I flew 14 hours nonstop in business class on the world's biggest passenger plane, the discontinued $446 million Airbus superjumbo jet, and it was even more luxurious than I could have imagined
- The Airbus A380 superjumbo, the largest and most expensive commercial airliner in history, turned out to be a failure, and Airbus announced this month it will stop producing the plane.
- For my 14-hour flight to New York from Dubai, I decided to fly business class for $5,400 on an A380 operated by Emirates Airlines, Airbus's biggest A380 customer.
- The flight was my first time flying business class. From the chauffeur service and extravagant pre-flight lounge to the inflight cocktail bar and spacious pod seat, it was unforgettable.
- With business class far from full on my flight, it's 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 business class.Until last week, that is, when Airbus announced that in 2021 it will stop producing the A380, the largest and most expensive commercial airliner in history.Advertisement
For most of the A380's decade in service, Airbus has struggled to find buyers. The exception to that is Emirates, an airline ranked as the Middle East's largest, the world's fourth largest, and rated the fourth best in the world. Operating over 100 A380s, Emirates delivered on the $445.6 million plane's promise of unprecedented luxury in air travel.
The second deck of Emirates' A380 is dedicated solely to first-class and business class. Each passenger gets a pod with a flatbed seat, a minibar, a tablet, and a widescreen television. There's even a dedicated lounge where flight attendants mix up cocktails.For many travel junkies, flying 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 $5,400 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 business class, I've been traveling for business for the last year, as evidenced by my very compact luggage (if I say so myself).
I was staying at Zabeel House Mini by UAE-based hotel chain Jumeirah. Like Emirates Airlines, Jumeirah is owned by the Dubai government. Since my flight wasn't until 2:35 a.m. (!), I had a lot of time to kill.Advertisement
Thankfully, Zabeel let me use the 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 everyday you fly 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 U.A.E. I booked the car on Emirates' app and the driver showed up right on time.Advertisement
The driver took me to Terminal 3, Dubai International Airport's dedicated Emirates terminal. The $4.5 billion building is the largest airport terminal in the world and the second largest building in the world, by floor area.
That's the main entrance to the terminal, which is used exclusively by Emirates and its low-cost sister airline FlyDubai. But business class and first class passengers don't go to the main entrance.Advertisement
There's a dedicated curbside entrance for the fancy folks next door. As you enter, there's a giant advertisement for Emirates' first class. One day, I will make it into the first class suite, but first, I have to conquer business class.
As you walk into the business class and first class entrance, there's a hallway on the left leading to economy check-in. You know, just in case, any economy passengers mistakenly entered this hallowed hall.Advertisement
Tomorrow, I'll be back to flying economy. But today, I get to look at that business class sign and think, "Oh yes, that's for me."
There were a dozen open counters for business class and first class check-ins and exactly zero people waiting on line. Now that's service.Advertisement
While business-class and first-class passengers get perks like extra baggage and a dedicated check-in area, there's no special treatment on some rules, like carrying containers of powder in your hand luggage.
I asked the Emirates attendant if the several containers of Iranian saffron I had purchased at the Dubai spice souk the day before qualified as "powder." They did, so I had to move them to my checked bag.Advertisement
Whenever in wealthy environs, I tell myself to "act like you've been there before." But, there I was, opening my suitcase in front of the check-in counter like Economy Me is always having to do when my luggage is overweight. Some things never change.
After I tucked the saffron deep within my luggage, the attendant printed my boarding pass. It all became real: I was flying business. I was starting to feel very much like an Emirati sheikh.Advertisement
The walk to security was long — a quarter of a mile or more. I was in the second largest building in the world after all. I should have expected nothing less.
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 class and first class has a dedicated security screening. There were exactly zero people on line. After security, I got into an elevator to take me to the concourse.Advertisement
Much to my dismay, the elevator did not drop me directly in front of the business class lounge. I'm sure this is intentional.
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 ...Advertisement
... though I did see Chanel, Salvatore Ferragamo, Armani, Hugo Boss, Hermès, Cartier and Rolex. From a business standpoint, there's no way the designers of Terminal 3 are letting their richest customers avoid the luxury shops.
After getting lost in the maze that is Terminal 3 — and buying a $10 stuffed camel — I finally found the way to the lounge. First, I had to take the escalator to the second floor ...Advertisement
... and walk past a few more luxury shops (where I got spritzed with a fancy perfume). Then, I saw it.
Before you enter, there's a signboard detailing the many flavors of the world that reside inside. Having been to my fair share of lounges (thanks, Priority Pass!), I wasn't expecting much. Oh, how wrong I was.Advertisement
As was quickly becoming a theme, there were half a dozen lounge attendants waiting to check in passengers and exactly zero people on line. I panicked for a moment as I tried to decide which smiling attendant I should go to.
After getting checked in, I decided to have a look around. There was a small seating area up front with clocks for major destinations ...Advertisement
... and a wall of old-timey photographs referencing great cities of the world.
