WELCOME TO MY 27th TRIP REPORT
This TR will cover my flight on Emirates from Dubai to Johannesburg in First Class on the Boeing 777-300ER.
B A C K G R O U N D
Remember that whole TAAG-Angola 'Transito' ordeal from my previous Trip Report
? Well in order to connect onto that flight, I needed a means of getting to Johannesburg, and hopefully with the least cost possible.
Well, First Class is anything but 'the least cost possible,' however my mileage bank with Emirates/Skywards had just enough miles for a one-way First Class redemption to Johannesburg, thanks to my epic A380 inaugural flight adventure a few years ago, and a more recent A380 hop to Toronto last year.
Of late, Emirates' frequent flyer program, now known as Emirates/Skywards, had received a rather extensive revamp. While I am not familiar with the deep mechanics that this has produced, many seem to have expressed complaints on the increased 'prices' for mileage redemption. For me, I try to make things a little more simpler, and if I have enough miles to spend, then it's done!
One thing that I found to be quite favorable in this revamp, is the ability to redeem flights on one-way travel. In the past, this was possible only with Etihad in the UAE, but now I see that Emirates has followed suit. Similarly, Emirates has also introduced a Flex Rewards scheme that offers redemption options on high demand periods and flights; again similar to Etihad (since when does EK copy other airlines?). I am sure that this revamp features more quirks, but I will leave that for others to figure out.
The decision to purchase this redemption was rather straight forward, and similarly, the action to do so on the Emirates/Skywards website was equally the same. A few clicks here and there, bish-bash-bosh, and my itinerary is confirmed. I was to travel to Johannesburg on Emirates, one night before catching my, then confirmed, Hellenic Imperial Airways flight, which was then converted to TAAG The Great!
D E P A R T U R E
Four and a half hours before my scheduled departure time, I was ready to head to the airport. My private chauffer transfer -an Emirates branded black Chevrolet Caprice- had already arrived at my building at 5:30am. At exactly 5:45am, and as per the time I had requested for the pick-up, I received a call from the driver to inform me that my ride had arrived.
Hopping into the car, and after a twenty minute drive I arrived at Dubai International Airport's Terminal 3 at 5:10am. I was dropped off at Emirates' premium passenger departure curbside area, which is a small area that is relative to the airline's rather small intentions for Dubai's O&D market. Nonetheless, the area was already filling up with Emirates transfers dropping off passengers for their Emirates flights. At Terminal 3, it is the home of Emirates and as such, the branding was loud and clear.
DXB Terminal 3 premium curbside
I saw this as I was pulling into the terminal, and had to walk back out for a picture
Inside the check-in hall at 6:20am, I am faced with everything Emirates, all branded within a semi-art techno-deco ambience that is Terminal 3. It is indeed an impressive building, but I felt that it is lacking a certain 'something' to it which I could not lay a finger on. However, what makes the traveling experience through this landside departures hall most impressive is the amount of free space that you have around you. There certainly is a lot more than you need in terms of counters, seating, baggage claim carousels and what not. However, this forward thinking in the construction of this building comes very handy today as I can enjoy this spaciousness until things become more congested a few years down the line.
The Emirates FIDS at DXB are practically a temple in which I must regularly pay my respects to
At the First Class check-in counters, the queues are a non-issue. Several counters dedicated to First Class customers were adequately staffed yet not too busy. As with all other check-in counters in this terminal, they are open for all Emirates flights, minus those bound for the USA. Of course, this is common practice usually, but it is still a relatively new concept in the Middle East.
Emirates First Class check-in counters
Now, as all the major GCC carriers are known to offer their bells and whistles on board their flights, they seem to overlook their offering on the ground which is quite the horrific contrary. However, I have never found this to be the case with Emirates. As inconsistent as they may be up in the air, they certainly have a rather pleasing bunch down on Earth, and it is no different in my experience today.
As I was approaching the agent at the check-in counter, another fellow passenger travelling on one of Emirates' 100+ destinations today, figured he could cut through the queue and snag my turn. Without any effort on my part, the Filipina agent took her action immediately.
"Hi sir, I am so sorry, but this kind gentleman has been waiting in line several moments before you, I will be with you as soon as I check him in."
As the usual affair was taking place during my check-in process, I was asked several unusual questions about whether I was a resident in South Africa, or if I had another passport that showed proof of residency there. Apparently, non-residents of South Africa must show proof of an itinerary outbound from the country in order to enter in the first place. However, this was all settled when I flashed the agent my TAAG itinerary that was to take me out of Jo'Burg the following day. As soon as that was cleared, my boarding pass was produced and I was wished a pleasant flight.
