Back in November 2017, Emirates unveiled its new First Class, dubbed “Game Changer”. Say what you will about marketing fluff, but this indeed set tongues wagging.
Never before had something like this been attempted. Six fully-enclosed suites with floor-to-ceiling walls, a sumptuous-looking leather recliner with Zero G functionality, curtains on the windows, individual mood lighting, a full-length wardrobe…it was more reminiscent of a luxury train cabin than commercial air travel. In fact, I felt it rather stole the limelight from Singapore Airlines’ new Suites (announced just a few days earlier), making them look empty and staid by comparison.
After years of daydreaming, I finally bit the bullet and redeemed this for 141,250 Skywards miles and S$1,172 of taxes and surcharges. You don’t need to tell me that’s a ridiculous cash payment (S$1,098 of it goes to fuel surcharges!), but can you put a price on a Game Changer?
|✈️ tl;dr: Emirates B777-300ER New First Class|
|Emirates’ new First Class is a stunning reimagination of luxury air travel, although the limited deployment means it’s more marketing tool than true Game Changer.|
|👍 The Good||👎 The Bad|
Booking the new Emirates First Class
Here’s the thing about Emirates’ new First Class: even though it’s been almost four years since the product was launched, it’s still only available on nine, count them, nine aircraft!
For context, Emirates has more than 250 planes in service, including 124 B777-300ERs. This means that Game Changer-equipped aircraft consist just 3.6% of the overall fleet!
That said, this isn’t entirely Emirates’ fault. The plan from the start was to install these seats on the new B777X aircraft, which were originally scheduled to be delivered from 2020. Boeing’s woes have caused that timeline to slip by almost five years, putting Emirates in an awkward position. The airline has no intention to refit more B777-300ERs — why, when the B777Xs are meant to be the replacement — so it’s entirely possible that nine aircraft are all we’ll get until 2025!
It’s no wonder critics call these “marketing planes”, in the sense that they create a halo effect for Emirates as a whole, yet are eminently unavailable. Unless you fly a few choice routes like Brussels, Geneva, Kuwait City, London Stansted and Vienna (hardly hubs for international traffic, though to be fair, Frankfurt and Zurich get them too), you may never even cross paths with one of these aircraft.
Emirates initially suggested it might install these seats on the A380s (which would reduce First Class capacity from 14 to 11), but seems to have gone in a different direction by retrofitting them with cosmetic upgrades that match the Game Changer in finishings, while keeping the bones of the product unchanged.
Long story short: as jaw-dropping as the Game Changer seat is, don’t expect it to be widely available for years to come.
That hasn’t stopped Emirates from marketing the heck out of it, though I wonder if that will change following the lawsuit they lost in New Zealand regarding misleading advertising…
Emirates B777-300ER “Game Changer” First Class
Emirates’ new First Class certainly knows how to make a first impression- stepping into a cabin and not seeing any seats straight away takes some getting used to!
Instead, the first thing that greets you is a beautifully-decorated wall adorned with a Ghaf tree (the national tree of the UAE) motif. Each petal is backlit (or made of a material that reflects light), causing it to shimmer like a chandelier.
While the First Class cabin on Emirates’ A380s look like a teenage rapper’s wet dream, I have to applaud the airline for decorating with a more restrained hand here. The design was inspired by the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and instead of over-the-top bling, this cabin is clad — dare I even say tastefully — with lighter, modern tones and subtly textured panels. Even the use of gold is restrained, limited to the odd frame or finishing. Is this really Emirates?
First Class is so visually distinct from the rest of the airplane, it’s like a completely different world. Apart from the completely enclosed seats, there are other hints that you’re standing on rarefied ground- literally. The floor here is clad in a wood-type material that transitions into carpets in Business Class.
Before settling into my seat, I caught a quick peek at the Business Class cabin behind, which unfortunately retains an underwhelming 2-3-2 layout. I have no idea how Emirates considers this to be competitive in an age where all-aisle access is de rigueur, but that’s another discussion for another time.
