Two hours from New York, I am standing in the shower, grinning like an idiot. Hey, it is just a shower, I tell myself, but the thrill of one at 40,000ft, aboard an Emirates A380 flight, is quite special. Compared to a regular airline bathroom, this one is massive, and very well appointed. The amenities—shampoo, conditioner, various lotions and potions—are what you would expect in a five-star hotel. The only watch-out is the 5-minute water ration, which adds a nervous will-it-be-enough zing to my bath. I rush, like a video on fast forward, and am surprised to finish with 3 minutes water to spare. I turn on the shower again. The warm water gushes down, and I savour every drop till the last.

With first and business class on the A380 long-haul flights, Emirates has cranked up the luxury meter to a level that leaves it pretty much in its own league, almost like a luxury hotel with wings. The lovely airlines of the East—for example, Cathay Pacific, my old favourite—sadly feel dated, even stern, in comparison. And the Western airlines, always stingy on hardware and service, now seem stodgier still. Perhaps Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, regional cousins, have similar luxury intent, and with nurturing may rise to similar heights.

The shower is just one example of what makes the Emirates A380 experience so unique. In fact, every step of the journey—from the chauffeur-driven limousine that picks you up, to the airport experience, to your stay on board the plane—has been thoughtfully examined, and then boldly transformed. It is an example of what I call Dubai’s “Burj Khalifa mindset"—it doesn’t bother with small improvements, but deals only in superlatives—and Emirates is certainly the “tallest" in its category, and then some. Needless to say, the A380 is the biggest passenger plane in the world, and Emirates has the largest fleet of A380s—59 flying and 81 on order.

Concourse A at Dubai International Airport’s Terminal 3 is devoted to Emirates’ fleet of A380s, and this is where two of the world’s largest airline lounges sit—the first-class lounge on level 4, and the business-class lounge on level 5. The scale is surreal—each lounge occupies the whole floor, so it feels as if an entire airport has been converted into a lounge and then dotted with multiple food stations—there is à la carte dining too—workstations, conference rooms, a business centre, sleep areas, a wine cellar, a cigar bar, a spa, and more. What’s more, you can board the flight directly from the lounge.

The pampering continues on board. Your first-class suite has sliding doors that seal you into a private world. Inside, it feels like a hi-tech doll’s house that multitasks as a living-dining-bedroom-cum-office. It is luxurious—flat bed, personal mini bar, 23-inch TV screen, vanity table with mirror, wardrobe, plug points—but more importantly, it helps make my 14-hour Dubai-New York flight very productive. For me, the big one is Wi-Fi connectivity—the first 10 MB of data is free, the next 500 MB costs $1—so you can get a lot of work done. Mobile phones can be used just as you would on the ground—another huge enabler. I haven’t seen this kind of connectivity on other airlines.

Party? This is probably the most talked about feature that sets Emirates A380 service apart—walk down the aisle to the rear of the upper deck, and you have a fully operational bar and lounge. It is a merry gathering space where you can stand around the U-shaped bar or sit on the sofas on either side. Little canapés, bowls of nuts, olives, and other snacks dot the counter. Once in full swing, it feels remarkably like a real bar—even though some of the passengers are in airline pyjamas—with a happy buzz of conversation. I spot a group working through a presentation—laptop precariously balanced—sipping glasses of wine. A couple lean against the bar, trading stories with the bartender-stewardess, who seems to have a ready answer for everything. A pair of businessmen are discussing their “caviar ritual"—apparently, they never eat caviar on the ground, but only on Emirates flights.

Indeed the food can spoil you silly. Caviar and Dom Pérignon are routine—in fact, the whole first-class menu reads like one in a very fine restaurant. For appetizers, I try the Arabic Mezze which fills up the entire table (and eventually my entire tummy) with little portions of local favourites like hummus, moutabel, labneh, muhammara, tabbouleh, stuffed vine leaves, and various other tidbits. I pair that with a movie—The Imitation Game—just one of the 2,000 channels of movies-TV shows-music-games on offer. Yes, 2,000 channels; remember, this is the airline with the mostest.

I then follow the pilot’s instructions—“sit back and enjoy your flight". Clearly millions of others are following his instructions too, judging by how rapidly Emirates has grown to become—you guessed it—the world’s largest international airline.

Radha Chadha is one of Asia’s leading marketing and consumer insight experts. She is the author of the best-selling book The Cult Of The Luxury Brand: Inside Asia’s Love Affair With Luxury.

Read Radha Chadha’s previous Lounge columns here.

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