James Cridland

Trip report: BNE-CDG-BNE on Emirates in economy

I check in, to be told I have an empty seat next to me (yay!) and that the plane is “not very full”. I get an offer to be moved down the plane a little to have a row to myself. I’m fine with just a platinum phantom, and am nervous about where the new seat is, so I politely decline. I can probably move later if I like.

The airport’s quiet, with two people in front of me in security and no queues anywhere. It’s 6pm, but some of the shops have already shut. It turns out that there’s a gap between 6.40pm and 8.35pm where nothing takes off from BNE International, which seems odd: a strange lull in the middle of the day. I wonder why this is? (It also confuses me that Emirates have two flights a day, one at 8.40pm and one just two hours later - but I guess it makes staffing the lounge easier).

Speaking of lounges, I walk, past Virgin’s “lounge in a corridor” - an excellent invitation for all their passengers to find a proper airline - to the Emirates lounge, which is quietly awaiting passengers in its walnut and bling gold. Three people in their fifties from Essex are the only noise in the lounge: each having a separate FaceTime call, on speakers, with Sharon and Daz from home, innit, yeah, it’s a big country, yeah, comin’ ‘ome, darlin’, yeah, missed you, innit, yeah, mwah. They achieve this feat while stuffing their faces full, thus treating their family at home with high resolution images of the Emirates lounge food going round and round their ugly-accented mouths, before they walk unsteadily to help themselves to more food in their cheap nylon tourist-wear, and continue their inane chatter, sorry, where woz I, darlin’, I dunno wevver I’m comin’ or goin’.

The food is decent, though the “so nice I had two” caesar salad isn’t here tonight.

The lounge fills up, and I hear less of the Essex crew, and more northern English voices (this flight joins with a flight to Manchester, as well as, presumably, Gatwick for the Essex peeps innit.)

EK435 BNE-DXB Airbus A380-800

I board the flight through the gate in the lounge. Last time, nobody checked my passport. This time, they did, so that’s good.

I get onto the flight, to see a confused woman in her twenties walking off the flight with her bags. It turns out that she’s managed to get this far without someone pointing out that she’s on the later flight that takes off in a couple of hours. So that’s, um, less good.

Someone else walks up to the senior cabin officer and tries to get a part-points, part-paid upgrade. He wants to pay with some money and some points because he doesn’t quite have enough points. No, they won’t do that. But, he’s given a different seat - 70D (he’s scored himself a row of four middle seats to lie down on, in economy). Full marks, scruffy man in the t-shirt.

I have a row to myself anyway. So that’s nice. The tablets that the flight staff carry around (convertible laptops, by the way) have a seat map and I can see that I’m a different colour with a special symbol, as is the person behind me. We both get a Platinum greeting, so that’s what that is then.

The Brisbane-catered food is okay. The beef curry was vaguely spiced, and oddly had quite hot meat but the vegetables were a bit tepid. Better that way than the other, though. I slept much of the flight on my not-very-comfortable econobed. I watched a bit of CNN, though there was quite a bit of choppy reception which was a shame.

The Essex massive were in business class, it turns out, innit. They exited, accompanied by a crackle of static electricity from their clothing, at the end of the flight. I didn’t see them again, and even better I didn’t hear them again - since I went straight to the first class lounge and had a little breakfast and a lot of work. A daily work deadline is no fun when travelling.

I turn up to the gate-in-the-lounge, five minutes late, to discover nobody there. They hadn’t started boarding us (“we wait until economy has finished boarding”) and boarding was about ten minutes after the advertised time, which was confusing.

EK073 DXB-CDG Airbus A380-800 A6-EUA

I’m in the same seat. I have a Platinum Phantom next to me, and an older chap already present in the aisle, who complained to me in French that I didn’t speak French when he let me in. It’s a good trick to do that, because most people don’t realise they’re complaining about you. I did understand him, though, smiled and replied “Un peu”, amiably, but this clearly wasn’t enough for him, and he ignored me in a French snooty way. He understands, and speaks, English, I discover later in the flight - just not to me.

After the full clutter of the safety video in Arabic, the same safety video in English, the ICE video in Arabic, and then the ICE video shouted by Andi Peters in English (and none presented in French, which is odd, given where we’re going), we’re finally on our way. There’s an announcement, as there was on the last flight, about what friends Emirates are to Australia, and how if you spend on duty-free they’ll give 10% to a bushfire appeal (and match it), which I see as breathlessly cynical and borderline illegal, but there we are.