From the moment you step in, the vibe of the lounge is old-world luxury. Everything is leather, rich, polished mahogany wood, and dim, atmospheric lighting.Advertisement
The shelves are lined with knickknacks from all over the world. The vibe the space gives off is of being in a very rich and well-traveled person's library. It's hokey, but it works.
The Concourse B lounge I was in is one of six Emirates lounges in DXB alone. It was refurbished two and a half years ago for $11 million and still looks sparkling new.Advertisement
The lounge spans nearly 10,000 square feet and covers almost the entire second floor of Concourse B. There are maps and signs everywhere so you don't get lost.
The lounge has tons of seating areas, with enough seats to accommodate 1,500 passengers. Coming from lounges that typically top out at 100 or 200 passengers, I was reeling from the size.Advertisement
Before sitting down with my bags, I double-checked the departure board to make sure I wouldn't miss ... aww, who am I kidding? Eagle-eyed readers will note that I got to the lounge four hours before my departure.
In my defense, I had to make sure I got my money's worth out of this (for me) extravagant experience. I dropped my bags in an armchair, sniffed the fresh rose on the table in front, and set out to explore.Advertisement
First, I had to scope out the food situation. The lounge has five main dining stations and three "concept areas." At the top of my list was the Middle Eastern and Western station ...
... where I found a variety of fresh dips like hummus and Muhammara (a hot pepper dip), moussaka (eggplant stew), fattoush (a Lebanese bread salad), Moroccan chicken tagine, lamb stew, and more.Advertisement
The Western side of the station had dishes like pan-roasted salmon ...
... and chili con carne.Advertisement
Nearby was the Health Hub "concept area" in partnership with Voss Water. The self-service area looks like a futuristic supermarket with sleek, brightly lit counters of chamomile tea, rosemary-watermelon infused water, and fresh fruit.
The Health Hub had a selection of fresh sandwiches, salads, and sweet potato chips. I snagged a focaccia sandwich with mozzarella and basil pesto. It was as tasty as if I'd gotten it in an Italian bistro, but I'm not kidding myself about how healthy it was.Advertisement
All of the water bottles in the lounge are Voss. In the Health Hub, they have special versions that have been infused with strawberries or watermelon. Water fit for a king ... er business class passenger.
I wasn't ready to settle down for dinner yet. I had to survey all of my options. Next up was the Asian section.Advertisement
It had a variety of Indian dishes like dhokla (fermented batter of chickpeas and rice), chaat (potato, chickpeas, and bread topped with sauces) ...
... and a variety of curries. Dubai has a sizeable Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi population, so I was very confident the South Asian food would be spot on.Advertisement
There were a few Chinese and Japanese dishes, too. The most interesting to me was fried rice with chopped up okonomiyaki (a savory potato pancake stuffed with seafood or pork).
Onward to the dessert section. There was a selection of tarts and cheesecakes ...Advertisement
... Middle Eastern desserts like baklava and basbousa ...
... and, my personal favorite, a selection of chocolate mousse truffles and cupcakes. I took a dark chocolate raspberry truffle and had to fight myself to not eat it before I decided on dinner.Advertisement
To get to the other food stations, I had to cross the concourse to the other side of the terminal, just to give you an idea of how big the lounge is. In the middle of the lounge, there are some open windows so you can watch the chefs work.
After following some signs, I found the Mediterranean section, which was heavy on dips and pita.Advertisement
Honestly, it wasn't that interesting. I was more intrigued by the Moët & Chandon champagne lounge behind it. The bartender told me I could try one of four champagnes, the Moët Impérial, the Moët Rosé Impérial, the Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage and the Moët Nectar Impérial.
Like the seasoned champagne connoisseur I was pretending to be, I confidently said the 2009 Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage, mainly because it sounded like the most expensive. It was delightful.Advertisement
The last stop was the International station. It was a bit disappointing, primarily because it seemed to be a mix of dishes from all the other stations.
The International station's main purpose, I think, was to allow easy access to food for the heavy drinkers. It had a full cocktail bar for those on a liquid diet.Advertisement
I never pass up fine whiskey. I ordered a glass of Glenfiddich 15-Year Single Malt on the rocks ...
... and then I went back to collect the greatest hits of the food stations. I ended up with the okonomiyaki rice, teriyaki chicken, a fish masala, an Oreo cheesecake, and the aforementioned dark chocolate raspberry truffle. It wasn't Michelin-star food, but it was well made and light-years above what you usually find in a lounge.Advertisement
With so many seating areas, it was easy enough to find a seat.
After scarfing down my melange of global cuisines, it was time to do some work. I was flying business, after all.Advertisement
After finishing a blog post (rule #1 of Business Insider: Always Be Posting), I decided to have a look at the showers.
Though I've been in a lot of airport lounges that include showers, I've never actually showered in one. Today was the day that all changed.Advertisement
Each shower stall has a dressing area with a package of towels, including a bath sheet, a hand towel, and a bath mat. There's also a cubby for your hand luggage.