Back to First Class, where Emirates has reduced the number of First Class seats on the B777-300ER from eight to six, laid out in two rows of 1-1-1.
The layout means that this is decidedly not an experience for couples. Heck, there isn’t even the option for couple dining, since seats lack ottomans. It’s an interesting design decision to say the least, since sharing such an incredible space would surely be a memorable experience.
The 1/2A and 1/2K seats are by the windows, while the 1E and 2F seats are located in the middle. Window seats, naturally, benefit from an infusion of natural light during the day, making the already generous space feel even more cavernous.
Each suite measures in at 40 square feet, slightly larger than the smallest Singapore Airlines Suite (35 square feet). And yet it feels cosier, because of how much Emirates has crammed inside. It’s less of a hotel room and more of a capsule hotel, albeit a very luxurious one.
While it’s fast becoming the trend to have a separate bed and seat in First Class, Emirates has decided to go seat-only, with a a leather armchair the centrepiece of each suite. This rules out the possibility of a quick transition from nap to work, but the space saved allows for additional storage, fittings and other surprising touches, which we’ll get to in a minute.
By the way, if the seats give you a sense of deja vu, that’s probably because Jacques Pierrejean took the helm for the design. He also oversaw the design of Singapore Airlines’ new Suites, and given the proximity of their development, I’d have loved to read the NDA clauses in those contracts…
Passengers seated in window seats get a pair of Steiner binoculars, another nod to luxury train travel. Let’s be realistic: you’re not going to be spotting flocks of migrating Canada geese from your window (and if you do, you might want to strap in), but do you really care? It’s a pure world-building tool, and I love it.
Even though a window seat was tempting, I deliberately chose a seat in the middle, in order to experience the virtual windows. My seat, 2F, was located on the starboard side of the aisle. I’m not sure how much of a difference it makes in practice, but centre suites will be slightly more spacious, since they don’t get eaten into by the curvature of the fuselage.
It’s hard not gasp when you step inside for the first time. While I’d pored over the publicity photos, nothing beats seeing it in person. The sheer acreage of space, the ornate furnishings, the unprecedented privacy- this is commercial air travel?
The cream coloured, leather-upholstered seat measures in at 30 inches wide, and is extremely comfortable for sitting thanks to its ample padding.
It’s also capable of adopting a “zero-gravity” position designed by NASA, which lifts your legs to the same level as your heart, giving a feeling of relaxation and weightlessness. This has the added benefit of removing pressure from the elbows, back and neck, and I used it a fair bit when watching TV.
If you hate the trend towards three-point seatbelts in airplanes, take heart: this seat uses the old-fashioned two-point design. And in the most Emirates thing ever, even the seat belt is golden!
Current-gen doors on competing products offer at best an illusion of privacy (and perhaps a visual “do not disturb” sign to the crew), since anyone of reasonable height walking by could see over the partition. However, the floor-to-ceiling doors and walls offered by Emirates really are a gamechanger, since they create a space that is truly private. You could change clothes (or even walk around au naturale) within your suite, and no one would be the wiser.
The sliding door is on the heavy side, and unlike the ones on the A380 have to be opened and closed manually. There are non-adjustable blinds on the door, but because of their angulation they’re more for peeping out rather than looking in.
I’ve said before that the hard product needs to support the delivery of the soft product, and here’s a prime example: the service window Emirates has built into every suite. The whole point of a door is privacy, but if it needs to be constantly opened and closed to deliver things, that kind of defeats the purpose. By having a service window that’s offset to the front, the crew can deliver items without exposing the passenger completely. I love it.
Strategically-placed cut-outs allow the passenger to get a heads up when someone is approaching the window, so it won’t catch you completely off-guard. In any case, the crew always knock and wait for a response first.
An oversized tray table with leather handle slides out from beneath the TV, providing a sturdy surface for eating or working. You have control over how far it extends, which means you won’t be trapped in the seat during meal times (though a little adjustment of items may be necessary, since it slides straight back into the storage area instead of pivoting).
In-seat mini-bars are a fun little gimmick of Emirates’ premium cabins, and if you’ve chosen a centre suite, there’s enough space for everything to be stored in secured cupboards.
