Overall: Amazing bar, shower, mattress pad and alcohol selection. Mediocre service (on DXB-IAD sector). Disappointing lounge and onboard food.
I definitely enjoyed this experience and say it was worth the points and taxes/fees I splurged on the ticket. Emirates’ first class suites are by now considered “classic” but in 2003 it revolutionized First Class commercial air travel by being the first and only enclosed private suites in the skies. It may be classic and some say outdated, certainly when compared to Emirates’ own new fully enclosed suites on a handful of new 777s. However, the product is still great, and I am glad I made a lifelong dream come true (truly have dreamed about flying Emirates suites since they launched it in 2003). The turn down service and mattress pad was one of the most comfortable sleeps I have had on a plane. The A380 shower spa and bar are the coolest things on any plane. And Emirates has one of the best and highest value beverage lists of any airline.
However, I was very disappointed with the First Class Lounge, in fact I prefer the Emirates Business class lounge, and the food both in terms of presentation and taste was pretty bad, except the Caviar. In fact, Qatar Airways QSuites had much better food, and even Delta Air Lines’ Delta One occasionally has better food and actually better presentation! While the service was excellent, friendly and professional, on the long haul sector of my itinerary the crew did not feel as attentive and certainly did not quite anticipate needs as say the crew on Qatar Airways or Etihad Airways First Class Apartments.
Earlier this year I had scored a very good deal on Qatar Airways QSuites business class roundtrip from Muscat to JFK. With the Muscat- Doha being “First Class,” I also got to experience the incredible Al-Safwa First Lounge (only outbound regional First). In May I flew the return leg and spent some time in Oman. For my return back to the United States from Oman, I managed to rack up enough American Express reward points on my AmEx Platinum that I transferred 141,250 points to Emirates Skyward (including minimal balance from a previous Emirates confirmed flight), and redeemed for a one-way Emirates First Class ticket Muscat- Dubai- Washington D.C.. Muscat to Dubai was on a 777-300ER and Dubai to D.C. was aboard an A380.
Because the Muscat to Dubai flight was only 50 minutes, I am lumping it into this post together as a wholistic review.
Airline: Emirates flight EK865
Route: Muscat to Dubai
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER A6-EGY
Seat: First Class seat 1K
Flight time: 50 minutes, dept: 19:15, arr. 20:05
Distance: 217 Miles
Airline: Emirates flight EK231
Route: Dubai to Washington D.C. IAD
Aircraft: Airbus A380 A6-EUI
Seat: First Class seat 2K
Flight time: 13 Hours 40 minutes, dept: 02:20, arr. 08:10
Distance: 7,064 Miles
Booking and Pre-Departure
I would say Emirates First Class award seats become more available around 1 month out from departure. I constantly checked Emirates website as well as expertflyer as I really hoped to fly to JFK. But JFK award flights became available for the lesser ideal schedule of their two daily options and so I settled on D.C. as that was consistently available.
Booking was easy. I already had an existing Skywards account from a previous Emirates flight, so I simply linked my AmEx rewards with the account and transferred my points at a 1:1 ratio to Skywards miles. It was 141,250 miles + about $480 in taxes and fees. Over all not the cheapest or most valuable redemption option, but was one more easily accessible to me. Furthermore all methods of redeeming for Emirates seems to have devalued over the years. Was it worth it? Yes.
Once booked, I selected my seats. I had asked an Emirates chat representative if one would be eligible to book a roundtrip chauffeur service in Dubai with a 6 hour layover, I was informed that it would only be possible for 6.5 hours or more. However, once I booked, I chatted with Emirates’ online chat service to book my chauffeur drive and not only was I able to book a roundtrip service from and to Dubai airport, the rep even offered to book me a hotel room in Dubai as I was eligible! Interesting. I book my chauffeur to take me from Dubai Airport to Bu Qtair Fish Restaruant in Dubai, a place I had tried to visit my first time in Dubai but it was closed then. Unfortunately they do not have the service in Muscat. (By the way Bu Qtair is amazing and totally worth checking out).
