Hit and miss: Emirates’ uneven First Class service

Emirates First Class offers luxurious seats and jaw-dropping amenities, but service consistency is one thing they haven't quite nailed.

I’m currently working on Golden Showers, my first trip report for 2023. This journey kicked off with not one, but two Emirates First Class flights:

  1. From Singapore to Dubai on the A380
  2. From Dubai to Geneva on the B777-300ER (equipped with Emirates’ new First Class seat). 

I’ve flown First Class with Singapore Airlines, ANA, Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, and THAI, but never Emirates. That said, you’d have to be living under a rock not to know of its reputation; even a casual traveller would be familiar with the airline’s penchant for over-the-top lavishness.

Emirates doesn’t do simple, that’s for sure

Here’s the thing though: Emirates talks a big game, and in many ways, it delivers. Its cabin décor may be an affront to good taste, but its First Class hard product can rival any competitor. It boasts a ridiculously good wine and spirits selection (Hennessy Paradis, anyone?), its amenities list reads like an Oscars-night goody bag, and for the first time in my life I took a good long look at my plate and asked myself, “is this too much caviar?”

But when it comes to service, my two Emirates flights had a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde thing going on. Unlike Singapore Airlines First Class, where the service is uniformly impeccable, Emirates struggles for consistency. Its crews can either be among the very best- or rather indifferent. 

Singapore to Dubai

Emirates A380 First Class

On the Singapore to Dubai leg, my experience was underwhelming to say the least. I want to state, for the record, that none of the staff were rude or anything like that- in fact, they were all pleasant enough to interact with. Sadly, the service they delivered somehow managed to be less than the sum of its parts.

Let’s start with service routines. EK355 is a red-eye flight, departing from Singapore at 9 p.m and landing in Dubai at 1 a.m local time. Total flight time is 7 hours 15 minutes, which means sleep is at a premium.

With that in mind, you’d think the crew might do simple things to expedite the service, like taking meal and drinks orders on the ground. Not so. Even though we sat on the tarmac for 45 minutes before take-off, no one came around to distribute menus. These only came a further 45 minutes after pushback, and 1 hour 40 minutes elapsed before any food showed up.

Menus were only distributed once in the air

To compound the issue, the crew weren’t in the habit of patrolling the aisles looking for plates to clear, which dragged out the meal service even more. I eventually resorted to hitting the call button every time I was finished with a course, and by the time everything was over, we were almost 1/3rd through the flight! 

The infrequent patrolling of the aisles also meant that drink refills were not proactively offered. Water and wine glasses sat empty for most of the meal. And when you did ask for something, simple requests took multiple reminders to fulfil.

Main course (a very dry beef tenderloin), sans wine

I asked for a glass of red wine with my main course, which didn’t show up. When the main course was being cleared, I asked again about the wine, and an empty glass was brought to my seat, presumably with the bottle to follow for a seat-side pouring. But then even more time passed with no bottle, and it was only on the third attempt (when I asked the cabin supervisor) that the wine finally came. This kind of forgetfulness would be a cardinal sin on Singapore Airlines.

I was also unimpressed by how the crew handled an inconsiderate passenger onboard my flight. From the time of boarding, there was one gentleman who insisted on watching movies on his personal tablet without headphones. I was sitting diagonally across and could hear every word. 

In situations like this, the first option should be to flag it to the crew. They’re the ones with authority, and they’re trained to handle such matters. That’s what I did — twice — and both times the crew said they’d speak to him. Despite this, he still continued what he was doing. 

Now, I realise there’s only so much the crew can do, but what I really would have expected is some follow up. It’s not enough to say “please use your headphones” and consider the matter settled. There has to be some monitoring of the situation, and if need be, additional reminders or remedial action. That didn’t happen at all. Several times I watched the crew walk past his seat, with the sound clearly blaring, and say nothing at all. In the end I went over myself to give him a right rollicking.

But perhaps the most striking thing of all was how anonymous the service felt. On Singapore Airlines, it’s practically mandatory for the cabin crew to go around to each First Class passenger and introduce themselves, have a little chat, and provide information about the flight. That was completely absent here.

Apart from the usual pre-flight formalities like distributing amenities kits and hot towels, there was little interaction with the crew before take-off. No welcomes, no introductions, no “here’s how you operate the seat”, no “here’s how our service today goes”. Passengers were only addressed by name occasionally, more often than not it was the generic sir/ma’am.

There were other small things as well: loose bits of plastic from amenities kits or pyjamas were not cleared, crew would hurry down the aisles without looking at passengers, making them hard to flag down. 

