Note: this is the third and final installment of my Emirates journey and trip report from Johannesburg to Toronto via Dubai. To read about my experience at the Emirates lounge in Johannesburg, click here. To read about my flight from Johannesburg to Dubai, as well as how I paid for this trip, click here.
To read other trip reports on my journey to Africa in December 2016/January 2017, please see my other published reviews:
- American Airlines Business Class, Dallas/Ft. Worth to London Heathrow
- American Airlines Arrivals Lounge, London Heathrow Terminal 3
- British Airways Club World, Boeing 747 – 400, London Heathrow to Johannesburg
The Beginning of the End
I was excited to fly this route for several reasons.
For starters, there seems to be an absolute dearth of trip reports out on the inter-webs about Emirates’ Airbus A380 in Business Class.
There also appear to be even fewer trip reports reviewing this unique route from Dubai to Toronto.
I use the term, “unique” to describe this route because it has been a subject of much controversy and criticism. The U.A.E. and Canada have been two countries at the forefront of the Open Skies agreements (or disagreements) and presently, Emirati carriers are limited to six frequencies per week to Canada.
Emirates launched services to Toronto in October 2007, three times per week. When it requested to increase frequencies to 6 times per week, this was denied by the Canadian authorities. Etihad had already consumed the other 3 weekly frequencies from Toronto to Abu Dhabi. So, Emirates ultimately pulled the A380 off of its New York JFK flight in June 2009 in order to send extra seats into Toronto to maximize its market presence. Today, Etihad flies three from Abu Dhabi to Toronto on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays while Emirates flies to Toronto on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
I was also curious to know the passenger makeup of this flight. I was told that it was heavily used by Indian subcontinent traffic, but truth be told it was actually a very diverse group of passengers. I noticed a lot of Eastern Europeans, Canadian citizens, some Desi/South Asian and a wide array of Persian and Middle Eastern folk. Overall, it was not defined by a certain ethnic group. Finally, I was amazed by the sheer number of crews that Emirates staffs on this route, but given its block time over 15 hours, this makes sense.
About this Airbus A380 Flight
The Toronto flight on EK is a 3-class configuration, featuring a total of 489 seats.
This would be the second most dense cabin configuration of any plane that I have flown. The winner was Thai, whose A380 I flew in 2015 from Bangkok to Paris and featured 507 seats, beating Emirates by a small margin.
Emirates’ A380 to Toronto offers 14 Closed Suites in First, and 76 Flat Bed seats in Business (48 seat pitch when upright, 70-79 when fully extended, and 18.5” width). Economy has 399 standard seats with 32-34” of pitch and 18” of width.
I selected seat 23A on the left side of the Upper Deck. This was recommended to me by seatguru although I was looking at the wrong seat configuration when I booked J Supposedly, there was extra legroom, but it was just fine in the end.
Dubai Airport Transfer Experience
Dubai International airport was far less chaotic than I expected it to be, perhaps because the entire airport resembles a mall rather than a terminal. The Emirates operation literally runs 24/7 so there is never any feeling of a major, “rush” with a continuous rolling bank of departures.
The Business Class lounge enables passengers to board the plane directly from the lounge without having to enter into the waiting area. I was rushing to get a quick shower, a freshen-up and then some coffee and a snack while completing something for work.
For whatever reason, my flight on EK 241 was delayed boarding so I had a little extra time to get ready. Overall, I wouldn’t have minded spending more time in DXB, but since I had a long journey ahead, it was probably better for me to get movin’ J
The Seat on Emirates’ A380 Business Class
Few aircraft feel more magical than a double-decker plane. I was so thrilled to sit in the A380 upper deck. Similar to my experience on British Airways, this A380 featured storage cubbies on the window seats for placing articles. I find this feature to be extremely helpful.
The business class section on the upper cabin of Emirates A380 comes in a 1-2-1 configuration, which is a major step ahead of the 777. The seats also alternate between two different layouts between one side that faces closer to the window, or closer to the aisle, depending on the variation.
I obviously chose the former because I’m a window-seat kinda guy J
The seat itself is decked out with a lot of pizzazz. The size compartment is replete with a mini-bar containing non-alcoholic beverages such as juices, bottled water, sparkling water and glassware. There is also a handy little storage space where one can put items like tablets, small laptops, handbags, phones and wallets.
There are TWO USB outlets, a three-prong headphones jack and an electrical outlet. There also is the iPad to be used for the entertainment system. There is a wide, flat surface adjacent to the seat with the seat controls and the space to place larger items, dishes, drinks and the what-have-you.
Overall, at first impressions, it is a very roomy, very cleverly-designed and very comfy seat.
The load factor for today’s flight would be 100%, so every seat in the house was taken. WiFi was available for purchase (we each got 10MB for free) but the service was painfully slow, so I didn’t bother with it.
My seat came with the standard pillow, blanket and slippers + eyeshades, but there were a few “misses” that occurred in that 1) I did not receive a pre-departure beverage (while other customers did) nor did I get an amenity kit. All-in-all, this was not a huge deal since this was my second leg of the journey, but I could see how this would be irksome to someone who may have just been starting their journey.
Maybe it is just me, but I really don’t understand the purpose of the tablet. Can someone explain?!
