All aboard an A380: Modern Traveller goes long-haul from the UAE’s desert jewel to England’s crowded capital.
Who needs business class, anyway? Sure, the airport lounges, lie-flat beds, big screens and superior service all sound like they’d make for a magnificent experience, but, for most modern travellers, economy is where it’s at.
So, with that in mind, we hopped aboard Emirates’ super-jumbo, the Airbus A380, to travel from Dubai to London in cattle class: EK001, one of the UAE airline’s most popular routes, is a 7-hour slog direct to the English capital.
Departing daily at 07.45, it’s also full-service – in the sense that few passengers will be snoozing through the flight. Instead, it’s all about kicking back and browsing the latest selection of films on the “ICE” system, enjoying breakfast, lunch, and drinks in-between.
Before we board, though, there’s Dubai airport to explore. The world’s busiest international hub, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this three-terminal gateway is an Emirates-only affair, such is the proliferation of gold-labelled jets parked up outside.
In fact, almost everywhere you look there are little red badges– which makes sense: terminal 3 is exclusively Emirates. If you’re connecting through Dubai with Emirates, this means it’s a seriously slick affair, with no shortage of staff on hand to act as effortless guides – all the more useful if your first leg is late landing.
All the same, once you’ve exhausted the avenues for retail therapy – and that does take a while, given the hundreds shops inside the halls and corridors of DXB – it’s just another airport, albeit a rather shiny one.
Sleepy jet-setters enduring long layovers lounge on rows of squeaky chairs, awaiting announcements which signal their move to on-board comfort, whilst shoppers with cash to spare splurge hundreds of dollars on nuts, dates and gold-plated packages. Who says economy doesn’t feature decadence?
Come 07.25 – to the minute, such is Emirates’ commitment to efficiency – it’s time to traipse aboard our awaiting Airbus. Even with an economy ticket, this giant of the skies remains an impressive carriage to enter, if for nothing else but its sheer size.
Thankfully, having found our seats, there’s more to be pleased about than simply the scale of our ride: the chairs might not be business-sleek – in fact, the colour palette appears to be muted grey and dull pastels – but there’s a decent amount of leg-room (32in, if you’re into the specifics), it’s clean, comfortable, and, of course, there’s that entertainment system.
OK, so it’s still a long-haul flight, and no amount of budget luxury can remove the dehydration and clammy palms caused by several hours sat in a pressurised can that feels a little like a giant bus. But, as (relatively) pocket-friendly aviation goes, this is up there with the best.
After a raft of announcements and welcomes – in both English and Arabic – the A380 is roaring down the runway, and we’re up in the air, tracking our airborne trek to London on the digital map (replete, as ever, with all the information one could want or need) and following our sky-high progress via the exterior camera feeds.
Before too long, it’s time for breakfast – which takes one of MT’s team by surprise, such is the novelty of the free in-flight Wi-Fi (however paltry the provision of megabytes might be).
Slightly stiff croissants and surprisingly fresh fruit make for a pleasant enough meal, by airline standards, whilst too much juice soon instigates a need to investigate the facilities.
In esteemed Emirates fashion, even the economy washrooms are appropriately decent: complimentary fragrances and faux-marble surfaces are vaguely reminiscent of some oligarch’s London night club, but remain a welcome presence in the almost spotless space.
Back in the cabin, it’s a busy day, with a sea of heads indicating every seat to be full. Regardless, the crew operates with impeccable efficiency, poise and friendliness – even in economy. It’s what one expects from Emirates, but it’s impressive nevertheless.
With breakfast happily digesting, a coffee freshly poured and lunch a few hours away, MT plugs its smartphone into the USB slot for a quick juice boost, before sticking a film on. The screens might be smaller and chunkier than those on certain Emirates Boeing 777s, but there’s still enough of a diagonal to make catching the Coen Brothers’ Hail Caesar an enjoyable experience.
Perusing the lunch menu in a spare moment, we grab a G&T to assist the decision-making process, finding the London Beefeater Gin to be quite the compliment to our tonic – especially when it’s on the house.
Fast forward a couple of hours and we’re somewhere high over Turkey, well on the way to our midday arrival time in London. We’re several coffees down and feeling comfortably content back here in coach.
Not fans of inconveniencing fellow flyers, our seats are reclined just a little – but it’s enough to make things feel more lounge than lecture hall, whilst the width permits plenty of wriggle room and the cushioned headrest helps dozy travellers no end.
Meanwhile, a little turbulence – or “rough air”, as the crew like to call it – sets some youngsters a wailing, but it’s nothing a free pot of Smarties can’t fix.
Soon enough it’s lunch time, and the barbecue chicken goes down a treat – even if one can’t help but wish for a more inspiring way of serving than the classic plastic tray setup.
Our second meal polished off, we take a stroll to stretch our legs. Discovering most of the lower deck to be identical, and understanding that the top floor isn’t where standard tickets take you, we return to our thrones, pop up the headrest and explore the latest albums available on “ICE”.
At some point part way through Lukas Graham’s self-titled second album we doze off, waking up with just 10 minutes until touchdown. Sadly, it’s headphone collection time, so we can’t finish off the hits before the wheels hit the Tarmac.
And, then, there we are: London Heathrow, a little later than scheduled (due to the usual holding pattern). As the big bird rolls to a stop on the runway, we’re left wondering where 7 hours went.
How do we feel? Surprisingly fresh, actually. Sure, going the distance on the lowest fare is no rival to the realms of business and first, but it’s hardly horrible, either.
The staff were superb, the meals remarkably enjoyable, the surroundings comfortable – if bland – and the entertainment, well, entertaining.
Emirates’ economy experience? That’s a recommendation.
WORDS & MEDIA BY CHRIS ROWLANDS