Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Trip Report: Emirates First Class San Francisco to Dubai

***This is part 3 of my "Camels, Bats, and Bloggers" trip report detailing a recent trip to Dubai and Seychelles, with a final stop in Las Vegas to attend the 2014 BAcon conference hosted by BoardingArea***

1. Introduction - Camels, Bats, and Bloggers
2. Emirates Lounge at SFO
3. Emirates First Class San Francisco to Dubai
4. Conrad Dubai
5. Old Dubai, Ski Dubai, and At the Top
6. Emirates Terminal B First Class Lounge at DXB
7. Emirates First Class Dubai to Mahe, Seychelles
8. Four Seasons Seychelles
9. Air Seychelles Economy Class Mahe to Praslin
10. Raffles Praslin Seychelles
11. Island Hopping - La Digue
12. Island Hopping - Praslin, Cousine, Curieuse, St. Pierre
13. Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort and Spa
14. Emirates Business Class Mahe, Seychelles to Dubai
15. 7-Star Luxury at the Burj Al Arab
16. British Airways Lounge at DXB
17. Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai to Los Angeles via Hong Kong
18. 2014 BAcon Conference in Las Vegas + Mandalay Bay Hotel
19. American Express Centurion Lounge at LAS

Say what you will about Emirates - one thing they know how to do is the First Class experience. After enjoying our time eating and relaxing in the lounge, we were able to board directly from there.

From there, two jetways were in use, with one specifically reserved for First Class passengers. That's right, there was an entire jetway reserved just for the 6 of us, while all 300+ Business Class and Economy passengers used the other. And just in case one of those Business Class passengers got frisky and tried to jump over to the other jetway, there was a gate agent standing there to turn them away.

We boarded very early, much to my wife's chagrin, so we had the entire First Class cabin to ourselves for the next 15-20 minutes. The first time we flew Emirates First Class was last year on an ex-CMB ticket with the routing CMB-DXB-LHR. It was my first time flying "Bling Air" and the DXB-LHR segment was even on the A380 so I could experience the glorious 4-minute shower. During those flights I was in a complete honeymoon state, so everything was viewed through rose-colored glasses. Emirates could simply do no wrong in my eyes.
Fast forward a year later, and on to my 2nd experience with Emirates First Class. The honeymoon phase was over, and I could now be a more discerning critic.

First thoughts upon boarding? The color scheme actually didn't seem that gaudy. Maybe I was just used to it or knew what to expect, but the "blingyness" of the cabin with its color scheme and gold trims on top of gold trims just wasn't as loud as I seemed to recall.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the First Class Suite product, which is one of the sexiest that you'll find in the market today. Since our last flight on Emirates we've flown Cathay Pacific and Korean Air First Class, and all my wife and I could think about during those trips was how much we missed the Emirates Suite.

The suites feel extremely spacious, with plenty of storage for luggage and bags, as well as cubbies for other small items. There is a mini-bar with drinks and a snack basket, although I wonder what the utilization of these actually are. Between my 3 flights on Emirates I’ve only taken the bottle of water out of the mini-bar and a pack of mints from the snack basket.

There is a large 27” TV, and the ICE in-flight entertainment system contains over a thousand on-demand movies and TV shows. The seat and IFE can be controlled through a hand-held tablet, and there is a small remote control in the armrest. There are 2 reading lights and another light inside a lamp next to the IFE screen. Most importantly, there are 2 air-conditioning nozzles that can be controlled which were my saving grace while trying to sleep as the cabin was kept hotter than I would have liked.

And of course, what’s not to love about a sliding door that can shut off the rest of the world, and really create a sense of privacy.

Emirates First Class Suite

27" IFE screen

Vanity mirror and lotions/scents

 Tablet to control seat/IFE (old picture)

Snack basket

 Mini-bar (non-refrigerated)

Our last trip had flight segments of just 4 hours and 8 hours, so with an ultra long-haul flight of 15 hours we'd really get a sense for the product. But with all the gold trims and technological bells and whistles, my main takeway about the trip? The seat is really not that comfortable.