My boarding pass cum lounge invitation for DXB-JNB
A more crowded set of Business Class counters
Carrying on to secure myself airside
Passing through immigration and security, I was airside at 6:50am. Since the main landside area is located underground, several elevators and escalators are located right after security that transport passengers to the main terminal building.
FIFA branded elevators to main terminal building
As with Terminal 1, I was released into the large shopping mall of a Duty Free hall in Terminal 3. But this alone was not the astonishing part. It was the sheer thousands upon thousands of Emirates passengers parading from each and every corner of the building as they filtered between gates during their respective transits. Like a slap in the face that woke me up, it was one sight to see. I was a mere singleton amongst a gazillion others that formed part of an Emirates connecting bank, and it was truly amazing!
This does not justify the real thing!
Minus the décor and the funky smells, for a moment I thought I was at the fish market on a Friday morning. It was noisy, people were pushing their ways through, and it was quite uncomfortable. For once, I actually could not wait to reach the lounge.
One level above, I arrived at the Emirates First Class Lounge
At the lounge, I was immediately greeted by the friendly agents at the reception. After taking a quick look at my boarding pass, I was welcomed inside with a smile.
Inside the Emirates First Class lounge at DXB
By all means, this lounge is an absolute jaw-dropper. There is nothing here that you would not find in the lobby of one of the best 5-star hotels. Moreover, the space is massive, and it offers everything from showers, a spa, a business center, bedrooms, a library, a wine cellar, several café's each offering a selection of food, a full restaurant-style dining area, a few bars here and there, children's playrooms, more than ample seating areas, and a very elegant smoking lounge.
It is rare that I enjoy a lounge for it's very purpose however, this one is definitely the best I have ever been to. All in all, a truly classy mass-produced outfit!
Library, Business Center, & Showers are on this corridoor
A bar / café offering a selection of food and a full range of all types of beverages
Another bar / café
Food offering at this station
The main dining room offering a full breakfast buffet in addition to a la carte dining
Food offering at the main buffet
My choice for breakfast
Even more seating areas
At 7:45am when I was finished with my breakfast, I left the lounge to explore the terminal. However, I was again faced with the connecting bank parade that it was quite discouraging to stick around. Oddly enough, after a quick walk-around, I found myself back at the lounge for a quick smoke before heading to the gate.
While I was exploring the terminal, I found it to remind me of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi, only on a more beastly scale. Similar to BKK, spotting of aircraft is considered non-existent with those heavily designed giant triangular windows. However, the terminal's ambience is far less dark and threatening than that of BKK - perhaps it's less of that industrial warehouse feel.
Another customary visit at the EK FIDS temple
Inside the belly of the beast lies a seafood bar
…and also a Changi-styled garden/pond
More of T3
Back at the lounge, this is the smoking area!
Ok, I may have broken my 'lounges get boring after 20 minutes' rule today, but by 9:20am I figured I've done this place and it was time to go back to an atmosphere that resembles more of an airport; the gate.
Ay 9:30am I arrived at Gate 221
The gate area
A queue had already formed at Gate 221, signaling that we were allowed to go inside the holding area. It was interesting to find two podiums staffed with Emirates Group Security employees -those associated with the pre-requisite for USA flights- conducting a document check on all passengers. As such, my passport was briefly checked, and I was allowed to proceed to the entrance to the gate, where my boarding pass was scanned and stubbed.
After document check
And down the escalator to the holding area
I was inside the holding area at 9:35am
As with flights to London, New York, Dubai, and Bangkok, this flight to Johannesburg featured a similar passenger profile; a little bit of everything. A quick scan revealed fellow passengers from Asia, India, Europe, and the Middle East, and also that my flight today was showing a healthy load factor in Economy Class.
Moments after, boarding had commenced for the premiums, and high-status FFP elites. While a small bunch of us made our ways towards the gate, others prepared a queue for their upcoming turn to board the aircraft.
Operating as EK763 non-stop to Johannesburg
Through the aerobridge
Arriving at Door 1L of the aircraft, I was greeted by a rather laid-back Mladen from Serbia, who was also the purser for today's flight.
"Welcome on board Mr. Hawi, your seat is right this way"
"Enjoy your flight"
By 9:40am I was on board.
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