Review: Emirates Airbus A380 first class

Emirates' superjumbo first class lets you work, dine, relax, and even shower on your schedule, while cruising at 40,000ft.

Overall Rating

By Chris Chamberlin, February 18 2020
Emirates Airbus A380 first class
Route

Brisbane-Dubai

Aircraft Type

Airbus A380-800

Airline

Emirates

Flight

EK435

Cabin Class

First

Seat

1K

Notes
The Good
  • Excellent food, wine and service
The Bad
  • No seat for a companion, unless you head to the bar
X-Factor
  • Shower at 40,000 feet
Service
Meals
Seating
Overall

Introduction

Tempting travellers with private suites, onboard showers and two social spaces for first class flyers to stretch their legs during the journey, Emirates' Airbus A380s take high-flying jetsetters from A to B in first class luxury.

Check-in

  • Frequent flyer program: Emirates Skywards, or other partner programs including Qantas Frequent Flyer.
  • Carry-on baggage allowance: 2x7kg bags, one measuring up to 113cm and the other up to 100cm – or 20cm thick when folded, for a garment bag.
  • Checked baggage allowance (weight system) – 32kg limit per bag:
        • 50kg: standard allowance on most itineraries
        • 62kg: Skywards Silver, Qantas Silver
        • 66kg: Skywards Gold, Qantas Gold
        • 70kg: Skywards Platinum, Qantas Platinum & Platinum One
        • 75kg: Qantas Chairman's Lounge
        • Itineraries using the 'piece system' when connecting to the Americas instead provide a base allowance of 2x32kg.
  • Priority airport services (Brisbane): Check-in and Express Path security screening are swift, although the boarding gate combined all 'priority boarding' guests into a single lane, spanning Silver frequent flyers booked in economy through to first class passengers, which made for a lengthy queue.
  • Priority airport services (Dubai): Present your boarding pass for access to Fast Track immigration on arrival, or better yet, zip through Dubai's Smart Gates if you've already registered. Priority-tagged bags were the first to arrive on the belt.
  • Chauffeur-drive: Complimentary airport transfers are provided for passengers booked on paid first class tickets and those who've upgraded from paid business class fares (but not on frequent flyer reward bookings). A Mercedes-Benz GLE 250 was the chariot in Brisbane, with a Mercedes-Benz S 450 greeting the arrival in Dubai.

Lounge

Emirates operates a dedicated lounge at Brisbane Airport, offering buffet dining, shower facilities, and space to relax before departure.

Emirates also provides direct boarding from the lounge to the aircraft on selected flights, and while this is most often available for the airline's Airbus A380 departures, another aircraft was blocking the gate which made boarding via the terminal necessary.

As one of the oldest lounges in Emirates' network – and the first that the airline ever opened outside of Dubai – the space is due for a refurbishment, which Emirates has planned but not yet commenced.

ET review: The Emirates Lounge, Brisbane

Flight

Emirates operates daily Airbus A380 flights between Brisbane and Dubai, departing the Queensland capital at 8:55pm each evening to reach Dubai at 5:30am the next calendar day, after a journey of 14 hours 35 minutes.

The airline also has a daily non-stop Boeing 777 flight to Dubai – and until March 30 2020, a Brisbane-Singapore-Dubai route also served by the Boeing 777 – and whichever aircraft you take, you'll find similar first class suites at the very front.

ET review: Emirates Boeing 777 first class, Singapore-Brisbane

However, only the Airbus A380 features shower spas in first class, giving you five minutes of running water at 40,000 feet to freshen up after dinner or closer to landing.

ET review: Emirates Airbus A380 first class 'shower spa'

Out of Australia, Emirates also uses Airbus A380s on selected flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Perth to Dubai, as well as from Sydney to Christchurch.

Seat

Nestled at the front of the upper deck, Emirates' superjumbos sport 14 first class suites in a 1-2-1 layout.