Believe me, it's all relative and I'm not complaining about getting to fly in First Class, but relative to some of my other experiences I just didn't feel that at ease - I think it all boils down to seat width.

Now, I'm fully willing to admit that perhaps I've grown since my last trip. No, not as a person, but physically. And as someone who is now into their 30's you can guess if that growth was horizontal or vertical. But Seatguru confirms my suspicions, here's how the seat width stacks up against other notable international First Class products:
  • Emirates: 20.5" for 777-300ER, 23.0" for A380
  • Air France: 24.0"
  • American Airlines: 30.0"
  • Asiana: 25.5"
  • Cathay Pacific: 36.0"
  • Etihad: 29.5"
  • Korean Air: 26.5"
  • Lufthansa (non-seat and bed): 31.5"
  • Singapore Airlines: 35.0"
  • Thai Airlines: 26.5"
  • United Airlines: 22.0"
So unless I'm crazy here and there's some quirk in how Emirates seat width is being reported, it has the smallest width of all the First Class products listed above, even worse than United! And believe me, when you're sitting in the same place for 15 hours, every little bit really does matter.

A few minutes after we boarded, the flight attendants came by to introduce themselves, offered us Arabic coffee and dates, and distributed amenity kits and pajamas. The pajamas had a slightly different design and color than the ones we received last year, but were seemingly made from the same material. Overall, these pajamas are very comfortable and I didn't waste any time before changing into them before take-off.

Arabic coffee and dates

New pajama design

Men's amenity kit

Shortly after take-off,  meal service started. Emirates features an A la Carte-style menu, with breakfast, dinner, snack, and dessert options available at any given time. By my count, there were 33 food options available on flight. In theory, the A la Carte-style menu provides the most flexibility and choice since there are no set timings for meal service and no meal-specific limitations based on time of day. Just order what you want, whenever you want.

Emirates actually makes all of their menus available online and will show the exact menu you'll be offered on your flight. At one point in time I had bookings to Dubai from Chicago, Seattle, and ultimately San Francisco, so I had checked the menus for each city and they appeared to be identical.

 A la Carte dining menu

Wine list 

Consistent with our 2 flights last year, the First Class food aboard Emirates just wasn’t up to the standards we expected. Aside from the lamb, everything else was just OK, including the caviar service, shrimp and salmon appetizer, and other entrees. Oh, except for the Arabic Mezze, which was terrible. The hummus in particular was just plain awful - certainly worse than the gyro/falafel joint near my office, and even worse than the stuff we buy at Costco.

At the end of the day, Emirates A la Carte dining has opted for quantity/flexibility over quality. I can’t even begin to imagine how much food is wasted on a given flight, since with so many menu items available they must load at least a couple of everything. Instead of spending $X on catering and offering 33 options (I’m sure there are favorites, and some items that rarely get chosen), I’d rather see them spend the same amount of money and just offer half the number of items, and instead focusing on making each one better.

Dom and nuts to start, can't go wrong with that!

Mix of hot canapes

Dining table setup with caviar service

Caviar service

Arabic mezze

Bread basket

Seafood duo appetizer

Best thing we ate - parmesan-crusted lamb

Cheese plate

Chocolate and walnut brownie

Service throughout the flight was attentive and effective, but not the warmest we’ve received. After the meal service, with the help of a couple glasses of Dom, I was able to pass out for a good 8-9 hours. The bedding used by Emirates wasn’t that great and the cabin was too hot, but as I mentioned before I was able to point both air conditioning nozzles directly on me which helped.

I woke up with about 3 hours to-go and ordered more food - not to contradict myself, but I did enjoy the flexibility of being able to choose from breakfast or dinner items since it would have been breakfast time back in SFO, but mid-afternoon in Dubai time.