On each side of the mini-bar are magazine racks, stocked with National Geographic, Time Magazine (not just for children anymore!), and other periodicals. Even if you’re not the reading sort, physical magazines add something extra to the place, making it feel more like a living area.
Built into the table top is a pop-up vanity mirror with sample-sized Byredo amenities:
- 10ml Byredo pillow mist
- 10ml Byredo facial toner
- 5ml Byredo eye cream
- 3ml Byredo sleep oil
- Byredo towelette
A writing kit with a leather-bound Emirates notebook and pen are yours to keep.
To the left of the table are a universal power outlet, two USB Type-A charging ports (one of which supports high-speed charging), and a standard HDMI slot, all hidden by a flip-down cover. There’s a further USB-C outlet near the side table, though the obscure positioning means you’re liable to forget about it altogether. No wireless charging is available, which feels like a bit of a miss in terms of future-proofing.
As you might have surmised, the presence of floor-to-ceiling walls rules out the possibility of overhead storage space. But who needs that, when Emirate has provisioned a quite-frankly embarassing amount of space for all your personal belongings?
Below the table in front of you is a large cubby that will fit any carry-on luggage or duffel bags (note the starry in-floor lighting), while a smaller locker next to it is great for a backpack, and more importantly, can be readily accessed even when the bed is deployed.
Opposite that is a full-length wardrobe, equipped with hangers and pockets for headphones, magazines, and other loose items.
Underneath the armrest is an additional storage nook, which can fit a passport or mobile phone (though it’s so subtle you’re liable to forget you left it there).
Along the wall of the suite are three virtual windows (we’re getting to them, I swear!), plus a side table with a tablet and additional seat controls.
Don’t miss the hidden extension that swivels out from beneath the tablet, providing additional (if precarious) space for drinks or snacks.
One personal air nozzle is located on the side table, with one more overhead.
Under the armrest console is another IFE remote. While this may seem superfluous, given the presence of the tablet, it’s a much lighter device allowing you to control the system with one hand.
Oh, and did I mention it’s wireless? A wireless remote controller may be taken for granted at home, but on an airplane it’s a stunning innovation- no wires to get caught in cervices or topple your drink. Why don’t more carriers offer this (concerns about thievery, probably)?
The armrest has four buttons for quick access to preset positions for full upright, lounging, dining and full-flat.
Additional seat controls are found in the tablet. There’s a total of 11 different elements to adjust, so it’s not exactly intuitive, but again there are presets for easier navigation.
The tablet also has a video or voice call feature, which expedites requests insofar as it saves a trip to your seat. Somewhat unfortunately, the crew were a bit too on-the-ball to let me use this- once I pressed the call button, they’d rush over to my suite!
Next to the seat is a touch-screen control panel, which is like the command centre of the suite. This provides a range of useful information at a glance, such as whether the lavatories are occupied and the time left to destination. It also offers one-touch buttons for lighting, do-not-disturb, seat controls and temperature.
Yes, temperature. In a first for an airline, Emirates allows you to control the temperature of your suite. While you can’t pick an exact figure, the sliding scale lets you adjust the suite towards “hot” and “cold”. I tried both extremes, and can report that it does indeed work.
Then there’s the lighting controls. Passengers can choose from nine different colours (plus an auto setting) that changes the background lighting in the suite. It sounds like a gimmick, but there’s real value here: use blue or white colours when you want to be alert for work, use orange or red when you want to wind down.
Additional lighting options allow passengers to control the intensity of lighting from the reading, dining, ceiling, wall and floor lights.
Speaking of lighting, check out these overhead constellation-style lights. When you lie back and stare up, it’s like watching the night sky.
And finally, let’s talk virtual windows.
When designing the new First Class, Emirates realised that a 1-1-1, fully-enclosed configuration might cause the middle seat passenger to feel claustrophobic. To prevent this seat from becoming the “booby prize”, Emirates installed three high-definition cameras on each side of the aircraft, and created cut-outs for “windows” (monitors, really).
