“Mr. Slutsken, would you and your wife please join us in the lounge at the back of the cabin?” asked the Purser, our flight’s senior cabin representative. She had a big smile on her face as she stood beside my business class seat in the Emirates A380 on our flight from Dubai (DXB) to Rome (FCO). I looked back at my wife; we both wanted to be right beside a window, so I was in seat 9K and Karen was in 11K on the remarkably quiet upper deck of the Airbus.
This was the second leg of our special anniversary trip. We always try to do something new for every fifth year, and this was our 35th anniversary. It doesn’t really matter when in the year it happens, so we had planned a trip to Italy in October, months after our actual anniversary date. We wanted to fly business class, and after much research and expert help, we decided to go the long way to Italy. We cashed in a whack of Alaska Airlines and hotel points for reward seats on Emirates. It would be our first time flying the airline, and also our first time in Dubai. Using Emirates’ Dubai Stopover Program, we were able to break our itinerary to spend a few nights before continuing to Rome.
We started off close to our home, flying from Bellingham (BLI) on an Alaska/Horizon Q400 turboprop to Seattle (SEA) to connect to our Emirates flight to Dubai. Before boarding the 777-300ER for the 14-hour-plus flight, the gate agents checked our documents and said “your luggage is onboard.” A nice touch that took away our worries about the connection.
Once in Dubai, we did the obligatory tour in the desert, visited the massive malls, and took in the views from the observation deck of the Burj Kalifa, what is (for now) the world’s tallest building. That evening, my friend Patrick Brannelly picked us up by the Emirates A380 Experience, a flight simulator in the Dubai Mall. Patrick is Emirates’ DVP, Customer Experience for the airline’s ICE inflight entertainment and connectivity system. He’s been with Emirates for over 20 years, pretty well from the start of the airline, and is based in Dubai. As is the vast majority of the population, Patrick is an ex-pat, originally from Great Britain.
We had an amazing dinner on the shore of Dubai Creek, close to the Heritage Museum in the oldest part of the city. Patrick toured us through the gold, spice, and fabric souks, and we wandered the docks, watching dhows being unloaded after trips across the Arabian Gulf from Iran. A fabulous evening! But we didn’t know that Patrick had arranged a surprise for Karen and me during our first-ever A380 flight the next morning.
The business class load was unexpectedly light for the usually packed flight to Rome, and we were over the western Gulf at 40,000 feet as we walked through the somewhat empty cabin to the lounge. It was a surprise anniversary party! The crew had set up a large galley cart with champagne and a cake, and decorated with flowers and candles. Everyone gathered around, and we were presented with a personalized anniversary card that was signed by the crew. We shared the cake with all of the passengers who dropped by the lounge, and the champagne was awfully good, too!
Chatting with the Purser, she told me that the crew loves to put on parties for their special guests. I can only imagine what it said about me in the passenger profile page of the Purser’s HP tablet, in the airline’s “Knowledge-driven Inflight Service” (KIS) application. I asked if I could see the information, and she laughingly said, “Of course not!”
Any details added to a passenger’s profile during a flight are uploaded to the airline’s server on arrival, and all of the tablets are equipped with global SIM cards for pre-flight synchronization, so that the Purser has the most up-to-date information. Not surprisingly, Emirates is in the process of moving to live updates of KIS, and trials are well underway using inflight connectivity.
We hung out in the lounge for quite a while, talking to the crew and other passengers, before returning to our seats. It’s a great area for socializing, with a fully stocked bar in the middle of the cabin, and two seatbelt-equipped couches under the windows.
Much has been written about the expansion plans of the ME3 airlines, and the resulting government and legacy airline furor, but passengers likely don’t pay much attention to all of that swirling far above. Doesn’t it always come down to the experience each of us has on every flight, no matter the airline? This Emirates crew gave the two of us a truly memorable celebration – our thanks to all of them. And thanks, Patrick!
In case you’re wondering, after arriving at FCO we managed to weave our way through the bedlam, cleared customs and immigration, and picked up our bags in about 30 minutes. We made our train to Firenze at the airport’s Trenitalia station with plenty of time to spare. And the rest of our vacation was fabulous!