While there are no interconnected suites as some airlines offer in first class, passengers travelling with a companion may wish to select a pair of seats in the centre (the E+F duos), as a privacy divider can be lowered between them for conversation.

Wherever you're seated, the 1-2-1 layout provides direct access to the aisle for each passenger, with motorized privacy doors sliding closed at a press of a button.

The absence of overhead lockers in this part of the aircraft creates a bigger sense of space, with bags instead stored on the floor in front of you, beneath the TV screen.

Alternatively, laptop-sized bags can also be kept in the space next to your seat, with smaller items living underneath a fold-up hatch:

Separately, there's a nook down by your feet for thin items such as laptops and tablets, which is also where you'll find the supplied Bowers & Wilkins E1 noise-cancelling headphones.

That's not all: there's a writing kit in the drawer in front of you with a notebook and pen, both yours to keep.

Just above, a lighted mirror which tilts open or can be closed to create a flat surface. When open, you'll be able to access a few toiletries for the journey, with separate Bvlgari amenity kits also provided.

To your side sits a minibar, stocked with soft drinks and both still and sparkling water. However, as the contents aren't refrigerated, you'll still need to flag down a flight attendant for some ice: largely defeating the purpose when you could order the whole drink in the same interaction.

Last but not least, your aisle-side armrest folds open to reveal a small tray that's perfectly-sized for a watch, cufflinks and rings.

When it comes to controlling your seat – and those privacy doors – you'll find shortcut keys on the same armrest for the most commonly-used modes.

Further customisation can be achieved via the suite's touchscreen tablet – or 'mode controller', as Emirates calls it:

Below that tablet, you'll find your call bell, lighting and window controls, and as for the button labelled "press", it releases the tablet from its mounting, should you wish to control things wirelessly.

The window blinds can also be controlled via the up/down buttons at each window.

Looking for the inflight power? A combined AC and USB outlet sits in front of you, under the hatch. However, many laptop transformers won't fit into the socket by default, so you may need to reach into your bag for a travel adaptor to provide some extra spacing, or ask the crew to borrow one as these are also kept on board.

As the socket forms part of the fixed shelf in front, you can either charge your device while keeping it out of the way, or retrieve the seat's full tray table to use and charge simultaneously.

Without any lockers mounted to the ceiling above, you'll instead find a reading light and air vent over your shoulder, plus another vent near the tablet mount.

When it's time to doze, the crew will transform your seat into a fully-flat, 201cm (79-inch) bed, dressed with a mattress pad, linen and a plush pillow, along with pyjamas and slippers.

While seats 1A and 1K look nice on a boarding pass, lighter sleepers may prefer to sit mid-cabin to avoid being near the showers and snack counter, or the rear galleys – but once the curtain is closed to the shower lobby, and your own sliding doors are shut, most travellers won't notice a great deal of difference.

While Emirates' A380s do offer social spaces for travellers to mingle and stretch their legs, it's worth pointing out that these first class suites don't provide a separate bed and lounge chair inside each suite, as you'd find aboard the A380s of Etihad Airways and Singapore Airlines on flights from Australia.

Meal

The food and beverage service in Emirates first class begins as soon as you board, with a snack basket taking care of any urgent nibbles, and a beverage of your choosing: even if it's a simple sparkling water with ice and lemon.

Of course, Champagne is Emirates' signature first class drink, with Dom Pérignon 2008 currently the default pour:

From time to time, that's joined by a second Champagne, such as the Dom Pérignon Rosé 2006, which is naturally a little sweeter.

When it comes to dining, you can order what you like, whenever you like, from the entire menu. That gives you the flexibility of sleeping, working, relaxing (and showering) when it suits you, rather than scheduling everything else around when food is being served.

That said, a flight such as this with an evening departure and an early morning arrival still lends itself well to the more traditional approach of dinner after take-off and breakfast before landing.

