Put on your sunglasses and strap on your seat belt folks, this is going to be a blingy post for sure. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of flying Emirates flagship First Class Suites on their Airbus A380 from San Francisco to Seoul connecting via Dubai. Yes this is the loooong way for sure, but I was in the midst of my quest for flying the a380 around the world and was on my second to last segment of completing my mission. Although this trip in and of itself was an RTW in that I was continuing on from Seoul to San Francisco later in the week, on the more conventional Pacific crossing. I’ll share those details in a future post.
A few weeks prior, I had started my journey in Seoul and connected to Singapore Airlines in Shanghai and made the circuitous journey back to Los Angeles on their a380’s via Singapore and Narita, Japan.
My trip started out with ease at the First Class check in desk at SFO, 2 ½ hours prior to departure. The line was nonexistent, I walked up and was immediately provided two boarding passes for my trip, unfortunately I was not able to take advantage of the stop-over opportunity in Dubai and only had an 8 hour layover. Maybe next time.The line for coach check-in was already pretty long, and I was very thankful I was not enduring the 16 hour journey to Dubai in the back of the (air)bus. The agent also reminded me that I had access to their lounge in the A section of the International terminal and directed me to its location. I was familiar with where it was, but had never had the pleasure of opening its doors to see what goodies they had in store for their premium and frequent fliers on this route and had longed for this day to check it out.
After what seemed like an eternity at security I was on my way to the lounge. Sadly Emirates doesn’t participate in PreCheck, so I had to tough it out with all the other A terminal guests and wait out the long lines since there were several widebodies departing this terminal around the same time as mine.
I was finally here, the Emirates Lounge SFO. Emirates is unique in that they have dedicated this lounge to this one flight a day. It opens a few hours prior to departure and closes right after the plane leaves. Unlike some other airlines and lounges, that can be contracted out or are used for partner airlines to defray costs, Emirates doesn’t care and has chosen to only use it for this one flight. To access the lounge you must be one of their top tier guests or flying in first or business, which makes it even that much more exclusive. I’m not sure if I should congratulate them for spending this kind of dough daily to keep a large lounge like this open for maybe 4 hours per day, and staff it like they did, but hey when you’re financed with state run money and have deep pockets full of gold…errr oil I mean, you can get away with it.
Once through the glass doors and checked in, you make your way downstairs to the incredibly expansive lounge, with views of the runways and gates. The lounge is separated into three areas of sorts. On the back wall running almost the length of the lounge were small and medium seating areas with chairs and sofas plus a TV tuned to CNN or something like that. Then facing the windows was a long row of daybeds and small side tables. On this side of the lounge there were also a few quite or phone rooms (can’t remember which), showers and a prayer room. Plus a self-serve drink station with wine and champagne, spirits, Dilmah Teas (secretly jumping for joy) and an espresso machine. To the right of the daybeds was another wall and behind it was the dining room.
I’m guessing overall this space must be close to 3,000 square feet, and almost as big as the SFO AMEX Centurion lounge or Admirals Club. Imagine if first and business are 100% full and everyone came to the lounge prior to the flight you’d have 90 people here. Although, it would be crowded, but I have to imagine that this is not a common occurrence. I just have this feeling it never feels like the United Club and the hunt for a seat game. This day, I’d guess at best there were no more than 20 people here.
Besides the overall space and comfort, what made this space unique was the dining area and the food options. I was impressed in how many choices you had to pick from. It was pure decadence, and an indicator of things to come in the air I later realized. There were small bites and snacks such as marinated olives, hummus, sushi or bite sized deserts. They even had hot gourmet offerrings like steak medallions, grilled/baked fish, petite potatoes, pasta you name it. Again this was about the most impressive buffet offering I had ever seen at an airline lounge. Sure Lufthansa in Frankfurt has a solid buffet in the First Class Lounge and Singapore offers some tasty treats in the TPR, but this was impressive, especially at a satellite lounge used once a day. I sure hope that they let the staff take the food home or donate to a shelter at the end of the day, because again they were prepared for an army that never came.
