As mentioned in my prior post covering the Gulf Air Falcon Gold Business Class experience, for Christmas 2021 I managed to secure a last minute award booking on the Emirates “Game Changer” fully enclosed First Class suite, unlocking yet another aviation bucket-list item. So began my whirlwind Christmas journey to Dubai.
Worth it? Live up to the hype? YES. Suffice to say, best First Class hard product I have thus far experienced, beats out the Singapore Suites and Etihad Apartments. Never had a chance, and sadly never will, experience the Etihad Residence, but that is also sort of an unfair comparison. The Emirates marketing team were not kidding when they called this Game Changer. Paired with what continues to be one of the most stellar wine lists in the sky and you have yourself one heck of a inflight experience. Emirates service and food is always a mixed bag and very hit or miss. Thankfully, I had a very solid crew of 3 in First Class this time.
Date: December 25, 2021
Flight: EK 231, Dubai DXB to Washington, D.C. IAD
Aircraft: 777-300ER, A6-EQJ
Distance and Duration: 7,064 miles; 2:30AM to 7:40AM, 14 hours 10 minutes
Seat: 1E, middle suite with virtual windows
Since Emirates introduced the “Game Changer” fully enclosed suites in 2019, I have been wanting to experience it. There is only a small sub-fleet of around 10 777-300ERs in the fleet equipped with these suites and so far no indication that Emirates plans to retrofit the others in the fleet. The aircraft are A6-EQ_ series with ~354 seats. There are a few ways to see what routes have the aircraft. Easiest is probably the many aviation bloggers who have the list, most updated one is One Mile at a Time. The other way is to utilize expertflyer and check the seat map, if the first class cabin is in a 1-1-1 over 2 rows with only 6 seats, then bingo. But also note that Emirates it notorious for last minute equipment swaps. I monitored FlightRadar24 EK 231 operations up to my flight date, thankfully only 1 of the days in the 10 day window saw an equipment change to older suites.
I had no Christmas plans in early December, so in just browsing possible options, I thought why not check out EK first award booking. Having read online that IAD was at the time, and still is, a Game Changer route, when I saw that there was first class availability for DXB-IAD, I immediately checked the seat map and FlightRadar history to see that in fact this most likely would be operated by game changer aircraft. I thus transferred points to my Skywards account.
Total was 136,250 SkyWards miles + AED840 (~USD230). Absolutely worth it. Funny though that both my long-haul Emirates first class experiences to date have been on EK231 DXB-IAD.
It was then time to select my seats. To fully experience all the gimmicks, gadgets and features I had to choose a middle suite. Why? Well, those virtual windows people rave about, but also because the middle suites are slightly wider and offer marginally more storage. Initially I chose seat 2F as bulkhead seat 1E was blocked. But 1E became available at check-in and I switched. Initially, I was near the only passenger booked, within 48 hours of departure, the cabin filled up and 5/6 suites were occupied.
I wont go into details on the lounge or ground experience, as I have covered that in my other Emirates First Class post. Further, this time around I was in concourse A at Terminal 3 which featured the smaller and crappier lounge, they also had reduced services and amenities due to COVID, it was a very subpar lounge experience for an already mediocre lounge. Also, at the time, U.S. departures had a roped off check-in area in the First/Business Class check-in terminal, due to added COVID document checks.
Given the poor lounge situation and that I was just excited and wanted to get as much time onboard, I headed to the gate early, unfortunately no lounge to gate boarding on this concourse. 30 minutes prior to scheduled departure we boarded.
The Cabin and Suite
First impression upon stepping in: WOW. By now there are countless YouTube videos, reels, and blog posts online covering the suites and people’s various experiences. They all do not exactly do it justice as it is something to see and experience for yourself. It truly is unreal. And the cabin is surprisingly warm and inviting, albeit still with the glitz and bling of Emirates, but they have toned down that ugly faux wood paneling seen on the older aircraft. I was truly speechless but how beautiful the cabin is, and just how spacious the suites are.
Hotel room? Spaceship capsule? It is sort of all of the above.
There are so many features, you can almost entertain yourself solely by playing with the features on a 14 hour flight. So, where to even begin? Perhaps the best way is to just let the photos and videos tell the story? There is no need to worry about storage, lack of overhead bin, air vents, or lighting. All of that is thought out for you. The floor is padded and also features starry lights.
Virtual Windows: mixed feelings. Its cool, and indeed hyper-realistic. However, given the fixed position of the cameras on the fuselage driving the feed, there is no real true depth perception of peripheral views, its also at an awkward slightly downward facing angle and is definitely not a 1-1 comparison of the direct view from the window seats. If you prefer a true window view, still best to opt for a real window seat. Did I ask for binoculars? Yes. They told me the binoculars are mostly reserved for the real window seats, which I understand as there really is no point in needing them for a virtual window where what you see is what you get, but still cool and fun for photo purposes and just to say you used binoculars offered by the airline in your suite. In addition to window shades controlled by your seat controls, there are also curtains you can draw.
