It is Thursday, 9 June 2005 and I decide that since it is my birthday in two day’s time, I shall treat myself with a trip to Cape Town to see my ageing Dad again. I already held a return ticket to JNB with Emirates and it was only a question of having it rescheduled. The earliest I could possibly fly out would be Sunday, 12 June, because I had friends staying over for the weekend and a party on Saturday to host.
So I call the Emirates customer centre at about eight in the evening to enquire about flight availability. My ticket is in F class. The very friendly and efficient agent tells me that the only seats available are on the EK006 which departs LHR at 22:30 in the evening, arriving in DXB at about 09:00 the following morning, leaving me with about 50 minutes to connect with the EK763 to JNB. I’m not happy with the short transfer time. I normally enjoy a shower and change of clothes in DXB before continuing to JNB, but since it is such short notice, I do not complain and accept the suggested flights. He also reschedules the complimentary chauffer service to LHR and assigns me seats 1K for both sectors. I also make and pay for the return flight on Sunday, 19 June from JNB to LHR via DXB with a return leg for an arbitrary date about six months away. Flights are EK764, departing JNB at 19:05, arriving DXB at 05:25 the next morning, with a connection to LHR on EK001, departing DXB at 07:45. Seats are once again assigned for all the sectors. This time I get 2K and 3K respectively for the JNB - DXB and DXB - LHR sectors. I do not yet worry about the return flight, since I shall change that as and when required.
On Sunday morning I give them another call and ask about the EK004, departing LHR at 20:30 and hence giving me more than enough time to have my shower in DXB. I’m informed that now they do have a seat available, so once again the chauffer is rescheduled and this time the first sector seat assignment is 1A with the second sector remaining unchanged.
The limo service arrives at my home promptly at the agreed time and we set off to LHR. The trip takes approximately 40 minutes to complete in the Volvo S80 with which I’m being driven. The driver is, as always, neatly dressed in a dark suite and the car itself is spotless. I’m dropped off in front of Terminal 3 at LHR and only minutes later, I have been checked in by a friendly agent and I’m making my way to the Fast Track customs gate. Less than 15 minutes after I was dropped off, I’m seated in the United Red Carpet Lounge next to gate 12C, terminal 3 with a cold lager at my side and a book to read. This is why I enjoy travelling first class, most of the time, there are just no hassles and I’m relaxed and enjoying my trip. What can be nicer?
From the window of the lounge not much is visible in terms of aircraft, but a glimpse of the departing aircraft as the briefly appear from behind the building opposite is the possible. The lounge itself is a bit run down and one gets the feeling that furniture and carpets are in dire need of replacement. There are some sandwiches, cheeses and crisps available at the bar. The lounge is also used by ANA and is initially full of Japanese travellers. Everyone and his mate are jabbering away on their mobile phones! Where are the wonderful days when we were not forced to listen to people’s personal lives each time you entered a public space? Life continued uninterrupted and without problems before, but now, it seems, the world will come to an abrupt and catastrophic end if we could not make that all important phone call, in total disregard of everyone else’s sanity, at each and every opportunity. Why?
After two beers, the flight is called and I make my way to the gate, which is the penultimate at the end of a very long passage. They are still boarding by rows when I arrive, but holding a F class boarding pass has its privilege and I make my way around the crowd at the entrance to the air bridge to board the Boeing 777-300 through L1. A smiling FA welcomes me aboard and shows me to my seat. The interior is in the usual spotless condition one has come to expect of EK and as always a small bouquet of bright flowers are hanging on the forward bulkhead. I have never looked to see whether they are real or synthetic, but they do lend some welcome colour to the cabin.
Photo © Craig Murray
In the seat pocket is a bottle of water, the first class entertainment guide, in flight shopping catalogue, magazine and a pair of noise reduction earphones neatly packaged in a black velvet bag. On the seat is a pillow and a blanket. I stow my hand luggage in the overhead and sit myself down. The first thing I always do, is to see what movies I would like to watch and then ordering them by completing the tear-off form at the bottom of the library list. There is room for three choices, but since I have seen most of the movies in today’s library, I only request one, which in this case, I end up not even watching.
I have hardly been seated when a FA arrives with a choice of fruit juices, water and champagne. I take a glass of the latter and settle down with my book while boarding is completed. The flight is full and it is not long before a friendly bloke takes the aisle seat next to me. We chat a little while we are each given a leather bound menu and wine list for the evening meal. Soon the doors are shut and the safety video is played. As we are pushed back, two FAs go around offering us sun dried dates, stuffed with an almond and Arabian coffee. I decline the date, but gladly accept the coffee. Hot towels are now handed around and by the time we are lining up for take-off, the girls have collected all the glasses, cups and towels and the cabin is secured.
After take-off we are each handed a pair of slippers, eye cover and amenity bag. The men’s bag is in black leather and contains a tooth brush, comb, tooth paste, razor, shaving cream, tissues, deodorant, eau de cologne, moisturising cream and mouth rinse, or at least, that is what I can remember. It is one of the best amenity bags available in my opinion.
