I wrote sometime back about the lack of advance in airplane toilet design. For decades, they have remained small and cramped, even on new models of the 747 and new planes like the 777.
I was wrong. I forgot about the A380.
So, I have test this aircraft, again so you do not have to. You can enjoy the experience vicariously through my description. You can imagine the pleasure of entering a large space, about five of six times the size of a traditional airplane toilet. There is a shower. There is a bench on which to sit, perhaps to tie your shoes after a shower. No contortions are required to dress. If bored, one can pace the floor. I am sure that there are smaller prison cells.
Emirates even provides a bath (spa!) attendant, who explains how to use the shower and then cleans up after each use. This gentle person flew from Dubai to Mauritius (or any other 380 route) and back, staying overnight in a hotel. Imagine the cost, which no US carrier would bear, to pamper your customers.
As someone once wrote, How can you keep them down on the farm, once they’ve been away? The same might be said for once you're flown Emirates A380 first class...
Arriving at one of the world's busiest airports at the busiest time of day (11 at night), one can expect to do a few turns of holding. Having plenty of time for our connection and sitting comfortably, one does not mind. I did mind the news of having an "outside" position at the airport. I hate to ride a bus at an airport, because it defeats the purpose of air travel (speed) and is an uncomfortable hassle, compared to first or business class travel. The purser assured me that bus transfer at Dubai is different than bus transfer at Frankfurt or other airports.
He was correct. I even enjoyed the ride to the terminal, even though the aircraft parked at the farthest parking spot on a huge airport. The handful of first class passengers were off the plane and on our way just as business class and economy class passengers were beginning to descend their stairs. The photo explains why I enjoyed the ride...
I can tell you the definition of wretched excess: flying Emirates first class to Dubai, enjoying the first class lounged at Dubai airport (there are two), and flying a second leg in first class. They offer simply too much good food and drink, more than one can consume. You are forced to say no...unless you are glutton or pig. In the lounge, there is a top-notch restaurant with no prices on the menu. It is impossible to eat and drink, after you have been pampered on the inbound flight.
We departed Dubai at 3 in the morning, and the aircraft headed almost due south. I chose this flight, because I wanted to arrive in Mauritius in the morning and not the evening. We faced an hour drive to the hotel, so I wanted to arrive in daylight and have some time to enjoy the water.
I have crossed the equator into the southern hemisphere a number of times, but not for several years. After a few hours sleep, I raised the shutter to get a glimpse of the Indian Oceans. We had passed the Seychelles. Clouds covered the water, but the new day had begun in the east.
Speeding over the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean, I stare down at scattered clouds and wind-tossed water. I cannot help but to think about people who struggled under the power of sails and without the benefit of satellite weather reports, GPS, or even reliable charts. How fortunate I am to have a bed, a shower (in an A380), and flight attendants to serve me. Even the poor souls suffering in the back of the aircraft, or rather downstairs, have a far superior travel experience to anyone having traveled the Indian Ocean before the invention of powered vessels.
People still sail these waters--for pleasure or competition--but I cannot imagine the tedium. A mere glance at any map and a bit of calculation in one's head reveals how long even the shortest journey under sail might take. I have never felt the lure of the sea, even when--or, perhaps, especially when--I was offered the chance to sail across the Atlantic, a much smaller bit of water--once from the east coast to England and once from Spain to the Caribbean. I prefer a quick and comfortable trip above the clouds and over the water.
The first glimpse of Mauritius surprise me. I knew about neighbouring Reunion Island, but had not spotted the small bits of land to the north.
The view of the main island from the air promises what one expects: turquoise water, white sand, and green vegetation. This seems to be proof of the wisdom of traveling so far to avoid European weather and summer rates.
As the aircraft approached the airport, I switch the Airshow to camera mode. The A380 offers three cameras, which are interesting for views to the front during takeoff and landing.
This time, I was surprised at how short the runway looked. I am used to Dubai and Frankfurt, so this one seemed shorter. I thought about sitting in a rather large aircraft and hoped that the runways was long enough. Since Emirates flies these aircraft to Mauritius every day, I assumed that the runway length would suffice.
Obviously, we landed safely, otherwise I would not be boring you. The pilot made an excellent touchdown, considering the size and weight of an A380. Taxiing was was quicker and easier than the long way at Frankfurt Airport. The aircraft must have felt as we did, when we boarded the plane in Dubai. We walked from the lounge to the aircraft on a jet way only for first class passengers. We were the only ones, just as the A380 was the only aircraft moving on the airport (only one other was parked at a gate)..
If ever given the choice, take a flight on an Airbus A380.
We had enjoyed a flight in business class from Frankfurt to Miami last year and were impressed by the comfort and silence. Somehow, they have managed to reduce the usual airplane noises. The ride is smooth, with little notice of take off or landing. Seats were the same as in other aircraft and the toilets were about the same size.
We had flown with Boeing 777's from Frankfurt to Singapore and expected the same aircraft for our return flights. I was surprised to spot an A380 parked at our gate. When I asked, I learned that Hong Kong allows Emirates to use that aircraft on only certain days to prevent competition with Cathay.
The first class suites are the same as on the 777, but the cabin is larger. The big difference was the toilets. I have stayed in London hotels with smaller toilets. And, each had a shower (again larger than in many hotels). An attendant explains the procedures (you get only 5 minutes of water) and then tidies up. The stewardess suggest that I visit the lounger, which is shared with the business class. Being an introvert (not a snob), I declined the offer and retired to my suite to sleep. I did not shower, but my did somewhere over Pakistan. She arrived fresh in Dubai to enjoy breakfast in the first class restaurant. She would have had her hair done, but we had neglected to book an appointment.
I am sold on the benefits of the A380 and look forward to the next surprise.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.