Flight: EK 033
Date: Feb 2019
I had chosen 1E because I am a simple aviation nerd and wanted to see what the virtual windows were like. They did not disappoint. But more on that later.
If you read other reviews, people invariably mention that the tree motif on the outside of the suite is a Ghat tree, and the national tree of the UAE. I always think this sounds suspiciously like a phrase a PR team would insist on, and makes me doubt the credulity of the invariably gushing review that follows. I’ll save you the botany class and promise and objective, jaded, sleep deprived review.
Visually, the new suite is very impressive. The design ethos is a lot
less Donald Trump Baroque more refined than the old suite. It’s almost as if Emirates has grown up a bit, and I personally think that’s a good thing. Make no mistake, there is still plenty shiny stuff, and many have referred to the design as ‘strip club chic’ so it’s not not blingy, but safe to say the Mercedes design team toned it down a bit. The photos make the suitelook smaller than it is, partly because there is a mirror next to the seat which looks like it’s the edge of the suite, so if it looks cramped, I can assure you it’s not.
The screen is large (I think 32″) and crisp. It’s flanked by two minibar fridges stocked with Pepsi drinks and water. The arborially inclined will notice another Ghat tree motif, which is both understated, and pleasant. Pleasingly, there was also an Economist already in the literature pocket.
And yes, they do actually chill the drinks, which is a huge improvement on the older ‘minibar’.
There is also the ‘writing desk’ /mirror setup with anonymous concoctions that make you immortal or whatever.
Moving around the suite:
To the right, are the three virtual windows, with….real…. curtains? I’m not really sure what the plan was there, but it’s a bit odd. The new tablet is a huge improvement on the previous one, and is much thinner and more responsive. I think the display is sharper too.
Underneath the tablet is the first set of controls for lighting, window shades and some of the IFE (play/pause, volume, channel).
I was really impressed with the quality and definition of the virtual windows. I’d say that they’re probably even clearer than a lot of real windows which get scratched and a bit ‘milky’ over time.
The remote is also new, and sits in the arm rest. It’s the first completely wireless remote I’ve seen on an aircraft, which is great.
On the other arm rest are some quick seat adjustments (the finer adjustments are done through the tablet). Much hype was made about the ‘zero gravity’ position that you could recline to, to the point that I actually thought you might feel weightless or something when it was activated. Suffice to say, this wasn’t the case (unless any reclining seat has ‘zero gravity’ properties). I’m sure you can make up your own lines about me and finding g-spots.
To the left of the seat is another small screen with some more adjustments.
It handily lets you know if the loos are occupied which is great because you’re in a fully enclosed suite (unlike the old product, where the doors don’t go all the way to the ceiling).
Being fully enclosed also means you can control the temperature of your suite. Bliss. Oddly, this was separate from the air vents, so you can turn the air vents down (mine were extremely loud) and still cool the suite, which is ideal.
You can also fine tune the lighting.
Including the colour and intensity of the lighting.
Adjustments here seemed to control the roof lighting and diamante/crystal studded lighting feature
As well as the studded bits around the seat.
When you say those out loud, it does sound pretty strip club chic.
Finally, there is a storage space by the door, mostly for hanging clothes and storing headphones etc.
There’s also a very tidy locker for carry on, which I think is more elegant than the belts in the old suite. Overall, there is plenty of storage, and it’s all very unobtrusive, meaning you can Marie Kondo your suite to your heart’s content
This is what it looked like all closed up:
A word on connectivity. This suite is fresh out of Akihabara with loads of connectivity options.
In addition to the fairly standard USB ports and laptop charger, there was also an HDMI port
and, in a rare act of futureproofing, a USB C port that can charge a laptop. This pleases me.
The HDMI port is great because you can watch your own content on the screen. Now Emirates is famous for having huge amounts of content in its IFE, but rather than just sheer choice, I value being able to download my own selection on Netflix and continue binging whatever I was on the ground rather than hoping it will be on ICE.
If you plug in an HDMI device you get a warning and then:
Boom. Netflix and a little Dom Perignon. That is quite cool. Admittedly you have to travel with your own HDMI cable, but I usually do, so it wasn’t a major undertaking.
So, the hardware is a big improvement overall. The suites are bigger, less offensively decorated, and play nicely with all your electronics. What about the rest of the experience? In a nutshell, not as good.
My personal theory was that the staff figured I was a freeloading millennial blogger, and not ‘proper’ First. I say this because I was crediting the flight to Alaska Airlines, so my booking had an MP frequent flyer number on it. Alaska Mileage Plan used to have very favourable rates for redeeming miles on Emirates First, and, despite the loophole being closed for a while, I think that some Emirates staff still associate MP on the booking as ‘freeloading’. For example, some people reported being denied lounge access on MP bookings (though that may be more to do with confusion around fare class). That, or the staff on my flight could just not be bothered, neither is good.
Interactions were very much ‘what do you want?’ and uninterested. They would bring anything I asked for, but there was no ‘service’ beyond actually recording what I wanted and delivering it. Other airlines like SQ and even Air France seem better at engaging in conversation and being a bit more human about the whole interaction. Emirates was once again more of a ‘drive-thru’ experience.
Another example: This is what my bed looked like before I had slept in it (IE this is it ‘made’). I feel like staff on other airlines have a lot more pride in their work, and make more of an effort.
Now I know it’s a first world problem. Obviously just having someone make a bed for you on a flight has distinct ‘let them eat cake’ vibes about it. The point is that I think that on other airlines, where the service is better, there is more attention to detail (and pride in the product) and they wouldn’t just half heartedly chuck some bedding on and call it done.
In true Emirates form, there was Dom Perignon (2009) and caviar.
The caviar seemed a little fetid, and the blinis were clearly on their last legs, so it was another pass for me.
The main was also pretty underwhelming. I know chicken rice is a great dish, but somehow, just getting some tough chicken and rice as a main course seems a bit abject for what is supposed to be a ‘game changing’ product. Another minor detail was drink refills. If I asked, someone would do it, but there was never any pre-emptive refilling of water (and no offer of sparkling water) or anything like that. The extent of the service was whatever was asked for, and nothing more.
I went for a cheese board which was pleasant, but forgettable.
And then finished off with some sort of chocolate log thing with raspberry….cubes…? It was very good. A final, minor point on the service. I asked for a pot of coffee with pudding and was originally bought a cup of instant coffee. When I asked again for the cafetiere I was treated to a theatrical sigh, and when he returned it was wordlessly plonked in front of me.
I ended up feeling a little conflicted about the whole experience. There are many good things to be said about the design of the suite. I think it is great improvement on the old one and I like all the new tech. Yes, a lot of it is a bit gimmicky, but, bearing in mind that not that long ago First was 2-2-2 ‘angled flats’ this feels like we’ve come a long way. The main issues, sadly, lie with service. It’s a tired adage, but people remember how you make them feel, and I mostly felt like I was an inconvenience to staff on both flights. This is the frustrating part about Emirates – even if they spend hundreds of millions of dollars on upgrading their fleet, most of the good work is undone by poor or indifferent service. No level of light customisation or additional seat adjustments is going to make up for that. There’s also the fact that this product is not representative of most of the fleet (fewer than 10 aircraft have it), or indeed the average experience, so unless you happen to fly one of the few routes its on, all the innovations and changes are a little academic.