I flew first class on Emirates between Dubai and Casablanca. The chief purser on the flight, a delightful woman named Gunjan, upgraded me…for all of 15 minutes. As I sank into the huge leather armchair and closed the sliding doors behind me, I allowed myself to play make-believe in the mind-boggling luxury of a private suite.
It was like flying in a tiny, elegant serviced apartment. I rather fancied the mini-bar and array of Bvlgari cosmetics in the vanity table that popped up from the walnut cabinet along with a mirror, not to mention the huge flat-screen television which gave me the feeling I was in my own private cinema.
The enclosed suites are side-by-side with a partition that can be lowered so that couples and family members can share the space in private.
When it’s time to sleep, the seat converts to a fully-flat bed made up with a soft foam mattress, feather duvet and pillows. There are PJs, a robe and slippers to change into and a mini-wardrobe for your day clothes. They’ve thought of everything in first class – you can even sleep under the stars thanks to the tiny twinkling lights on the ceiling.
Sophisticated lighting options simulate day or night as desired and the suites have three windows each with a variety of shades to either block or filter the natural light.
I would never get any rest in such an environment because I am obsessed with high-altitude geography and studying the topography of the planet from 40,000 ft. With three windows to choose from, not to mention the cameras on the aircraft looking forward and directly below, I would be in a constant state of over-stimulation.
My flight, a Boeing 777-300ER, had eight first-class suites while the A380-300 has 12, as well as two shower spas where you can freshen up while you zip through the sky at .85 mach, over 1040km an hour. I wonder which way the water goes down the plug hole and what happens if you are showering as you cross between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
I was concerned my presence might disturb Gunjan’s passengers but she said there was only one occupant on our flight and she was fast asleep. Seven empty suites… it seemed like such a waste.
Gunjan tactfully extracted me from my suite with the offer of a visit up front where I met an handsome young pilot, one of four on the flight, one extra than usual because it was a training flight, he said. I wanted to ask him all sorts of corny questions about what it’s like to have the sexiest job in the world, but he said he had some important business to attend to in the cockpit.
One of the most impressive pieces of equipment on the aircraft is the Tempus IC, a remote diagnostic technologies system which connects by satellite to a team of doctors in the US.
Tempus IC enables specially-trained crew members to measure information such as the pulse rate, temperature and heart rate of a sick passenger, and transmit the data quickly to doctors at the ground-based medical response centre.
Gunjan and other senior staff are trained in the use of the equipment which is not only a life-saver but also a cost-saver for the airline as there are now fewer mid-flight medical diversions.
She also showed me the chief purser’s iPad where she had information on all her passengers, including their likes and dislikes, status with Emirates and when their Sky Miles expire.
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*The secret to getting a cheap flight upgrade
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Mine vanish on October 31, 2016 which was very useful information.
Gunjan admitted she’s addicted to flying.
“I just love it. I couldn’t do anything but fly. Emirates is very employee-orientated. We are looked after very well with fully-furnished apartments, laundry services and transport to and from airports. And the pilots get a limo service.
“It’s a very caring environment, the best in the industry. The hours play havoc with your personal life but there’s nothing I would rather do.”
After years of training, Gunjan said she had the equivalent of an MBA in human resource management.
“I have 20 minutes to build my cabin crew into a team – on this flight, there are 15 men and women from 11 different countries,” she said.
Emirates employs 120 nationalities and has a staff of about 80,000 of which 20,000 are cabin crew, all based in Dubai.
When I settled back into my own economy class ‘suite’ – thanks to a miracle, I had three seats, three pillows, three blankets and three TV screens to myself – my smiling ‘waitress’ appeared with lunch. OK, so it wasn’t from an à la carte menu, served on Royal Doulton fine bone china plates with Robert Welch cutlery, but my choice of grilled chicken Provençal with couscous and vegetables, followed by a chocolate and walnut brownie with butterscotch sauce was exceptionally tasty. My charming sommelier recommended an excellent Piedra Negra pinot gris to match.
Flight attendant Imad from Morocco was doing the rounds with an Instamatic Polaroid and took a photo of me in my ‘suite’. I only wish he had appeared while I was up the sharp end.
I spent a blissful hour exploring the flight information section on the ICE (Information, Communication and Entertainment) service, on my ample 21-inch screen.
It’s the perfect resource for me, like being in a library of maps and textbooks with answers to all the tedious questions I used to fire at the cabin crew.
First class pasengers are gifted a cosmetic bag full of Bvlgari toiletries. Image: Justine Tyerman
As we flew past Crete, I could see the route we took last summer when we circumnavigated that beautiful island. We also flew directly over Tunis, just after the massacre on the beach there. It looked so idyllic from on high – the sparkling blue Mediterranean Sea lapping at the long stretch of white sand – I felt uncomfortably voyeuristic, peering down on the scene of a tragedy from my capsule in the sky.
Sleepy after food, wine and ICE, I stretched out full-length on my “flat-bed”, buckled myself in and slept for such a long time I had no time to watch a movie before we began our descent into Casablanca. When eight hours, four minutes seems like a short flight, you know you’ve had a good experience.
Before I disembarked, Gunjan slipped me a soft leather cosmetic bag full of Bvlgari toiletries – a little memento to prove I had indeed flown first class.
MORE INFORMATION New Zealanders can take one of three daily A380 flights from Auckland to Dubai, where Emirates offers direct transfers to Casablanca, Morocco. emirates.com
Justine Tyerman flew Emirates from Auckland to Casablanca.