Emirates does not have any book the chef specials, or pre-select options, they do however upload their entire menus on their website.
I arrived at Muscat International Airport and proceeded to check-in at the premium check-in section. Oman Air has their dedicated zone while all other airlines share. There is a dedicated immigration and security area for premium passengers. All airlines except for Oman Air uses the Primeclass Lounge in Muscat, which I briefly touched upon in my review of Oman Air Business Class. The lounge is more up and running now, and Oman Air has since opened their dedicated lounge as well. After some shopping and lounging I proceeded to the gate. Once again, as my last trip to Muscat Airport, there was only one lane for all passengers for boarding pass and document checks. This time however, the gate agent asked around for any first class passengers. I did not want to make it be known I was first so I walked towards her and showed her my boarding pass, I then followed her to the boarding door where to my astonishment she waved me through ahead of passengers requiring special assistance! While I appreciate allowing First Class to board first, I do not think it is appropriate to let any passenger board ahead of those requiring special assistance.
I boarded the plane and was greeted by the purser and two of her colleagues. They informed me I would be the only First Class passenger on the short flight, it was weird but cool to have a 3:1 crew passenger ratio! Interestingly enough they somehow thought I was seated in 1A and so one of the crew had placed their personal items in some of the storage spaces of my seat. Personally was not bothered by it but they did apologize. I settled into my seat, and asked if the flight attendant could take some pictures, on all Emirates first flights they all took multiple shots and commented “for the Instagram right?,” clearly this is done almost all the time!
Next, I was offered my menu as well as walked through the seat and suite features. Then offered hot towel, warm nuts and champagne, on this flight, they were only allowed to open Moet & Chandon on the ground, and the purser offered to open the Dom Perignon once airborne. Next came Arabic Coffee and Dates service. All beverages were topped off. It was great because I received so much attention! My meal order was taken prior to departure, since I was going to eat dinner at Bu Qtair in Dubai, and needed to save room for lounge and onwards journey food, I choose to eat light and ordered the Arabic appetizer with Dom, followed by a glass of $900 Hennessy Paradis Cognac with Godavia Chocolate. Concerned that I didnt have enough, even though the flight was already on descent, the flight attendant asked if I wanted to have a main as well, I said there was no need! Shortly after takeoff, the flight attendants got busy to work to serve all passengers on this short flight. My champagne and food soon arrived. The food tasted ok and looked ok as well. The Dom was delicious as Dom always is, and the Paradis Cognac was incredible. Soon, we were on our descent and before I knew it we touched down in Dubai.
Emirates premium class passengers receive Fast Track pass for immigration in Dubai. We arrived in Concourse B which mean a very long walk to the main halls of Terminal 3. Some Emirates frequent flier or VIP flying in Business was greeted my an Emirates representative and was whisked away by buggie, which I had wished was me, and honestly do wonder why they dont offer such ground services for first class passengers regardless of status. Anyways, after a long walk, I cleared immigration with ease and headed for the First/Business Class Chauffeur service check-in desk. They printed off my itinerary and I proceeded to the waiting area outside. Handed my documents to the personnel and my chauffeur ride pulled up. Hopped in and we headed to Bu Qtair. My driver was initially unsure of where the place was, but a quick google maps and he figured it out. Emirates uses Mercedes Benz vehicles in Dubai for their Chauffeur service. 20 Minutes later I arrived at Bu Qtair at around 9PM, about 45 minutes after I landed.
Bu Qtair is located in Jumeirah Beach area, under the shadows of the Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach Hotel. It used to be a literal shack on the beach but has since grown into a concrete restaurant. It attracts locals and tourists and people of all backgrounds. My meal of fried spiced coconut prawns and fish with bread, rice, salad and Chai was around USD$25.It is cash only. I highly recommend this place if you are visiting Dubai or have enough time during a layover. Truly local and delicious experience.
Seeing that my meal would end sooner than I expected, I contacted Emriates chat via the Emirates App and asked if I could get my return chauffeur earlier than the scheduled 10:30PM, they said it was too late to change it.
