Emirates – the Emir of Airlines?

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Flying Economy Class can often be a nightmare for a middle aged, overweight, broad shouldered bloke and in my case, sadly, nature and a complete lack of self-discipline have left me with a body best viewed fully clothed and though I stand only 175cm, I have long legs, worse the days of company expense accounts and business class are but a fading memory.

The salvation these last six or seven years, has been the introduction of Premium Economy, for around half the price of Business Class and an average of about $1,200 more than an Economy ticket on a return trip to Europe, you get leg and backside room, comfort and yes, a certain sense of style.

Not all airlines do it well, British Airways are the worst in my experience and not all airlines have adopted Premium Economy, consequently, although I travel overseas frequently, there are quite a few airlines I haven’t flown with, including the oft praised Emirates.

I unexpectedly found myself with much appreciated free time over the holiday period and decided to join my wife Ann in her homeland of Germany for Christmas, however impulse decisions to travel during peak periods inevitably mean limited availability of Premium Economy seats and so it proved. Only one airline offers Premium Economy out of Perth to Europe – Cathay Pacific and they were booked out. More often than not, I fly Economy in an exit row aisle seat to Singapore then Premium Economy to Europe, but peak times meant even Economy fares were expensive, the whole exercise getting perilously close to the cost of Business Class.

I pondered giving up the idea, however Qantas were offering a reasonable return economy fare to Frankfurt and I could use Frequent Flyer points, so reasoning that I could choose an aisle seat in an exit row, I booked (online as always), but as the booking was confirmed (paid for), I discovered the entire return trip was a code share with Emirates, there would not be a Flying Roo in sight. “Too late now,” I thought, “I’ve paid,” although my wife assured me I would find I had sufficient room in Economy with Emirates. I then discovered, presumably as I was not at that stage an Emirates frequent flyer, my choice of seats was limited and certainly exit row seats weren’t available to me. And so, with some trepidation, four weeks later early one December morning, I found myself at Perth Airport waiting to board an Emirates 777.

Up in the nose of the 777, the boys flying us to Dubai introduced themselves –  an Australian and a German. I liked that, as I’m an Aussie married to a German and to my relief and surprise, I liked my economy aisle seat. Sure enough, as Ann had said, I had room, I could even put the tray down flat, impressive. It was obvious the entertainment system was ultra-modern, the only annoying thing was that aisle seats didn’t have power or USB charger sockets, the other seats did. The aircraft was obviously young and I really liked the overhead locker layout, clever, plenty of space for the lunatics who always have twice their own weight in carry-on luggage (not me I hasten to add – I won’t mention my wife!) and you could stand up properly.

The plane was full and sensibly there were a large number of cabin crew on duty to look after the passengers. I like the Emirates uniform, it pays homage to the Muslim faith without erecting psychological barriers and it was truly a multi-cultural crew, with each staff member wearing a small brooch depicting the flag of their country. They were all young, so there wasn’t the relaxed self-assured attitude of Qantas international staff, who are often in their 40s and 50s, but they were obviously experienced and there was genuine warmth and engagement, somewhat different to the professional but almost cold disinterest I’d experienced with an Etihad cabin crew six months earlier.

There was a small travel pack supplied free and what looked to be a reasonable quality set of headphones, (I carry my own noise-cancelling set). I also liked the fact that the Boeing had directional air vents, Airbus have unfortunately dropped the individual system, I happen to be one of those who likes air blowing over my face. It was also good to see a plentiful supply of restrooms throughout the aircraft, they were well equipped with handwashing liquid etc and the crew kept them clean throughout the 11 hour journey. Full marks.

Then there was the food – it was excellent, there were the usual two choices of main course, but for the first time in my life on a flight, I couldn’t finish what I’d been served, there was too much even for me. The crew were also wonderful with water, coffee, tea, soft drinks, wine and whiskey, asking, rather than waiting, they continually worked the aisles looking after passenger needs.

Two huge meals, several wines, a couple of whiskys and a movie or two later, we landed smoothly at Dubai – I’m one of those who really enjoys the cameras allowing passengers to follow landings and take-offs, I love the grunt of the power plants and watching the skill of the pilots in controlling these magnificent machines.

I’d been warned that Dubai is a massive airport and that with just an hour and a half to spare before my connecting flight to Frankfurt, I might find myself in a heck of a rush to get from one terminal to another, but luck was with me, my next flight was literally the gate next door, although we did have to go through security. I don’t think anybody complains about security these days, the bombing of the Russian plane out of  Sharm el-Sheikh illustrated what happens when security becomes lax. The staff were polite, friendly and thorough, yes, it could have been quicker, but the need to inspect bags and contents properly unavoidably slows the process down.

We boarded the next flight and that’s when I discovered there is a slight difference in the various sections of Economy with Emirates. This time I was in F section, just behind Business, it’s smaller, similar in a way to Premium Economy sections – less seats and people, and Economy service starts in that section. I also found I had power and two USB sockets in my aisle seat, I suspect the 777 was a slightly newer model than the one we’d flown in from Perth to Dubai. It’s reassuring to know you’re arriving at your destination with a fully charged phone and or laptop. The pilots on this leg were South African and French and again, a very professional, friendly, caring multi-national cabin crew. It occurred to me that Emirates have probably poached the best people from other airlines to pilot their aircraft and head up their training centres, overseeing the introduction of the company philosophies, the whole experience of travelling with Emirates is almost soothing – the second leg of my journey was an exact replica of the first – more food than I could possibly consume, ample refreshment and smiling attentive service. I disembarked into Frankfurt Airport, actually looking forward to my return journey in late January, hopefully I can change my seat into F section of Economy.

I’m an unexpected convert to Emirates, to my pleasant surprise, I can actually travel reasonably comfortably in their Economy class, but if, as the rumours go, they do introduce Premium Economy, they’ve got me for life.

Greg Ross

 

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