I wasn’t sure if Challenge 36 would ever happen unless perhaps I won the lottery, but I guess if you write a goal down, then the Law of the Universe just might deliver it. The challenge I’d set was to be upgraded to First Class – no specific mention of an airline as such, although my original blog post here did hint at the opportunity to try a shower at 40,000 feet, which could only mean Emirates A380.
So what was it like?
I won’t lie, it was a whole new world. That said, I wouldn’t pay to do it again (unless I won the lottery). I would, however, stretch to business class whenever I could.
I nearly missed out though. Arriving at Delhi airport yesterday, none of us on-board even realised we were about to touch the tarmac until we did. With the worst smog on record, visibility was down to nothing. Still fighting that chest infection, I was panicked when I saw that we were disembarking directly onto the said tarmac to buses. As the first person off, I was stuck on the open-doored bus for nearly five minutes while it filled with everyone else. By the time the doors closed, and we made the ten-minute journey to an airport entrance, my breathing was catching the glances of everyone… including the immigration officials at the door. Despite having held a scarf over my face, I was wheezing quite badly. After being pulled aside and then taken to a medical room, they decided to put me through the immigration gate – which I didn’t want. Although I had arranged a multiple entry visa to India, solely because I wasn’t sure if my baggage could be checked through from Kathmandu to London, I really didn’t want to have to go back through check-in. However, the officials wouldn’t listen, even though now that I was taking an inhaler, my breathing had calmed down. I was promptly whisked in a wheelchair to Delhi International Airport ‘Hospital’. There was a whole mini private hospital on-site, and I immediately had visions of a very large health insurance bill coming my way – after all, asthma was a pre-existing condition on my travel insurance. The doctor put me on a nebulizer, and kept wanting me to take some pill. Worse, he kept saying I’d be transferred to a Delhi hospital. I had no WiFi or phone reception in this strange hospital, and my baggage was already checked in. There was no way I was going to be transferred to outside – I’d seen what it was like out there. Anyway, let’s cut this little story short – I managed to get hold of an Emirates official, and the airline was willing to take me. I tried to check-in again, and the actual terminal was giving me asthma again – the visibility inside was just as bad. So, I pulled some strings and mentioned the whole ‘first class’ thing, and Emirates walked me through the Diplomat’s gate and helped me to the Emirates’ lounge. Cheese and champagne miraculously cured me, and the oxygen in their air-conditioned space was very welcome too.
After a short flight in business class from Delhi to Dubai, I headed straight for the dedicated First Class floor in the airport. It was considerably quieter than I’ve found Dubai’s Business Class floor to be, and that was a good thing as it was very late in the evening by then. I sadly hadn’t pre-booked a complimentary beauty treatment as it was a short layover, and boarding was called quite promptly. I was able to board directly from that floor to the top of the A380, and escorted to none other than Suite 1A!
There are about 14 Suites onboard, and only about 6 people were on that flight. I met with my two dedicated attendants, who made the time to come and greet me, get to know where I’d been, show me around all the various bonuses in the suite (own bar, own goodie basket and more) and then talk me through the flight – when did I want my breakfast served, and what did I want, when did I want my shower, and when the toiletries/pyjamas bag would be delivered.
Feeling somewhat grimy, I booked the shower for fairly early on, and what an experience it was. Loads more toiletries in there, a hairdryer, and five minutes in total of water (you could stop and start it). The two shower rooms also served as the first class toilets, so they made sure that at least one was usually available. Your actual ‘shower slot’ though was 30 minutes use of the bathroom, and an attendant ‘re-set’ it after every use with all new toiletries, a five-minute timer etc. I can now not only officially say I’ve showered at 40,000 feet, but also above the heads of the pilots (the bathroom is at the front of the plane).
After donning the delightful (very large) sand-coloured pyjamas (which have now become my self-tanning overnight pjs), I decided to take in a night-cap back in the joint business/first class bar. I got to chat with two African diplomats, one of which was on his way to talk about girl’s education in Africa with a UK-based organisation. Seemed slightly controversial that he was therefore in business class, but hey-ho!
The bed in the First Class suite is definitely bigger than the business class one, and they fold it down for you, complete with mattress and duvet. It was comfortable, although I didn’t really get any sleep. On a longer-haul flight I probably would, but I did shut my eyes for an hour or so.
When breakfast was served, that was a real treat, and I did enjoy the extra space and china. Seemed very posh, and champagne came with it. The food was about the same level as that in business class, especially for this particular meal. I believe the evening meals include caviar and other such posh stuff.
The only other real benefit was getting off the plane so quick, and having all my luggage out first. Unfortunately, you still have to get it yourself (a problem when I still had all my kit) and try to negotiate heavy stuff off the conveyor and onto the trolley. Once that was done though, it was fairly quick to get through Customs and to my waiting driver.
Any tips for an upgrade?
My first tip then is to have a Skywards Card and to book in business class. I’d received a very good deal to fly in business, which came out surprising only £100 more than the same journey in Economy with some of the comparison airlines. It was kind of a no-brainer to book Business Class with Emirates for only £100 more than Jet wanted for Economy, and the fact that chauffeur journeys to Gatwick were included more than made up for the difference once taxi fares were taken into account. The bonus was also the luggage allowance, which meant I could take things to donate to schools in Nepal.
The second tip is then to sign up to upgrade alerts. About two weeks before I departed, I received such an alert that offered me a trade of all those Skywards points to travel from Dubai to London in first class on the journey back. While ‘technically’ not a free upgrade, I’d only travelled in business class once before, and only had one previous journey on the airline. Yet still, here I was able to trade just the points earned in one Australian return journey for 7 hours in Seat 1A – retail value of around £10k. So basically for my points balance, and an extra £100, I’d gone from the prospect of travelling economy to India, Nepal and back on Jet, to travelling London-Dubai-Delhi, then Delhi-Dubai in business class (with a Jet Airway Premiere transfer from Kathmandu-Delhi) and then Dubai to Gatwick in first class.
Overall Challenge Rating
Well, it’s another challenge ticked off – and a glimpse into how the ‘other half’ live. Emirates definitely do First Class well, and on a longer-haul flight, if I had the money, I’d do it again. Shame the A380 doesn’t fly to Adelaide.