About 40 minutes prior to departure, they made an announcement that the flight was ready for boarding. I made my way to the gate, at the end of the terminal and was able to get my one snap of the whalejet before boarding. The upper deck of the a380 is for first and business class only, so upon boarding at SFO, they have two jet bridges one exclusively for the second deck. Upon boarding one of the flight attendants escorted me left towards the front of the plane to take my seat in 3C one of the 14 seats in first. Today the cabin went out 7 of 14. The cabin is large but not any larger than other a380’s and somehow Emirates stuffs in 14 seats where most would have 12 and some have only 8 first class seats. Although it didn’t feel small, just an interesting note on their density vs other airlines.
Upon entering the cabin I was overwhelmed by the amount of gold in the design, fixtures and finishes of the cabin. It was slightly overwhelming and jarring to say the least. From the gold trim around all the wood components, to the light receptacles, lamps and buttons on the hidden shelves it was a bit much. Don’t get me wrong it was not gaudy, just a little over the top. Subtle it was not. You were reminded that this was Emirates an airlines made of money and they were trying to subtly hit you over the head :). As I got settled, I was asked what I would like to drink and has become the norm of late ordered a glass of champagne, today they were serving Dom Perignon 2004 (they must have the same dealer as Singapore).
The suite was beautiful in all its bright glory. If I had sunglasses I would have put them on, it was just that in your face. Each suite consists of a lie-flat seat, with motorized sliding doors that affords that little bit of extra privacy. There was also a small coat closet built into the side of the suite so once you slipped into your Emirates supplied PJ’s you had someplace to hang your clothes. What was nice about the closet was that it was wide and deep enough for a pair of pants let alone a sport coat or jacket. Unlike the one on Thai Airways which could hardly hold a t-shirt.
What I immediately picked up on was the ridiculous amount of gadgets, buttons and accessories that were in the seat. Between having an iPad that you could use to control the TV, seat positon, lighting, electronic window shades and sliding doors. You had a large touch screen TV, make up mirror, electronic rising mini-bar, snack basket, hidden tray table, lamp and side light. There was a lot going on. Needless to say they all came in handy and discovering all the little features of the seat and suite were fun for me. Oh and yes I did say mini-bar, stocked with sodas, juice and Voss water. Please don’t tell my wife about the brand of water, she might just strangle me after she finds out how many bottles I drank of this stuff. I’m still convinced she likes Voss because of their glass bottles.
What really made this suite special was the attention to detail. As mentioned above the iPad, controlled a large portion of the suite. During takeoff and landing it was locked into place, but otherwise it could be removed from it’s cradle. The iPad, was amazing, since there was so much you could control at your fingertips. The seat had individual controls for the back rest (forwards/backwards), headrest (up/down), seat pan (in/out, footrest (up/down & in/out). Plus the windows had two layers of shades and you could control the darkness level of each shade. Then the desk lamp and reading light could be turned on/off and dimmed several levels. Lastly you could control the TV. Their entertainment system is called ICE (information, connectivity and entertainment) I think. And with over 5000 channels devoted to International TV, music and movies there definitely wasn’t a shortage of things to watch. In my case I found a few bad movies and then binge watched seasons of Brooklyn 99 and Modern Family. Needless to say I was not board by any account. Then between the hideaway make-up mirror, snack basket (stowed by the crew for take-off and landing), writing kit and the stow away mini-bar you had a pretty fun spot to relax for 16 hours.
As for other amenities as if what I’ve already mentioned was not enough. You’re re supplied with PJ’s, slippers, eye shades and a leather amenity kit chock full of Bulgari products, shaving cream and deodorant. Overall a pretty nice haul for a long haul. The nice part about the PJ’s for me was the top actually fit, Unfortunately it’s long sleeve so I was a tad warm on this entire flight, even though the seats had two air vents. Most PJ’s I’ve gotten of late had had tops that were either see through (thanks Thai) or too small for me, this was the one time I can recall that they fit. Whooo Hooo!! Next time you see me at the airport you might see me sporting them around the terminal.
Once settled in I also received my dinner and drink menu as well as the spa menu. Yup you heard that right spa menu!! Emirates until Etihad introduced their a380’s earlier this year were the only commercial airlines to offer onboard showers for their first class guests. The spa menu described the procedures and process of booking your shower and about the process of how the shower worked. One of the reasons I’ve longed to fly Emirates in first class all these years was for this one incredible amenity. Needless to say I was pretty jazzed about getting to use the shower. There’s nothing like arriving at your destination refreshed and energized.
