I sat in all three classes on Emirates, and while the jump from economy to business was massive, I couldn’t work out why someone would pay so much more for first

Dinner in Emirates' first-class could be mistaken for a top restaurant (if it weren't for the TV in front of you).

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Dinner in Emirates’ first-class could be mistaken for a top restaurant (if it weren’t for the TV in front of you).
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Insider/Rachel Hosie

As an economy traveler, it’s always somewhat bittersweet to have to walk though the business and/or first-class sections of a plane before taking your seat.

Sure, it’s fascinating. But it can also make squeezing into the coach section somewhat more painful.

Should you be flying on an Emirates Airbus A380, though, this torture is no longer something travellers have to worry about. The huge double-decker planes devote the whole of the lower level to economy seating, and those in business and first often board straight on to the upper deck.

As part of a recent video trip sponsored by Airbus, I visited the Dubai Airshow and had the chance to check out one of Emirates’ A380 planes, despite the fact that it’s being discontinued.

Although the plane was grounded the whole time, I spent a whole day on board (and returned again a few more times over the five-day show) so was really able to familiarize myself with what the plane offers in every class.

I also flew Emirates economy on one of their A380s both to Dubai (from Melbourne) and from there back home to London.

Here’s what I found.


Emirates is the largest operator of the A380 in the world, and the airline currently has 113 of them in its fleet.

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The whole lower level is devoted to economy, with 427 seats arranged in a 3-4-3 formation. While I wouldn’t call the design stylish as such, the pale turquoise and grey at least help create a calming vibe.

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Legroom is, well, standard for economy. It’s not a great deal.

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On my 14-hour flight from Melbourne to Dubai, I was fortunate enough to get a row of three to myself so was able to stretch out, but on my 7-hour trip back to London from Dubai I wasn’t so lucky, and my legs, hips, and back felt really stiff when I landed.

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Basic headphones and a blanket is provided for economy passengers, and if you’re on an extra long-haul flight you’ll also be given an eye mask, earplugs, toothbrush, and toothpaste.

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The screen is actually quite a decent size for economy at 13 inches, and there’s an impressive number of charging sockets and a remote for playing games. As well as the tray-table, there’s a cup holder for when you just have a drink.

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When it comes to food, everything is served at once on economy. This was the breakfast on my flight to Dubai: A cheese omelet with chicken sausage, vegetable croquette, peppers, and baked beans, banana bread, fruit, yogurt, and a muesli bar. It was a lot of food and actually tastier than it looked. I also liked having proper metal cutlery.

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If you’re on an extra-long flight you’ll get a second big meal — this was my lunch on the flight to Dubai: Chicken in sweet bean sauce with garlic fried rice, steamed choi sum, and stir-fried peppers (there was also a beef option), cold-smoked salmon with orecchiette pasta in a pesto sauce, bread, crackers, and cheese, and a raspberry cake. I also got an Arabic pide (flatbread) later in the flight and could help myself to snacks, so I certainly didn’t go hungry.

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At the back of the plane, there’s a fancy spiral staircase to take you up to the next level — not that I could use it on my actual flights.

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At the Airshow, however, I was able to climb up the stairs and through a staff galley …

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… where I emerged into this gorgeous lounge, which is pretty damn chic.

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The lounge is for both business and first-class passengers and is lovely and spacious — it barely felt like being on a plane.

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Passengers can order pretty much any type of alcohol they might like, and there’s an extensive cocktail menu. However, there are different brands on offer depending on what class you’re in — while business class passengers are served Veuve Clicquot champagne, for example, first-class travelers get Dom Pérignon.

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There are lots of nibbles on the bar counter, and everything is much fresher than in economy — on offer when I looked around were fruit skewers and cakes …

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… cheese straws and olives …

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… a selection of packaged sandwiches, as well as fresh fruit and packets of M&Ms, wasabi, and dried fruit.

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There’s also a ginormous screen opposite the bar, which broadcasts live TV when there’s an important sporting event going on back on the ground.

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The lounge led into business class, which was unsurprisingly much more spacious than economy, containing 76 seats.

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Just from looking at the chairs, I could tell they were going to be a lot more comfortable than coach downstairs, and everything provided (such as the blanket, pillow, and eye-mask) was of a higher quality.

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The headphones provided, which are noise-canceling, are a lot sturdier — they still come in the same plastic packaging though.

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One of the biggest perks of flying business class is the legroom — there was tons of space to stretch out, and I particularly enjoyed having my feet up when I tried the seat out. The 23-inch screen was a vast improvement, and there were just as many sockets available for charging purposes.

