Emirates Airline Business Class review
Emirates has light
spacious and airy business class cabins, with friendly young
flight attendants and good food (at least until it runs
Emirates is one of the world's
fastest growing airlines, and clearly it wouldn't be growing if
it wasn't providing a good quality product that passengers
appreciate and keep coming back for more.
Their planes are nearly new,
and equipped with the latest in flight entertainment systems,
and their cabin crew is generally young and enthusiastic,
although insufficiently trained and inexperienced.
Perhaps as a result of rapid
growth, there are some rough edges about their business class
service, but overall, they provide a quality product we're
pleased to recommend and which compares more closely to other
airlines' first class rather than business class products.
This review is based on two
business class flights with Emirates in November 2006, flying
their new service from New York's JFK airport to Hamburg and
Emirates Airlines - an
Emirates is a
privately owned airline (by the government of Dubai) and is
based in Dubai. It started operations on 25 October 1985
with two small planes, and now operates a fleet of 92 planes,
with many more on order.
It has grown at an
extraordinary rate, consistently doubling in size every 3.5 - 4
For its most recent
financial year, ending 31 March 2006, it claims to have earned
gross revenues of US$5.1 billion, and to have generated a net
profit of US$762 million - an extraordinarily high 15% net
profit. The airline says it has been profitable every year
except for its second year, and does not receive any government
aid or subsidies.
Their profit for the first
six months of the current year (through 30 Sept) is reported to
be 29% up on the same time last year, and it is no wonder that
Air Transport World rates Emirates as the world's third most
These claims are buttressed
by its accounts, which are public record and audited by
PricewaterhouseCoopers, but its profitability is in any event a largely
irrelevant issue. All that matters to most of us, as
passengers, is a reliable airline offering quality service, and
Emirates scores highly on these key measures.
Stop and think about this
for a minute, dear reader : The world's third most
profitable airline, and one of the world's largest and most
rapidly growing airlines, is achieving these splendid results
not by cutting back on service, but by offering better and more
services at competitive fares. Bravo. Emirates
deserves every penny of its profit and every ounce of its
success - long may they continue to take the high road and plan
to succeed through providing high quality rather than low cost
Indeed, the combination of
rapid growth, high service standards, and huge profits has
caused some detractors to allege Emirates must be enjoying some
unfair advantages that its competitors do not have. We
analyze and answer these claims in our article 'Does
Emirates Enjoy an Unfair Advantage?'.
A distinctive feature of the
airline is its base in Dubai. It offers flights to/from
over 100 cities around the world, but almost all flights are nonstop
between Dubai and the final destination.
This need to fly through
Dubai is not a problem if Dubai is sensibly on the route between
where you are flying from and where you are flying to, but if
you are considering flying, for example, between the US and
Europe, having to do this via Dubai is clearly not a practical
However, there are some
routes that include an intermediary stop, and in November
Emirates added new service from New York to Dubai via Hamburg,
'Fifth Freedom' rights making it possible for US residents
wishing to go to Europe to fly to Hamburg and then continue
their travels within Europe either by connecting flights from
Hamburg or by train.
There are also a number of
other routes, particularly in Asia and the Pacific, that have
intermediate stops and similar operating rights - for example,
Emirates offers service between New Zealand and Australia as
part of routes that continue on to Dubai, often with additional
stops in Bangkok or Singapore.
In the US Emirates currently
has only one gateway city - New York (JFK). Hopefully this
may increase in the future.
Emirates operates from four
cities in Britain, but with service only to Dubai, and from a
number of other cities in Europe, as well as many cities in Asia
and the Middle East and Australia/New Zealand.
My journey started in
Seattle; I was flying first on American Airlines to JFK and then
connecting on to Hamburg with Emirates.
I was able to check my bag
all the way to Hamburg from Seattle, and interestingly the AA
checkin agent agreed to do this without seeing any proof I was
flying on from New York with Emirates. I asked him about
this, and he explained that in these days of E-tickets, he
really has to simply trust the passenger when the passenger says
they are connecting on to a different airline with a separately
booked E-ticket, because there is no way he can otherwise check
and confirm this!
My flight to JFK on AA in a
middle seat was excruciatingly miserable, but that's not the
subject of this review, although after that terrible experience,
just about any other airline would have seemed wonderful!
Upon arrival at JFK I took
the light rail to the Emirates terminal (terminal 4 - a nice
spacious open and airy terminal) and waited until the Emirates
counters opened for checkin. Although my bag was checked
all the way from Seattle, I still needed to get a boarding pass
In theory, the checkin
counters opened four hours prior to checkin, but the staff
slowly slouched into view some minutes after that time, and only
started checking people in nine minutes after they were supposed
to be open. Sure, there was no rush to make the flight at
this early hour, but standing impatiently in line is not a good
start to a long flight.