As for the meal process on Emirates they offer ala cart service, with many small bites, appetizers, and entrees. All you had to do was tell the staff what you wanted and when, and they prepared and served it to you. They did remind me that it takes about 30 minutes to prepare your meal. They also pointed out that you could have as much as you wanted and just needed to let them know what suited your fancy. I did find this process to be pretty cool, especially since all the things I wanted were available when I ordered them. The concept of dine when you wanted was nice to me, I didn’t feel rushed to order or eat, and since this was a 4:45 PM departure I was really not ready to eat for a few hours, and this made me happy that the staff didn’t push me to eat immediately after take-off. In other words, I had plenty of time to imbibe in my favorite drink of choice.
Shortly after take-off I was served my first glass of champagne…in the air and some mixed warm nuts
Beyond what I could tell was a pretty solid wine wine list they had a spirits list that would make anyone happy plus a mixed drink menu larger then some restaurants needless to say I was impressed. Bar service consisted of items like Johnie Walker Blue, Patron XO Cafe, Woodford Reserve and Hennessy Paradis (retail upwards of $600 USD). BTW most of these items are exclusive to first class.
I then had a naked mixed green salad. The menu said it cam with choice of dressing, although it came naked and when I asked for dressing, the flight attendant said they would have to check. I think I got straight up mayonnaise as my dressing.
My main course was Nlgiri Chicken with rice and paneer. It was delicious!
Treacle and lemon tart with creme anglise, don’t ask me what it is, because I have no idea
Overall dinner was really good, and although I had too much to eat I’d do it again, and did about 24 hours later on my flight to Seoul. The service was good not great, but I was happy, well fed and the food was of high quality. The meal was not rushed but at the same time served at a good pace.
After dinner I made my way back to the business class bar. This is another really great amenity that Emirates offers its upstairs guests. Emirates took the innovative approach and created this large bar at the butt end of the plane after the last row of business and between the galley and business class restrooms. It runs the width of the plane and is about 15 feet deep. It has this ultra-cool bar, tons of canapés, a TV with route map and seating for 6-10 I’m guessing. It ended up being a nice spot to park myself for about 2 hours and just relax and chat with a few other guests and flight attendants, all the while imbibing in Hennessey Paradis since I’ll never pay that much for a bottle of anything EVER. Also the bartender will get the drinks that are exclusive to first class and serve you, while the rest of the guests up here only get the “standard” stuff. How’s that for living the good life?
The bar and space were just a nice spot to chill. This was a 16 hour flight and I had no reason to sleep yet and didn’t want to watch TV or work the whole time, so having this little respite was a neat little treat. Besides that the upper desk was really empty, I counted many rows in business that were totally empty, thusly the lounge was too most of the time. It was also fun to chat with the crew and hear their stories. The bar tender was French and had never been to San Francisco before so getting his take on my fair city was pretty cool. Plus hearing about all the exotic places he gets to fly to was not too bad either. He also recommended that I try a particular bottle of red wine, and of course I did. You never ever ever turn down a Frenchman’s wine recommendation. And yes he was right it was good.
Finally after a few hours in the bar and getting well lubricated and yes I had my fair share of Voss water too (they give this away like Singapore Airlines passes out hot towels) I was ready for bed. Thankfully while I was chatting it up in the lounge the staff had made my bed which consisted of a seat pad, duvet and two large pillows. I would be well ensconced for several hours, and had a really really restful night’s sleep. I’m guessing I slept close to 8 hours that night and by the time I woke up I was feeling really really great. Until you’ve had a lie-flat seat enclosed in a suite or not on an airplane you haven’t really slept on an airplane. There’s something to be said about being horizontal while flying. I remember the days of the old barca-lounger on United in business and thought I was living large. But after experiencing seats like this on many airlines I now really know what’s what at 35,000 feet. Thank you airline miles and mileage earning credit cards for giving me the ability to see how the other half lives.
The best part about waking up is Folgers in your cup. Ha yes that’s how old I am. But really the best part of waking up was getting to take a SHOWER. During introductions way back at take-off I was asked when I’d like to take my shower, and I thought 2 hours prior to arrival made sense to me. So once I woke up and stretched out it was time to get my shower on. After gathering my clean hung up clothes, which the flight attendant insisted in carrying to the shower rooms I was ready.
