Here’s what’s coming up over the next few posts:
- The Emirates Lounge, LGW
- LGW-DXB Emirates Business Class, A380
- Emirates Business Class Lounge (Concourse B), DXB
- DXB-BLR Emirates Business Class, B772
- The Lalit Ashok, Bangalore
- Views of Bangalore
- Plaza Premium Lounge (International), BLR
- BLR-DXB Emirates Business Class, B77W
- Emirates Business Class Lounge (Concourse A), DXB
- DXB-LGW Emirates Business Class, A380
Whilst Emirates offer a complimentary chauffeur service for all First and Business Class passengers, our corporate travel agent had arranged their own service. With my apartment being much closer to Heathrow than London’s second airport, it was an early start on the day of departure, but the Mercedes S Class transported me in short order to Gatwick’s rather dated North Terminal, where I arrived around three hours before departure and met with my colleagues.
EK check-in in Zone B, opposite BA in Zone A. The BA main bag drop queue was snaking around the tensabarriers almost to the EK desks, but thankfully the EK area had no such queues, with two desks open for Business, and one for First. With both of the other desks occupied, I was called over to the First desk, where boarding passes were issues and bags tagged all the way through to Bangalore. EK have clear colour-coded branding for their three classes of travel (green for Economy, blue for Business and red for First), and this extends to the bag tags, including rather pretentious little tags that had to be applied to hand luggage, clashing somewhat concerningly with the brown leather of my carry-on.
Premium Gatwick offers a separate security search area for first and business class passengers, although the area has all the ambience of a doctor’s waiting room, and I suspect hasn’t been far modified from what I presume was a staff search area in the not too distant past. Security took around 10 minutes, the majority of which time was spent queuing behind some inept individuals who didn’t understand the concept of removing everything from their pockets and consequently had to make several attempts at passing through the metal detector.
Once finally through security, it was a short walk through the 1980s departure lounge/retail area to the lounge pavilion, a three-floor complex comprising the BA First and Terraces lounges at the top, the No.1 pay-in lounge in the middle, and the EK lounge at the bottom. The lift in the pavilion is famed for being slower than a tortoise, so we opted for the stairs down to the friendly welcome by name from the EK receptionist.
The Emirates Lounge is essentially a square with the back of house kitchen space and washrooms/showers in the centre (with Timeless Spa amenities), and lounge space around the edges. The lounge has been refurbished fairly recently into EK’s latest concept to align with their new DXB Concourse A lounges, but the seating felt a little regimented, the lighting quite harsh, and many of the seats were more style than comfort. There was, however, a comprehensive breakfast selection at this early hour, with everything beautifully presented and kept replenished.
The lounge never got too crowded, even as the departure time of the flight grew closer, and some parts of the lounge such as the quiet area on the opposite side to the bar/buffet were completely deserted throughout our stay.
I enjoyed a light breakfast of fruit, yogurt and juice, before deciding it would be remiss of me (for completeness of this report, naturally) not to sample at least a small portion of hot items. Everything was of decent quality, and the next couple of hours flew by in a mix of coffee, internet browsing and magazine reading.
Gatwick only has one A380-capable gate at the North Terminal (bless), which is at the furthest point of Pier 6, meaning quite a trek from the main terminal building over the taxiway bridge. Boarding was announced in the lounge at the perfect time to ensure we arrived at the gate with the majority of Economy having already boarded the main deck through two airbridges at M1L and M2L, leaving the gate area free for us to board the upper deck at U1L through the clearly marked First/Business lane with no waiting.
LGW-DXB Emirates Business Class, A380
Emirates have configured their vast fleet of A380s with two Business cabins on the upper deck behind First, and an all-Economy main deck. The Business cabin features a bar at the rear, just ahead of the four toilets that are shared by all Business passengers. For this reason, the rear cabin is to be avoided when selecting seats (which can be done for free at the time of booking regardless of status). With a 1-2-1 staggered configuration, all seats benefit from aisle access, but the window and ‘middle’ seats have slightly more legroom than the aisle seats.
I was lucky to select 11A, a very private window seat with oodles of personal space, two good-sized window storage compartments, and a large shelf/side table adjacent to my personal minibar, the latter featuring a decent selection of soft drinks. On the seat when I arrived were a blanket, pillow and EK-branded noise-cancelling headphones, whilst the minibar shelf held the menu and a small plastic cheapy-looking pouch containing an eyeshade, socks and ‘wake me’ stickers. EK don’t offer full amenity kits on day flights, but the basics are provided either in the form of the small pouch at the seat, or with the dental/shaving kits in the well-stocked washrooms, which also include Bvlgari fragrances. Incidentally, the washrooms were kept virtually immaculate throughout the flight, and were quite spacious, two of the four having windows, always a nice touch on an aircraft.
