DUBAI // It could start with a soothing hot shower. Then there will be the trappings of a luxury spa treatment and, later, a chance to sit down with friends, sip cool drinks and choose from dozens of canapés. The experience would feel special anywhere. But at 13,137 metres (43,100 feet) high, it is likely to seem surreal. Nothing is knowingly understated on the new double-decker Emirates Airline A380 aeroplane, delivered to the UAE from Germany yesterday. In a mirror image of Dubai, the city it is about to serve, this giant aircraft is something to behold: the world's largest passenger plane, and one claiming plenty of "firsts".
Its first commercial flight will take place on Friday, when 489 passengers will travel from Dubai to JFK airport in New York. The 14 people in first class and 76 in business will be the first Emirates passengers to experience the splendour of what is now the most extravagant way to travel to and from the UAE. Even the 399 people flying economy will notice a lot more legroom. "It is our flagship aircraft not just for the company, but for Dubai," said Ted Green, vice president of business and development at Emirates.
"Putting an aircraft like this into service is an amazing feat. It has been a long time coming and we have been working on it for a number of years. Now it has finally come to fruition." Economy passengers, all seated on the lower of the two decks, will pay Dh6,990 (US$1,904) to fly to New York in the coming weeks. Many flights are nearly full already. As well as finding extra room to stretch, they will be able to flick between more than 1,000 entertainment channels on a 27cm-wide screen, claimed as a greater choice than any other airline. All cabins are described as having 50 per cent more space than that offered by other airlines.
Passengers will also be able to make telephone calls to people on the ground or inside the plane, send text messages, use laptops and look at photos thanks to a USB port on the screens. It is in the more expensive sections of the aeroplane, however, that Emirates customers are expected to notice the difference. To travel to New York in the upper floor business-class section during the first month of operation, passengers will pay a hefty Dh24,470. In return, they will be treated like royalty, their seats offering so much legroom that they can be extended horizontally to make beds. They may also break up the 9,656km, 13-hour journey by visiting the fully stocked lounge and bar.
In first class, passengers will, at a price, savour top-class à la carte menus and relax in private suites separated from others by sliding doors. That price will be about Dh38,430 for the flight to New York. Lighting can be adjusted according to a passenger's mood. Clothes may be stored in a personal wardrobe to avoid creasing on a long-haul journey and seating comes with a massage setting of "adjustable speed and intensity". A 58cm LCD screen will aid enjoyment of films that, for the maiden commercial flight on Emirates, include Run, Fatboy, Run, I Am Legend and Vantage Point.
At the front of the first-class section is the A380's pièce de résistance: two showers, with their own "shower assistants" and a range of lotions, aftershave and perfume on hand. Passengers can book a 25-minute session, although anyone spending more than five minutes under the shower will see an amber flashing light, warning them that the water is running out. To cope with the likely demand for showers, the A380 will carry nearly 25 per cent, or 500kg, more water than would be expected of a plane its size. "The addition of the showers is really state-of-the-art," said Mr Green. "I don't think anybody, in their wildest dreams, would have thought you would ever have showers in an aircraft.
"People stand back in amazement at how we can do it. But it is going to be a reality." Boarding the A380 will be an experience "the likes of which have never been seen before", according to Boutros Boutros, a senior vice president of Emirates. "You can compare the difference in size to going from an executive-sized plane to a normal plane; it is huge. Psychologically, it will give you the impression you are not getting into a normal plane at all.
"In economy class, instead of sitting in a normal chair, this one is big and wide. Regular economy class passengers can really feel the difference. It is like sitting in a studio flat, with a huge reception room." Emirates was the first airline to order a fleet of A380s, which were built, at separate stages of production, in Wales, France, Germany and Spain. After placing its first order in 2000, Emirates has agreed to buy a further 57 A380 planes from Airbus, making it the company's biggest customer worldwide.
However, Singapore Airlines has already flown the A380 commercially, launching a service from Singapore to Sydney in October last year. The first A380 flights from Dubai to New York on Aug 1, 3, and 5 are sold out, with Emirates reporting healthy sales for the route over the coming months. More destinations will be introduced in time, with the airline's president Tim Clark announcing this week that he was "very optimistic" the plane could fly non-stop for 15.5 hours from Dubai to San Francisco by 2012. The A380 can currently fly only 15,000km non-stop, roughly the distance from New York to Hong Kong.
Two weeks ago, the price of the more expensive A380 seats increased by almost 10 per cent, and the cheapest by about five per cent, because of rising fuel prices. A second A380 will arrive in Dubai in September, and will be added to the New York route to make it a daily service. Three more will arrive by the end of the year, and will also travel to Sydney and London Heathrow. All 58 of the A380s will be in the airline's possession by 2013.