You can call this a gimmick. You can call this overengineering. What you can’t do is deny how cool these are. In fact, I daresay they offer even greater clarity than what the human eye can see.
Here’s what it looked like on approach to Geneva. Tell me that doesn’t look amazing.
To improve the illusion, these windows even work the same as any other ones in the cabin, sporting mechanical blinds that operate with the same identical switches. That’s great attention to detail.
Food & Beverage
Unlike outstations, Emirates does serve the good stuff on the ground in Dubai, so it was a pre-departure glass of Dom Perignon 2012 for me, together with sparkling water.
Another signature Emirates touch is their pre-departure dates and Arabic coffee, which is poured seatside. The pouring always looks so precarious: scalding hot coffee from height into a small cup. But the crew are old hands at it, and fingers went unscathed.
Another round of drinks came after take-off, together with a leather-bound menu and wine list. It seems to be Emirates’ SOP to only distribute these once cruising altitude is reached, which quite frankly confuses me. Why not expedite the process by giving it to passengers as soon as they board?
Dinner was served on this flight, and First Class passengers can choose to dine whenever they wish. You can look up your menu 30 days in advance of your flight on the Emirates website.
Before the meal, an off-menu amuse bouche of a chicken pate lollipop and tuna tartare with avocado was served.
After that came the caviar course. Emirates offers all-you-can-eat caviar in First Class, or at least as much as they carry onboard. The default serve now seems to be a double portion, and that’s a lot of caviar, let me tell you. Classic accompaniments like blinis, chopped egg yolk and egg white, chives, white onions and crème fraiche are all provided.
Next, I had a seafood antipasti, comprising of marinated lobster tail, sautéed prawns and seared scallops. I’m not a fan of cold seafood, but the freshness and sweetness put an end to my compunctions.
French onion soup with gruyere crouton was poured at my seat, a nice little bit of showmanship.
I was still quite full from the lounge, but I had to try a main. So I chose the grilled chicken with green peppercorn sauce, roasted potato wedges and blanched broccolini. This was so-so; chicken breast isn’t the best protein for an airplane cabin, and the broccolini was limp and tasteless.
And to end things off, a chocolate truffle cake with roasted hazelnuts and pistachios. I noticed that Emirates offers excellent desserts out of Dubai, so this isn’t the right time to be on a diet.
The meal ended with a hot towel and selection of chocolates. When I demurred, the crew insisted on taking some home, and packed a small box for me.
Emirates also offers a selection of baklawa, so if you’re the adventurous sort that’s well worth trying.
Emirates has invested more than US$1 billion into its wine programme over the past 16 years, and the results are clear to see. First Class passengers enjoy the widest selection of wines I’ve seen on any carrier (Singapore Airlines offers “just” seven!), including Dom Perignon 2012 (now an Emirates exclusive) and a Carruades de Lafite 2006, which retails at S$780.
|Dom Perignon 2012||Champagne||4.4/5|
|Chassange-Montrachet 1er cru Morgeot Louis Jadot 2013||White||4.3/5|
|Chateau Malartic-Lagraviere 2013||White||4.0/5|
|Meursault 1er Cru Chateau de Blagny Louis Latour 2018||White||4.3/5|
|Robert Weil Riesling Kiedricher 2021||White||3.9/5|
|Carruades de Lafite 2006||Red||4.4/5|
|Chateau Ripeau 2010||Red||4.1/5|
|Cote Rotie La Rose Pourpre Pierre Gaillard 2014||Red||4.2/5|
|Gevrey-Chambertin La Justice Albert Bichot 2014||Red||4.1/5|
|Chateau d’Yquem 2014||Dessert||4.7/5|
By the way, Emirates has carafes onboard, so don’t be shy to ask for one if you want the wine to breathe a little more.
But don’t limit yourself just to wines, because Emirates stocks some amazing spirits too.
Didn’t see that? I’ll point it out to you: Hennessy Paradis, a cognac that retails for S$1,440. That means a standard pour of 44ml costs about S$90, give or take. My guess is not too many passengers know this exists; the crew member got visibly excited when I ordered some, saying “too many people fly First Class and all they think of is the wines!”