Pairing perfectly with the signature Champagne is Emirates' signature first class appetiser, caviar. You'll find this served on most flights, with the caviar presented with finely chopped onion, grated egg, sour cream, lemon, blinis, and melba toast in the bread basket.

As there's no need to follow the menu in order, the next course came from the 'hot snacks' list at the back of the menu, being porcini mushroom and fontina cheese arancini, served with red pepper pesto and green leaves: a flavourful yet light starter.

Back on the 'appetisers' page, the traditional Arabic mezze is no small plate, giving you the opportunity to mix and match a wide variety of flavours, getting a taste for the destination before touching down.

Among the many bites: moutabel, hummus, muhammara, baba ghanoush, stuffed vine leaves, tabouleh, labneh with zaatar and sumac, Kalamata olives, and lamb kibbeh. This paired nicely with the 1998 Château Léoville-Las Cases from The Emirates Vintage Collection.

Read: Behind the Emirates first class wine lists

With room for a main course, the lamb chops with lavender chimichurri were cooked perfectly – tricky to accomplish when served on an aircraft, yet pleasingly pink inside – plated with lamb jus, caramelised summer squash and roasted courgettes.

Desserts are available too, such as a chocolate clairefontaine, a white chocolate and green tea mousse, cheese, and seasonal fruit, with midnight snacks including sandwiches, profiteroles and soup on offer as well, as part of the complete menu.

After the meal, you can stretch your legs at the first-class-only bar, located at the front of the cabin in the shower lobby, where you'll find a selection of self-serve drinks and snacks – although the most premium picks like Hennessy Paradis Extra Rare Cognac and Dom Pérignon are now only served by the crew.

You can also mingle at the back of the upper deck, where a separate lounge area is shared between business class and first class flyers.

Read: Behind the design and evolution of Emirates' A380 bar

Fast-forward to breakfast, and the scrambled egg with truffle and hot-smoked salmon is a delightful way to begin the day, accompanied by potato scones, as well as juice and espresso coffee.

Don't overlook the bread basket, either. On many airlines, toast is served rock hard (and thus, inedible) as it's pre-toasted and reheated in an oven – but Emirates' Airbus A380s come equipped with actual toasters, keeping the bread as soft and fluffy as you'd expect on the ground.

Sometimes, the simplest of things can be a real winner!

Entertainment & Service

A vibrant, 32-inch high definition entertainment screen greets you in first class, serving up a wide variety of movies, TV shows, music, games and satellite-based live TV:

The screen responds to touch, but as it's located so far in front of you, that's mainly just useful for pausing a movie when you're standing up. It's otherwise much easier to navigate using this interactive remote control, found within your armrest.

Or, detach the 'mode controller' from its mount and use it like a tablet to browse through the same content. When you've found something of interest, send it to the big screen, then sit back and relax.

Complimentary unlimited WiFi is also available to all first class passengers with a Skywards frequent flyer number attached to their ticket – although the same privilege isn't extended to Qantas Frequent Flyer cardholders, who instead receive 20MB of complimentary data and must then purchase further access.

Once the laptop is packed away, it's worth switching on the aircraft's external camera for landing – particularly if you're flying on one of Emirates' newer superjumbos which have much better cameras than the oldest in the fleet.

All things considered, first class on the Emirates A380 is naturally the choice pick for Brisbane flyers, given Emirates is now the only airline with first class from Queensland, and the alternative to the A380 is Emirates' Boeing 777 sans shower suites.

Between other city pairs, however, the Emirates A380 has the upside of those showers and the sizeable onboard lounge, albeit with less floor space in each suite compared to the likes of Singapore Airlines and Etihad – and of course, Etihad's A380s also come with a first class shower suite and an onboard lounge.

Also reviewed: Emirates' fully-enclosed Boeing 777 first class suites

Chris Chamberlin travelled as a guest of Emirates.

