Why Emirates boss Tim Clark thought his A380 bar might be a flop

But... but... who wouldn't like the idea of a cocktail bar above the clouds?

By David Flynn, November 18 2021
Why Emirates boss Tim Clark thought his A380 bar might be a flop

Since its debut in 2008, Emirates' inflight Airbus A380 cocktail bar has become one of the airline's signature features.

Nestled away at the rear of the superjumbo's upper deck, it's become a wildly popular go-to for business class travellers, along with first class passengers seeking a social break from their private suites.

Channeling the glory days of the jet age, high flyers gather around the horseshoe-shaped bar or relax on leather-clad benches to sip Champagne, spirits or of course cocktails.

But as Emirates designed its first Airbus A380s in the years leading to the superjumbo's launch in 2008, airline president Sir Tim Clark had his doubts that the bar would be a success.

"Even though we spent an awful lot of time and money designing the bar and gilding the lily a little bit, there was a degree of concern as to how it would work," he tells Executive Traveller.

"We didn't actually think that many people were going to use it, but how wrong we were!"

Origins of Emirates’ A380 bar

Clark, who had spent 10 years working for Bahrain-based Gulf Air before moving to Dubai when Emirates was founded in 1985, drew on that earlier experience when mapping out the floorplan for the A380s.

"A bar had been seen on the Gulf Air TriStars in the years before (Emirates) was formed... so you can see where some of the ideas came from," he hinted to Executive Traveller in a 2019 interview.

The inflight bar on board Gulf Air's Lockheed TriStar.
The inflight bar on board Gulf Air's Lockheed TriStar.

However, in 2008 the bar was something of a gamble, so the canny airline veteran Clark hedged his bets.

"I designed the bar at the back of the aircraft on the upper deck, on the understanding that if it didn't work, we could remove it in 96 hours and put eight more business class seats in," Clark reveals.

Clark's Plan B included leaving the overhead luggage lockers in the space above the bar to facilitate that quick conversion back to being a business class cabin.

"All those (lockers) were left in deliberately", he explains, until the bar's popularity had ensured its future and the next wave of factory-fresh A380s arrived without overhead lockers in the bar area to provide a more open and integrated look.

Emirates' next move was to increase the number of drop-down oxygen masks at the bar, in case of emergency.

"As soon as the aircraft was launched on routes like London and places like Sydney, it was clear that we had to increase the number of drop-down oxygen masks to a minimum of 16, because at times, we had even (more passengers there than that)," Clark says.

People fly Emirates just for the bar

"Every time I travel on (the A380), which is regularly, the bar is pretty full... particularly on ultra-long-range flights where we operate the A380, where it comes into its own really well and people go out of their way to travel on us."

So is the bar worth the loss of the eight business class seats which would otherwise occupy that space?

Clark maintains that on a typical flight, at least eight passengers chose to travel with Emirates over a competing airline just for the bar, "(and) probably more than that," he suggests.

"It's hugely attractive... incredibly popular, and people go from miles around to get on board the aeroplane. It's more than paid for itself."

Reshaping the bar

Emirates refreshed its A380 bar in 2017 in a lighter and brighter style "inspired by private yacht cabins", swapping out the dark heavy tones of the first-gen design...

... with a cleaner, sleeker and more refined look which drew on a lighter colour palette of ivory and (appropriately) champagne, with bronze and woodgrain accents.

The seating was revamped to include more communal cafe-style tables with a window view, with other areas opened up to make mingling easier.

Emirates even added subwoofers so the bar's patrons can enjoy surround sound – handy when paired with the 55 inch TV for live sports – with soundproof curtains to keep the din of the bar from disturbing passengers seated in the rear of the business class cabin.

"We have to move with the times, and the bar was proving extremely popular," Clark recounts.

"So we took the opportunity to modernise it, go away from the teaks in the air, walnut etc, and give it a more 21st century look and feel, which I think we've done fairly successfully."

"We can (certainly) seat more people and there seems to be a highly convivial atmosphere down there, every time I go through it anyway."

Also read: Emirates considers all-new Boeing 777 business class

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

12 Sep 2011

Total posts 272

Never had the pleasure of flying Emirates but have done the bar on Ey A380 and Qr A380 when flying F-   empty except for me, and I distinctly remember my one EY A380 flight where the flight attendant cornered me and asked me where I was going when I was going back to my F Studio from the bar - needless to say I didn't bother to fly Etihad again, this flight was poorly served, and completely different to my F flight from MEL-AUH. EY caters to a particular clientele

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 May 2018

Total posts 51

You need to do a business class or above on an Emirates A380. The bar opens after the main meal service and I have found it to be a great social spot on the occasions that I have gone with them 

01 Oct 2021

Total posts 14

EK business class is the best on an A380. Bring them back to Melbourne please Emirates!!

Yes, because Emirates makes its business decisions based on what it reads on comments here.

Etihad - Etihad Guest

21 Jul 2019

Total posts 118

@AsiaBizTraveller. Absolutely no need for smart arse taunts like that aimed at perfectly harmless comments! Also, it will surprise you to know that some airlines including Emirates do have employees/contractors actively scouring social media, forums and websites on the lookout for anything, especially negatives, relating to their respective airline.


03 May 2013

Total posts 663

Nothing Emirates has done has been a mistake. They have been a welcome and innovative industry benchmark, disrupting commercial aviation for the better. As premium frequent flyers, we owe them.

This bar was definitely a game-changer, although I rate Qatar's A380 bar area as superior due to the extra space and less blingy design. But on every Emirates A380 flight I always go to the bar for a drink, sometimes a light snack, it's great chatting with other travellers and hearing where they've been or where they are going, and I almost always get some great tips on hotels or restaurants or sight to see in other cities.

24 Jun 2020

Total posts 22

I love it but it is a long walk when there is a bit of turbulence from first class.

And I wish they would realise that some first class passengers do in fact use it and to have a spare bottle of Dom in the fridge rather than being served Moet or Veuve (not that that was lost on me at all lol)

"I love it but it is a long walk when there is a bit of turbulence from first class." That's definitely one of those 'first world problems' LOL!

Cathay Pacific - The Marco Polo Club

20 Jun 2013

Total posts 49

My thoughts exactly!

BA Gold

01 Apr 2012

Total posts 175

Love the EK bar but actually preferred the QR A380 bar.

Just as an aside - is it me or is this like the third time i've read this article on this site in the last year?  Slightly different titles but all essentially covering the same content - the bar was a trial and there was so much doubt that it would be a success that the overhead lockers were initially left in place so it could quickly be switched back to a seated config?

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2579

Hi Cooper81 – we've only had one article to date covering this aspect of the Emirates A380 bar, that being a broader article on the design & evolution of the bar, which is probably the article you read previously. The fact that Tim Clark had doubts on the bar's success was part of that article, but I found it sufficiently interesting that I felt it could benefit from being given more focus on its own and brought to the attention of readers who've come in new to Executive Traveller, which is why you're seeing this slightly different take on the topic. From time to time we do also republish and refresh articles for the benefit of newer readers.

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