In business class, A380 provides plenty of luxury

 - August 29, 2008, 1:44 PM

It was a short flight, two-and-a-half hours over the Pacific Ocean, but even that amount of time was enough to learn that business-class seats in an Emirates Airline Airbus A380 are the only way to fly on the airlines, especially when considering the 19-hour nonstop that the airline plans from Los Angeles to Dubai. The business-class seats offer privacy and comfort, reclining to fully flat with plenty of legroom for tall passengers and a neat shoe-storage area under the footrest.

The Panasonic-based entertainment system–Emirates calls it ICE–offers way too much material to peruse even on a flight almost halfway around the world, including movies, music, audio books and more, all piped through a complimentary set of noise-canceling headsets. For the content purist, bring your own media on a USB drive and plug it into ICE. You can also store your personal preferences and playlist after using ICE on a USB, which makes sense if you’re a regular customer.

As good as the entertainment system is, it suffers some flaws. For one, there is no search function, so you have to read the fat printed directory or browse the selections, which is OK, but it would be nice to be able to search the library electronically. The system offers three external camera views, which run either in a small window on the monitor or in full-screen view. Unfortunately, if the user switches from the small window to full-screen display while a song is playing, the song starts back at the beginning. That’s not a huge problem, but it’s not the way it should work.

On takeoff, the A380 feels just like any airliner, and it lifts off smoothly and uses surprisingly little runway for a 1.235-million-pound behemoth of an airplane.
Particularly pleasant was listening on the wonderful headset to the harmoniously rendered lyrics of “I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon” from Pink Floyd’s Brain Damage while seated, appropriately, just two rows away from Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who apparently also likes flights in cool airplanes.

I didn’t get to try either of the two in-flight spa-showers, which are reserved for first-class passengers who want to freshen up before landing. The A380 carries 500 gallons of shower water. The first-class seats are even more luxurious, with electric walls that slide up to provide a cozy little airborne room. Thankfully, every one of the 489 passengers in all classes can access the same in-flight entertainment content.

Landing in the A380 was surprisingly bumpy and rough; I don’t know if that’s more a reflection of the worn-out LAX runway or the fact that the A380 weighs more on landing, even after a long flight, than a fully loaded 747-400. In any case, I now have a greater appreciation for the massive A380 and Emirates Airline, although the $18,000 or so that a Dubai round-trip costs in first class seems a little out of reach for this writer.