- Writer Tonya Russell traveled to the Maldives and tried out Emirates’ business and economy class.
- Russell loved the meals, seats, and in-air lounge in business, but thought economy also had merits.
- “While economy class proved to be just fine, upgrading is worth it at least once,” she writes.
I’ve been racking up the miles over the last two years, and I decided to splurge on Emirates Airlines’ illustrious business class cabin on a pre-wedding trip to the Maldives this spring. I figured a YOLO trip required a YOLO flying experience, but unfortunately I could only afford a one-way upgrade (I was flying weeks before my wedding, after all).
Nonetheless, flying business class one way on a long-haul flight still has its merits, and there are noticeable differences. They begin as soon as you get to the airport.
How to upgrade to business class on an Emirates flight
If you use the same airline family, you may be able to transfer miles from another airline to your Emirates flight. Also, certain credit cards allow you to use points towards mileage, which is an easy way that many upgrade — or at the very least, buy lounge access.
You can also pay for an upgrade. As soon as check-in opens up online, a limited number of business-class seats are offered at a steep discount ($500 versus $4,500-plus).
With Emirates business and first class, you get to skip the line at check-in — kind of
Some international flights don’t let you check in in advance, especially in our post-COVID era of flying. The main benefit of mobile check-in is skipping the line, but when apps and forms need to be downloaded, you sometimes have to get in line.
In business class, you have your own line. That means instead of being 20th in line, I was only behind a couple, a family, and a solo person.
There’s also a first-class line, but few people were in it, and I was ushered to that line to drop off my bag. Business-class patrons get to drop off two free bags, as opposed to one bag for economy.
With that business-class perk and TSA pre-check, I was smooth sailing through security. Also, while that only works on the US side, Emirates business-class passengers may have an expedited customs process upon arriving at their destination.
After getting through security, you’re free to roam about or head to the lounge
This trip was my third time in a lounge, and the one on the Dubai leg of my trip could take up a wing of a shopping mall.
There were plenty of showers and dining options, including a Moet lounge, various offerings at a few different buffet stations, and plenty of comfy seats to relax or sleep. I’ve had worse food at buffets that I actually paid for.
My companion for the journey did not have business-class access, but he was able to purchase a lounge pass, and he felt that the $150 it cost made sense for such a long journey. After all, the cost of occupying ourselves for six hours would have been a headache and a stomachache. The Dubai airport is overwhelming.
To take a step back, I did have to get to Dubai first from JFK
The plane would quickly go into sleep mode, but stepping into business class set the mood. Finding my seat and settling in was like hopping into an old-school Mercedes-Benz S-Class, or even a limo, with drinks readily available in a lit-up compartment.
There were more buttons than I knew what to do with, along with a pull-out touchscreen controller for the TV or for making requests. As soon as I sat in my seat, I was greeted with champagne or juice. I chose juice, of course, because I don’t like to drink while traveling.
I had 12 hours to go, and I needed a few hours of sleep before enjoying the amenities provided on my flight. I opted to go to sleep immediately, since I knew I could call for my food whenever I needed to.
Business class was full, but as other passengers shuffled in, it felt less chaotic than economy class
It helped that it was set up like cubicles, so there was little disturbance from your neighbors. I sat in the center, but there were only two seats in the middle, instead of a row of three or four like in economy.
My seat had controls like a car, and instead of leaning back, my seat shifted forward into a bed. My legs ended up underneath the oversized TV screen. I could imagine someone pretty tall fitting, unless they play basketball (in that case, maybe consider first class).
I was able to do more work in business class, since my station included a fold-out tray that covered my lap.
I had a multi-course vegetarian meal in business class
Airlines rarely have non-dairy milk, but a flight attendant brought me a bit of the crew’s own oat milk for a cappuccino.
Before the meal, I received a Mediterranean platter with baba ghanouj, hummus, and fresh veggies. I initially thought it was the meal, but it was just the first course.
For the meal, I got a vegetarian plate that featured Indian-style vegetables and basmati rice. Following the main meal cart, another flight attendant brought hot fresh rolls, and dropped off not one, but three (I won’t say how many I ate).
I used the in-air lounge to eat, stretch, and relax
Emirates has a second-floor bar, which is unlike most other airlines. Even in business or first class, many planes won’t offer an opportunity to grab a seat away from your seat, or a place to mingle. I did just that in the sky lounge, listening to people strike deals while half of the plane slept.
I was there because my appetite increases up in the air. Forget the fact that we’re already eating and drinking at hours that we wouldn’t back home, but I eat on a plane out of boredom.
In Emirates’ in-air lounge, you can be served or you can help yourself to a snack. I took advantage of this and had a slice of apple cake after my meal when I probably should have been sleeping. Even if you don’t want any snacks, stretching your legs or sitting at a normal table breaks up the monotony of flying.
I checked in for my next flight — in economy — at the counter
Again, I checked in at the counter. The line was longer, and because business and first class funneled through so quickly, a few of us were checked in at the business class counter.
I placed my oversized luggage on the scale and held my breath, hoping that I wasn’t over the limit. Economy allows one checked bag, and there was an oversized bag fee.
After going through security, I had about an hour to spare before my flight, so I didn’t feel so bad about not having lounge access. I also had a shorter layover, so I wandered through the shops while waiting for my flight. My bags were checked straight through to my final destination, so I didn’t have to go through security again.
My economy seat was just fine, but mealtime made me miss business class
Upon finding my seat, I easily found overhead space for my carry-on bag, which contained random items that would’ve made my suitcase tip the scale. I had plenty of legroom (I’m 5-foot-6), and I had no seatmate. In my row, only the two aisle seats were taken, and I was able to lift my armrest and feel like I was in a larger space.
I requested a vegetarian meal in economy, which means I got my food before everyone else. I received some sort of lentils with basmati rice.
I received something similar in business, but the difference was like getting a Trader Joe’s version instead of making it from scratch. The meat alternative was a chicken TV dinner with rice, which wasn’t as appetizing as the salmon that circulated through business class.
The entertainment offerings were the same, but with a smaller screen. It was still enough for me to entertain myself when I wasn’t trying to sleep.
Emirates is over the top in every way you could imagine, catering to people who can have it all
Being able to get a slice of such an extravagant form of transport is definitely something to behold. While economy class proved to be just fine, if upgrading is within your means, it is worth it at least once.