Review: Emirates First Class A380, Houston – Dubai

Previous Installments:

I’ve been remiss in writing the details of my trip to the Mideast and Asia redeeming miles for the Airbus A380s on all 3 of the big Gulf carriers: Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar first class.

It’s was a great quick trip to eat in Bangkok and see the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, and I’m determined to return to sharing it with you.

After sampling three lounges in the international terminal of Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport, I had burned off nearly enough time that the flight was preparing to board. The gate area was packed, because it turned out that both Emirates first class and economy were nearly full (business class was mostly empty).

The Airbus A380 is an amazing sight, and one of the things that struck me while waiting for the ground crew to ready the aircraft for boarding is just what it takes to turn the plane after a long journey from Dubai. The amount of trash removed was truly unreal.

Emirates First Class A380 Houston - Dubai at gate

Emirates First Class A380 Houston - Dubai trash

I was lucky to be flying the A380 from Houston earlier this year. It was a gimme for first class award space, and it’s not surprising that with the decline in the energy industry of late they replaced the aircraft with a smaller Boeing 777. The first class seats themselves are nearly identical but there’s no onboard showers or bar.

First and business were boarded together in somewhat chaotic fashion, but once on the plane I was happy to see the familiar site of the Emirates first class suites.

Emirates First Class A380 Houston - Dubai boarding

Emirates First Class A380 Houston - Dubai cabin

Emirates First Class A380 Houston - Dubai cabin

Emirates First Class suites A380 Houston - Dubai

These aren’t the most up-to-date first class seats in the world. Singapore Airlines puts its 4-across suites on the wider lower deck of the A380. Etihad puts fewer seats (single aisle!) in first class on the A380’s upper deck. Emirates really packs in seats into first class.

However, the seats make fantastic use of space and don’t actually feel crunched. And with the doors closed they’re sufficiently private that the relatively large first class cabin doesn’t feel crowded at all. And it’s pretty high tech as the seat is controlled electronically — seat adjustments as well as lighting.

Emirates First Class suites A380 Houston - Dubai

Emirates First Class suites A380 Houston - Dubai seats

Emirates First Class suites A380 Houston - Dubai seat control

Emirates First Class suites A380 Houston - Dubai seat options

Plus Emirates is simply fantastic with their dine on demand food service menu and especially their shower spas. There are two shower spas at the front of the cabin, and there’s another bathroom at the back of the cabin.

I’ve never quite understood the minibar though since as a first class passenger there’s plenty of crew to ensure you have the beverages you want and even at the temperature you want. A first class passenger doesn’t generally need to get their own beverages!

Emirates First Class suites A380 Houston - Dubai inseat mini bar

Emirates First Class suites A380 Houston - Dubai inseat mini bar options

And yet in front of the first class cabin is a display of self-serve alcohol and snacks.

Emirates First Class suites A380 Houston - Dubai inseat galley bar

On each side is a shower spa and there’s two crew members whose only job is to keep them clean between uses. When they aren’t being used for their showers they are available as lavatories — some of the biggest and most attractive lavatories in the sky (the only lavatory that I think is more gorgeous is Qatar’s).

There’s a parade of service throughout the boarding process. Not only did we have to get amenity kits, pajamas, menus and of course a predeparture beverage of choice and arabic dates and coffee but there’s a snack basket at the seat that’s available before departure. It’s removed for takeoff, and then returned once you’re in the air.

Emirates First Class suites A380 Houston - Dubai pajamas

Emirates First Class suites A380 Houston - Dubai amenity kit

Emirates First Class suites A380 Houston - Dubai coffee and figs

Here’s the snack basket. Honestly I don’t quite ‘get it’, other than it’s more stuff to take with you!

Emirates First Class suites A380 Houston - Dubai snacks

Emirates First Class suites A380 Houston - Dubai snack basket

There are amenities not just in the amenity kit, but already in the seat’s vanity. And there’s a writing kit. In fact there’s so much swag that they even give you an Emirates ‘to go’ back to take your souvenirs with you.

Emirates First Class suites A380 Houston - Dubai amenities

Emirates First Class suites A380 Houston - Dubai amenities

Emirates First Class suites A380 Houston - Dubai writing kit

Emirates First Class suites A380 Houston - Dubai tote

On this flight we weren’t given brochures for the shower spa. Those used to describe the feature and note that you’d have 20 minutes’ use with 5 minutes of water. In practice I think that 30 minutes is actually fine, and no one told me about any limit on the flight.

The first thing I do when I board a plane with showers is to request my shower slot. I’m a big fan of taking the very last shower booking prior to arrival, and if I wait until they come ’round asking or until we’re in the air I might lose out on that spot. So it’s a priority whenever I board an Emirates or Etihad Airbus A380, the two planes with onboard showers.

After a long wait for takeoff without explanation, we pushed back and were on our way. The A380 always gives such a smooth liftoff that it’s almost concerning, you don’t feel like you’re heading into the sky.

Emirates First Class suites A380 Houston - Dubai tail cam

The crew were remarkably efficient with all of the elements of service in a cabin that had 12 of 14 seats occupied.

I began the flight by snacking on a few bites from several different items off the menu.

To conclude they brought a mini box of godiva chocolates.

After that I retired to bed and slept for about 8 hours. I got up and headed back through the cavernous and mostly empty business class cabin and to the bar.

Emirates has a very nice business class product on their A380, it’s really too bad that their existing fleet of Boeing 777s has angled seating still and the new 777s will be so densely configured with flat seats.

When I got to the bar I found there wasn’t a single passenger there. Crew were congregated chatting trying to keep awake, they were especially bored because with a business class load you could count on two hands and those passengers mostly asleep they really didn’t have much to do for the flight.