The conditioner and shower gel were by Voya, an Irish company that makes organic, luxury bath products. It did not feel cheap.Advertisement
The shower head had strong water pressure, though I had to futz with it for a few minutes to get it to the right temperature. I thought it would be weird to shower at an airport, but it wasn't much different than, say, showering at the gym.
It was nice to feel fresh before I even got on the plane. As the old saying goes, "A clean business class traveler is a happy business class traveler."Advertisement
I didn't need to shave, but if I did, the bathroom had shaving kits on hand.
I did need to brush my teeth, however, and fortunately, the lounge had piles of dental kits ready for travelers. The toothbrushes weren't the usual one-time use ones either — they were nice Colgate toothbrush. I'm still using mine.Advertisement
With time running out before my flight, I started running around to make sure I'd see everything. There was a shoe shining station, though that'll cost you 26 AED ($7) extra.
There's the Timeless Spa, which offers massages, facials, scrubs, and nail treatments. Prices were 441 AED ($120) for a one-hour Swedish massage or 331 AED ($90) for a manicure.Advertisement
No need to go to an airport kiosk or the bookstore for reading material. The lounge has lots of major magazines, though they seemed to be only business and lifestyle-related. No politics magazines over here.
There was a selection of newspapers from all over the world, including France's Le Monde and the U.K.'s Evening Standard and Daily Mail, among others.Advertisement
There's a quiet area with full-length loungers for napping. Each one is in its own area blocked off by privacy barriers. They were all taken when I walked by, though.
There are a lot of television areas with seemingly every channel imaginable, where you can sit and watch the game. And by "the game," I mean whatever sport is your fancy. I saw people watch NBA, Premier League, and La Liga.Advertisement
There's a small business lounge with printers, computers, and a fax machine. I was expecting this to be empty — what business traveler doesn't carry a laptop or tablet? — but there were a few people using it.
I also found a free charging station with lockers so you could charge up your device before take-off.Advertisement
There's even a branch of Costa Coffee in the lounge serving up coffee drinks and pastries.
Ordering is a slightly strange experience because everything is free. I'm addicted to free stuff. I ordered a cappuccino even though it was 1 a.m. and I really did not need to stay awake much longer.Advertisement
There's a children's play area, which, though slightly barren, did have my favorite part of the lounge ...
... in the shape of two Mario Kart DX arcade machines, which you can play for free. I am apparently still nine years old, because I spent a solid 20 minutes racing.Advertisement
There's also a PS4 station, though this one seemed a bit more half-hearted — it's only loaded up with demos. I tried out Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2, because, again, I am apparently the main character from the classic Tom Hanks film "Big."
Though the lounge was mostly empty when I arrived, it had filled up considerably by my departure time. Emirates must have a number of red eye flights leaving from DXB.Advertisement
Before I could get on the plane, which was already boarding, I had to take care of one last thing ...
... and get a cone of ice cream. I opted for the Swiss chocolate and the Raspberry sorbet. Like President Trump, I got two scoops of ice cream, not one.Advertisement
It was finally time to board. One of the perks of flying Emirates business class is that you board directly from the lounge. That sounds great, until you realize 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.
No matter what class of passenger you are, there's no skirting around airport security. Before boarding the plane, I was given a full pat-down and a thorough look-through of my cabin bag.Advertisement
It was finally time to board!
Outside the boarding hallway, I could see my magnificent chariot: the Airbus A380. My plane was one of Emirates' older planes, having been in service since 2010. The plane is massive, with four turbofan engines.Advertisement
Though I was one of the last people on the plane, the Emirates staff made me feel like I had arrived right on time. Though Emirates is known for having ultra-lux planes, it was clear from the get-go that it's the service that sets it apart.
The interior is positively massive, spanning 6,000 square feet. The second floor is completely dedicated to business and first-class passengers. But that doesn't mean you are one of, say, a dozen passengers, like on some planes.Advertisement
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 a thoughtful dissection of the seat map, I picked 22G. There were no window seats available (the curse of booking last minute), but 22G is the seat at the beginning of the second business-class cabin. The upside is that it has extra legroom; the downside is that passengers with babies are often seated here due to the bassinet next to the seat. I lucked out. No babies.Advertisement
This was as close as I could get to seeing out the window. After recently flying on a Boeing 787, which has extra-large windows, the A380 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.Advertisement
For comparison's sake, this is what the first-class seat looks like. It is fully enclosed and has 86 inches of pitch. When fully extended as a bed, it is 78 inches long. One day, one day.
Each seat has its own overhead compartment. I was able to put both my backpacks, my sweater, and my souvenirs bag up there without having to fight with other passengers for space.Advertisement
Each cabin has a smaller selection of magazines for passengers to choose from. It's a heck of a lot better than the usual in-flight magazine you get in economy.
Right above my seat was a bouquet of fresh flowers.Advertisement
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 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 centerpiece of the business-class experience. Unfortunately, it was not yet operational.Advertisement
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, laptop, and Kindle and was ready to go.
Each seat has a docked tablet that you can use to control everything from reading lights ...Advertisement
... to picking from the thousands of movies, television shows, and documentaries on offer in the entertainment system.
For those that 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!Advertisement
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