Although there was a
separate counter for business class, it took 20 minutes more
until I was checked in and by the time I'd been checked in,
there were 16 increasingly impatient people waiting behind me in
the business class 'express' line - I hate to think how long the
16th person behind me had to wait to be checked in.
You shouldn't have to stand
in line for 30+ minutes to be checked in for a flight in coach
class, and absolutely should not be treated this poorly when
flying in business class.
A nice benefit of flying
business class is that Emirates reduces the amount of time you
need to check in prior to flight departure down to only one hour
(in New York) or 90 minutes (in Hamburg). This is a very
valuable gift of an extra hour or more of time that many
businessmen will find can be much better spent at work rather
than in the airport. But if it takes 30+ minutes waiting
in the checkin line, these times may not be sufficient.
Business and First Class
passengers on Emirates flights are given complementary limousine
transfers to and from the airport for their flights.
This applies to most cities
they serve, and has some distance limitations for how far
they'll pick you up from and drive you to - for example, they
will take you up to 25 miles away from Hamburg, and up to 60
miles to/from JFK.
If you qualify, this is a
lovely way to start and finish your travel experience and a
definite cost saving compared to making your own way to/from the
Lounges in New York and Hamburg
Emirates have their own
lounge at JFK, and they allow the all-first class airline that
operates between London and New York, Eos, to share their lounge
Johnny Jet describes the Emirates lounge as 'one of the best
I've encountered', and he's been in more airline lounges around
the world than I'm ever likely to visit.
With my more limited
experience, I completely agree with JJ. The Emirates JFK
lounge is definitely one of the nicest I've ever visited as
well. It is spacious and has plenty of seating and
services for all the guests. For example, there were 26
workstations in the business lounge, some complete with
computers, and others for people bringing their own laptop with
them. Unlike many other airlines that charge for this,
Emirates offered both free Wi-Fi and free Ethernet broadband
internet access in their lounge. Thank you, Emirates.
I was there in the evening
and so had a chance to enjoy their dinner buffet. In a
word - wow! I counted eighteen different hot food items,
and plenty of cold items and desserts. In a second word -
yum! The food was excellent and regularly replaced so it
was always hot and fresh.
A nice benefit of the buffet
was that it allows one to quickly get and eat food, with no
delays caused by slow service. This enables you to further
compress the time you need to be at the airport prior to the
There was a generous range
of drinks, including good French champagne.
The lounge also had showers
- definitely an appreciated convenience if you'd already spent
all day flying across the country, as I had.
Hamburg is a small airport.
This was definitely a benefit when we flew in - it took next to
no time to get from the gate to immigration, to be processed
through, and our bags were on the conveyor within 25 minutes of
us landing. A short walk took us out of the airport, into
our coach, and we were in the city some 15 minutes later.
In total, from touch down to checking in at the hotel - less
than an hour. Amazing.
But being a small airport is
not without its downside. The airport has very limited
shopping and food service for departing passengers, and it seems
there are only two airline lounges - one for Lufthansa, and the
other lounge for all other airlines, including Emirates.
This generic shared lounge
was very disappointing and only slightly better than choosing to
sit in the regular public waiting areas. There was almost
no food, limited drinks, and the Wi-Fi was not free.
But that is not something
that can be blamed on Emirates, and we understand they may be
planning to build their own exclusive lounge in Hamburg.
We were traveling on a
nearly brand new 777 that had three classes of service - First,
Business and Coach.
Because this was one of the
very first flights on their new route between New York and
Hamburg, there were very few people in coach class in both
directions - I'd estimate it was only 15% - 20% full. This
meant people had an entire row of seats to themselves, allowing
them to stretch out and lie down, making for a very comfortable
ride 'in the back'. Naturally this situation is unlikely
to persist, but for the lucky travelers in early November, it
was a definite bonus.
Coach class has ten across
seating in a 3 - 4 - 3 configuration. These days very few
airlines have the nine across seating that the 777 was
originally designed for, preferring instead to subject
passengers to ten across cramped seating rather than nine across
Some airlines completely
darken their cabins during the night flights to help passengers
sleep - even to the point of turning off any 'no smoking' and
'fasten seatbelt' signs. But Emirates chose to leave their
cabin in a half lit state with side lights on all night long.
On the other hand, they also handed out eye shades, so you could
wear one of those as a solution. I don't like eye shades
myself, so did wish they would have darkened their cabin more.
