James Cridland

Trip report: BNE-DXB-GVA with Emirates

“You’re in my seat”, the lady in economy 14H tells me, slightly haughtily. I look confused. “Not literally,” she adds. “I just like being in the window seat. I couldn’t get one when I checked in.” This is a strange way to introduce yourself, I think to myself.

I’m on Emirates EK431, on my way from BNE to DXB. I’ve already had a few hours in the BNE Emirates lounge, which is spacious but has very few power sockets. Luckily, most of the people in the lounge took the earlier flight, so I was able to snag one of the power sockets. The food is good in there, and the seats are large, and the staff are very friendly, but I’m not a particular fan.

I have a Platinum Phantom next to me (“an empty seat”, often given to Platinum flyers) so slightly annoyed 14H lady is relieved to find out there’s nobody in the middle. I think she was hoping I would be polite and move. I am very polite, but fuck that.

The Boeing 777-300 is fine. The IFE, which felt a bit dated, has a feature I wish Qantas had - live TV. They have six channels: two sport channels, a business news and Arabic news channel, and then BBC World News and CNN International. I watch an important Brexit vote live. CNN is a good watch; due to a fault on the plane, BBC World News obligingly turns into black and white halfway through the journey, matching the British government’s wish to take us back to the early 1970s.

The food was fine (Australian-made on this leg). For breakfast (a cheese omlette thing, some fruit) I enjoyed being given a plastic tray, upon which was a plastic mat, on which were four further plastic trays. This is too many plastic trays. One plastic tray had a yoghurt in a plastic pot on it, another contained a plastic milk pot, a plastic-wrapped wet wipe, and one of those plastic-wrapped tiny muesli bars. (Virgin Australia flyers might recognise the last item as “an entire meal”). Emirates needs a member of staff whos sole purpose would be to review every menu and ask “do you really need a plastic tray with that?” and to send me the money saved.

The power socket is one of those that cuts out if you plug in a laptop power supply into it. I use my portable battery instead.

We land. It’s a bus to the terminal. I have 30 minutes in the excellent Emirates First Class lounge and have a decent flat white, and an Eggs Benedict that was, frankly, one of the best Eggs Benedict I’ve ever had. I’ve not been able to get into the First Class lounge before. Very nice, and very quiet. Then another bus to EK089, DXB-GVA.

I was unable to get a “preferred” seat on this one, and I’m surrounded by French pensioners. We board from the back, and when you board an entire plane in one go, it’s bedlam.

The flight is delayed. We take off two hours after boarding. There’s only one acknowledgement of this - saying we’d be delayed by ten minutes but we’ll land on time. TripIt tells me the full delay, after an ambiguous alert saying the flight “might be delayed”. There’s a rule on London Underground that if the train stops, every 90 seconds you have to make an announcement. This is a good rule - perhaps every ten minutes would be a plan. “Just to let you know, we’ll be on the move at 9.30. I’m trying to make this shorter. There’s an issue with someone’s luggage.” I don’t quite know why they don’t do this.

This plane - also a 777-300 - has a much better IFE. Widescreen with a much better screen and a decent viewing angle. Decent buttons for volume and channel selection. Impressive games, if my neighbour’s game selection is anything to go by. A proper EPG for the live channels - in better quality - and two extra channels, too: Euronews and NHK World, which appears to be audio only.

Interestingly, a USB-A socket and a USB-C socket: the first I’ve ever seen in an aeroplane. My phone, laptop and headphones all charge using USB-C. This is a very good thing (and it’s capable of a decently high current, too). I charge my phone (and, later, my headphones).

Also: the IFE has Bluetooth, but the wrong way round (I can connect a playback device to the IFE, rather than connect my decent noise-cancelling headphones to the IFE. I tried, but failed. So close!).

Like the previous plane, this one has wifi. Unlike the previous plane, this one has full-flight, no bandwidth cap, for US$15.99. That’s a good deal for a 5 hour flight.

Food is fine - the flight oddly starts with a pastry in a cardboard box, and midway through, you get a full JengaMeal with 4,000 plastic trays. Beer choice is Tiger, Heineken or Stella Artois, if you’re interested.