As boarding of one-year old A6-EOA progressed, the cabin crew member who would (supposedly) be looking after the window seats in the left hand aisle introduced himself, and offered a choice of Veuve Cliquot champagne, concentrated orange juice or apple juice. I naturally opted for a glass of champagne, which was served with the wine list for the flight. Our British captain announced a flight time to Dubai of 6h30m, cruising at up to 41,000ft. A satisfyingly large hot towel was offered just prior to a virtually on-time pushback, and I watched the subsequent takeoff roll on the large IFE screen, part of the gate-to-gate impressive ICE offering delivered on these A380s through a combination of personal large wide/touch screen, small hand-held wireless tablet, and pull-out remote.
After takeoff the mood lighting was changed to a warmer tone, and our cabin crew were introduced as being from 18 different countries, speaking 15 different languages. These are no doubt quite impressive statistics, but unfortunately that’s about the limit to how impressed I was when it came to the service. The young crew were quite frankly disorganised, seemingly unable to deliver the service with any amount of pace or continuity, sometimes forgetting requests and other times being downright unprofessional – more on that later. For now, it was time to make my lunch selection, accompanied by an excellent movie – The Water Diviner – and an apple spritzer with delicious warmed nuts.
Here’s the fairly extensive menu for this flight:
The presentation element of the meal services was very good – no trolleys were used at any time in the cabin, and my large table was first laid with a tablecloth before I was presented with a tray pre-laid with my choice of starter (the pleasant and slightly spicy smoked tomato soup), alongside some bread and the rather average salad to which the olive oil could not add any interest.
Next up (after a significant delay) was my main course of seared lamb loin, not as pink as I would have liked but still flavoursome, let down by the bland carrots and the garlic bread that was not at all garlicy. This was accompanied by a glass of the pleasant Chateau Laroze 2005. My knife had been taken away with the salad bowl before the main course was delivered, but alas the requested replacement didn’t arrive until the main course was being cleared, by which time I had of course used the bread knife. Little annoyances like this can let an otherwise good product down, and it was this sort of theme that recurred across all four flights this trip.
Another significant (and by now predictable) delay later, and finally my desert of the rather nice mango mousse arrived, accompanied by a green tea. The fresh seasonal fruit plate finished an overall satisfying meal.
At the conclusion of the lunch service, some 3 hours into the flight, I opted for the mattress for use in recline mode (rather than flat bed at this time of the day), which turned an already very comfortable seat into a thing of luxury. I passed the next couple of hours watching some Family Guy and Top Gear episodes, initially with a cappuccino, biscotti and Godiva chocolates to keep me company.
Just ahead of the light bites (afternoon tea) service, I joined my colleagues in the bar for a drink (purely for the novelty factor), where the most bizarre cabin crew interaction of the trip occurred. My colleague requested an apple spritzer (non-alcoholic cocktail, or mocktail), an alien concept to the aloof young lady behind the bar despite it being an item on the menu. Initially she attempted to put vodka in it, before having to refer to the manual as to what the drink actually was after being stopped mid-pour. She then spent the next several minutes attempting to locate the apple juice, before giving up entirely on serving and passing over to a colleague with all the air of a schoolgirl who’s just been given a detention. Totally unprofessional and downright rude, making for a not particularly pleasant 15 minutes at the bar – a space which I feel is far more questionable blingy style over substance, particularly for those unfortunate passengers in the rear Business cabin which is rather vulnerable to noise even with the curtains drawn.
On returning to my seat, the light bites orders had already been taken from the front half of the cabin, so I had to use the call bell to place my order of the afternoon tea selection (sans sandwiches) and English breakfast tea. The flustered crewmember delivered the service without a table cloth as there was ‘very little time’ and I’d ‘have to eat quickly I’m afraid’, despite being well over an hour from Dubai. If BA can manage an afternoon tea service on a 45 minute flight to Paris, EK can manage it with 90 minutes to go, and indeed I enjoyed the tea in good time, finishing with a good 20 minutes to go before the descent announcement came.
We landed on time into Dubai, docking at the older Concourse B, handy for our connecting flight to Bangalore that would be leaving from the same concourse. Connections security was clearly signed, although the First/Business lane was not actually separated from the main lines and totally un-policed. Despite this, there was virtually no wait and within 15 minutes of leaving our A380 we were heading towards the entrance of the Concourse B Business lounge.