As much as I like the seats, for someone like me who is a light sleeper and sleeps with ear plugs, sound pollution through the cabin was a big problem. From the noise perspective, the Emirates suites are terrible since both the mini-bar and sliding doors are operated with motors, so to the extent that others in the cabin are up and about, the whir of a motor can be constantly heard, which woke me up a a couple times.

Cabin mood lighting

Seafood machbous

After finishing up my 2nd meal, with a couple hours left I jumped on my laptop and got started on the trip report. Note that I wasn’t able to get my Macbook charger to fit into the power source at my seat, but luckily had enough juice to me to the end of the flight.

Overall, we had a really good flight on Emirates. The honeymoon-style high was gone, and when you peel back all the technological gadgets and gold trims, there is certainly some room for improvement. Will I be flying with Emirates again? Heck yeah. I still really like the product, and with Emirates' quest for world domination, they have the widest route network, especially to the Middle East and Africa.


  1. This trip report gave me a great insight of Emirates First Class. Thanks for the detail... What camera did you use for the images :)

    1. Thanks for reading! I use a Nikon P7700 for my in-flight photos.
      Just a note that I've migrated my site over to in case you want to find the latest updates!

  2. Hey! In the privacy of your cabin, do you miss the traffic and inter-action with other passengers? Great trip report, Thanks you! I always felt that Emirates has the best inflight service going.

  3. I fly this flight with my partner April 2015. I too was very excited to try this First Class product. We were flying SFO-->DXB-->BOM. We arrived early to the SFO lounge. The lounge is shared with Business Class. It is clean, new, and the food selection was decent. The wines were OK but not fantastic. With the A380, the flight did not board from the lounge since the boarding gate did not allow this. We had to exit the lounge and go to the nearby gate.

    Upon entering the cabin, I was excited and a bit overwhelmed by the interior design color scheme. I actually prefer the First cabin on Cathay Pacific. More understated and less busy.....and much wider and fewer seats on their 777.

    We were escorted to our seat by a very friendly flight attendant. We were offered champagne but Dom Perignon was not available until after takeoff. We were also offered dates and Arabic coffee.

    The flight attendant crew were very attentive and helpful. We were asked when we wanted to take our shower. We elected in the last 1.5 hours of the flight. Nothing better than landing refreshed.

    I agree with the assessment of this review about the food. I thought the food was not executed well. And as mentioned in the blog.....the Arabic mezze were terrible. I love Middle Eastern/Mediterranean cuisines, but the kibbeh were not well done and most of the dips (hummus, etc) were not very tasty. Food on Cathay gets much better scores from me. The food on this flight was the weakest point of the whole service.

    The wines, on the other hand, were a different story. They did a great job with their wine selection as well as their spirits. I decided to do a wine tasty of the various wines and the flight attendants were ready to accommodate. Two thumbs up on this.

    The Business lounge at the back of the plane is kind of a fun idea. We ended up speaking to a few people on in the lounge. Definitely can be a place to socialize.

    The amenity kits are good and the pajamas are definitely comfortable. The in-flight shower is great just to feel refreshed at the end of the flight.

    The food on the ground in both SFO and DXB were definitely better than the inflight cuisine. I have to say the First lounge food in DXB was outstanding. I had some sushi (extraordinarily fresh and good) and my partner had a leg of lamb.....both were delicious. The wines in the lounge were also tasty and worth getting there a bit early to enjoy.

    They have at least two First lounges in DXB. There is one that runs the length of the was a bit too expansive. I believe this is in Concourse A. It probably could accommodate several hundred people comfortably but we were the only two in there. It had it's own duty free shopping, dining area, and bars.

    We actually preferred the smaller lounge in Concourse B. The entrance is just across from the Business class lounge. We had a massage, shower, and then dined while there. Food in this lounge was outrageously good. Much better than the in-flight selection.

    We will be flying Emirates First again this coming October. We definitely will stop in the lounge on the connection to enjoy the amenities. Overall a thumbs-up for this First class product.