I'm staring out of the window, champagne flute in hand when the PA system crackles to life to announce a patch of bad weather. The nearest flight attendant asks me to buckle up even though I am not in my seat but on a circular leather bench in the lounge of the giant Emirates A380, currently hovering between Dubai and my final destination, New York. Even if you are a veteran traveller who is used to all the uber-luxe trappings that come with business and first class cabins, the A380 brings on a whole new level of thrills.
The seat converts into a flat bed by night
The excitement of being on the upper deck of a this behemoth is unparalleled. You enter directly from the business class lounge at JFK airport, omitting long queues or an announcement signalling that 'it's time'. The nicest thing is that the A380 plays completely to your need for privacy and discretion, both while boarding and disembarking from the flight. And of course while you are on it, the staff ensure you feel like you're in another universe. Being on the upper deck though takes some of the fun away, as everyone there is an equal, so if you are travelling business to be seen, this is not the airline to choose.
The business class cabin has 76 seats laid out in herringbone style. These ensure that no two passengers are grazing each other, something you'd expect at that ticket price, but not always given. The curve of an ankle or a shoe is your only introduction to your neighbour who like you, is comfortably ensconced in their own exclusive seat capsule. Seats near the windows are more comfortable than those in the centre (the configuration is 1-2-1) as they are better spaced.
FOOD AND BEVERAGE
Gourmet food and drink on board
Here, you don't have to wait for the clock to dictate your meal timings. While two regular meals (breakfast and lunch/ dinner) are served on the Dubai-New York-Dubai sector, if and when hunger strikes, you can choose from the light bites section of the menu which offers everything from turkey sandwiches to kebab platters. The food is not spectacular but given the reputation that in-flight meals usually enjoy, it is fresh, wholesome and filling. There is also enough variety to please those looking for an Indian fix or something continental. The beverage list is long and champagne and apple/ orange juice are staples. The juice is freshly squeezed and served by the attendant from long-neck beakers. Since no trolleys are used to serve your meals, noise within the cabin is minimal. Another plus: a large teak finish table that slides out to accommodate your tray and plates, and proper cutlery encased in a cloth napkin.SERVICE
The service was a bit inconsistent. The attendants on the New York-Dubai leg were far more efficient and friendly than those travelling from Dubai-New York. Having said that, you don't need to wait long to be served and the dishes are cleared swiftly once you are done.SEAT SIZE AND COMFORT
Your seat capsule is your home for 14 hours and it mostly lives up to delivering comforts associated with a home. The seats recline into 79-inch long flat beds at the touch of a button. You can also enjoy a massage by activating the buttons on your seat. There is a box-like opening where you can slide in your legs as you flatten the seat. Below this is a little box where you can tuck away your shoes for the duration of the flight. Each seat capsule also has its own personal mini-bar, which stocks soft beverages and water.
The swish bar on the upper deck of the A380 is an interesting place to stretch you legs and socialise with fellow passengers
The A380 is a bit like the Orient Express in its appeal, with a lounge at the end of the aircraft serving as a dining cart-cum-room. A circular, swish bar (yes a regular bar like the ones you'd find in, well, bars) is well-stocked with almost every drink you can think of. A bartender is on duty through the flight and is happy to whip up your favourite cocktail or recommend something new to drink. A collection of olives, hummus, canapés and other finger food (including muffins, miniature chocolate éclairs, pastries and burgers) line the bar counter and you can bite into their goodness as you say cheers. The stiff upper lip one usually associates with business- and first-class travel flags here and you find passengers talking, drinking and even chatting with attendants freely outside of the confines of their capsules. It's the perfect place to give your legs a nice stretch, grab a drink or a bite to eat and socialise with fellow passengers. It is a long flight, afterall.
The ICE (or Information, Communication and Entertainment) system on board Emirates flights is cutting edge and is often ranked among the best in the world. You have an astounding 1,200 channels to choose from. This includes dozens of newly-released movies and several old classics. Besides that, there is a wide selection of music that comes to life at a touch as well as a host of games for younger passengers; perfect to keep them entertained and out of your hair on those gruelling longhaul flights. Also, if you need to get in touch with a family member or colleague, you can access the ICE system's dial-up email and SMS services while on board, though honestly, it's great to get away from it all for a bit.
AND THERE'S MORE...
The chauffeur driven car that picks and drops you from your home to the airport and vice versa is a boon and allows you to relax without worrying about the hassle of finding a cab on both ends of your journey. Travelling business class also entitles you to a Fast Track immigration card, which allows you to swiftly transit between flights at Dubai. Above all else, one of the biggest perks is the access you have to Emirates' cavernous business class lounge at Terminal 3 in Dubai. This has an e-zone fitted with PS2 and PS3 gaming consoles to keep boredom at bay. It also has showers, a business centre where you can surf the net, and a hot/ cold buffet serving a wide range of meals and beverages.