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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Who Should Avoid Transit Through Dubai?
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.