to Bangkok, it’s a short flight and a rare chance to see this unique attribute. The lounge is the older version which is spacious but lacks some of the seating of the more modern incarnation.
The space features a shoehorn-shaped stand up bar as well as a pair of small benches to each side and a large monitor at the rear. This isn’t the only onboard lounge offered on an A380, but I think it’s the best executed and least finicky.
In addition to a full bar, the lounge offers light snacks, including turkey and cheddar; grilled vegetable and sundried tomato; and cheddar and sweet tomato chutney sandwiches; fresh fruit, and a selection of mini pastries.
The Onward Journey
After 90 minutes of frenzied activity on the ground in Bangkok, during which many business class passengers snooze or watched the ICE inflight entertainment system, new passengers board and a new captain announces a flight time of five and a half hours to Dubai.
While the service on the initial Hong Kong – Bangkok flight is crisp and efficient, probably given the relatively short flight time, the service on the subsequent flight is far slower, although, to be fair, it was 3am. However, as they get into their groove, crew are responsive to call bells, and passengers looking to graze can always wander back to the lounge, which is staffed as soon as the seat belt sign turned off.
The airline’s award-winning ICE system (Information, Communication, Entertainment) has to be the most comprehensive and diverse of any airline, although this means a lot of films in other languages and far less in any one. Like many passengers I end up opting to watch Succession through both flights and find the airline headphones to be comfortable and effective.
We arrive at 4.20am in Dubai, not an ideal time to navigate any airport but I’m well rested despite the interruption of the Bangkok stop.
Although not entirely indicative of the overall Emirates business class experience (due to the airport lounge), the airline offers a very competitive product on the popular Hong Kong – Dubai route and, combined with its extensive network from the UAE, sets the benchmark for business class out of the Fragrant Harbour.
Note: The author travelled on a full business class ticket without the airline’s prior knowledge
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