Take-off from Dubai was LONG, given that we were a fully-loaded A380 headed westbound and traveling nearly 7,000 nautical miles.
Menus were distributed on the ground and I perused the options. Unlike the last sector, which featured, “biriyani” as the signature dish, this one simply featured a signature ingredient, also within the realm of Indian cuisine, known as “Achar,” which is a spicy mango pickle condiment.
The meal service today would commence with a brunch + breakfast-style affair, followed by a mid-flight snack service and then a lunch + dinner combination prior to landing.
After take-off, I ventured to explore the bar area that Emirates has for First Class and Business Class customers. It was set-up, stocked and ready to go by the time we were at cruising altitude. The server was from Lebanon and was very friendly and interactive.
There’s also a nice seating area in the lounge/bar area, with magazines available for passengers to use. I did notice throughout the flight that it was being utilized. Personally, I wasn’t really feeling extroverted enough to hang out there, but I did appreciate that it was there.
The first meal service, I ordered the full English breakfast. Maybe this is why the previous sector from JNB to DXB, which didn’t offer anything more than a continental service, was relatively stark 😉 I absolutely devoured the eggs, not so much the sausage.
Our routing was fairly standard, taking us up over the CIS countries into the Baltics and then upwards through Scandinavia, Oslo, the North Sea and then Greenland into Eastern Canada.
I relaxed for a bit, slept some, watched some Desi movies. Unfortunately, my entertainment system had some issues, but the FA’s resolved to help in a prompt manner. It required 3 hard re-sets, but we got there eventually. Once that happened, I was very satisfied (seriously, guys, there is no better entertainment system out there from ICE).
The steak sandwich was MOUTHWATERING. It featured caramelized onions, Emmental (which is a type of SWISS cheese) and other ingredients which were so savory, all on toasted sourdough. I did not know that one could have a hot sandwich on a plane that tasted that good!
There was a gorgeous sunset outside the window that I got to enjoy also. I passed the time just relaxing, resting, drinking a few cocktails, and walking around the cabin to stretch my legs. I am not going to lie, this flight felt really long. Even with the entertainment options and the comfy seat, it is a long time to sit. There is really no other way to describe it: unless you’re really sleep deprived, Westbound transatlantic flights just feel incredibly time-consuming.
For the concluding meal service, I started with the Arabic mezze. It featured Spinach bil zeit, labneh, hummous and stuffed vine leaves (dolmati). While nice, it does not taste nearly as good as the one on Qatar Airways. For the main, I tried the Indian dish. This one was the featured item, the Achaari murgh, which is a chicken in a spicy gravy, served with braised lentils and bottle gourd (has a melon flavor to it) and saada pulao (aka rice). Again, it was spicy and packed a punch, much like the Biriyani that I had on my prior leg.
Arrival into Toronto
Slightly an hour prior to landing, cabin preparations were made for the arrival into Toronto. The weather was going to be chilly, so I rearranged my belongings to take out my winter jacket 😉
Check out the gallery below to geek out on the landing pics.
Landing at YYZ was bumpy and felt rough. The EK flight is one of the few that arrive into Terminal 1 at Pearson, which is rare given that this is primarily for Star Alliance carriers and partners of Air Canada. However, it is my assumption that the only A380-capable gate is at Terminal 1, which is why Emirates is housed there.
Thankfully, immigration at YYZ was relatively smooth. I have had some horrendous experiences with the officers in Toronto in the past, and I was fearful of this occasion given that I was in-transit to the U.S. on another airline/ticket and that I was coming from 10 days in Africa. Fortunately, this was not the case and I was able to move quickly through and transfer to Terminal 3
(side note: Terminal three at YYZ for US PreClearance departures is TERRIBLE! The terminal is dingy, cramped, has no lounges and has few bathrooms. My AA flight to DFW was delayed, so a 3-hour layover became 5 hours and the entire end-to-end experience sucked!).
This was the conclusion of my Emirates experience, and here is what I would write as overall satisfaction.
- On-board hard product: the seats are comfy, but not super wide. I tend to sleep on my side, so this may have been a bit of a tall order for business class. That being said, I’m a bigger fan of herringbone seats as a sleep method over the cubicle version, but the seat on the A380 is definitely much comfier than on the 77W.
- On-board soft product: the Amenity kit is fantastic, and the menu design is simply wonderful. There are toothbrushes and cosmetic items in the lavatories which also help
- Catering: could be better. Overall, not bad, but Emirates could certainly step it up just a bit. Based on the reviews I am seeing on other carriers, I feel as though the Business class meals are really not much more elegant than Economy class, just served on fine china.
- Crews: mixed bag, but per expectations. They are hospitable, but won’t go out of their way to make the trip special or extremely enjoyable. Sometimes, it feels robotic.
- Transfer experience in DXB: flawless. Works like clockwork.
- Overall rating: 8/10. For the price I paid, the value I received and the miles that I earned, this was a really sweet deal.
- Bottom line: Emirates is a fine airline. They are not the best in the world, but they are solid. I wouldn’t hesitate to fly them again, but I also will not go running back. Comparatively, Qatar is a superior carrier. I have to try out Etihad next J