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller, and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

06 Mar 2015

Total posts 189

Emirates have been well and truly left behind by other Airlines in the First Class seating area.

Way too much " bling " with narrow seats ( most business class are that wide ) .

The Cabins are fairly confined and don't feel very comfortable , just outdated.

Perhaps it's just too costly to refurbish the so many A380's they have !

The Brisbane lounge is also very outdated.

The whole First Class experience does not feel like first class IMOP.

One only has to fly First with SQ to see what a huge difference there is.

Given all the aforementioned they are the only First Class out of Brisbane so if you want F out of Brisbane they are it , that's why I will always go via Sydney to get a far better option.

Emirates First Class is certainly far better than Y class but well down in the First Class stakes compared to most other carriers in this region.

10 Jun 2018

Total posts 16

If only Singapore flew to Brisbane with First.

29 Jan 2020

Total posts 22

A shower at 40000 feet....much prefer that option over Singapore's seat and bed option, which means between the three Etihad, gives you the lot!

01 Apr 2014

Total posts 93

On 30 flights in EK First on the A380 I have never seen anybody use that small bar area at the front, apart from grabbing a snack on the way past (the mini salad rolls they do are nice). Not very conducive to any more than 2 or 3 people standing, and not great to lurk around the toilet doors. On the long haul routes, the CSA's who look after the shower suites are often hovering in that space also. In my experiences, most First pax tend to stay in their suite, or sometimes go back to the main Business bar area. Also, the top spec drinks mentioned in the article are usually kept in the bottom of that cupboard under the mini-bar (which isn't always locked) - although is in plentiful supply when you ask. The drinks rack swivels shut to become a faux water feature for take off and landing.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer P1

23 Aug 2014

Total posts 61

Different strokes...

Not everyone places such an emphasis on the hard product.

No one airline will ever please everyone with their First product (from check-in to boarding experience, lounge to aircraft transfer and in-flight experience).

For some their astonishing wine list (Mount Mary Cabernet, Pierro Chardonnay for example), their single malt, their vintage port from the 70s) and full caviar service (often obliging with two serves on a long flight) may be enough of a reason to fly them. Their wines take into account the high altitude and dehydrating effects of the pressurised cabin (including decanting wines for you) in a way many other F carriers don't.

SQ often has "brand name" French reds that, by comparison, don't fare well at high altitude but are often valued by a label-conscious clientele, perhaps not that fussed about what goes on with their palate.

10 Jun 2018

Total posts 16

In one sense, it depends where you want to go. For example, if I wanted to go from Sydney to London, SIA would be my choice. However, if it was Brisbane to Prague, then Emirates' First class all the way is better than Singapore Business, followed by First, then Eurobiz from one of SIA's European destinations.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 May 2018

Total posts 7

We recently took our 3rd and 4th Emirates first class flights on QFF points - from HKG to DBX on the A380 arriving close to midnight and then DBX to BLQ on the 777 departing the next morning at around 08:30. The first A380 flight was outstanding. Fantastic, welcoming crew who made the experience as great as the first time. The plane was also one of the newer ones. We had two showers as turbulence interrupted the first one. A bit tricky with the ‘return to your seat' light flashing when you are fully lathered!

Rather than taking up the average Dubai Connect hotel option, between flights we opted for more time in the two main First Class lounges, enjoying the complimentary massage, food offering and having a snooze in the quiet room - not quite a bed but good enough for a couple of hours of shut eye. In contrast, the 777 flight the next morning was a real disappointment. An old plane, of course no shower (which we knew) and a pretty casual, disinterested crew. As it was a daytime flight, there were no amenity kits available at all. The food was also pretty average. Those who have been to BLQ airport will know it is old and run down, with no air bridges and slow transit through immigration. So we started on a high and ended on a bit of a low.

Re other comments, I agree that the so described ‘social area' at the front of the first class area is definitely not for mingling. Toilet door on either side and a set of steep stairs down to the economy section.