He encouraged me to smell the stopper and appreciate the bouquet, before pouring what I think was the best glass of cognac I ever had (it was also my first).
Emirates does not offer amenities kits on daytime short and medium-haul flights, which is what EK83 from Dubai to Geneva was. However, the crew were more than pleased to give me one upon request, which contains:
- 7ml Bvlgari lip balm
- 30ml bottle of Bvlgari Le Gemme Tygar perfume
- 40ml bottle of Bvlgari hydrating body emulsion
- 40ml bottle of Bvlgari after shave balm
- Bvlgari cleansing towel
- 50g can of Gillette shaving foam
- Disposable Gillette shaving razor
- A packet of facial tissue
- 25ml Rexona Men Ice Cool Anti-perspirant
- Foldable plastic comb
- Dental kit
My personal favourite is the Bvlgari Le Gemme Tygar perfume, “an astonishingly contrasted citrus woody blend crafted from accords of radiant grapefruit and abundant ambrox”. One spritz and you’re fit for the Ritz, as I like to say.
Even though this was a daytime flight, pyjamas were still distributed. These are Emirates’ “moisturising pyjamas”, made with “Hydra Active Microcapsule Technology” that releases naturally-moisturising sea kelp. I can’t say it felt any different from regular pyjamas, but I love the overengineering.
Whether or not you get free Wi-Fi on Emirates depends on both your cabin class and whether or not you’re a member of Skywards. For example, an Emirates First Class passenger would not enjoy free Wi-Fi, unless they also happen to be a member of Skywards.
|Economy & Premium Economy||Business||First|
|Blue||Free chat-only||Free chat-only||Free Wi-Fi|
|Silver||Free chat-only||Free Wi-Fi|
There’s no cost to join Skywards, but in order to get free Wi-Fi your membership number must be linked to your booking at least 24 hours before departure. Moreover, this means that if you wish to credit your Emirates flight to a different frequent flyer programme, you won’t get free Wi-Fi.
If you forget to add your Skywards number in time, you’ll have to pay for access. On this flight, Wi-Fi cost:
- US$3.99 for chat-only plan
- US$9.99 for 30 minutes
- US$19.99 for full-flight Wi-Fi
I wonder why Emirates doesn’t just make Wi-Fi free for all First and Business Class passengers, period, like what Singapore Airlines has done. Fortunately, my Skywards Blue number was attached to my boarding pass, so I received complimentary access.
Emirates Wi-Fi is provided by SITA ONAIR, not exactly known for blazing-fast connectivity. My connection clocked molasses-like speeds, and wasn’t good for much beyond basic browsing.
Emirates’ ICE inflight entertainment system has one of the biggest selections out there, with more than 5,000 Hollywood and international movies, full seasons of TV shows, music albums, and kid-friendly content. In terms of pure selection, it definitely has the beating of KrisWorld, though I find the user interface less intuitive to navigate.
There’s also four channels of live TV, including Sport24 for EPL and other major sporting events.
I ended up finally watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, mentally substituting “wand” with “wang” in my mind and sniggering throughout. I blame the Paradis.
First Class passengers receive noise-cancelling headphones by Bowers & Wilkins, in an Emirates-branded case. These offered excellent performance, and were very comfortable to wear even for extended periods. I’m still waiting for an airline to offer truly wireless headphones, but Emirates seems a prime candidate for that…
When the time comes to sleep, the cabin crew will make up the bed by adding a large mattress pad, duvet and additional pillows.
Together with the mood lighting (turn it to red for optimal sleep; it stimulates melatonin production) and individual temperature controls, this made for a very relaxing nap. The floor-to-ceiling walls provide excellent noise isolation, and more importantly, minimise light pollution. I won’t go so far as to say “eliminate” because the blinds on the door do allow light through, and unfortunately there’s no way of adjusting them.
Now, one question people have been asking about the Emirates First Class seat is whether or not it’s truly flat. I’ll let you be be the judge, although it does look like it’s slightly angled to me.
