DUBAI: How does one go about making the world’s largest airliner, the Airbus A380, look small? Park it at the new Concourse A at Dubai International Airport, which was designed to handle the giant aircraft and all the high-end passengers who will fly in its premium cabins.
Earlier this year Emirates and Dubai International Airport opened the new concourse. David Parker Brown, a contributor to the APEX editor’s blog was invited for a tour of the Emirates Airline first and business class lounges.
DETAILS ON TERMINAL
Concourse A opened on 2 January 2013 and is the world’s only dedicated and purpose built concourse for the Airbus A380. The rest of the airport is able to handle the aircraft, but the new concourse was purpose-built with the A380 in mind. A formidable undertaking for the airport and airline, US$3.3 billion terminal required 159,572,880 man-hours to build.
Concourse A increases the capacity of the airport from 60 million to 75 million annual passengers; it handled 600,000 passengers in its first month of operations. It is expected that the terminal will handle over a million passengers per month in the near future.
“With a current fleet of 31 A380s and a further 59 on order, Emirates is the largest operator of this aircraft in the world, and it is only fitting that we have a world class facility that meets this need and represents our leadership in this regard,” notes Tim Clark, president of the airline.
The A380, which entered the airline’s fleet in August 2008, is operated by the carrier in either 489- or 517-seat configurations, though each type features 14 first class and 76 business class seats.
The concourse’s 20 gates are all able to handle multi-level boarding of the A380. To help assist with the ticketing and boarding process, Emirates has 50 airline counters and 13 remote interior stands.
Since multiple aircraft arrive and depart at any given time, a great deal of infrastructure is required to handle all those passengers and their dietary needs. With 14 restaurants and three food courts located in Concourse A, there are plenty of dining options. Because the overall size of the airport is incredibly large, it took an underground train ride to arrive at the new concourse. The interior of Concourse A has the same visual appeal as the rest of the airport.
Although the concourse was designed with the A380 in mind, smaller widebodies in the Emirates fleet – like the Boeing 777, Airbus A330 and Airbus A340 – also park at the new terminal.
THE PREMIUM LOUNGES
The premium lounges in Concourse A are massive and have their own floor in the 11-story complex. The 12,428 sq metre first class Lounge, located on the second floor, can accommodate 1,491 passengers and the 16,533 sq metre business class Lounge, located on the third floor, can hold up to 2,552.
The almost 29,000 combined sq metres of both lounges is only a small part of the larger 528,000 square metre Concourse A. Providing space and luxury was the goal of the airline. “The passenger experience is so unique partly because of so much space,” says Clark. He adds, “No expense has been spared”.
Both lounges have similarities in the amenities provided to high-end passengers. Visiting them back-toback, it was not so obvious telling the main differences.
The lounges are designed so that when passengers enter, they have little reason to leave, other than boarding their flight. Each of the 20 gates is accessible through the lounges; this facilitates swift and convenient boarding for premium passengers, further enhancing the experience for high-value customers.
A guest of either lounge enters into a large lobby with plenty of counters and employees to check them in before being directed to the left or right behind the counters. The first and business class Lounges have two sides that are almost exact replicas. This allows passengers to stay close to their departure gate without having to walk long distances for the amenities of their choice.
When walking along the entire length of a lounge, the feeling of exclusivity can diminish, since they are so large and can handle so many passengers. However, each was designed to provide multiple seating atmospheres, which reinforces the feeling of a premium product. Much as a long aircraft cabin is partitioned to give the impression of individualized space, both lounges do the same.
“Offering premium spaces inside airports for business and first-class passengers who have paid very premium prices for their tickets creates a ‘cocoon of attentiveness’ that is attributed to the airline long before – and likely long after – that passenger is in the plane,” travel expert Harriet Baskas, of StuckatTheAirport.com explained in an email.
COMMON LOUNGE AMENITIES
The first and business class lounges in Concourse A surpass expectations. Each lounge has its own business centre and conference rooms, and the Wi-Fi has been designed to handle thousands of visitors. Although the main Concourse A offers many dining options, the lounges offer an array of complimentary meal choices, including grab-and-go meals for passengers in a hurry, a buffet, and traditional sit down preferences.
The amenities in both lounges are already extraordinary but the service takes the lounge experience to another level. It is difficult to move in either of the lounges without having a staff member ask if there is anything you might need.
Many airports and some lounges around the world offer a smoking area, but often the passenger is not made to feel welcome (think of small boxed in spaces; they hardly inspire people to relax and enjoy a smoke). But Emirates offers a large, very welcoming smoking room and cigar bar in both its lounges. It is worth a visit, even for the non-smoker. The smell of smoke is not strong due to the strong ventilation system.
Emirates didn’t forget about children when building its lounges. A designated play area will help your kids burn off that extra energy before your next flight leg. The lounges offer sweeping views of the airport below, but not of the aircraft outside. They were designed to make passengers feel as if they are not in an airport. For most people, this is a huge benefit, but for those who want to feel more connected to the flying experience or to look out at multiple widebody aircraft, it is more of a challenge.
For many passengers, Dubai is not their starting point or destination, but simply a layover in between long legs. Although Emirates offers showers to first class passengers on board the A380, passengers can also fresh up in the lounges, as there are multiple private showers with towel and amenity attendants to assist you.
FIRST IS FABULOUS
There are differences between the first and business class lounges, however. A duty free shop inside the first class lounge allows passengers to make truly lavish purchases. One item, a $200,000.00 bottle of Royal Salute Tribute to Honour liquor, is adorned with precious gems. It is locked up in a special display case and is only handled by a trained employee with white gloves.
The lounge also boasts its own wine cellar operated by Le Close. This provides passengers with the opportunity to view, taste and of course purchase wines that are not normally available to the general public.
First class passengers can also avail themselves of the complimentary spa, which offers services such as massage, a mini-manicure or some basic hairstyling. The lounge also offers a quiet and secluded room with chairs that recline for people who want to sleep. Each chair features a pillow and blanket.
Passengers with long layovers have other options as well. Two hotels are located in the upper levels of Concourse A. One is a 5-star hotel offering 32 rooms, and the other is a 4-star hotel with 170 rooms.