This flight feels identical inside, but on closer look, it’s a slightly different aircraft - one less toilet up front, and no live TV. (I think the “no live TV” bit means the internet is much more expensive, too, but I may be wrong).

This is a topsy-turvy catered flight, with a breakfast snack at the beginning of the journey, and a full meal towards the end, which was fine.

The Frenchman ignored me throughout the flight, pointedly speaking to the flight assistant in French. I pointedly asked for a “café au lait” when she came round, and she replied to me in English asking if I wanted sugar, to which I said “Non, merci”, and to which she said: “There you are”, and to which I replied “merci”. None of this had any effect on anyone.

We landed, and I was straight through the EU immigration with my UK passport for possibly the last time although who knows frankly, and I got myself a Metro ticket with an Australian-issued credit card, therefore oddly making Paris more welcoming to foreigners than Amsterdam or Oslo - a phrase I doubt you’ll see again in your lifetime.

This was short-lived. Paris is cold, concretey, dirty, unsafe feeling, full of desperate homeless, and mostly on strike. But at least I could buy a Metro ticket for the rare occasions when it wasn’t on strike.

CDG - Emirates Lounge

The airport is massive, and felt doubly-so since I got a taxi to 2F (where the person who was paying for the taxi was going), and the driver ignored me when I said I was going to 2C, probably because I spoke in English. It’s fine, it’s a walk - quite a long one, and an oddly confusing one, too. I walk past a Marks & Spencer, and regret not buying a sandwich. The only thing I really miss from the UK - Marks & Spencer food.

Naturally, I got a taxi because the trains were on strike. Cheers, France.

It’s a recognisable Emirates Lounge - you can recognise an Emirates lounge by the almost entire absence of power points - but it’s bright and airy with fancy LED lights and a few high-seated bars. It is most certainly more modern-feeling than Brisbane. It also had absolutely no hot food when I got there, oddly, but the lounge staff insist on giving me a tour - not the first time I’ve had a tour of an Emirates lounge. The tour, in its entirety, was “this is the check-in desk” (I know, I’ve just used it), “this is where the newspapers are” (yes, they look like newspapers), “over there is the hot food” (there’s no food there). I can only assume that it appeared later. Beer choices were a Grimbergen, a Heineken and a Stella Artois. I had a can of Coke.

EK 076 - CDG-DXB - Airbus 380-800 A6-EOZ

In the lounge, we are called to board at 2030 which was a whole half-hour before the boarding pass says we are boarding. I’m confused and a bit irritated, since I’ve been working and hadn’t had any food. But I dutifully walk on to the plane, which is weirdly completely full already. My bag, annoyingly, doesn’t fit in the overhead lockers above where I sit, so it goes a number of rows further back. This takes some time, and I have to ask for one of the FA team to help find somewhere, so while he does that I gently ask the lady sitting in my window seat to move, which she does - she’s now sitting next to me in the middle seat. Joy.

It’s cold, since it’s -1°C outside, and the door is letting in quite a lot of draught. The “Spirit of Qantas” music might be a little dreary, but Emirates has upbeat pop music when you board, and it significantly adds to the stress. An endless stream of people trying to talk themselves into an upgrade present themselves to the Senior Cabin Officer at the front of the plane, and she politely tells each of them to bugger off; maintenance people scurry on and off holding clipboards and wearing concerned expressions; people queue for the toilets because clearly the ones in the airport are substandard or something or perhaps they’re too full of French people; people hold important last-minute telephone calls at high volume; and all with an offensive background of rubbish pop just to make a shit experience feel slightly shitter. Thankfully this plane appears to have been boarding for hours, so the music eventually runs out (Human Nature by Michael Jackson is the last track in case you care). The Spirit of Australia, as you’ll know if you’ve ever been delayed for takeoff, runs on a never-ending loop, like a form of torture.

The doors finally close, after four hundred maintenance staff come out of the cockpit, all holding their clipboards, with a satisfied look on their faces. This is good, and we begin to warm up. We’re then told that we’re here for another half hour because half of the French people in charge of the de-icing machine have gone on strike, so we need to wait our turn to get de-iced by the other French people who a) have actually bothered to turn up to fucking work b) don’t care about the government’s erosion of the state pension and are bastard scabs (delete as appropriate).