I got a WP greeting towards the end of the flight. I was able to gently feed back that it would have been nice to have known the reason for delay and to have been kept informed. I was the second person to feed that back to her, I was told, and I was right to give that feedback, I was told. This is good customer service. It was a 65 year-old woman who started feeling unwell, if you wondered. Had we known, we’d probably have been a little less grumpy.

The flight ended with another bus to the terminal. This bus had faulty doors, which was fixed by repeatedly opening and closing them over a ten minute period, and five men with hi-vis jackets, one eating a baguette, conferring amongst themselves. I am not making it up about a baguette. It finally moved, only to meander slowly around the airport and then stop again and wait for five minutes because “the arrival hall is overloaded”. Geneva airport.

The way back started with the lounge in GVA, which is a dndata contract lounge, and not a very good one. I found a brand new part of it, which had loud British businessmen deciding to ignore the “go to gate” signs (“over an hour, innit.”)

GVA’s a horrid airport, all corridors and chocolate and bad signage. And they have changed the tannoy tune, disappointingly - it used to be the first five notes of “How much is that doggie in the window”, and it was always entertaining in a previous life to have a few beers with friends in the bar and sing “-GIE IN THE WINDOW” at the end. It never failed to make people smile, if by ’never’ you mean ‘as long as they were hearing it for the first time and not the 20 other times’.

My flight was called over an hour before takeoff - and the reasons become fairly clear. There’s passport control to get through - now accompanied by “hilarious” British people making some mandatory comment about having an EU passport - and then we queue for a bus. It seems GVA is having quite a bit of work done, hence the bus.

The section of the plane that I was in from GVA-DXB was, I reckon, 15% full. Astonishingly quiet. My row was entirely empty, and nobody in the row in front of me, and only one person in the row behind me. Decent food, then I slept on my EconoBed™ straight through to starting the descent.

Landing at DXB, this was the first time on this trip that I didn’t have to get on a bus, I thought - walking off straight into security and into the terminal, whereupon I had to… get on a bus to get to the A gates. It takes a long while. Finally, we get the it of going through security again.

Back to the first lounge. Almost too quiet, but a decent breakfast.

Then, onto EK434, via more security (I guess the Australian government gets thanked for this cursory attempt). 15 minutes after take-off, were told that we will be pushing back in five minutes; but it isn’t until 90 minutes after our original time that we finally make it into the air. Again: nothing said by anybody. This is a simple job, to communicate every ten minutes about a delay: I don’t understand why it isn’t done.

EK434 back to Brisbane turns out to be an A380-800. That meant another different IFE (a generation back from earlier), and - disappointingly - no live TV, nor decently-priced wifi. But it’s another quiet flight - perhaps 50% full - and I get another row to myself, and access to my own EconoBed™. This would have been an excellent experience, were it not for two independent toddlers that spent most of the flight shouting and running up and down the aisle - at least one being accompanied by a grandmother. Sleep options were therefore limited, to put it charitably.

I wander to the galley, to find some pretzels and orange juice. Coffee was also available too, but I try to avoid caffeine if I might still have a chance of some sleep. Interesting to spot the plane coming into Australia over Port Headland WA, then south of Uluru, which seems a strange route to get to BNE. But then, I guess I normally come via SIN, so that would explain it.

I watch a flat earth documentary on Netflix. The whole theory appears to be based on the fact that no planes fly over the South Pole.

Landing was smooth at BNE. There had been a medical issue on board during the flight, so we had to wait a few minutes for the medical team to get onto the plane - clearly a regular occurrence - but disembarkation was quick, as was customs (even if, as I normally do, I am irritated at those little blue machines).

I land to see that SCs from my first flight (29 Mar) credited on 4 Apr.

All in, I can never quite get my head round Emirates. Some things they do are very good - like the “premium” seating only for Gold/Plat, or the excellent Dubai lounges. Some things are overly bling, like the BNE lounge. The quality of the planes appears to be a lottery, and the amount of buses I’ve had to take on this trip has been a nuisance - but, all things considered, it’s a helpful and useful addition to QF.