At around 10:20PM, a restaurant personnel came looking for me to ask if I was an Emirates passenger, I said yes and my Chauffeur appeared. He was early! Which was great. I hopped into my Mercedes and was whisked away back to Dubai International Airport.
Dubai- Washington D.C.
Emirates has a dedicated premium cabin check-in area in Terminal 3. The Chauffeur dropped me off at this separate entryway off the main ramp. I proceeded to get my Emirates branded boarding pass and headed for the immigration and security. The premium area is really the same as the economy area, it is just separate but nonetheless massive and open. Otherwise nothing special about it. I then proceeded to take the train to Concourse A and then up the elevators and escalator to second level of departure where the Emirates First Class lounge is located.
Just like the Business Class Lounge, the First Class Lounge is massive and occupies the entire span of the terminal. First Class lounge passengers get a complimentary 15 minute massage at the next door Timeless Spa. After checking in at the lounge I walked over to book my neck, shoulder and back massage for 11:30PM. In the 15 minutes before, I quickly browsed the lounge map and the in-lounge duty free shop. I then returned to the spa (once checked-in the lounge you can freely enter and exit), and had my massage, it was short, simple but nonetheless relaxing.
Afterwards I returned to the lounge. First stop was the cigar lounge, I was disappointed to learn that even in the First Class lounge, cigars were not complimentary, in Etihad’s Abu Dhabi lounge they are. So, instead of paying (cigars weren’t terribly expensive though) to smoke and smell like cigars, I chose not to utilize this amenity and instead proceeded to the showers. I was escorted to my shower and asked if wanted slippers in addition to the already provided robes, towels and grooming products. I was surprised that the shower rooms were tiny and cramped. I only had a backpack and small duffle bag but putting those items down, I barely had any room left to change. After showering I headed to the A La Carte dining area.
Emirates First Class Lounge has a few dining areas. The main one is a la carte, with the others being buffet style serving an assortment of things from sushi to mediterranean appetizers. I was greeted and escorted to the dining area, I chose a seat by the windows. The menu is rather extensive and there are many options to choose from. There was not really a drink list, but you can ask the wait staff what options there are. I ordered a Foie Gras Tartine followed by a Miso Glazed Sea Bass paired with a 2008 Bordeaux Red. Thankfully Emirates still serves alcohol on the ground during Ramadan, unlike Qatar Airways. Everything was delicious, especially the sea bass. The lounge was not full at all, and felt very empty and honestly too big for first class, it was cold. The service at the dining room was just fine, professional but not overly personal either. I only spent my time in half of the lounge, as the lounge is basically identical on either side. After my meal I proceeded to explore a little. There is a game room and family area, and multiple seating areas, but not many seats or options in comparison to the upstairs business class lounge, which makes sense given the lesser number of first class passengers. But it is almost in an equally large space so it just feels cold and industrial almost. I then went to the quiet nap room with sleeper lounge chairs and got a quick power nap. Before boarding I stopped by the duty-free shop again to purchase something before waiting at the boarding area, all business and first class passengers can board directly from the lounges. Over all the lounge was disappointing. The A La Carte dining was great, but showers lackluster, and over all it was simply too big and sparse and did not feel exclusive or overly relaxing.
At 1:20 I began waiting by my gate hoping to board quickly so as to fully enjoy the A380 Suites experience. However, to my disappointment I did not board until around 1:50PM for a 2:20AM departure. At around 1:40AM I saw business class passengers upstairs begin to board, and asked the gate agent what was holding us up, she said the flight attendants were not ready for us yet, my question is, shouldn’t you be most ready for first class passengers?! We were finally allowed to board, but of course being a U.S. bound flight, at the jetbridge there was extra bag screening and all business and first class passengers lined up together for this. I finally made it onboard.
