Monday, May 19, 2014

Toronto-Dubai round trip on the Emirates A380

A380 landing at YYZ, attracting quite the crowd as usual

It was last November that I went to Doha, Qatar to visit my cousin and to check out the Persian Gulf for the first time. From Toronto, there were several flight route options for getting to Doha. I booked with Emirates through Dubai because a) the schedule suited me, b) the price was reasonable c) I wanted to do a stopover in Dubai on the way home d) I prefer long haul to multiple shorter flights e) I've been looking for a chance to travel on an A380 for years.

Leading up to the trip, I was overexcited about the Emirates A380 experience. My brother and I have been airplane geeks since we were small. I still get a thrill when I fly an airline for the first time so naturally, getting to fly on the big plane at last was a big deal for me. How big is the A380? Wikipedia says,

The Airbus A380 is a double-deck, wide-body, four-engine jet airliner manufactured by Airbus. It is the world's largest passenger airliner, and many airports have upgraded their facilities to accommodate it because of its size.

The A380's upper deck extends along the entire length of the fuselage, with a width equivalent to a wide-body aircraft. This gives the A380-800's cabin 478 square metres (5,145.1 sq ft) of floor space, which is 40% more than the next-largest airliner, the Boeing 747-8, and provides seating for 525 people in a typical three-class configuration or up to 853 people in an all-economy class configuration. The A380-800 has a design range of 15,700 kilometres (8,500 nmi; 9,800 mi), sufficient to fly nonstop from Dubai to Los Angeles, and a cruising speed of Mach 0.85 (about 900 km/h, 560 mph or 490 kn at cruising altitude).

Emirates currently flies in and out of Toronto three times a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday, always an A380.

My seat was in aisle 50 for both flights, which sounds like it should be well back in the plane, but it was in the first section of the lower level. So, although I was in Economy class, I got to turn left when boarding. Giant airplane, small pleasures.

In general, for both flights, I thought the service, meals and entertainment were well above average. The seats were more comfortable than the flights I've taken in recent years (hello, Icelandair!). The five washrooms at the front of the plane were large and very clean. The entertainment system included views from three cameras mounted on the plane (forward, downward and tail). It was intriguing to watch the live video during the daylight hours, and especially the take-off or landing.

Outbound flight YYZ-DXB EK242
-Even with separate gates for First and Business classes, boarding over 500 passengers took an age. Not needing to battle for overhead compartment space, I walked around the terminal until the gigantic gate line-up was nearly gone. With Dubai being such a major hub, it was interesting to try to guess where everyone was travelling.
-Once on board, I thought we were still taxiing when I glanced towards the window and realized that we'd already taken off. The launch was that smooth. I still can't believe that I didn't notice taking off in the world's largest passenger plane during a rain storm.
-The flight route took us right over Iraq - I didn't have a window set but I did get a good look at the Basrah area from the windows in the front services area.
-The flight was scheduled to be 12 hours, 55 minutes but we landed in Dubai 45 minutes early. No idea why.

-Although everything provided by Emirates was great, I didn't enjoy the flight so much and barely slept. There were a lot of disruptive passengers that night. There were people watching movies on iPads without earphones, the man beside me was belly laughing at an in flight comedy show and elbowing me constantly, there were multiple babies left to scream themselves out. I have never been on such a raucous overnight flight.
-At mealtime, at least ten people seated around me stirred up some major outrage because they wanted vegetarian meals despite not having ordered them in advance. The hostesses did their best to locate spare vegetarian meals in other sections of the plane. The Emirates A380 is like any normal flight in that you need to order your meals ahead if you have strict dietary requirements. When I booked my ticket, there were over 20 meal preferences available to choose from.

Inbound flight DXB-YYZ EK241 
-I think we left a little late. Once again, the boarding took a long, long time. It was remarkable to see so many other A380s lined up at this dedicated "Emirates A380 Hub".
-Everything  available on board was the same as the outbound, but this time I had an empty seat beside me and the other passengers were peaceful so I was able to notice how quiet the A380 engines were.
-The return flight was 13 hours and 50 minutes but it seemed shorter because I could sleep.

-Things turned unpleasant when it was time to collect luggage in Toronto. I waited not quite one hour at the baggage carousel for my suitcase to appear, and this was after going through the customs line. The flight had too much luggage for one carousel. It was so full that there were dangerous suitcase landslides happening. They switched off the carousel and stopped adding cases while we continued to stand there for a good 20 minutes. YYZ is not yet equipped to deal with a 500+ passenger flight (as for A380 service to Toronto, there are only the three weekly Emirates flights and one weekly Korean Air flight at present). I don't know why they couldn't use two baggage carousels for EK241. Even if it was one for First and Business classes and one for Economy, that would have helped. Nobody wants to spend that long on a flight and then another hour jostling for position around the baggage wheel, dodging falling suitcases.

Overall, I liked the trip on the A380 and thought the Emirates Economy class service was above average. Until Pearson International Airport upgrades the way A380 arrivals are dealt with,  I would think twice about putting myself through that awful baggage claim experience.

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