Review: Flying Emirates Business Class through Dubai to Africa

Arab Emirates plane

We flew Emirates Business Class through Dubai, on the way to our safari in Zambia. Photograph, iStock Photos.

Traveling from Houston, Texas, to Lusaka, Zambia, was the longest trip my family had ever taken.

Regardless of which route we might choose, we would be in transit for around 36 – 40 hours, with the flight and layover times combined. My sister and I looked at flights and carriers for weeks before choosing our Emirates flight through Dubai to Lusaka. We had friends who had raved about their experience flying Emirates to Rome the previous year.

There was no way I was going regular economy on these long flights. Our initial plan was to purchase Premium Economy seats — probably either through British Airways or KLM, but we watched ticket prices, and continued to look at all flight classes.

We were lucky; after watching fares for about three weeks on all airlines, we saw the Emirates business class on this flight fall by $1K per ticket (fall 2016), and we went for it. It was an airfare sale just after Thanksgiving. At that point, it was about $1.2K more per ticket than Premium Economy on the other airlines we were considering, so right at $4K per ticket. Yes, it was still expensive. Business class is.

One way to look at this. If we’re flying for 36 hours, the additional cost per hour to have business class seats on Emirates was $33 per hour, per person, for the trip.

Emirates Business Class Houston to Dubai

On Emirates, both food and service in business class were outstanding. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

While the total travel time was similar to the other carriers we looked at (Delta, British Airways, KLM, Air France, to name a few), it was the only airline that would get us there is one stop, rather than two. We would fly to Dubai, have an overnight layover, and get on a plane for our six hour flight to Lusaka at 9:30 the next morning.

One of the airlines I looked at had a total trip time that was shorter, but we would arrive in Lusaka at 1:35 a.m.! Who wants to arrive at a strange airport in Africa in the middle of the night, I ask you?

Business class is always such a treat! Photograph, Carolyn Fisher.

I’ve flown business class on Delta, British Airways, and KLM to Europe in the last few years. Emirates is in a class by itself. Included in our Emirates Business Class fare: Roundtrip limo service from my home to the Houston airport, hotel rooms at Le Meridien at the Dubai Airport — plus dinner and breakfast, and car service.

While we all know that the price of these services comes nowhere near the difference between a Premium Economy and Business Class ticket, it’s not chump change either. Roundtrip car service in Houston: $250, with tips. Overnight at Le Meridien is not expensive, $110 per room. Fine dinner and breakfast, $70 per person. I’d say one person could expect the value to be in the neighborhood of $400-$500 if you were traveling alone.

On our flights between Houston and Dubai, our Boeing 777-300ER did have the new lay-flat seats. Between Dubai and Lusaka, they were angled.

Add lay-flat beds on the fifteen hour flight – Houston to Dubai (17 hours on the return flight), then pitched-angle beds from Dubai to Lusaka, and only one airport stop instead of two, and we were pretty gosh-darned happy.

Note for those considering Emirates Business class: All Emirates Airbus A380 flights have lay flat seats in Business Class. Their Boeing 777-300ER have mixed equipment. Additionally, Emirates Boeing 777-300ER Business Class cabins are in a 2-3-2 configuration, which means there are three seats in the center. This is very poor design. I had the center seat, but since I knew my seat mates, it wasn’t so problematic to get out. Otherwise, I’d avoid that seat at all costs.

I dislike angled seats; I find them impossible to sleep in — so this is something to investigate if you have a flight leg on one of their Boeing 777-300ER planes. Check the flight equipment and call Emirates to be sure what to expect.

Emirates Business Class Food

Appetizer: Mezze — small plate of differently flavored hummus. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

The quality of service from every part of our experience with Emirates was outstanding. On the plane, business class service was comparable to my experience with British Airways and KLM, and a step up from my experience with Delta. It is in other ways that Emirates exceeds expectations: the limo service, hotel service, and small things like — rather than loading business and first class passengers first, they want you to relax in the lounge for as long as possible putting you onboard. There was still time for a glass of champagne!

Meal service on Emirates was very good. Better than business class on British Airways, KLM, or Delta? Um. I didn’t think so. About the same really.

The lamb dish I had on one of the dinners was particularly good — probably the best meal I’ve ever had in the air, otherwise, I thought the food was comparable. The soups were great, and my daughter was a big advocate of their desserts. The wines available were outstanding. Presentation of the food: appetizers, cheese plates, and desserts — outstanding. Entree presentation — not as appealing.

The I.C.E. entertainment system on Emirates was the most extensive I’ve ever seen. There were more than 2,500 movies and televisions shows to choose from, as well as a huge selection of games.

Emirates Business Class Bulgari Amenity package

The Emirates Business Class amenity package from Bulgari. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Amenities package, you ask? Bulgari, thank you very much; one of the nicest I’ve seen. The sleeping mask and socks came in a separate package, so the cosmetic bag was full of Bulgari lotion, perfume, tissues, a nice makeup compact, full-size toothbrush with holder, and a comb-brush. None of this is that important to me — I do use the mask, socks, and toothbrush, but don’t care much about the other things — but I know for some people this is a meaningful perk. Sorry guys. I didn’t  get a look at the male version of amenities :-).

Overall, we were very pleased with our decision to fly with Emirates, and I would certainly do it again. I fly a combination of classes, from regular economy to first class, and I make the choice depending on length of flight and ticket costs. The way I look at super-long flights is this: I consider what I’d spend on a nice hotel, drinks, a good dinner and wine, lunches, breakfasts, and then I look at the cost of the base ticket, premium economy, and business class. And then I make decisions. On our trip to Africa, the 36 hour transit time could have been awful — and instead, my daughter, my sister, and I had fun — we didn’t dread the trip coming home.