I was warmly greeted and the boarding door and taken to my suite 2K. The A380 seats are slightly narrower than the 777 seats due to the width of the upper deck. The head flight attendant and all First Class flight attendants came over to introduce themselves as they each provided me with hot towel, warm nuts, Arabic Coffee, Arabic dates and 2006 Dom Perignon champagne. I was also offered the menu for the flight (Pictures of it at the very end of the post). They also came by with my amenity bag, full of goodies, including the famous Emirates moisturizing pajamas that come in a pouch that can double as a computer pouch, the Emirates amenity kit stocked with Bvlgari products and slippers. The purser did not come by until after we were airborne and apologized as he was busy during boarding. I was also asked when I would like to take a shower, I said right before arrival and the flight attendant put me down for the final slot. There were only three passengers in First Class onboard my flight. There are no overhead bins in Emirates First Class cabins, but the suite has a dedicated nook for carry-ons that have seat belt like straps that hold them in place. My suite was cleared and soon we were off to D.C.
Shortly after takeoff, the flight attendants came through to take some initial food orders. Emirates First Class is A La Carte dine on demand as First Class should be. The only item I ordered right away, was the Caviar!!! Unlike Etihad, Emirates does not have an onboard chef or dedicated food and beverage manager, as such there was little explanation or suggestion of menu items and wine/liquor pairings. Whereas aboard Etihad, each dish and wine was explained to me, and I was offered a tasting menu with wine pairing. While not a big deal, it was this type of smaller attention to detail and creating a true fine dining experience at 30,000 feet that blew Etihad First out of the water for me (now, I am not sure if these standards still hold true given the struggling state of Etihad right now).
I started off with $400 2000 Vintage P2 Dom Perignon paired with warm nuts and a Dom Perignon chef designed canape. As with pre-departure, the champagne glass was consistently topped off, fine with me! I had asked for pictures again when I boarded and also when the P2 champagne came, next thing I knew the head flight attendant came by with a Polaroid camera, something extra they do for First Class passengers (if they think the passenger is inclined for it, as it was not offered to the other two passengers). My obnoxious pictures of me with the P2 bottle and glass were taken and later she came back with two “framed” cards signed by the First Class crew. So extra, so fun, and so memorable.
Next up my table was set. cracker basket, olive oil and vinegar, salt, pepper, butter, water and Champagne topped off again. Then came my plate of caviar and condiments with a shot of Belvedere vodka. The caviar was so good, and while I disagree with some folks out there who feel that having caviar makes or breaks a first class dining experience, I think it is definitely fun to have and it really is so tasty. However, my Etihad First Class dining experience was much better and did not include caviar on the menu. Afterwards, my carb basket was replaced with bread, and my Arabic Mezze arrived. The Arabic Mezze spread on Emirates First is impressive and can basically be a main course. Over all however, the Qatar Airways QSuites Business Class Arabic Mezze and Oman Air Mezze all tasted better than Emirates First Class. I paired my mezze with a 2014 Le Chevalier de Sterimberg Hermitage Blanc. Finally, for my main and last course I had the Seared Beef Tenderloin. Personally, I would have gone with one of the other options on the menu, however, my main course on Etihad First was steak and lamb biryani, and since Emirates didnt have biryani, I went with steak for a comparison. I paired the steak with a 2005 Les Forts de Latour Bordeaux. The steak arrived. I felt the presentation was ok, and did not make the steak look very appetizing. The meat itself was dry and overcooked. Full and disappointed, I did not finish my steak.
After my meal was cleared, I headed to First Class self-service bar located at the front of the cabin, I poured myself a glass of Dalmore King Alexander III Single Malt Whisky. At this point I was drunk and dozed off on a power nap.