Emirates Business Class Lounge (Concourse B), DXB
The Emirates Business Class Lounge in Concourse B is undergoing extensive refurbishment at present, with about half of the lounge hoarded off, a quarter still to be refurbished, and the other quarter refurbished into the latest concept. Because so much of the lounge is closed, many of the areas (particularly the dining area) were busy, but certainly not to the extent of some other lounges I’ve been in (I’m looking at you, BA…). Despite the ongoing work, it’s clear this lounge is large and spacious, and would usually have numerous quiet seating areas and other nooks such as bars, dining areas, business centres, play areas and smoking rooms. The lounge is arranged around a central atrium, looking down to the main concourse below – everything is typically Emirates in style, and whilst not to my personal taste, is certainly modern and well considered, although I wouldn’t describe it as luxurious.
The pictures of the lounge I’ve included here only show the refurbished spaces – the older spaces really are very dated – think early 1990s styling. We had only around 45 minutes to spend in the lounge – I took the opportunity to stretch my legs walking around the atrium.
DXB-BLR Emirates Business Class, B772
As with most decent lounges, there were no boarding announcements, and so we left in good time to reach our gate, located just a short walk away through the retail area. Whilst there was no queue to have our boarding passes checked, once we’d descended to the gate holding room, a very long line had formed at the desk signed for First/Business. It was clear that not all of these passengers were destined for those cabins (judging by the sheer number of people), and assuming we had left it rather late to board and had missed the priority call, we politely bypassed the queue and were waved through to board through 1L at this dual-airbridge gate.
Stepping onto A6-EMI, an almost 20-year-old 777-200ER, we were welcomed onboard and I made my way to 9A, my seat in the second row of the main Business Class cabin behind Doors 2. This aircraft was configured with two rows of the older flat bed SkyCruiser First Class seats in 2-2-2 configuration, followed by two rows of Business Class in the mini cabin ahead of Doors 2, ahead of the four rows in the main Business Class cabin. All Business Class seats on Emirates’ 777s are essentially the same slightly angled seats configured 2-3-2, the difference with these older aircraft being that they have a different IFE system to the latest deliveries.
I arrived at my seat to find a pillow, blanket and headphones on it, with a menu and local Emirates-branded water bottle in the pocket below the IFE screen. These 777 seats don’t have nearly as much personal or storage space when compared to the A380s, and naturally have much less privacy. That said, they are perfectly comfortable for short sectors of less than 5 hours (with the little privacy screen tactically deployed!).
Cold towels were offered prior to pushback, and wine lists were handed out along with PDBs – I opted for some refreshing apple juice rather than orange or a glass of the Moet.
Our captain announced a flight time of 3h30m, flying at up to 37,000ft, shortly before the cabin crew sprayed the cabin to comply with Indian regulations. Dinner orders were taken from the menu just before pushback, with the choices being:
Wheels up, and the cabin crew jumped into action with the dinner service. First up was an orange spritzer and warm nuts, shortly followed by a tray with both my chosen starter of the traditional Arabic mezze, and my main course of the Thai yellow chicken curry presented together. Usually, combined courses on a tray are unwelcome, however, it makes sense to do this on a short sector, and I appreciated the continued lack of trolleys in the cabin. The presentation of the mezze was nice, but sadly everything was rather bland and not very appealing. A number of condiments were offered to accompany the mezze, which I didn’t take – perhaps if I had done so, they would’ve helped spice things up a little. The curry was pleasant enough, but the chicken wasn’t great quality and was a little pink for my liking, resulting in most of it being left. Multiple bread runs were made throughout the service, which was much pacier than that delivered by the crew on the A380. Dessert was the overpowering milk chocolate and mango cake, which I of course managed to finish completely. A green tea and Godiva chocolates completed the meal service.
During the flight I watched True Story, an uncompelling film that got me right in the mood for sleep (although with no mattress or amenity kit/pouch available and not long left of the flight, I didn’t opt for this option, however enticing it was). As mentioned previously, the IFE (or ICE as Emirates term it) system on these older 777s is much less responsive or extensive than on the A380s and newer 777s. The main screen isn’t touch or wide, and the tablet is smaller, heavier and tethered to the side of the seat – in fact, it’s virtually unusable. Picture quality is naturally inferior, although once a programme has started, it is at least watchable.
Hot towels ended a very comfortable short sector, and we docked in a dark Bangalore on time, next to a Lufthansa 747-800. Passport control and baggage reclaim were both quick, despite having to be security screened before entering the baggage hall. Our driver met us in the arrivals hall and escorted us to a waiting Toyota minivan for the transfer to our hotel.