They were very excited by my arrival and pounced to offer me a drink, bring me any alcohol from first class that I wished, and just generally talk to me about what I had planned for the trip.

I had a glass of champagne, and then a cocktail, and then headed back to my seat. I watched a bit of television and then ordered some food before arrival into Dubai. I actually repeated dishes from the beginning of the flight. For instance, more caviar!

Before I knew it, it was time for my pre-arrival shower. A flight attendant came to get me, but I didn’t need an introduction. I was ready for a refresh after a long flight.

The shower room is large, much larger than what Etihad offers, and that’s great for getting ready in comfort. The decor is relaxing and refreshing. I can spread out my carry on, which I bring into the room with me, and enjoy a nice shave as well. There’s plenty of product at the ready as well.

The shower itself is set to allow you 5 minutes of water, but you can turn that water on and off at will. Get wet, turn off the water, use some shampoo and soap, wash it off. It turns out 5 minutes of water is plenty.

There’s a bench in the shower (with no seatbelt) you can sit on in the event of turbulence.

I think the small thing that impresses me the most is that Emirates even has a custom bathmat for outside the shower that is designed to fit the curve of the rounded shower cabin. That and the heated floors of course, but they didn’t just put out a generic bath mat. They had one specially made for their fleet to ensure no space on the ground when you step out of the shower. Those are the sort of little things you don’t see on American or even European airlines.

Upon return to my seat there’s always a plate of fruit waiting post-shower. And since I took the last shower booking it was only 30 minutes to approach in Dubai.

I realized that I had never been to the back bathroom before, so I decided to pop in before landing. Late inflight the two shower rooms were constantly in use so the back bathroom gets used and there’s sometimes even a wait when the cabin is full. It has a window looking directly out at the plane’s right engine.

On arrival into Dubai our taxi was relatively quick and painless. It was time to clear transit security and head onto the first class lounge for our Airbus A380 first class flight to Bangkok!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Great report! If only more of your posts would be more like this instead of wasted posts…..

  2. @johnny33 you comment so frequently, and every comment is nasty, but i still take it as a compliment that the content draws you back each day. so thanks!

  3. @ Gary

    I disagree. I actually just commented on how I enjoyed this post. Take this as a compliment. My point is quality over quantity. As a reader I would prefer to see 3 quality posts a day instead of 8 wasted posts

  4. Business class with less than 11 passengers? Ouch.

    Even switching in the 777 isn’t going to help that much if that’s the case on a lot of EK flights.

  5. Enjoyed your report very much! I have done it on a short leg (AKL-SYD) and found it very much as reported, except I didn’t use the shower. Looking forward to a longer trip, although the next booked one is with Etihad. Maybe next year.

  6. Great report, Gary. I just flew from Seoul to Dubai to New York on the A380 and loved it. I had two showers and even washed and dried my hair before New York. The heated floors blew me away. Wow! I agree with you about those snack baskets but noticed that the contents of yours were a bit different. Mine had a fabulous product called PHIZZ–tablets that you drop in water to help keep you hydrated. They were awesome and really make a difference on long-haul flights. (I’m hooked on them now and just subscribed to weekly shipments from the UK company that makes them.) I think the tote bag is intended to put your things in when you take a shower but you’re right, you need it to hold all the swag. Those PJs are the best!

  7. @aponymous coward it was a midweek departure in an economically depressed market. i don’t think it’s representative at all of other routes generally

  8. @johnny33 only you would read your comment as being positive. talk about damning with faint praise! i don’t think you’ll find i write 8 posts in a day. the thing is that different readers value different content. i write what interests *me* and clearly not what interests *you* most of the time 😉

  9. given the typical humidity on a plane, during a long-haul don’t those pastries/sandwiches etc on serving trays at the bar become weapons-grade hard?

  10. @eponymous coward: When your gov’t is giving you billions, you can fly A380s halfway around the world with a handful of business class passengers.

    Of course, if you can fly this flight in first class for nothing — which is what I assume Gary paid — you might as well. Subsidized travel is wonderful. The other week, I used similar credit card tricks to take my family on Amtrak’s California Zephyr. The Zephyr costs US taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars every year because this route makes zero economic sense. While the first class service on Amtrak is a joke compared to Emirates, our lie-flat seats in our private compartment with our own private bathroom and shower weren’t half bad, and the steaks and crab cakes for fine — especially since I wasn’t paying for them.

    But this does not mean I will advocate on Amtrak’s behalf. To the contrary, I think this is a ridiculous use of taxpayer money and should be shut down. It’s a perspective more people should understand.

  11. Gary, I don’t know how you do it, holding down a real job and producing all these articles every day, week by week, but my compliments on another good article. One question though; did you REALLY get up from sleeping and head right for the bar, and have champagne and a cocktail? If I were to do that, free or not, I’d land right back in bed to sleep it off.

  12. @iahphx US airlines have received cumulatively more in subsidies than the Gulf carriers have. the question is, what do you do about it? more government protection for us airlines — which earn the bulk of all the world’s airline profits — isn’t the answer, that just comes at the expense of us consumers.

  13. gary which frequent flyer program has the most value when traveling from europe to the middle east? meaning which requires the fewest miles?

  14. great trip report Gary !

    Just out of curiosity, its now almost mid year and so far you only posted 3 trip reports (including this one) and you haven’t even updated the trip report page, so far theres only 2015. Is it a slow year for you? (I bet not, since you already requalify for AA & SPG)

  15. @eddie not a slow year, a busy year, i’ve been remiss in updating the trip reports page with new trip reports i’ve written and was way behind on getting trips written up!!

  16. “I was happy to see the familiar site of the Emirates suites.”

    What, for a moment were you afraid they’d been moved to the back?

    Kidding, kidding, couldn’t help myself. Nice writeup!

Comments are closed.