On my return flight from New York to Manila in October 2016, I flew with Emirates. From New York to Dubai, I was on an Airbus A380 in Economy. It was a pleasant flight and I slept throughout most of it. I even had a pleasant chat with my seatmate who was on her first trip to Asia via Thailand. There was just a slight hitch when we were disembarking in Dubai.
The tube intended for Business Class and First Class passengers, who were all on the upper deck of the plane, was not working. So, they had to descend the grand staircase and use our tube. I was one of the first in line to get off the plane because I only had about an hour in transit time. But, our way blocked by the flight attendants so as to let the upper deck passengers disembark first. They took their sweet time.
The upper deck passengers leisurely went down the staircase and exchanged pleasantries and goodbyes with the cabin crew. One of the passengers was hugging and slapping the shoulders of the bursar. A toddler was also being coaxed to get down the stairs on his own. The flight attendants fawned over the kid. “This is very ‘Titanic’” I said loudly. My Economy cohorts who got the reference looked down and suppressed their smiles. The flight attendants gave us a commiserating glance and one of them said “Please hurry up” under her breath.
A lot of the passengers who died on the Titanic were third class. During evacuation, first class passengers were given priority and people from lower classes were not allowed to mingle with them on the lifeboats. “Don’t worry. One day, it will be your turn to fly in business class” my seatmate comforted me, while smiling slyly at my remark.
Fast forward to October 2018 and her prediction came true.
Three days before my flight from Manila to Rome, I received an email offering me a Business Class seat onboard an A380 for my Dubai to Rome leg for only 39,000 Skywards miles. At the time, I only had 36,000 miles. This was a very rare opportunity so I did not hesitate to pay USD90 for 3,000 additional miles. If your dream is within reach, it will not hurt to put in a little more effort, or expense.
As luck would have it, I arrived in Dubai via Building A after a 20-minute bus ride. All A380’s depart from Building A and from some gates in Building B. My Rome flight was going to be from Building A so I went straight to the Business Class lounge. Normally, if you get an upgrade through a discounted rate, you will not have lounge access. Since my Silver status had been restored after my Amsterdam to Manila flight in June 2018, I regained my lounge access. This was important because from the lounges in Building A, you have direct access to the upper decks of A380’s.
After hearing the boarding announcement, I went to the designated gate. There were two elevators, one for Business Class and First Class passengers and one for Economy Class passengers who had lounge access. I was joined by a man and a woman on the elevator. We gave each other small nods and smiles so as to acknowledge that, yes, we are in the same class. The elevator door opened on the upper tube that led directly into the upper deck of the plane. Yep, we were totally separated from the other passengers.
Upon entering the upper deck, the cabin crew greeted me with a hint of surprise. After a cursory glance at the other passengers, I realized I must have been the youngest in the cabin. Most of them would have been 15 to 30 years my senior. Before taking my seat, I snapped a photo of it. “Is this your first time with us?” asked the flight attendant. “My first time in business class on an A380” I replied. “Oh, this is much better” said the flight attendant with obvious pride. “After you settle in, maybe I could give you a tour later on?” “Sure, that would be great!”. She snapped a couple of photos of me.
I noted that it was on older aircraft based on the state of my screen and portable controller. I fiddled with the controls but the mouse on the screen would not budge. I began to plot to what seat I could transfer to. However, when the plane took off, the controls were functioning normally. I was also thrilled to have so much personal space and to try my own mini-bar, which had sodas, juices, and beer.
I had my usual welcome drink – champagne. After the seatbelt sign was turned off, I set my seat to fully flat. I was promptly offered a duvet, which I accepted. While I was lying on my back, a flight attendant knelt beside me and asked what I’d like to drink and what I’d like for lunch. Right away, I noticed that the service on this flight was more personalized. The lay-out of the seats must have had something to do with it. Having previously read the menu before the plane took off, I dictated my order from memory.
I asked for Bloody Mary because I read that this cocktail, as well as red wines, taste better up in the air. The altitude somehow affects our taste buds. When I took a sip, it was very tasty and not disgusting at all. I thoroughly enjoyed it that I decided to sip it very slowly while waiting for lunch to be served.