For what it’s worth, I didn’t notice the incline at all. It’s certainly nowhere as bad as Singapore Airline’ 2009 Regional Business Class seat (since retired, thankfully), where you’d gradually slide to the floor over time. It’s important to remember that the aircraft flies at a slightly nose-up angle, so who knows- this could very well be by design rather than accident.
My issue with the bed was that it felt a little short. It’s about 2 metres in length, but because of the built-in cushion around the head rest area (see below), you can’t place the pillow on top unless you don’t mind a high neck arch.
If that’s not for you, putting the pillow slightly lower robs you of about 20cm or so, and that can lead to your legs dangling off the edge towards the bottom.
While Emirates has done amazing things with the bathrooms on the A380, the smaller footprint of the B777-300ER doesn’t allow for much innovation.
Still, the fixtures and fittings are pleasant enough, and the lavatory was well-stocked with dental kits, razors, and combs.
Unlike the underwhelming service I received on my First Class flight from Singapore to Dubai, the crew on the Dubai to Geneva leg were exceptional.
It was evident from the moment I stepped foot onto the plane: introductions were made, drink orders taken, and they insisted on giving me the full tour of the seat and all its features. You could tell how proud they were of the product (“have you seen the virtual windows?”), and it’s great to see what something like this can do for morale.
That said, my understanding is that Emirates crews in general can be hit and miss. Some suggest it boils down to how diverse they are, and due to cultural differences certain gestures which may not be intended as impolite might be interpreted as such anyway. I’d reckon the average Singapore Airlines crew still delivers better service than an Emirates one, though it’s an obvious case of YMMV.
Whatever your feelings about Emirates and its less-than-subtle approach towards luxury, you’d have to be dead inside not to be impressed by its new First Class.
It’s quite an accomplishment, if you think about it. There are so many different parts here, yet they all come together in a cohesive whole. And while not every feature is useful, who says they have to be? Each of them still plays a role in crafting a certain ambiance, a vibe that whispers opulence rather than screams. Amazingly, Emirates has finally managed to reign in its penchant for ostentatiousness, which rather ran amok on its A380s- less nouveau riche, more elder statesman.
It’s a stark contrast to Singapore Airlines’ new Suites, which though enormous, feel like someone missed a trick. I’d go so far as to say that I’d choose the new Emirates First Class over Singapore Airlines Suites, despite the latter offering more space.
Come to think of it, Singapore Airlines’ new Suites reminds me of Emirates’ First Class Lounge in Dubai: a case study of how less can be more. There’s so much space that it becomes more like a liability than an asset, since it makes you think about what’s not there rather than what is. It comes off as too empty and impersonal, and I sincerely hope the new First Class on the B777X fixes some of those issues.
So is Emirates’ new First Class a gamechanger? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that it introduces features that other airlines will no doubt copy to some degree in the years to come. No, in the sense that it’s simply not deployed in sufficient volume to move the needle. In fact, it feels a bit of a tease.
But maybe that’s the idea.
What do you make of Emirates’ new First Class?
the Chateau d’Yquem might be the most expensive bottle on the flight
there is a hotel in Switzerland that has a bottle from 1898 which has a 6 figure price tag, but 2014 retails for under 500 SGD internationally (airlines buy without duty).
The 2014 isn’t that expensive, but I thought he might have pointed that out too. Probably the only airline in the world that serves Yquem on board.
Interesting! I had no idea really, I rely on vivino for everything
@matrix – means the paradis would also be cheaper
@sq flyer – well it isn’t that expensive for some vintages but its the top top tier Sauternes brand (think of petrus for left bank; lafite, mouton, HB, margaux, latour of right bank and the DRC)
its a really really sweet wine! all the missus will love it.
btw i saw sfo777 found mouton at emirates FCL!
Left bank >< right bank
Reminds me of a Japanese/Taiwanese karaoke lounge.
Super headache inducing.
The food and drinks do look amazing.
Plump shrimps and scallops.
Molehill of caviar.