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Business-class passengers get a tablet as well as the remote to control their TV screen and seat position, and there are soft drinks on offer in the self-serve bar area by each seat.

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Food-wise, what’s served in business class looks miles tastier than what you get in coach. That said, I haven’t actually eaten any of it.

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The presentation is certainly a lot more inviting than what I’d eaten anyway — passengers are served a starter, main, and dessert separately, and this was just one appetizer (the Arabic mezze).

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The chairs recline fully flat, and the flight attendants will make a bed up for you when you’re ready to sleep.

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You’ll also be given an amenity kit full of Bulgari toiletries — there’s one for men and another for women.

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The front of the section has a magazine rack (just in case you get bored of watching films), and there are also fresh flowers on the wall, which I thought was a nice touch. However, I hadn’t really seen anything yet …

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Welcome to first-class, which made me feel like I was in ‘The Great Gatsby,’ or on the Orient Express.

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The 14 seats are, in fact, suites, and each one is incredibly spacious, with an impressive 32-inch screen (which may actually be bigger than the one I have at home).

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Everything is very sleek, with lots of gold touches, fresh orchids, and a basket of snacks waiting for passengers when they sit down. Another nice pre-take-off touch is the offer of Arabic coffee and dates.

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A semi-circle cabinet in the shelf can be opened and closed to reveal a mirror and some toiletries designed exclusively by Byredo.

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And a drawer pops out to reveal a leather-bound notebook and pen.

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Needless to say, there is more legroom than any one person could need, and ample storage space too.

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The headphones are even more stylish than those in business class — they’re by Bower & Wilkins, and similar ones retail for around $200 a pop.

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Source: Amazon.


There’s a mini-bar of soft drinks (even more than in business), which raises up and down from the side panel, and you can also draw out a large table, providing tons of room for food and magazines.

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First-class passengers have the luxury of dining whenever they want, enjoying the choice of five appetizers plus a salad bar, five main courses, and five desserts as well as fresh fruit and cheese. The photo below shows the Arabic mezze appetizer, which is even fancier and bigger than the business class version.

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The crockery, cutlery, and presentation of the food wouldn’t be out of place in a fine dining restaurant.

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When you want to sleep, staff will turn your seat into a fully flat bed complete with duvet, faux sheepskin blanket, pillow, pajamas designed to regulate body temperature, slippers, and eye-mask.

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And if you want some privacy, you can close your sliding doors — they don’t go all the way to the ceiling so staff can still see in over the top, but they still make you feel nice and enclosed.

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At the front of the first-class section of the plane is the spa area. Yes, really.

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There are two shower spas, and passengers can book half-hour slots to freshen up.

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They’re incredibly spacious (again, much bigger than my bathroom at my home in London), and two people can go in at once, but only parents and children, not couples.

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If you want a shower, you get five minutes of water per person. While that might not sound like much, the purser told Insider that barely anyone uses the full five minutes — a timer inside the shower tells you how long you’ve got to go. I could fit inside fine, but particularly tall people might struggle. There’s a little bench to sit down inside too though.

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Every bathroom item you might require is provided by Voya …

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… and first-class passengers get even fancier Bulgari amenity bags than those in business class.

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The rolled-up hand towels and fresh orchids almost made me feel like I could be in a spa in Bali. Almost.

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Having looked around the whole plane, it struck me that the difference between economy and business, and then business and first-class travel is immense.

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And this was reinforced by the two levels of the plane – it seemed quite literally “upstairs, downstairs,” with the business and first-class passengers spared the hardship of mingling with the proletariat below.

Having flown long-haul economy on various airlines, I do believe Emirates offers one of the best experiences. But now that I’ve seen just what business and first-class flying could be like, I realize that it’s a totally different world up there.

Of course, this huge difference in flying experience comes with equally huge pricing differences.

While a direct flight onboard the A380 from New York to Dubai in economy would cost around $960, the equivalent journey in business class costs $4,535, and in first that goes up to $14,705.

I also think that the difference between the business and economy flying experience is probably greater than that between business and first.

For most people, the price of flying first class is too much money to comprehend. And although it looks incredible, you would have to be extremely wealthy to be able to justify spending so much on one journey.

Dom Pérignon is lovely I’m sure, but I could manage quite happily with Veuve Clicquot for the $10,000 difference. In the meantime, I’ll be downstairs in economy, spending $20 to treat myself to a glass of Moët & Chandon.

Read more:

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I flew 13 hours nonstop on the world’s biggest passenger plane, the $446 million Airbus superjumbo jet, and it’s about as good as economy can get

I flew business class for the first time on British Airways’ new A350, and the cocoon-like privacy impressed me far more than the food or the lounge