It didn’t feel like a First Class service experience at all.

Dubai to Geneva

Emirates First Class B777-300ER

If Singapore to Dubai were the sum total of my Emirates First Class experience, I’d be ready to write them off. Fortunately, on my second leg from Dubai to Geneva, the crew were impeccable

From the moment I stepped into the cabin, they were warm and hospitable, walking me to my seat, introducing themselves, and taking drinks orders. You could tell they were really proud of the new First Class cabin (even if it isn’t that new anymore- remember, it debuted at the end of 2018!), and when a crew member insisted on giving me the full tour of the seat’s features (“have you seen the virtual windows?”), I knew I was in for a good flight. 

Emirates First Class B777-300ER

No request was too big. Amenities kits aren’t normally distributed on this daytime flight, but one request and they found a spare right away. 

Emirates First Class amenities kit

When I couldn’t decide between two wines, the crew brought both and insisted I try a bit of each. When I requested a glass of that Hennessy Paradis, the crew member got visibly emotional. “Too many people fly First Class and all they can think about is the wines!” he said, as he rushed off to get it, waxing lyrical about how amazing it was. 

I can see why this costs S$1,400+ per bottle

During mealtimes, crew patrolled the aisles to see if drinks needed refills or plates needed clearing (but they did so in a way that you don’t feel rushed- just the briefest glance at the corner of their eye, and if you’re still working on it, they’ll walk past you as if they intended to do that all along).

In fact, the service was so great it sometimes interfered with my review process. Emirates’ new First Class has a function called “room service”, which lets you make a voice or video call to the crew from your suite. This is intended to expedite requests, insofar as the crew can immediately bring what you need instead of coming over first to listen.

Video call

I did so want to try the video call function, but I think the crew found it a bit too impersonal. Both times when I hit the video call button, a crew member knocked on my door within seconds. I didn’t have the heart to tell them I wanted to see them over a screen!

As you can probably tell by now, this crew was head and shoulders above the crew on the first leg. And while I’d rather they both be excellent, I’m glad the better experience came later, so at least I could walk away with good memories. 

Conclusion

While Emirates delivers a top-drawer First Class experience in many ways, service consistency is one piece of the puzzle it hasn’t quite figured out. Based on the first leg, I’d tell people not to expect much, based on the second, I’d be singing their praises.

That, to me, is one area where Singapore Airlines still has the edge over Emirates. In fact, this makes me that much more appreciative of how so darn consistent SIA cabin crew are- even the most average First Class crew I’ve encountered would be world class by any other airlines’ standards. 

Stay tuned for the full flight reports in the weeks to come. 

Aaron Wong
Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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SSHH

Tally up how many first class routes Emirates operate vs SQ — that’ll tell you everything you know why they’re unable to keep up the same consistency as an airline with a comparatively small F network (e.g. Cathay, which is THE most consistent). That being said, all things considered EK is still my favourite F experience. I find it puzzling why SQ don’t offer complementary limo transportation in at least Singapore (would be so easy in a low labour cost market — Emirates offer it anywhere!) and separated lounge/terminal facilities at Changi, like Lufthansa does in Frankfurt. SQ are among… Read more »

mokhc

no review on your baths in the air?

Jove

Nitpicking the flaws that can happen on any airline even on First class. This needs to be more impartial.

Ortloc

CPT to SIN via JNB in J class on SQ. Upon boarding, there were no slippers at all seats, something you’d usually expect for a long haul flight. Asked the stewardess for a pair and was amazed at the pushback she gave, “But it’s only a 1 hour flight!”, before she slid off to look for them. Honey, it’s only an hour flight for you (crew do the JNB-CPT-JNB leg before there’s a crew change for the JNB-SIN sector) but it’s 14 hours in the plane for all passengers departing CPT. Whatever happened to “Most certainly, Mr X!”? Needless to… Read more »

Ortloc

Great service in first class does not diminish the importance of good service in the lower classes. The vast majority of SQ’s customers will never experience F class and J & Y classes are extremely inconsistent right now.

mandy

it does not, but it seems rather out of point to bring it up in an article that is specifically talking about First class.

emercycrite

Irrelevant in the context of this article.

Joe Smith

I also wonder how much race or ethnicity factors in? I feel straight white men get different service by the Emirates crew. black, brown, yellow, gay just don’t get the same service.