Despite the bling (and I'm not a bling person) I do love Emirates first class. A close second is Qatar business suites.

06 Dec 2014

Total posts 28

Did the EK435 DBX/BNE in 2017 in First and it was a mixed experience. I'd flown from BNE/DBX in business and really enjoyed the flight getting a massive 7 hours continuous sleep on the way. The Dubai business lounge was a major disappointment.

I booked the outward and inward flights separately on the QFF site and discovered that the return leg on business was considerably cheaper for the return. Modifying my booking I got to fly First for a bit less than business had cost me on the way over.

The big issue for me with the A380 first class seats is that they were not wide enough. I felt that their business seats were a superior product. I didn't sleep as well as the outward journey.

Looking at SIA First makes me think that they've done this better than Emirates. The fact that I don't have to sleep in the seat I'm sitting in and get to use a fold down bed is a plus.

05 Jan 2017

Total posts 5

Hi Chris and great review. We'll be travelling on EK434 DXB-BNE in F in August. Do you know if this is one of the newer A380's? Thanks.

Hi scash, Emirates uses both new and 'old' A380s across most routes, including Brisbane.

05 Jan 2017

Total posts 5

Thanks Chris, so I'm guessing it's a bit of a lottery as to which one we get. We did a similar flight in F with EK in 2018 but on a 777. It was on an older plane with the chunky tablet etc and whilst still a fantastic experience it wasn't quite as good as being on a newer plane.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Sep 2016

Total posts 26

Couldn't agree more, the First Class experience on Emirates is wonderful in the air with amazing crew and dine on demand. Just the downside is unless you're a platinum Qantas FF or Skywards Platinum you'll have to use Emirates lounge which is absolutely terrible out of all Australian hubs.

Luckily having flown Emirates First Class several times and having platinum QF its a benefit to relax in our First lounge in Sydney Qantas; however their lounges in DXB Dubai are hit and miss Terminal 3 has several concourses A, B and C etc... my opinion is Concouse A First Class lounge is the “best” out of the lot, you are able to use A Concourse even if your flight is connecting from eg: C - you'll just need to allow time and if you hold that priceless First ticket you can request a buggy from the train stop in other concourses to take you to your gate.

Definitely agree with this article RE: SEATS 1 A and 1 B ARE TERRIBLE!! They are much smaller and feel terrible with the toilets right next to you, and the curtain constantly opening and closing on A380 only

The 777 and new 777 First are fine for all seats! And find the size of first pod to fare superior than the A380, unless you're a fan of the shower (which is great if you have a meeting after you arrive in to Australia or elsewhere etc) you can ask for two showers if cabin is empty - a smile and kindness with purser always goes a LONG way!

Also regarding space the seat is definitely smaller than competitors yet generally on the 10 or so trips done on EK First I find that many cabins are empty from BNE or MELB - or vis versa and have generally on 8 of 10 trips had my regular seat 2A and been given the isle seat next to me as my bed or work pod - the purser made sure I had my two seats well stocked and swapped freely between them. Emirate do seem to go above and beyond... especially if anything happens that is not supposed to I.e. delays, issues with ground crew etc... have had many gifts from purser including a full bottle of Dom and pjs & amenities for family... they help a lot!

Lastly re: champagne (whom doesn't enjoy the bubbles!) be warned that on the ground due to HUGE taxes you wont get your hands on the Dom ‘08 instead you'll be served the same business class Moët - I always decline this beverage on the ground (having enjoyed my champagne in Qantas First lounge Tattinger etc) however if you say politely “I would rather appreciate to enjoy the Dom, they often are so apologetic they have sneaked one or two glasses) or once the light is off they rush over to you with glass and small gift. NOTE THIS RULE doesn't apply in Dubai departures ONLY USA, AUSTRALIA etc and some other countries.

I know FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS!!

Enjoy your first experience Exec Flyers :)


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