When first I travelled to Tokyo, in the 1980s, it involved a trip to Alaska. The British Airways Boeing 747 was not yet capable of making the 6,000-mile journey nonstop. Instead, to reach the Far East you flew west to Anchorage and west again to the Japanese capital. The distance was almost 8,000 miles. But even that was shorter than my trip this week from Heathrow to Tokyo via Dubai.
During the four-hop journey, which involved a total of 35 hours in the sky, I had plenty of time to notice 10 things about flying on Emirates, and I want to pass them on to you.
The ideal time to turn up at check-in for an Emirates flight is 70 minutes before departure. That worked fine for me at Heathrow on the way out – the less time you spend at an airport, the better, so plan to get there just before check-in closes.
Coming back from Tokyo Haneda airport I made the mistake of arriving two hours ahead, and encountered a long queue even for passengers who had checked in online and wanted only to drop bags. So I wandered off, had a drink and returned 10 minutes before the desks closed to find them deserted – except by the check-in staff, fortunately.
On an evening flight, eat before departure or take snacks.
I turned up at Heathrow at 7.30pm for the 8.40pm flight, without having eaten. I was in row 83, downstairs in the Airbus A380 Super Jumbo. Dinner did not arrive until just before 10.30pm. We were over Hungary and I was over-hungry.
Emirates does not serve spirits in economy. I think a simple choice of white or red wine, served from full bottles, not miniatures, is sufficient. No one seemed to over-imbibe. But if you are the sort of person for whom an inflight G&T is an essential part of the trip, you will disagree.
Join Emirates Skywards, the airline’s frequent-flyer scheme. On a long-haul trip with a budget fare, you’re unlikely to amass enough points for an upgrade, let alone a “free” flight. But it gets you a discount on the paid inflight internet – £9 buys access for the whole flight.
To keep powered up, Emirates is a good choice. The carrier has mains electricity at most seats, and you can no doubt borrow your neighbour’s socket if your laptop is lacking juice. Most aircraft are configured for the standard British plug, which is the same as the standard UAE plug. But on some older Boeing 777s, you will need a two-pin adapter.
A full Airbus A380 is more agreeable than a full Boeing 777, at least in Emirates’ configuration. The interior cabin width on the main deck of the Airbus is two feet wider than that of the Boeing – yet the seats are 10 abreast on both aircraft. The London-Dubai service was on the Airbus, but the 50 per cent longer Dubai-Tokyo flight was on a Boeing.
Emirates flies to both Tokyo airports: Narita (with an A380) and Haneda (with a 777). Despite the tighter squeeze, choose Haneda – access to the capital is a 15-minute joyride on a monorail, rather than the 40-mile slog from Narita.
If you want to be on a non-full Airbus A380, the last Emirates flight of the afternoon from Dubai to Heathrow is the one to go for in terms of comfort.
Between 2.15pm and 3.45pm, four London flights leave Dubai within 90 minutes: two to Heathrow, and one each to Gatwick and Stansted.
I surmised that the load would be lightest on the last flight. It arrives mid-evening at Heathrow (8.15pm in theory, 8.30pm in reality due to missing passengers in Dubai).
That is too late for flight connections for destinations such as Belfast and Dublin. And by the time formalities have been completed, overland transport options have dwindled. So at least downstairs in economy, passengers should have been assigned seats based on their height: four seats for taller travellers to stretch out on, three seats for shorter people.
Speaking to another passenger across an uncrowded cabin, it appears that the 9.05am in the opposite direction is the one to catch for a similarly tranquil experience.
If you have a gap of a few hours between flights at Emirates’ hub, and it’s daytime, the Dubai Metro is an excellent way to get a glimpse into the past. It is easily accessible from Emirates’ Terminal 3.
Buy a two-zone ticket (8 dirhams), change at Union station and alight at Al Ghubaiba – the station for the heritage area, as well as the shining Sixties ship, the QE2. Then take an abra (small, open ferry) across the Dubai Creek for 1 dirham, explore the Gold Souk and hop on a train back to the airport (one zone, 6 dirhams) from Al Ras station.
When planning a trip, don’t be beguiled by Mercator’s Projection. This two-dimensional representation of a spherical planet makes London via Dubai to Tokyo look a plausibly direct routing. In fact, by the time you touch down in the UAE, after a flight of seven hours and more than 3,400 miles, you are only 1,000 miles closer to Tokyo. The total distance is around 8,300 miles.
As I had places to go and people to see in Dubai, that was just fine. But if you simply want get from Britain to Japan – and don’t want to pay hundreds of pounds extra for the privilege of a nonstop flight – it would be kinder on your body and the environment to route yourself via Helsinki, adding just a few miles to the journey.