CBKIA

Ortloc, you just go and fly your emirates. Don’t waste your time redeeming your flights with SQ. Wait till you are in J in Emirates. It is worse than our Economy class to Delhi. Milelion probably get the luckiest flight on GVA. But in general Emirates not only sucks. It sucks big time. Their first class is worse than our SQ SERVICE. Their Business is LOL. I am surprised they are still 4 star skytrax

Andy

SQ haven’t put slippers at seats in J for a while now (more than a year). A cost- and waste-saving measure but they will usually bring them quite quickly when you ask.

Michael

Fully agree! On SQ you only get Leading Steward(Ess) or above working in F class (Green kebaya/tie). Also on EK it’s apparently quite a career path before crew can work in F (they first have to work in economy, then business before they can apply and be trained for F). Yet, the inconsistency on EK is very evident. They have to work on this, and probably the key is also in the enforcement by the Pursers on board. Of course EK crew really fly a lot of hours, with relatively short layovers, so from foreign cities to Dubai they are… Read more »

Salmon Lee

Is it possibly because the first sector was for Asian audience, so not that much competition or they simply don’t value Asian markets as highly, while the second sector is for European market and made all the more lucrative with potential rich bankers and tycoons or top politicians to Geneva? I know some airlines definitely have such discriminatory treatment.

Anon

Well, given how many family offices are located in SG it would qualify as a premium destination befitting of premium service in its own right. GVA is tiny with rich people mainly transient (who fly private). Most people based there tend to be working for NGOs or international orgs — generally not the most generous when it comes to travel policies.

Last edited 11 months ago by Anon
SSHH

… tiny with rich people mainly transient.

You fo realize you just described Singapore, right?

Anon

You do realize sg is a global economic hub. Clearly you have never been to GVA or know what you are talking abt.

But yeah go ahead and minimise all you want lol

Anon

Plus this is the case for every economic hub (NYC, London, etc). Nobody in their right mind would equate SG to GVA (Leaving aside the fact that GVA is second tier economically compared to ZRH, which happens to get the inferior EK F product also as well as a potentially really bad EK J).

kevin durant

Never been a fan of SQ’s preferential treatment of AMDKs and AMDLs. If it weren’t for award flights I’d never fly them.

CBKIA

Then fly Emirates Lor. Mai kpkb. Hopefully the redemption will be like Air France. Suites availability only to PPS solitaire. Then you can forever fly with someone else! HAHAHA

Jon

Another keyboard warrior. Put your money where your mouth is

kevin durant is a LOSER

So pathetic. Resent AMDK treatment now have to fake an AM name.

SSS

@Aaron what did you say to no-headphones guy and how did he respond?

emercycrite

I’m curious to know as well.

D K

Ni Bu Hui Jiang Hua Yu Ma?

potatowong

Oh, a potato.

emercycrite

Sorry you got an underwhelming crew on your SIN-DXB flight. I flew the same flight in a SIN-DXB-MCT and return itinerary in first and service was impeccable on all four sectors. All of the things you mentioned that are to be expected in first were present on my flights. Oh, and the unlimited caviar was lovely.

CBKIA

Don’t want to see you on SQ ah. Please fly Emirates.

emercycrite

Gladly. Now go back to your hole until you are summoned.

sriksc

Never tried Emirates but I am not going on SQ. Total 5x trips (MEL, LAX, HND, DEL, SFO) and I’d say my experience is more like your first leg Aaron. Too slow to serve, BTC order without drinks, hours to clear up.. Being an introvert, I dont need casual chit chat or intro but felt that the suites or F passenger experience can be way better

CBKIA

Time for you to fly emirates

Sean

Worked for both SQ and EK and experienced F in both. I understand Aaron’s perspective. I have experienced similar. I put it down at least in part to the universality of EK crew (HQ is like the United Nations) versus (for the most part) the homogeneity of SQ. I think the latter provides for consistency but the downside can be a perceived lack of personality, while the former can mean two different experiences as Aaron has found.

A Waite

Review of the paradis please

Zaos

It’s better than the sweet XO these days. It does have an echo of the XO from decades ago. Probably blended down as they likely don’t have that much of very old liquid these days.

Andy

My last F flight with SQ was a bit slapdash. I think I was only proactively offered a refill once in the 14 hour flight. I think maybe a new crew with not much experience. Still miles better than your SIN-DXB experience though!

Anonymous Me

flown a few times sin-Dubai-Europe on economy with them. The service on the sin-dubai flights are always worse off than the Dubai to europe flights. I have a strong feeling they have different types of training and crew for to Dubai flights and to Europe flights..

Peter

Miles redemption… 🙄

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