While I was in the midst of watching Deadpool 2, my appetizer was served. I had Salmon Gravadlax with Lemon Blinis and Cucumber complemented by Moghrabieh and Feta Salad. The cucumber gave a nice cool touch to the palate after the strong flavor of the salmon. The salad was too heavy for me. I was already half-full after finishing it all.
In keeping with my surf theme, I had Seafood Provencal (Fish, prawns, and scallops, with orange saffron broth, braised fennel, and new potatoes). I paired the dish with Chateau de Tracy Pouilly Fumé 2015. When the wine was served, the flight attendant asked if I wanted to try a little first to see if I liked it. I assured him I’ve had it before and told him to pour away. The Seafood Provencal was the best seafood dish I’ve had on Emirates. The ingredients were fresh, delicately cooked, and the flavors were balanced.
When a flight attendant came to clear away the dishes, I told her to cancel my order for dessert, which was a cheese platter. “Oh, that’s too bad” she said. “I’m so full already”. I just had green tea to cleanse my palate. After the movie, I took a nap. Since the flight was only five hours, I did not go into deep sleep because I still needed to see the famed onboard bar and lounge.
As I made my way towards the back of the plane, the flight attendant who greeted me when I first came on board saw me. “You want to see the bar?” she asked. “Yes, please”. “Follow me”. At the bar and lounge, some people were already having drinks and snacks. Networking had begun and business talk was the norm. Another flight attendant was mixing drinks at the bar. It was there I realized that the cabin crew were multitaskers. The one who did the mixing served me tea earlier.
“Would you like a photo inside the bar?”. “Yes!”. They brought out a polaroid camera and took a couple of shots of me. One of the passengers jokingly said “Can I have a glass of soda water please?”. Everyone chuckled. They also took photos of me with my phone. While waiting for my polaroids to develop, I was asked what I wanted to drink. “Do you have any mocktails?” “Yes, we do.” “What would you recommend?” “How about a Cucumber Spritz?” “Sure!” They handed the two photos to me in red cardboard frames(these are now on my office desk).
I sat on one of the mini-sofas while sipping my drink. It was very refreshing. I did not know that soda water and cucumber, with some lemon juice and mint leaves, could be so delicious. “Would you like another?” the bartender asked. “No, thank you. It was very good!”. I went to the toilet and availed of the Bulgari eau de toilette. I went back to my seat and started watching a movie. Right then, the captain announced that we were commencing descent.
I took me an hour to get through immigration because the lines were so long. It took me some time to find my chauffeur. Yes, I had a chauffeur because Emirates gave me a free ride into Rome. The way I upgraded my ticket would not have entitled me to a chauffeur service but I was surprised that they activated this service in my Emirates app. Emirates had a tie-up with Blacklane in Rome. When I approached the Blacklane booth near the exit doors, I saw well-dressed men – wearing coats and ties – holding up signs. I said my name and the men, who were all older than me, gave me a surprised look. I must have been younger compared to their usual passengers. My driver, who later introduced himself as Giorgio, stepped forward and took my two bags. My driver was better dressed than I was.
It took us about ten minutes to get to the car. Giorgio asked me not to eat the sandwich, that I’d bought, inside the car because it might smell. As we drove, he asked where I was from and whether it was my first time in Rome. Our conversation started with the weather, places we’ve been to(he went to Mexico once because of a girl), and Roman history. He was genuinely pleased that I knew a lot about Roman history and some philosophy, so our conversation turned to historical revisionism. He took the route with a lot of scenery, pointed out monuments, and gave commentaries and recommendations. I began to wonder if he was once a professor – some people do quit the academe and live a carefree life – but tact kept my tongue in check. I did find out how much he loved his dog.
I was a bit nervous about my hotel’s location. I picked a decent boutique hotel but was not quite sure about the neighborhood. I did not want to arrive in a ghetto with a chauffeured car. And what would Giorgio think? Giorgio, however, said that I picked a very good and safe location. As we entered the neighborhood, I gave myself a pat on the back as I saw cafes and restaurants as well as wide and clean streets. Giorgio told me to wait in the cars he got out to look for the entrance of my hotel because the street it was on was cut off from non-resident vehicles. After he came back, he pointed out where the entrance of my hotel was. I handed him a tip and he was genuinely surprised.
I could definitely say that I arrived in Rome in style.