Anyone that knows me even vaguely will assure you that I find the whole experience of modern air travel to be a generally degrading and dispiriting experience that I would prefer to live without. However, being a travel writer makes that about as practical as becoming a vegetarian piranha. It’s a necessary evil that has no panacea.
I’ll qualify that opening statement slightly. It is generally airports in general that depress me, with their soul destroying (yet unavoidable, largely) check in and security procedures. In flight is usually at least tolerable, largely depending upon the length of the flight and, of course, the hospitality (or lack thereof) of the carrier.. I don’t have unrealistic expectations on the whole and, unless someone else is paying, I generally turn right at the end of the air bridge.
But flying from my local airport of Newcastle to Bangkok on Emirates back in late February really surprised me very pleasantly. This was a flight of two haves; Newcastle to Dubai on an Emirates 777, and then on to Bangkok aboard a giant, state of the art A380, often referred to as the ‘Super Jumbo’.
Check in at Newcastle was brisk and efficient, with no less than half a dozen check in staff working manfully to get us all sorted. Boarding was easy enough, and I’ve flown enough 777’s in the past to know the form.
I scored a window seat in a row of three. The Emirates 777 has a 3-4-3 configuration in Economy and, while the interior of the plane was very light and restful, the seat felt quite hard and lumpy. However, this seemed to lessen as the flight progressed, though that might have been the vodka kicking in as well, I suppose.
But the entertainment was superb; an in house set up allows access to literally hundreds of comedy, radio and dedicated movie channels, as well as documentaries and even full boxed sets.
A dinner menu was brought around, offering two choices for the main of three different courses. The food- with real cutlery to boot- was restaurant quality, and some of the best I have ever eaten in flight. Drinks came around on a regular basis, and staff on the whole did a fine job with an attitude that was polite, without being servile. Eight hours did, indeed, quite literally fly by.
That ended with a bump once we landed at Dubai. The gate for my connecting flight to Bangkok seemed a million miles removed from our parking place, way out in the sticks. Not really knowing Dubai Airport, I was a tad concerned about the connection time. But, as events transpired, it was simply me being over cautious; everything went fine in the end.
The Airbus A380 is a quantum leap over it’s venerable predecessor as ‘Queen’ of long haul travel, the Boeing 747. Ceilings have extra height; the aisles feel wider, and even the seats had a seventeen inch television screen on the back. The luggage racks were cavernous, and bigger than some puddle jumpers I’ve flown on. And never before have I had to climb a step to use a bathroom in more than thirty five years of flying.
With light coloured decorative tones throughout, and a far more comfortable and cocooning seat than on the 777, the Emirates A380 really did feel like an exhilarating quantum leap in terms of comfort and cleanliness. My six hours on board were punctuated with bouts of sleep and a sense of sheer, overall fatigue that did not really allow me to appreciate this marvellous, oh so silent monster as much as it no doubt deserved.
Again, service was slick without being subservient; smiles seemed genuine, and although food was limited to a take off snack and an early morning arrival breakfast, it was still exhilarating to revel in the space and grace of the A380. More pointedly, I was reminded of a time when flying could, indeed, be fun, and I was offered the first, faint hope that, in the case of flying Emirates, some of that fondly remembered anticipation and sense of occasion that flying engendered, might just be on the horizon again. Seamless, lovely stuff.