One fancy thing they do is
adjust the lighting color in the cabin, and they also have extra
lighting effects to create the appearance of stars in the night
sky (on the cabin ceiling). I'm not sure what practical
purpose this serves, but it was fun to look at for the few
minutes it was on display.
Business class was nearly
full. The business class cabins have a 2 - 3 - 2 seating
configuration, and seats are arranged in rows all facing
forwards, with a 47" pitch.
Most of the Emirates planes
have traditional type seats that recline back almost a foot, but
which don't go all the way to a lie-flat sleeper bed
configuration, and these two flights were with this type of
The airline is now starting
to fit planes with a newer lie-flat sleeper seat.
The seat - with a fabric
rather than leather cover - was perfectly comfortable. It
has an electronically adjustable footrest that extends out the
front, although you need to be a bit careful with that - if you
have the footrest all the way extended and the person in front
reclines their seat as far back as it will go, you can end up
with your feet wedged into a rapidly diminishing amount of
The seats also have winged
headrests that can be extended and raised so as to comfortably
cradle your head while sleeping, and I ended up getting a
reasonable amount of sleep on the relatively short flight between New York
Although there is a generous
47" of pitch between rows of seats, if you're in a non-aisle
seat you can be somewhat blocked in if the seat between you and
the aisle is fully reclined with foot rest extended and the
seats in front are also fully reclined, and if the person next
to you has their tv monitor extended as well, it becomes very
difficult to climb over and get to the aisle.
The seats have two lights,
one of which is on a stalk from the top of the seat and has
different levels of brightness.
Emirates recruits its flight
attendants from all around the world, and they are typically
younger friendly clean cut type people, similar to as you'd
expect to see at Disneyland. Some of their crew are from
Dubai, but most are not. This was reflected in the amazing
diversity of languages the crew could speak. They proudly
list all the languages that they can speak at the start of each
flight - I lost count on the outbound flight, but for the
return, I counted 16 different languages that could be spoken by
various crew members. This is an extraordinary number and
vastly better than found on most other international carriers
(and better than found on all US carriers).
The friendly service from
the personable crew members is a definite distinguishing feature
of an Emirates flight.
On the flight over to
Hamburg, in flight announcements were tediously offered in three
languages - English, German, and some type of Arabic language.
On the flight back, the announcements were only in English and
The pilots were
unnecessarily obsessive about requiring passengers to fasten
their seat belts any time there was even the slightest bit of
turbulence, and the announcements in two or three languages came
through the headphones at a painfully loud volume (compared to
the movie or music volume levels).
Prior to Take Off
The cabin crew patchily
helped passengers get settled (no-one offered to take my coat),
and offered a range of drinks (alcoholic including real
champagne and non-alcoholic), although no nibbles were handed
A nice touch was handing out
perfumed moist hot towels to freshen up with. On the
flight over, we were given a second round of hot towels shortly
prior to landing, although these ones had been insufficiently
dampened and were more dry than wet. Come on, guys - how
complicated is it to pour some hot water on a dry towel?
On the return flight we were
given three hot towels - upon boarding, after the meal, and
prior to arriving in New York.
All passengers were given a
pair of socks and eye shade, and gender specific amenity kits
were handed out to men and women. My male kit was well
stocked with 12 different things in it, the women's kits had
similar but more appropriately female things such as perfumes.
I asked if I could have a female instead of male kit; the flight
attendant said 'Oh, why don't you have one of each' which was a
very positive response.
Boarding the return flight
from Hamburg was an interesting experience. The outside
air temperature was cool to cold (it was mid November after all)
but the temperature in the cabin was probably 100 degrees -
perhaps to recreate the desert heat of Dubai? I - and many
other passengers - complained about it, and got the usual made
up nonsense excuse about why we had to suffer through the
intolerable heat. There was and is, of course, no reason
in the world why the cabin needed to be so ridiculously hot,
especially when the outside air temperature was in the 30s or
40s; the problem was simply that someone was too lazy to dial in
a different temperature to the a/c control panel.
I noticed one of the flight
attendants rushing up from the coach cabin and overheard her
telling another flight attendant 'We have people about to pass
out from the heat back here' and that seemed to magically
resolve the problem, and a short while later the temperature
plunged, and stayed too cold for most of the rest of the flight.
The 777 has a very sophisticated multi-zone cabin temperature
control capability, but no matter how sophisticated this may be,
if the person adjusting it has no sense, it won't work
satisfactorily, and alas, we suffered from a person with no
sense being in charge of the thermostat on our return flight.