At the suite was the amenity kit, snack basket (which the remove during takeoff and landing but bring back), snacks and beverages in the cabinets on the front wall, small pillow at the seat, upper storage open to show location of the blanket and pillow and the care kit (mask, hand sanitizer), pen/notebook/sleep spray and oil in the vanity. Everything else was hidden in storage (headphones, magazines, mattress pad…etc), or offered throughout boarding process (slippers, pajamas).
The seat itself is so comfortable. Wide, well padded and ample positions to recline into, including the famous NASA-developed “0 Gravity” position, which really is so comfortable and relaxing. In lay flat bed mode, topped with the thick and soft mattress pad and extra pillows, the bed is super comfortable and in my exhausted and drunken state, I slept for a solid 8 hours straight in the Emirates “moisturizing” pajamas.
The Food, Beverage and Service
Having had mediocre food on my prior EK F experience, I came onboard with managed expectations, but the main meal service on this flight was actually quite delicious. Nonetheless compared to Qatar Q Suites and Etihad First, I just feel Emirates first class food could be a lot better, especially their breakfast, its always disappointing. Though I knew better from my prior experience, I figured I’d see if breakfast catering improved, nope. I regret ordering a breakfast dish at breakfast, should have gone with another main meal service option. The various Christmas holiday special items I had on my flight were actually quite tasty, especially my Christmas Pudding dessert. That said, they have leveled up their Caviar service and serve with a nice mother of pearl spoon now as well as directly from the caviar container.
Now, where Emirates shines and makes me love and want to redeem their first class over and over again is their wine and liquor list. It is probably the best I have seen so far, I do wonder if Air France La Premiere or ANA First beats it out? But with Emirates its BOTH the wine and liquor selection that are top notch. From 2008 Dom Perignon to 2008 Chateau Y’Quem and Hennessy Paradis, its hard not to get drunk on Emirates First Class.
Upon boarding, I was offered a tour of the suite and walk-through of the various features and storage areas. Because there truly are too many features, they do not go into all the details, but rather point out where your light/temperature, seat, entertainment controls are and that you can adjust everything to your own desire. You have to just play around a bit and figure it out, though its all very intuitive, and fun.
I had 3 wonderful crew lead by John. Jacob and Lydia were my main crew. Jacob stored my carry-on in the large and dedicated luggage bin under the front console area of the suite. He then offered me a pre-departure beverage. Of course, I went with the 2008 Dom Perignon. Lydia then came by with pajamas and slippers, followed shortly with Arabic Coffee and Date (with choice of regular, almond or orange peel flavors) service, followed swiftly by Jacob with hot towel. Then Jacob came by to top off my Dom and the menus. I also asked for the binoculars for fun, they happily obliged but also explained why it was not already at my seat. Shortly after, doors were closed and we were off to Washington. Once we hit 10,000 feet, I spent my time playing with all the features including closing the suite door and service window, and wow, once fully enclosed, still spacious and just a whole little slice of heaven to yourself.
First up was more Dom paired with canapes, the venison skewer was especially delicious, and warm nuts. This was served through the service window, the main dishes were served through the door given that it required to be served on the oversized tray table.
Caviar service with more Dom.
2011 Louis Latour
Christmas special cured Salmon, quite tasty
2005 Clos du Marquis Saint Julien
Lamb Biryani, quite fantastic
2008 Chateau Y’Quem
First of 2 pours of Hennessy Paradis
I then headed to the restroom to change into my pajamas and asked to have my bed made. Came back to a turned down suite. It was then a nice long and restful sleep.
Upon waking up, I decided to try out the “room service” video dial service. It was a tad faulty as the crew could not hear me for some reason. They ended up just coming in person to take my order. They said the feature is cool and fun for passengers but it often doesnt quite work and its easier for the crew to just take the order in person. Personally I actually prefer in person ordering anyways, less risk of either side getting things wrong and miscommunications happening. But its a neat feature nonetheless.
Apple carrot juice and Apple Carrot vitality (with lemon/ and other ingredients)
Cheese omelette, overcooked and flavorless omelette
When asked if I wanted anything else before landing, I shamelessly asked if I could have one final glass of Dom Perignon. Flight lead John was very nice and took it out of the cart that they had already stowed for landing, and served me a final glass. Then Lydia came by with a Christmas white chocolate cupcake that all passengers in first class received.
As they say, all good times must come to an end. So we began our final approach into IAD and landed a few minutes ahead of schedule, much to my disappointment. Once the rest of the passengers in First class disembarked, I thanked and briefly chatted with Jacob and Lydia and thanked them for another very memorable Emirates flight.
Then as I was preparing to go through security at the main IAD departure hall for my connecting flight, I came to the realization I left my wallet in the armrest storage in my suite. In a panic storm I ran to the EK Check-in counter and thankfully one of the leads/ managers was working the First Class counter and I informed him of my wallet situation. He radioed his colleague who was at the gate and doing a sweep, it would appear other folks left things too and I was told it happens all the time. Thankfully I caught this in time and they were able to find my wallet and bring it to me in less than 15 minutes. I was thoroughly impressed and grateful.
The Emirates “Game Changer” fully enclosed first class suite is truly a game changer. It is an experience to behold, primarily for the full design and features of the suite and the fact that you really have a hotel room/ capsule to yourself in the sky. I am so grateful I was able to gift myself this Christmas experience.