After the flight attendant hung up my clothes I was given a walk thought of the shower and how it worked. Let me just say it was cool, calm and collected on the outside. But on the inside I was fist pumping, jumping around and basically doing cartwheels because I was so freaking excited. During my run thought I was reminded that the shower had 5 minutes of water and had a meter that told you how much was left. I was also told I could stop it at any time to conserve water and then start it up again. This way I had more time in the shower and could use my 5 minutes effectively. Also I was told the shower suite had heated floors, and was directed to where all the shower supplies were kept and toiletries were too. I was also reminded that I had 20 minutes overall in the shower suite. Needless to say I was ready to go! They were also required to do a quick safety demonstration and point out where to sit during turbulence and where the call buttons were. They had two, one in the shower and one on the bench. in the bathroom area. Lord help them if they had to evacuate the bathroom during turbulence. That could surly not be a pretty sight.
The shower itself was not huge but if you’ve ever cruised it’s bigger than any shower I’ve had in a stateroom. The heated floors were a fabulous touch too. But really having the ability to take a hot shower after 14 hours of flying was the icing on the cake. Beyond that, 5 minutes is not that long but since you could start and stop the water at any time made the process that much better. On top of that the water was instantly hot, so you didn’t waste any time on this either. The shower also had a bench in case you needed to just take in the moment. For me, the best part was going pee in the shower. I know I know TMI, but really 35,000 feet up in a shower I just had to do it. Thankfully they have two shower attendants that are on board to clean the shower suite after every guest. Let’s just hope my admission doesn’t get me banned from Emirates :).
This is the amazing shower suite. On the left is a bench seat and large sink as well as bath amenities. Straight ahead to the left is the shower, the door is to the right. And on the right is a full length mirror and hanger.
Shower amenities including shaving kits and loofah sponges
Once I was done with my shower and back at my seat it was time to eat again. Eat, sleep, shower, eat, sleep shower it’s my new life. Really I was not that hungry but did need a little snack. They had a huge breakfast menu, and I saw so many things I wanted to eat, but restrained myself since I knew I had more food to come in Dubai and on my next flight. Initially I just ordered a beef slider and fried sesame prawn. But the flight attendant insisted that I get two of each and some fruit on the side. I did protest, but not that much and so she brought me what she recommended. She tried to offer me more food but two of each and the fruit was just enough for me. The burgers with blue cheese were perfect, and the fried prawn was just cooked right. I don’t know how they can do this since it was catered almost 16 hours ago. Thank you aircraft catering gods.
This was quite possibly my longest flight ever, I’ve flown a few other pretty long flights so I’m not 100% sure. It clocked in at close to 16 hours take-off to touchdown and overall I loved it. The seat was comfortable, controlling the seat was super easy too. The amount of entertainment options was more then enough for one flight. Beyond that the food met my expectations for a world class airline. But the best part for me was the 5 minute shower and the lounge. These were two features that really made the day for me. Having a really restful sleep and then getting to freshen up like that. I’ve never had such a cool and decadent experience on an airplane. As for the lounge, it was just a nice place to hang out and relax. Emirates has found a way to make this space useful. On Asiana and Thai for example these extra spaces have not been utilized in an innovative way, they just become wasted space. When space on a plane is at a premium, you’d think and airline would take great efforts to take advantage of all the space available.
If I have to give them any negative remarks, it would be two things. First was the flashy nature of the cabin. It was so shiny and blingy. The amount of gold tones was almost to the point of obnoxious. Would this keep me from flying Emirates again? No, just an observation. As I’ve said a few times in the future I will bring my glasses for sure. The second was the service. It was good, but not great. There were two flight attendants that I interacted with that were outstanding, the rest were just ok. For example the staff was friendly, but slightly standoffish. They were not rude, but didn’t have that Singapore or Asiana feel. Those carriers just know when you need something, even before you do. On Emirates I felt I had to ask to get something, whereas on the other carriers mentioned it just happened. If I needed a drink I either had to push my call button or flag someone down. In fact on many occasions when the flight attendants walked by and saw I had an empty glass they just kept walking. See if that happens on SQ. Now like I said there were two attendants that were way better then this, but the rest of the staff I dealt with were not what I would expect. In fact this will come off as blasphemy, but I had 2 FA’s on United Seoul to SFO that were some of the best I’ve ever encountered on any airline, and they were both SFO based.