A random Weblog


Qantas vs Emirates A380 Business Class
March 26, 2016, 12:01 pm
Filed under: Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

This column is a reflection of my experiences flying Business Class on two A380’s.  The first flight was Sydney to London on Qantas, and the return a few days later from London to Sydney was with Emirates.  How did they compare, which was the better experience?

BOARDING

The A380 allows for a separate airbridge to service upstairs, so with passengers entering by different floors boarding is a smooth experience free of congestion (unlike the gate area in Sydney, which is hopeless with airport ownership failing to invest adequately in facilities for these bigger aircraft. They will say it’s OK, that’s simply not true – from Seoul to Dubai, from London to LA, Sydney airport is shown up for the shoddy dump that it is when it comes to boarding one of these larger aircraft – actually any international flight for that matter – zero sense of occasion with low ceilings, a lack of windows, narrow passageways, major congestion at the gate – and so on – so it’s a relief just to get on board and be out of that horrible terminal).

One airbridge for First Class   (front), one for Economy, and upper one for Business Class and Premium Economy

One airbridge for First Class (front), one for Economy, and upper one for Business Class and Premium Economy

Despite this, Qantas do their level best to expedite boarding.  Likewise, on the return, Emirates made the boarding process fairly quick – Heathrow can be patchy, but you get the sense they are trying hard.  Female staff on Emirates wear their traditional hat and scarf during the boarding process, but before takeoff these were stowed in the interests of practicality.  Re-boarding from the (massive) Business lounge in Dubai is a treat with dedicated gate access in the lounge and an elevator that drops you right at the airbridge. Sensible terminal design that further separates the experience from Sydney’s lacklustre offer.

Surprisingly one of the QF attendants chewed gum all though the initial boarding process and briefing. Did it matter?  Well put it this way, it looked a bit “don’t care” and you’d never see that on Emirates (he also looked incredibly red-eyed, perhaps suffering a lack of sleep)

CABIN LAYOUT AND SEATS

Both carriers house Business Class upstairs on the A380, and according to the website Seat Expert, QF has 72 business seats arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration for six seats per row  (the balance of the top floor comprises 26 Premium Economy seats situated behind Business Class).  Meantime, EK has 78 business seats largely arranged 1-2-1 for four seats per row (the balance of the floor being 12 First Class seats up front and a bar at the rear).  On paper, the four seat row layout makes EK look the winner right?  Not so (more on that below)

The  Emirates plane boasts a bar at the rear of the cabin.  This seems like a curious use of precious floor space, and no doubt accounts for the more crammed nature of the seating area as they’ve had to squash things up to create the bar space.  If you’re travelling with a partner or work colleague, this area could be fun – but each time I wandered through it seemed to have a few zombie-like passengers awkwardly glancing at one another – in fact it was all a bit weird. Curiously the four toilets for Business Class are behind the bar – two in each corridor, and the poor crew have to walk through these to get to the galley.  This must be annoying for the crew as every single visit to/from the busy galley requires walking past the toilets and through the bar to get to the cabin.  I guess on the upside passengers waiting for a free toilet tend to wait in the bar area and not the corridor, but it didn’t seem the optimum design to me.

Qantas – The Mark Newson designed business seat is a winner (mostly).  No surprise John Ivy at Apple has drawn Newson into his think-tank, this Australian designer has a knack for combining style and functionality. The half-eggshell seat back is highly effective.  The cabin looks neat, the passenger has some additional privacy, and legroom is exceptional. The number one (yes NUMBER ONE) requirement when you pay for business class is a 100% lie flat bed, not a slight angle, but truly flat.  Check, no issue with QF – the seat unpacks into a fairly smooth base and the added “mattress liner” and thick blanket make for a good sleeping experience.  Headphones plug into a socket near your shoulder, whereas on EK the cord plugs into the area by the TV screen on the seat in front – effectively making the cord easier to tangle with.

QF sleeping space

QF sleeping space

Emirates – the four across layout should provide more space than the six across QF layout, but the impression is of low-rise clutter.  The cabin looks busy and messy, and as with most of the Middle-Eastern carriers, the layout has hints of an ostentatious yacht – e.g. plastic walnut, plastic chrome, brass and so on.  There’s nothing stylish about it at all.  But it is functional.  The seat felt narrower than QF (not sure it is, just the perception), and as the seats are much closer together there is a feeling of squeeze that isn’t there with QF. For example, on the window side, the overlap nature of the seats leaves quite a narrow gap to walk through to get to your seat – it’s fine, but it feels almost claustrophobic compared to the openness of the QF layout. Having said that, the EK layout sees your legs entering a cut-out space under the seat in front, so lie flat is fine on this carrier too – think of it as slightly overlapping passengers offset for space, whereas with QF there is a small gap between your toes and the seat in front of you.  Also, the EK seat while flat, felt slightly lumpier as the various bits unfolded to make a bed.  A thinner blanket in EK, so at one stage I felt quite cold.

EK sleeping space

EK sleeping space

Verdict – the QF cabin is, to my eye, considerably nicer – just no contest really.  The bed functionality is superior on QF too.  Winner Qantas.