Normally I like to fly
anonymously, so as to get as realistic as possible an experience
of the airline's service. Unfortunately, this time I was
part of a small group of journalists, and to my horror the pr
agency woman accompanying us went and ostentatiously briefed the
cabin crew about how very important we were and how they must
give us their very best service.
However, very best service
or not, problems remained, and one has to wonder if problems
occurred when the crew had been exhorted to give their very best
service, what would happen to regular passengers?
Food and Drink
Even though the pr person
traveling with us had asked the crew to give us super special
service, it took 45 minutes from when the flight took off until
when the crew finally came to serve us a drink on the return
back to New York. The first five minutes were during the
steep initial climb, but there was no apparent reason why drinks
were not offered for the next 40 minutes.
I was looking forward to a
nice beer before dinner, but was disappointed to find they only
offered Heineken or Budweiser. Fortunately the Emirates
wine list was excellent, and I settled on champagne instead of
beer - hardly the worst outcome!
Problems with coffee service
The short (about seven) hour
flight from New York to Hamburg in theory had a breakfast
service as well as serving a dinner, but for some strange reason
the cabin crew didn't offer it to five of the six people in the
group I was traveling with, and indeed refused to make coffee
when others in our group asked for it, saying there was no
longer any time to make and serve a coffee.
If that was truly the case,
surely it is their fault for not offering it to us sooner,
rather than requiring us, in desperation, to plead for a cup
when it finally became apparent none would be offered
voluntarily. For many of us, being woken up at what was,
by our time zone, still the middle of the night, and not even
being given a cup of coffee to start our engines was close to a
cruel and unusual punishment and for sure not something we'd
expect in business class on an airline that promises a high
degree of service.
Astonishingly, the situation
re-occurred on the return flight, too, although the excuse was
different. This time, the crew said they couldn't serve us
coffee because there was too much turbulence and we might spill
the coffee on ourselves. In fact, the turbulence was very
mild, and certainly didn't prevent the crew from moving around
the cabin and serving food, and we'd have happily accepted half
a cup of coffee and/or signed any sort of formal indemnity
waiver in return for a coffee.
So much for the promise on
their menu : 'Espresso or Cappuccino coffee will be
available at any time during the flight'.
Dinner on the flight over
started with Lobster Confit or Grilled Chicken as an appetizer,
followed by a salad, then a choice of four entrees (Lamb
Shoulder, Chicken Tikka, Veal Rib Eye Steak or Pan Seared
Grouper), then Tiramisu or Apple and Berry Crumble for dessert,
a cheeseboard, a selection of fresh fruits, and tea or coffee
with chocolates. Prior to the dinner service, fresh
canapés were also handed out, so all in all, it was a huge meal
(especially after I ate too much at the splendid buffet in the
This meal puts a BA business
class meal to shame, and is much closer to what you'd find in
their first class cabin.
The eight hour daytime
flight from Hamburg back to New York had a massive 8 course
lunch, and a snack service later in the flight.
The crew served me about
half way through their business class cabin meal service, and
even though they were only half way through the cabin, they'd
already run out of one of the four entree choices. This is
disappointing in coach class, and completely unacceptable in
To be fair, the crew did
cobble up a similar meal using leftovers from the first class
cabin. That was a well meant gesture, and so I didn't feel
it would have been appropriate to have pointed out that the
potatoes were cold and only half cooked.
Other than for the cold
uncooked potatoes, the rest of the food quality was good.
Food was attractively plated, and we had real metal knives and
forks to eat with. It would have been a nice touch to have
had a pepper grinder rather than a pre-ground pepper shaker, but
that was a minor omission.
In Flight Entertainment System
Get ready to be amazed.
Every passenger has their own individual in-flight entertainment
(IFE) system that has 600 channels of different content. A
huge selection of movies, games, and music.
In addition to the regular
channels, there is an Airshow channel that shows the
computerized map of where the plane is, what its route is, and
information on height, speed, arrival time, etc. This
information alternated between English and Arabic, and some of
the time had advertisements, and would also be interrupted for
what I presumed was information about when Muslims should pray
and what direction Mecca was to pray towards.
Two other channels are worth
a mention - one featured a video camera looking directly down to
whatever was below the plane, and the other featured a forward
looking video camera giving you a view as seen by the pilots in
The downward looking camera
was interesting during the daytime and when there was no cloud
cover. The forward looking camera was great during
take-off and landing, and occasionally during the flight
depending on cloud cover and where the sun was.