Interior of Dubai Airport

The airport in Dubai is modern and well-organized, — very easy for Americans, Canadians, and Europeans to navigate. However, and this is a big problem: the airport has a poor track record of adequate helped for the disabled. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Who Should Avoid Transit Through Dubai?

Many flights load from stairs on the tarmac at the Dubai airport.

People with mobility problems.

While many aspects of transit through Dubai were very easy, and I would certainly fly through this airport again, I wanted to note what I see as a big problem.

At the airport in Dubai, there is wheelchair service, but many flights load directly on the tarmac with steps. Our flights to and from Lusaka were like this. We saw one woman who’d had a wheelchair in the airport, go by foot on the bus out to the plane, and then climb the steps to board. I am not sure what they do for passengers who are not able to make this climb.

After doing further reading, it would seem that the airport in Dubai has a poor track record of working with passengers with disabilities, that there are often not enough wheelchairs for people who need them. Investigate further if this is a concern, either you, or someone in your party.

Dubai Airport exterior

Dubai Airport. Photograph, Shutterstock.

32 Comments on Review: Flying Emirates Business Class through Dubai to Africa

  1. When I grow up I’m going to try business class 🙂

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  2. Totally on my life to do list!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow that’s seriously amazing that the tix dropped by $1k. This looks like such a good experience I’m dying to fly Emirates!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. 36-40 hours of travel? Geez, that makes my head spin! I like how you laid out your whole thought process when deciding on the particular flight and airline that worked best for your trip. I take a lot of the same things into consideration when choosing a flight: if it’s a longer flight, I’m more willing to splurge for comfort; I don’t want to arrive in a new country in the middle of the night; and I look at airline safety records before deciding to take a chance on an airline I’ve never flown with before. I’ve heard very good things about Emirates, so your posts has convinced me to try them out. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That price point gives me some serious anxiety haha – I’m way too cheap. However, it looks absolutely wonderful! I’ve heard great things about Emirates so thank you for the awesome review!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. jenruizwriter // August 28, 2017 at 10:35 pm // Reply

    You know how to live Ann! I always fly budget and would love to indulge in first class one day. Flat lay bed?! It’s like a dream haha, so happy you got to have a luxury travel experience to accompany your amazing safari!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve always heard great things about Emirates but have yet to try them out myself. Sounds like you had a luxurious plane trip (which sounds like an oxymoron). Definitely makes your vacation that much more enjoyable.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Once you fly Business Class it’s so hard to go back to economy! For long haul flights I’d definitely go for business class whenever possible. Emirates is on top of the best business class and I’m glad you had a great flight with them.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This is an airline I’ve always wanted to try and I will definitely keep it in mind for any Africa trips I do. My hubby has flown Emirates from San Francisco to Dubai and then India for work. My hubby and I are always looking for biz class deals – you found a good one!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I love the A380 and am not fond of the 777 in general as a long leg aircraft. I liked the 747 better and didn’t think the 777 really did the trick.

    I have flown business class to Europe on AA/BA on several occasions. It feels like a completely different trip. Another way to justify the purchase is how much better you felt in country. On our Thailand trip last year, we booked a down day in Hong Kong and Bangkok to recover from our economy flight. Not only is there the cost of the hotel but also the schedule costs of recovering from hard travel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think your point about the extra day to recover from a truly long-haul flight (US to Asia) in economy class is key at comparing the real costs. If you are a couple sharing a hotel room, the expense still won’t equal the difference between business and economy, but it narrows it. And I agree with you about the 777.

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  11. I’ve heard rave reviews about Emirates before, but never had anyone spell out the difference between Business class on this airline as opposed to others. I often fly Business class for business (naturally) and have gotten so spoiled. Especially with the box of Belgian chocolates given out on Brussels Airlines. But all the extra perks on Emirates sounds incredible! Limo service! Wow! They win. I’m going to seek out this airline the next time I’m flying for work.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. $1K for business class on Emirates?! That’s such a steal. I’ve only flown in business class once on EVA and that was so long ago I don’t remember what it’s like not being a peasant in the air haha. My sciatica could definitely use those lay-flat seats!

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  13. Great call-out about mobility in the Dubai airport. We’ve seen people face boarding issues in other international airports too. In the meantime though, what a great airplane experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Rob. Yes, we had a great experience, and I’d definitely fly Emirates again. After reading a number of articles criticizing the Dubai airport over poor wheelchair service, it’s very important that the flying public is aware — and hopefully, it’s something the airport will work to correct.

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  14. Emirates and Singapore Airlines are by far the best airlines today. We always travel family style and my children love flying with those companies. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Emirates is one of my all time favorite airlines. Being in Dubai, I get to travel direct to places. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Thanks for your detailed review of Emirates! Just this morning my husband and I had a discussion about the value of upgrading from Premium Economy to Business/ First/ Upper class for long flights. More fodder for my argument that we should always fly in the front cabin on long flights!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Janine, Yes, whenever I can, I do it — but there are some times when the cost gulf between the classes is so big. I’m happy doing Premium Economy to Europe — but on the super-long flights to Asia, Africa, Australia, flying business class just makes such a huge difference. If you can do it, go for it!

      Liked by 1 person

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