Drinks and canapés are soon served. There are four canapés to choose from, a small meat kebab, a deep fried, crumbed pepper stuffed with cheese, a dim sum and a crumbed, fried prawn. I shamelessly have a selection of all with my Dom Perignon champagne. While pre-dinner drinks are being enjoyed the tables are set on starched linen. I was under the impression that the authorities in the UK have relaxed the no metal cutlery rules, but we get plastic. Each table setting is complimented with a single, fresh orchid. Dinner is a four course affair, with a starter (I have caviar), appetiser (wonderful spicy lentil soup for me), main course (lamb shank is my choice) and desert or cheese board (cheese for me), followed by coffee and cognac. Of course there are several vegetables dishes to accompany the main meal. The girls also hand out a small gold coloured box with two “Godiva” chocolates in each.
After a very busy weekend and a wonderful dinner, I can hardly keep my eyes open, so I recline my chair and nod off. I wake up with only another 40 minutes to our arrival in DXB. A FA notices that I’m awake and immediately offers me juice or coffee and a warm towel. I gladly accept a coffee which I drink while the cabin is being prepared for landing. Touch down is at about 06:30 in the morning and the temperature on the ground this morning is a scorching 28C!
The flight was as always, most enjoyable, the crew were friendly, the food great and the champagne nice and cold. We disembark through the front and I make my way directly to the first class lounge, for a welcome shower, but first, I leave my hand luggage in the locker room and go walk about in the duty free shops. After about an hour, I make my way back to the lounge for that shower and a relaxing wait for the next flight to JNB, which is due to depart at 09:55. The first class lounge at DXB is directly opposite the business class lounge. It is a beautiful lounge with lovely, cream coloured leather furniture, palm trees, marble floors and a great view of the aircraft parked immediately outside and the runways in the distance. If a may criticize, it is that the shower rooms are very small and dark. They do not have their own toilets and they smell not entirely fresh (Emirates can have a look at the South African Airways showers in the first class lounge at JNB, they are the best!)
As always there is a huge buffet spread out in the lounge, but I’m still full from the in-flight dinner, so I grab an orange juice and make myself comfortable in a chair. I watch the endless parade of Emirates aircraft passing by outside. There are B777’s, A340’s and A330’s a plenty, with the odd foreign aircraft in between.
Soon, the next flight is called and I make my way to the gate. Once again, they are boarding by row number and I make my way around the crowd and enter via the first of the two air bridges. A new fresh face greets me at the door and shows me to my seat. This is an A340-300 and there are only two rows in F class. The layout is similar to that in the B777-300, although there are subtle differences in the seats e.g., the foot rest in the B777 is the more conventional type that hinges at the top and lifts up to support the legs,
Photo © Craig Murray
where the A340 has a cantilevered section which is pushed forward from underneath the chair. It remains at a level somewhat lower than the seat until it is fully extended, at which point it rises up to be level with the seat.
Photo © Craig Murray
Just as with the previous leg of this journey, everything is handled well professionally. The FAs are friendly and accommodating. This sector lasts about seven and a half hours and is an entirely day time flight. A light snack is served initially as we head down the West coast of Africa, followed by a full lunch service approximately three hours prior to our arrival in JNB. I’m still tired and so I skip the snack, opting to settle down in my seat with a book, but soon I drift off and sleep for several hours. I awake as we over fly Dar Es Salaam, just off the coast of Tanzania. We have been flying over the Indian Ocean for most of the way, but now we head inland and soon we are flying over Lake Malawi, turning south again for Harare in Zimbabwe and then from there directly on to Johannesburg.
Lunch, preceded by drinks and canapés is served. I have the Arabian Meze as a starter, followed by a green salad, roast chicken and crêpe Suzette and ice cream desert. The white wine is suitably chilled and goes down well with the sumptuous meal.
We touch down in JNB at 16:15 on runway 21L, leaving us with a long taxi to our remote stand and a bus ride to the terminal building. I have never been able to understand the policy at JNB. So often when I arrive or depart from there, several air bridges are available, but yet most of the aircraft are parked on the remote stand. Do they charge money for the use of air bridges and if so, are they too expensive for airlines to use them? I don’t know, but if anyone knows, please let me know.
I have to collect my luggage, clear customs and then make my way to the domestic terminal for the final two hour sector of my travels to get to Cape Town! Fortunately, this will be in J class and SAA are well know for their excellent product and service, so I’m looking forward to it. I shall however not bore you by relating that part of the flight. It went well and after six days in Cape Town, I retrace my route, all the way back via JNB and DXB, arriving at LHR at 12:30 after what must have been the heaviest landing I have ever had in a B777, but all is well that ends well and the chauffer whisks me home in no time and the comfort of his air-conditioned Volvo.
Another most enjoyable trip with Emirates! The standard of service, attention to detail and overall smoothness of their service, explains why I travel with them, via this very long route, when I could just take one of the many direct services between LHR and CPT. I hope you enjoyed the report in which I tried to give you a feel for the product rather than all the technical details, such as aircraft registration etc.