AMENITIES PACK

Both carriers provide noise cancelling headphones and a basic necessities pack – the #1 item being a toothbrush, and of course both supply this along with eye shade, socks, etc

Qantas – the QF pack includes ear plugs, and for long sectors like this, pyjamas are provided.  I hope that QF don’t ever cut this, it’s seriously good and enhances the sleeping experience no end – plus it is so good to change back into your relatively unruffled clothes toward the end of the flight. The QF supplied bag is the classier of the two for re-use post flight. (I keep these for things like power chargers and USB keys)

Emirates – nice consideration in the mens pack to supply a razor and shaving cream.

Verdict – thanks to the PJ’s, Qantas is the winner.

MENU

Both carriers make an effort to provide a range of food and drinks – supplemented by on-demand snacks and the likes.  Both carriers noted on their menus that none of the food included alcohol or pork in the ingredients.

Qantas – a nicely printed contemporary design. The Alex Perry menu delivered some excellent choices. Qantas offer an online option to pre-select your meals before departure, but I’ve never felt the urge to decide pre-flight.

Emirates – the menu card is not as modern, but there are adequate choices and variety.  Snacking choices via the bar – however they’re not particularly compelling (small cakes and sweets, wraps and peanuts etc).  Meal service was good though, very smooth and professional – and the cappuccino was pretty good too. Also, the dining table is sturdy when unfolded, quite a good design.

Verdict: I found the QF food and wine more to my liking but the food on EK was very tasty and well presented. Line ball really.

ENTERTAINMENT

Long distance flight and a wide movie selection go hand in hand.  Neither carrier suffers for choice.

Qantas – sadly there’s too much poking at menus to get up and down the hierarchy of choice, and the sense of frustration is compounded by a slow OS.  Nothing fingertip-fast like we get with our mobile devices, and for better or worse that is the passenger expectation.  Premiere movie choices were good (there was a time when QF seemed stingy in the range of new movies, but it feels better now).  The seat based screen rises from the armrest, and this means it needs to be stowed for take off and landing.  On the A380 that means you can’t view the external cameras at those interesting parts of the flight – as you can for carriers where the video screen can be viewed gate to gate.  Menu operation is via tap screen (easy as the screen is well within reach), or via the corded handset.

Emirates – the airline is proud of it’s ICE system (Information, Communication, Entertainment), and fair enough too as there’s a wide and deep library of choice. The OS is not iPhone fast, but it’s a lot quicker than the QF system, and it seemed easier to navigate back to the home screen or chapter heading.  Emirates also has a function where you can favourite movies or TV shows as you browse, then click the faves icon to see those selections as a filtered list. Super smart and genuinely handy.  Emirates had a wireless remote with its own touch screen to save leaning all the way forward to tap the main TV screen, this worked well but it was surprisingly heavy.

Verdict: A win for Emirates thanks to a vast library and faster OS, plus gate to gate use of the screen.

OTHER

Qantas send the Purser around to talk to each Business Class passenger.  Armed with iPad detailing the passenger loading, he’s able to discuss your routing and update you on connection or arrival details. It’s a nice touch and comes across as a personal touch.

Soon after boarding the Emirates flight an attendant greeted me and asked if I had flown with them before. When I said no, she then took me through the seat controls, amenities, personal bar, and entertainment.  It was a great orientation and done in a friendly manner

EK bar

EK bar

As noted EK has a bar.  Yeah, good for them. 

EK also provides Business Class passengers with a Limo service. I found this so-so in Sydney with the driver asking me to wait for another passenger heading home in a similar direction to me.  After a long flight from London I wasn’t in the mood to wait and was about to head to the taxi’s when the other guy showed up so we ended up sharing the car.

I think Qantas no longer route cabin crew any further than Dubai, so the sector from Dubai to London is crewed by London based staff. That makes good economic sense as they’re not putting the entire crew in London hotels (since they go home), and that must save a lot of money.  But the result was a crew that sounded entirely British – either because they were UK citizens, or had simply acquired the accent.  The plane therefore sounded like a BA service over a QF one.  Of course it doesn’t matter at all – and Emirates would agree, with some 22 nationalities in their cabin crew on my flight wth them – but it was an interesting change from a plane full of Aussie accented crew as heard from Sydney to Dubai.

THE VERDICT

Having flown the same SYD > LHR > SYD route on the Etihad A380 Business Class recently (and the Singapore Airlines A380 Business to London the year before), it’s tempting to factor those two carriers into this comparison, but I’ll leave this review to code-share partners QF and EK (suffice to say Etihad gets the nod over Emirates IMO, although Etihad meal service was “at your request” which if you didn’t know meant you didn’t eat!, and Singapore Airlines surely has the widest Business Class seat of the lot, it’s impressive and adds to the comfort)

Of these two airlines, if I was booking tomorrow I’d lean toward the Qantas Business Product.  The cabin is much nicer, there’s more sense of space, plus the bed/sleeping experience is superior.  But it’s splitting hairs, as there’s little to fault with Emirates Business product – they do a great job and took good care of me. Can’t ask for more than that…

And if you read this far, here’s a cockpit  view showing an Emirates A380 landing in Dubai.

Advertisements