After waking up a few minutes later. I decided it was time to check out the famous Emirates A380 Bar in the back of the upper deck, behind business class. Seeing that I was snapping away with my camera, the flight attendant manning the bar asked if I wanted a photo behind the bar, this was secretly a dream of mine so obviously I said yes. I also then ordered a gin and tonic but asked for Star of Bombay gin only available for First Class passenger, the flight attendant checked if I was first class. Personally, I was ok with this, but I also felt like either a First Class flight attendant could have escorted me or asked me where I was going as I passed the galley or somehow notified the bar a First Class passenger was coming, this is the kind of attention to detail, personalized, addressing needs service that I felt Emirates First Class was lacking. Nonetheless within a few short minute my delicious Star of Bombay gin and tonic was served. Though I had the old style bar on my plane, it was still beautiful and really a fantastic feature and space onboard an aircraft. It really transports you back to the golden age of air travel, and and would have been such a cool spot to watch a live Fifa World Cup game! The Emirates bar is definitely better than Etihad’s “Lobby” lounge onboard their A380s.
After my first visit to the amazing bar, I headed to the massive Shower Spa to change into my “moisturizing” pajamas. Emirates A380 First Class shower spas are incredible. They are huge, and well stocked with a variety of amenities that are constantly replenished by what seem to be two dedicated shower spa attendants, and have heated floors! I hung my clothes in the closet at the front of the suite. Unlike Etihad Airways where the crew somehow knew I was off changing into my pajamas and came running with hangers for my clothes and offering me to make my bed, I had to go find the Emirates flight attendants to ask for turn-down, again in the spectrum of life this really isnt horrible but some level of personalized “knowing what you need before you do” level of service is expected for an airline at the level of Emirates. Nonetheless the flight attendant was very kind and turned my suite into my bed. The mattress pad on Emirates First Class is amazing, so comfortable and I slept like a baby. Before actually sleeping, I headed back to the self-service bar and poured myself a nightcap of 1966 Taylor’s Single Harvest Port to go with the Godiva chocolates left at my suite. I turned on my suite’s do not disturb sign and shut the doors. If anything, Emirates has by far one of the best wine and liquor selections of any airline I have come across. I then proceeded to get around 5-6 hours of nonstop sleep, some of the best I have had in the air.
After waking up, it was time for a mid-fight snack. I ordered the Emirates steak sandwich and paired it with a 2012 Au Summet Napa red. The steak sandwich was good but not as good as Etihad, Qatar or even Delta’s. I then had an apple tartine paired with a 2017 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, the tart was cheaply presented, soggy and not very good. After my snack I got a tiny bit more of shut eye before I headed back to the bar again. This time I had a non-alcoholic Cucumber Gimlet, and chatted with the flight attendant at the bar.
Before I knew it, it was time for breakfast, followed by my shower. I started with my warm bread basket, fruit platter, vanilla banana smoothie, detox juice, coffee and water. The smoothie and juice were both very good. For my main breakfast I ordered the eggs Benedict. It was the biggest disappointment of the flight. The egg was completely overcooked and hard and the presentation panned compared to the perfectly poached eggs on Qatar QSuites.
After a disappointing breakfast, my flight ended on a high note with the shower in the Emirates shower spa. The Emirates shower spa is much larger and comfortable and better stocked than Etihad’s single shower lavatory for Apartment guests. The heated floors really made a difference. Just like Etihad, you get 5 minutes to shower and there is a countdown timer in the shower, water stops when you unlock the door and starts again when you lock and press the start button. This may be my second time showering in the air, but it still felt so new and so surreal and is definitely one of the coolest things on a commercial aircraft. Refreshed, and rejuvenated, I came out of the shower spa and poured myself a cup of tea at the self-service bar, which before landing gets turned into a zen tea station with full waterfall feature and fake candles.
Soon we were on our final descent into Washington D.C. and touched down a few minutes ahead of schedule.
I am very happy I finally had the opportunity to try Emirates First Class, especially on their A380s. The bar and shower spa are incredible features and so much fun, and really are themselves worth traveling in Emirates first class for. The beverage list is incredible and all tasted great. The wifi was strong and reliable and free.
However, food was the biggest disappointment coupled with an average lounge and decent but not above and beyond crew. At least on my Dubai to D.C. flight, the crew on my short haul flight was excellent, food still not great.
Is it worth splurging for Emirates First Class at the end of the day? Absolutely, as a whole it is still one of the coolest First Class experiences out there, especially on the A380.