I along with my colleagues travelled to London earlier this year by Emirates airlines; which being one of the costliest airlines, there was an expectation that the ‘price-as-a-surrogate-for-quality’ dictum would hold true.
At the airports
Emirates has no direct flight to London from India. That is understandable. There is a stopover at Dubai. That is understandable. The flight from Chennai is delayed by about 3 hours. Given, hectic airline schedules, that is understandable. But why they must subject their passengers transiting from Chennai-Dubai flight to Dubai-London flight to mental agony is not understandable!
This agony stems from a few things.
First, the distance between the terminal where the flight from Chennai arrives, to the terminal where the flight to London takes-off is phenomenal. It is certainly cruel to expect people to lug their hand-luggage and walk over such a large distance. All right, they have provided horizontal conveyor belts intermittently to ease your trudge a little, but that’s about it. It still takes around 10+ minutes to cover the distance.
Second, the flight announcements are a cruel joke to further compound the agony of your walking the distance mentioned above. Imagine this: You have just cleared a stringent security check — that involved having to remove your shoes, belts, wallets etc. — and are collecting your hand luggage, tying your shoe-laces and fastening your belts, when you hear the announcement, “This is the last and final call for passengers travelling to London on Emirates flight no. <blah> to proceed for boarding from Gate no. <blah>.”
You know your incoming flight is late, so you panic a little and start running for the boarding gate. By the way, at this point you don’t know the extent of distance you have to run, so you keep running regardless — hand luggage in tow! And when you do reach your designated departure lounge, what do you discover? You are the first person to arrive there and others, including the staff, start arriving a little later. And after some time there is another announcement on the public address system, “This is the last and final call for passengers travelling to London on Emirates flight no. <blah> to proceed for boarding from Gate no. <blah>.”
And you feel so stupid at having been taken for a royal ride! Now run this in your mind again: You have just arrived, gone through the security-check, heard the “last and final boarding call” announcement, run non-stop with your hand luggage for 10+ minutes, with palpitation in your heart — as much from physical stress as from the mental stress caused by the irresponsible announcement! (On our way back, we discovered that this is their standard operating procedure for making announcements. This “…last and final call…” is actually the first announcement!)
When we finally reached London Heathrow Airport, we discovered that our luggage had not been loaded onto this flight at Dubai. So we had to wait another couple of hours before it arrived by another flight coming from the Gulf. The fact that it did arrive at all, was a small mercy.
On our way back we stopped over at Dubai for a day of shopping, even though the Dubai Shopping Festival had been cancelled due to the death of the ruling Sheikh. So one would normally expect the airline to be understanding of the size of people’s baggage heading out of Dubai and to keep realistic limits. But no! Emirates, which we were told has an arrangement with the Dubai tourism authorities, would not let us carry our extra luggage without paying a steep charge. And trust me, my shopping wasn’t over-the-top, with the largest item being a music system!
Inside the aircraft
Once inside you are surely overawed by its size. It has 10 (3+4+3) seats in a row. The video screen in front of you has a wonderful touch-screen interactive menu, that gives you information (news from BBC), video-on-demand (from wide-range of movies, television serials, sports programmes, music) and some communication facilities too (fax). But I was most impressed with two other channels — the camera in front of the aircraft (that gives you a breathtaking view of the runway while taking-off and landing) and the camera below the aircraft (that gives you a Google Earth kind of live view of the area below).
However, this joy was short-lived. Out of the to and fro total 20+ hours of journey between Chennai and London, this video facility was available only the 3 hours between Chennai and Dubai. For the longer Dubai-London/London-Dubai flights, one had to do with a primitive canned 6-7 channel fare. Having set expectations with the video-on-demand experience in the Chennai-Dubai leg, this was a big let-down!
The seats predictably are cramped for space. And to further compound my discomfort, I had some equipment box embedded under my seat, which cut down by half the space in which I could maneouvre my feet. As it is, ever since I read about Steve Waugh** having ‘Deep Vein Thrombosis’ — also popularly known as ‘Economy Class Syndrome’ — I was paranoid about constantly exercising my lower legs and feet to maintain blood circulation. And then this!
Another thing that struck me was the multi-cultural gaggle of air hostesses. Perhaps this is a common feature in long-haul international flights in this sector. However, I perceived some cultural bias — which could entirely have been a figment of my imagination.
But when I had to miss the audio in the last 10 minutes of Finding Nemo, because a stern-talking air-hostess took the head-phones back thirty minutes before landing, I did feel a little less cared for. After all, Finding Nemo is such a wonderful film; the least the air-hostess could have done was let me finish watching it!
On the other hand, my boss, who took the newly introduced Jet Airways non-stop flight to London, was treated like one of their own by the crew, not to mention the flying miles he gathered as well!
** And I still can’t believe Steve Waugh travelled economy class!
Turns out I am not the only one to have such bad experiences with Emirates. A lot of other travellers have had similar experiences. Read them here.