DUBAI: I have been told many times that the Emirates passenger experience is like nothing else. I was finally given the chance to put this claim to the test, as I flew – courtesy of the carrier – in business class from New York JFK to Dubai on an Emirates Airbus A380 to cover a Windows 8 event.
I have never flown on the A380 before, so to me, the aircraft itself was a revelation. From the lounge at JFK, the jet bridge connects directly to the upper deck business-class seating area, creating a seamless boarding process. I was directed to my seat, 18K, which was thankfully a window seat. Immediately, I was taken aback by the amount of personal space afforded to each passenger in the business-class section.
After takeoff, the crew took drink and meal orders. The menu, which boasted generous selections, rivalled that which is on offer in many high-end restaurants; and everything was absolutely delicious. I strongly recommend the crepes for breakfast. Snacks were also readily available at any time in the bar/lounge area. I ended up spending quite a significant amount of time in the lounge because I was not able to fall asleep. Luckily for me, a cheery crewmember kept me company.
One aspect of Emirates’ service that really differentiates the carrier from the lion’s share of the rest of the industry is its inflight entertainment system. In business class, there are three options to control the system; either with the large screen itself, a touch-based wireless remote, or a tethered remote.
In the business-class seats, however, I often found I was a little too far to comfortably touch the main screen, so I usually opted for the wireless remote. The selection of content in the Panasonic Avionics-manufactured ‘ice’ (information, communication, entertainment) system is stunning. I enjoyed being able to watch several movies during the 12-hour flight, simultaneously watching the Airshow moving map on the docked wireless remote.
Also available on this flight was OnAir’s SwiftBroadband-supported Wi-Fi system. Having recently tested the new Gogo ATG-4 system, I was quite interested to see how a satellite-based system would compare. After an initial problem with my browser, I was able to connect with little hassle. I was provided with a promotional code for free access to the Wi-Fi. Without a code I would have been asked to pay $15 for 30MB of data.
I must admit I expected a very sluggish and spotty service. However, I was proven to be quite wrong. Although the ping time of the connection was over 2000 ms (compared to about 8 ms on Gogo), speeds were reasonable. I was able to tweet on Twitter, browse web pages, and even upload pictures to Instagram with relative speed. I ran only one speed test because of the bandwidth limitations, and the system clocked in at 264 Kbps down, and 588 Kbps up. I can’t guarantee those results are 100% accurate, but if so, they rival what I experienced on the Gogo ground-based system. When all was said and done, I used a total of 26.6 MB during the 12.5-hour flight.
While in-flight, Patrick Brannelly, VP corporate communications, product, publishing, digital & events, demonstrated a new Windows 8-based tablet that will be used by Emirates crew. The application, which is run on an HP Elite Pad 900, is the next generation of the airline’s KIS system, which is short for ‘knowledge-driven inflight service’. The HP Elite Pad 900, of which Emirates is the global launch partner, will be replacing an old laptop-based system.
The new tablet leverages the highly graphical user interface of Windows 8. The applications data is heavily focused on crew tasks. For instance, to overcome the unfamiliarity of different crewmembers on each flight, the tablet displays a full list of their names and profile pictures.
It also contains passenger information, including seat maps and Skywards loyalty programme status levels. Information such as birthdays, special dietary requirements, and other preferences are available. If a passenger requests a seat upgrade, the purser is able to upgrade him or her in under a minute using the new system. The purser is also able to accomplish crew reviews directly on the tablet.
Explaining the tablet to Fast Company Brannelly said: “On an Airbus A380, there’s about 25 cabin crew the purser is in charge of. Chances are, the purser’s only flown with three of them before. Then there’s 500 passengers. On a tablet, you can see an instant overview of the entire team, as well as all about the passengers – how many infants are on board; do any passengers have special needs or preferences; is this person’s favourite drink a gin and tonic? Imagine doing all that with paper – which we used to do. You would literally be carrying around a piece of paper about eight feet long.
“Now, with Windows 8, you can just touch a photograph of the crew and see what languages they speak. You can see who on the crew speaks Swahili, and dispatch the nearest one to the passenger who doesn’t understand English.”
At present, 100 pursers are trained on the device, and initial feedback has been excellent. Eventually, the tablet will be used by all crewmembers.
Emirates is already known for being on the cutting edge of the passenger experience, and the new Windows 8 tablet is another step forward. Pursers now have more crew and passenger information than ever, literally at their fingertips.
See Emirates’ video about the new KIS application on Window 8 tabs below.