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:
- From Singapore to Dubai on the A380
- 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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.