Although there was a huge
number of movies on offer as part of the 600 channels of
entertainment, and all were 'on demand' movies that you could
start, pause, and stop whenever you wished rather than having to
follow a plane-wide schedule, there was surprisingly no movie
listing that actually told you anything about the movies other
than their names. Sure, some movies you'll recognize by
their name, but many others are total mysteries (at least to me)
and it would have been very helpful for the print listing to
include a description of what the movie was about, who was
starring in it, etc.
One drawback to the movies
was that all the movies came complete with mandatory Arabic
subtitles. Some people can sort of tune that out of their
vision, other people find strange squiggly subtitles interfere
with their enjoyment of the movie. With so many channels
to play with, I'd have preferred fewer movies, but with a choice
of either with or without the subtitles.
In addition to movies, there
were a huge number of different audio programs. One of my
favorites was the year by year programs that had each year's
number one hits (as per British hit charts), week by week, for
the year, dating back to 1952. I found it fascinating to
find what the number one song was for the week I was born, and
to then see what the number one song was for various other
significant times in my life.
There were also over 40
different games that could be played, and even audio books.
The IFE programming is the
best I've ever experienced. It is extraordinarily diverse
and comprehensive, and has more than enough to keep anyone
interested and entertained, no matter how long the flight.
Unfortunately, the IFE
system is managed by a control freak on board who feels the need
to force everyone on board to watch certain programs, whether
they may wish to or not. For example, prior to arrival
back into the US, this control freak decided that everyone on
the plane had to watch a video about US arrival formalities.
Many of us didn't need to watch this video, and many of those
who did need to watch the video would have found it puzzling
rather than helpful, because it was in Arabic.
Why couldn't passengers have
been given a choice of watching this video or continuing to
watch/listen to whatever other programming they preferred?
This is a particularly annoying thing when there is so much that
one wishes to listen to and/or watch.
Emirates provides its
business class passengers with noise reducing headphones.
These headphones don't work anywhere near as well as the
Solitude or Bose headphones, but if you don't have your own
noise reducing headphones, they are an improvement on ordinary
The video screens in
business class are big (about 10" diagonal screen) and of good
quality. The screens are slightly smaller in coach class.
Although there were an
amazing range of channels and choices, it was very easy to
understand how to navigate around the system, with well laid out
menus and navigational options (much better than the confusing
systems on some other airlines) and a great booklet listing the
However, the IFE control
sets had one problem - accidentally bumping some of the buttons
on them would cause your movie to stop and reset, and who among
us hasn't accidentally bumped the buttons on the handset control
units? To get back to the same place in the movie was a
difficult and time consuming thing, involving restarting the
movie then fast-forwarding to where you thought you were.
In theory, business class
passengers get priority luggage tags on their bags. Like
many other airlines, Emirates doesn't intercept and re-tag bags
that are being through-checked from another airline, and so my
bags from American Airlines never got priority tags added for
the outbound journey to Hamburg. Fortunately this wasn't a
problem, and the bags were on the carousel within 25 minutes of
the plane landing.
Strangely, the return flight
from Hamburg back to New York, which had me checking in at an
Emirates checkin desk in Hamburg, also did not get my bag
priority labeled, and the wait for bags at JFK seemed
considerably longer than the 25 minutes in Hamburg. There
was no reason why my bag shouldn't have been priority tagged on
the return flight.
Frequent Flier Program
Emirates has resisted the
temptation to join one of the major airline alliances, and you
would think this makes their frequent flier program not as
strong as would be the case with an airline that can give you
access to awards and mileage accrual opportunities with many
other major carriers.
But the Emirates Skywards
program does tie in with a good range of carriers, including
Continental, Delta, JAL, KAL, SAA and United.
If you were to buy a
business class fare for travel between New York and Hamburg on a
regular US carrier such as Northwest or Delta, or with an
international carrier such as BA or Air France, you'd be paying
about $6800 - $7000. This would be for an itinerary
requiring you to stop and change planes en route.
The fare for a quality of
service that is probably much better, and nonstop, using
Emirates is as little as half that - a mere $3500 (this is for a
ticket with some limitations and restrictions, they also have
unrestricted fares at the same level as the other carriers).
Guess which option I'm
recommending you choose!
Astonishingly, the world's
third most profitable airline, with a superior service, is able
to offer fares at half those of competing carriers.
Emirates is an up and coming
airline that is growing at a rate of 20% a year and doubling in
size every three to four years. It also may be the world's
third most profitable airline, even though it offers competitive
and sometimes substantially lower fares.
Although there were some
disappointments to some aspects of the overall experience,
overall, Emirates provide a very good (and generally better) quality service compared
to their competitors and are recommended for your consideration
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8 Dec 2006, last update
26 Jun 2019
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.