Q: What’s the longest flight from SFO?
A: The longest flight from San Francisco International is Emirates’ nonstop, 15.5-hour flight to Dubai on a Boeing 777.
Q: When flying from San Francisco to Dubai, would your heading be west or east?
A: Neither! The 8,100-mile flight between SFO and Dubai heads due north—right over the North Pole!
Last fall, Emirates invited me to take this monumental, nonstop journey to the other side of the world. Here are some notes and photos from the flights—in both directions. C’mon along for this spectacular ride– and see the North Pole…
Emirates flies a Boeing 777-300 between SFO and Dubai in a three-class configuration: First, business and economy. Depending on time of year, economy class roundtrip nonstops cost between SFO and DXB are in the $1,000-$1,500 range; business class fares range from $5,000 to $7,000; first class roundtrip fares are $8,000+.
Emirates says its load factors out of SFO are very healthy– around 80% on average. It says that SFO is at the “top of the list” for deployment of one of Emirates 15 giant A380s, however, at this time the double-decker does not have the range to fly SFO-DXB with a full load during the hot summer months, so there are no set plans to switch to the A380 for now.
Emirates recently opened a brand new 9,500 square foot business class lounge at SFO’s International Terminal A (the southern side).
Forty-two business class seats are configured 2-3-2 on the B777, with a cocoon-like back shell that provides plenty of privacy. Most surfaces (such as the tray table, and even the toilet seat lid in the lavatory) are covered in a classy burled walnut veneer; there are power outlets for laptops, noise canceling headsets, and oversized inflight amenity bags– one for men, another for women– full of all sorts of goodies. While there is no in-flight internet, passengers can send and receive text messages from their seats at $1 per message. All seat functions (including recline, in-flight entertainment or IFE controls and even massage) are controlled by the hand held unit you see in the armrest pictured above.
After a 3:45 pm departure from SFO, we headed due north on a clear day, right over the top of Mt Shasta, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver and the snow-capped peaks of British Columbia at sunset. What a view! I tried to get some work done on the laptop, but found it difficult not to watch the show unfold out the window.
I was particularly impressed with Emirates’ IFE system, which provided a 3-D, virtual-reality-like experience that (to me) was much more entertaining than the thousands of movies, TV shows and games from which passengers can choose. For those who don’t want to view the scenery out the window, electronic window shades raise or lower at the touch of a button.
Upon boarding, flight attendants served a round a Veuve Cliquot champagne to business class passengers. After about two hours, flight attendants then proffered scented hot towels and warmed mixed nuts and then poured a nice Stag’s Leap Chardonnay, which was followed by a nice meal, briskly served, since many passengers were readying for sleep. I chose halibut, potatoes, grilled asparagus and tomatoes (my seatmate had the Lamb biryani). Food was on par with other foreign carriers I’ve flown– and head and shoulders above what’s typically found in business class on US carriers. Service was efficient, not obsequious or doting.
While I was hoping to stay awake long enough to peer out at the North Pole, the two glasses of Chardonnay, the meal, the melatonin and this nice linen covered mini-mattress (see above), full sized pillow and cozy comforter convinced me otherwise. (I did see The Pole on the return, though! Keep reading…)
Business class seats on Emirates B777 are of the “angled lie-flat” variety (vs true lie-flat) which disappointed me at first. However, the tilt was barely detectable once the seat was fully reclined– and get this: I fell asleep somewhere over the Yukon Territory, and woke up seven hours later somewhere over Iran! By far, the longest, best night’s sleep I’ve ever experienced on a plane.
After our 15.5 hour journey, we landed in Dubai the following day at about 7:45 pm. Dubai International Airport (DXB) is simply stunning. What you see above is baggage claim– which should give you some idea of what the entire airport is like– big, bright and beautiful. It felt like a brand new Las Vegas casino– minus the gambling, which is illegal in Dubai.
Sixty percent of Emirates passengers use Emirate’s giant DXB hub as a connecting point to the carrier’s extensive network of flights– especially to India. As a matter of fact, 50% of all Emirates passengers from SFO end up flying onward from DXB to Indian cities such as Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi.
India-bound passenger’s other options include flying from SFO via Asia or Europe. At one time, United and Emirates participated in a frequent flyer program partnership where Mileage Plus members could earn United miles when flying Emirates to Dubai. However, Emirates says that United decided to terminate that partnership last May.
All business and first class passengers get free transportation via a fleet of black Volvo station wagons stationed outside the airport to their hotels in Dubai (most are about 15-30 minutes away). There is also the quick, slick Dubai Metro rail system that connects the airport to the city– however, note that it has limited hours on Fridays, which are holy days in the Arab world.
This photo, taken from the roof of the Shangri-La hotel shows the towering Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world. In the lower right corner is a Dubai metro station. It all looked like something out of a science fiction movie.
On the day of my return flight, I arrived at the airport early to investigate and enjoy what I’d heard was one of the poshest business class lounges in the world. I was not let down– from the spray of fresh flowers at the entry, to the multiple buffets serving traditional English breakfast, full Indian meals, baked potatoes with all the toppings, salmon with capers, shrimp, endless refrigerated shelves of desserts, juices, tea, and coffee. The selection boggles the mind.
Morning is peak time in the Emirates business class lounge, and the place was packed– almost uncomfortably so. I was told that this enormous lounge could accommodate up to 1,600 travelers, and I think it was running pretty close to capacity that day. Seeing the crowds, and knowing that everyone in the lounge had paid several thousand dollars for their business class tickets made me wonder to myself, “What global financial crisis?” (See additional photos here.)
Flying back to SFO took us over the North Pole once again, and this time I stayed up for the action. In the photo above, you can see our routing over the top displayed on the IFE system.
That’s it! The money shot! In this photo, I’m looking out the window straight down on the North Pole. (See the big striped candy cane? 😉 )
After the excitement of seeing the North Pole, it was time for a snooze. Note how Emirates has cleverly installed thousands of tiny fiber-optic white lights (that actually twinkle) into the ceiling of the aircraft to let you know that it’s time to sleep. Nice touch.
For Muslims, who must face east for their daily prayers, Emirates in-flight system displays this icon several times throughout the flight in the IFE system– the arrow points east toward Mecca, no matter which direction the plane is pointed in.
Forward facing cameras on the B777 broadcast the view as we approach SFO and touch down at about 1 pm pacific time.