Planes are places of class distinction. Money, rather than lineage, divides the line between gentry and nobility, upper and middle classes. So, spiting birth and upbringing and connections and achievement, if you round up $29,055.80, you can fly round-trip, SFO to Dubai — a new flight just added by Emirates — like a fucking king.
Flight time’s about 15.5 hours each way; so what justifies a grand an hour? We boarded the Emirates A380 before its maiden voyage to Dubai from San Francisco and checked out the digs on the world’s largest passenger aircraft.
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In First Class, life is lived “on demand”. The food — multi-course meals served on Royal Doulton fine-bone china and cut with Robert Welch cutlery — comes when you want it. The booze — international wine vintages like the Mount Eden Chardonnay 2010 and Pharaoh Moans and Dominos 2006 Napa Valley — when you’re thirsty. The shower-spa — equipped with Bulgari aftershave and Taylor’s of Old Bond Street razors — prepped when you need it. And the lie-flat beds — privatized by a small sliding knee-wall door and padded with a plush mattress pad — assembled at your command.
If the First Class cabin ever registers as too stuffy, the Onboard Lounge, just down the aisle past Business Class, is available for mixed drinks and mingling. Or, if you’re staying in for the duration of the flight, there’s the 27-inch screen (20 inches in Business, 12.1 inches in Economy), controlled by an iPad-esque tablet (also available in Business). There are 1,800 channels of on-demand entertainment, available to everybody, not just the passengers paying for a fare equal to the cost of an Audi A3.
What makes me consider that the First Class experience is worth the price is Emirate’s attention to detail. The opulence of a shower, a lie-flat bed, a 27-inch screen, the lounge and some of the best on-demand dining around justifies added ticket cost. But for $30,000, you want every corner covered, and Emirates does that: fresh flowers in each suite, a minibar tucked away and unobtrusive, a vanity for a quick spritz of spa refreshment right in your seat. There’s a complimentary writing pad, for those who don’t take advantage of the wi-fi and mobile phone connectivity. It makes this writer content to know that some vestiges of our past aren’t lost on today’s upper crust. And if anything else may be amiss, there’s a league of Emirate’s all-female attendants to make things right.
Spiting birth and upbringing and connections and achievement, if you round up $29,055.80, you can fly round-trip, SFO to Dubai like a fucking king.
Still, despite the vestiges of luxe, this is a commercial airplane. It’s not a private jet. All of the jet’s assembly, while veneered with luxury, is set to save weight. There’s lots of plastic. The walnut and gold accents matched with the Emirates pastel palette makes for more of a ’90s vibe than the clean designs of modern interiors. A first class cabin on an airline like Virgin doesn’t match the amenities onboard the A380, but Virgin does manage to get the design elements down right — modern lines on the seats, soft ambient light, streamlined rather than opulent in-seat controls. And Emirates also has design touches that seem a touch absurd, like the marble counter top in the Shower Spa. To note, while the two bathing areas are spacious, intelligently designed to save space and equipped with the right amenities (even a hair-dryer), they’re still a far cry for the Burj Al Arab.
Business class, at about half the cost of first, offers ample luxury without breaching pretentious. All full-flat beds face forward and have direct aisle access. The soft drink minibar, tablet, entertainment and Onboard Lounge access come standard. It’s enough to arrive refreshed, if not pampered. Economy offers wider seats, more legroom and the perks of good service, but there’s no Bulgari and Godiva and champagne waiting for you at arrival. This is a class system, after all, and for the luxe treatment you must buy your way into the upper cabin.