We move off stand at 2145 to queue for the de-icing machine, accompanied by the safety video’s third showing, this time in French. The menu is in English and Arabic only, much to the annoyance of the French man sitting behind me, who complained to the flight attendant, in English.

I fall asleep, slightly unplanned, before we take off, and wake up in the air accompanied by two ominous text messages, one from Emirates cheerily welcoming me to their mobile phone network, and one from Telstra pointing out that the Emirates mobile phone network isn’t included in my plan and costs about four million dollars. My phone has been quietly checking email. Gulp. I rather belatedly put it into flight mode, and make a mental note to ask the bank for a massive loan.

A decent, French-catered, meal appears - genuinely tasting rather good. I then sleep for a while, waking up just in time for breakfast, which is a really very good red berry pastry (made in Czechia for a UK catering firm), as the sun comes up. Breakfast seems quite late - and it’s cleared away as we descend. We land 50 minutes late.


I go to the little lounge near the C gates. It’s a little lounge, but not busy when I’m there. I get the eggs benedict, but I don’t get a guided tour. Upstairs in this little lounge there are ashtrays on the tables! Blimey!

I go to gate C11, the most randomly laid-out gate in the world, where they take you into a small room to pretend to look at your bag because Australia, and then squeeze in so many chairs there’s literally no standing room. A bit of a shambles, but thankfully not for long.

EK 434 DXB-BNE Airbus A380-800 A6-EVC

Four planes on this journey - and the same seat in each - though no Platinum Phantom for me on the way home. Jamie Callum murders a Dinah Washington track while I watch a grown man nearly cry because he’s wanting a seat that isn’t on the aisle and the steward doesn’t have one for him and he want to be on the aisle, he so tired, he just want sleep and oh please, he so tired, and meanwhile I’m bracing myself for that video with Andi Peters shouting at me about ICE for the fourth time in three days.

This plane has the live TV, and, fact fans, the forward camera is HD (but quite low frame-rate). Wifi is US$15 for 500MB, which seems expensive. I listen to a bit of an audio interview with Sir Tim Clark, who’s the President of Emirates, and speaks in a very clipped British voice. It’s quite interesting in terms of the future of the airline. They’re switching from A380s to Boeing 777-9s, which will give them a 10% fuel saving but will also remove the bar and the shower from business class, and they’re really quite annoyed that Airbus have given up on the A380. The interviewer asks the softest possible question about Boeing’s recent safety record, and Sir Tim spends about five minutes saying it should be fine because the regulators will make sure it will.

Yes, I *am* this bored.

The food isn’t the best I’ve had. The same lumps of chicken, this time in an onion gravy, some sweet potato mash the consistency of glue, and some things that were once vegetables until they were boiled until their very molecules started to disintegrate. It was accompanied by a lot of single-use plastic, which would be good for Emirates to cut down.

I sleep for a bit, but then wake up. Inexplicably, the woman sitting next to me gets out a full box of biscuits from her bag, opens them, and offers them around. I am very confused. After five minutes I also notice that someone has delivered a pizza to my seat. Excellent. It turns out this is the meal in the middle of this flight, which I’m not entirely sure I was expecting. Anyway, it’s quite nice.

The live TV is great when it works. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for about six hours, but started working again as soon as we got close to Australia. I watched some legal fun in the US Senate. Then a hot breakfast, and “Don’t be sorry, just declare it” gets played and the landing forms are given out, a whole hour and twenty minutes before we’re due to land. Biscuit woman spends a really very long time filling out the form, and I’m now worried that I haven’t been doing it correctly all these years.

We arrive twenty minutes ahead of schedule. This plane sits here for fourteen hours before the journey back, I guess. Seems a long time!

Emirates is a decent airline, though the large amount of plastic used at mealtimes is a disappointment (and the game of Jenga they put you through to manage to eat the food without spilling it all over everywhere certainly adds peril to every mealtime). Live TV is great when it’s there and when it works, but it doesn’t always; and food is fine, but not always great. There’s no denying that their Dubai hub is excellent to get into Europe, though.