I Spent 13 Hours Flying on the Best Airline in the World. Here’s What It’s Like

Emirates airplane

Emirates jumbo A380 airplane | STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

Editor’s note: Airfare for these flights was provided by Visit Dubai, a program under the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing for the city. 

On a recent flight from New York to Dubai, I flew with the best airline in the world. I’m not just saying that because my seat was comfortable and I didn’t have to pay ridiculous carry-on fees. Thousands of passengers across the world agree Emirates is second to none when it comes to excellent service.

Everything is bigger and better in Dubai, and it seems the same is true for the airline that began operating in the 1980s under the leadership of the city’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. In 2016, Emirates was awarded the distinction of being the best airline in the world, given by Skytrax after collecting millions of passenger reviews throughout the year. Emirates has won the award four times since 2001, when Skytrax began the program, and has consistently remained in the top five airlines.

World rankings aside, Emirates has collected numerous other awards throughout the years. In other words, when you’re given the chance to fly business class on a 13-hour flight with Emirates, you drop what you’re doing and go. If you can afford the $5,000 flight — or can get your company to cover it — it’s a can’t-miss experience. Here are just a few of the things you can expect.

1. Complimentary car service

A driver loads luggage into a Cadillac sedan

If you fly first class or business on Emirates, a driver will pick you up. | Nikelle Murphy/Culture Cheat Sheet

The beauty of Emirates’ service begins before you even arrive at the airport. If you’ve never had a personal chauffeur to the airport, now is your chance. It’s like Enterprise — except with a Cadillac instead of a rental car. Emirates offers a free car service to all business- and first-class passengers, as long as you live within 60 miles of your departure airport.

Your driver will know your departure time, terminal number, and other relevant flight details ahead of time, so you don’t need to pull up your itinerary once you’ve booked the service online. Forget about stressful commutes and pricey long-term parking fees. All you have to do is make sure you’re packed before the driver arrives.

2. Relaxing lounge amenities

Emirates business class lounge entrance at JFK airport

Put the stress of waiting at a crowded gate behind you in the business lounge. | Nikelle Murphy/Culture Cheat Sheet

Once you’ve made it through security, skip the airport noise and hard plastic seats at typical gate areas, and wait for your flight in the business-class lounge. Emirates operates lounges in more than 30 airports around the world, including locations at the airports in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York’s JFK hub. You’ll find a full-service buffet and bar, comfortable seating areas, and showers — all included with your business-class ticket. In most lounges, you can also board your flight directly from the lounge area.

3. First-in-class customer service

Emirates A380 plane

Boarding the Emirates plane | Nikelle Murphy/Culture Cheat Sheet

Along with the top airline award in 2016, Emirates was also given the distinction of the best cabin crew from the Business Traveller Awards. After spending about 26 hours on an Emirates plane over the span of a week, it’s easy to see why. Flight attendants go out of their way to be polite and friendly with passengers, introduce themselves by name as you board, and are assigned a specific section in business class. In most cases, they’re only responsible for a few passengers at a time, so your service won’t feel rushed or like it’s an inconvenience.

The A380, the plane for this particular flight, is the largest passenger plane in the world. On Emirates planes, there are about 490 seats across all three classes, including 76 seats in business class. However, that doesn’t stop you from getting personal attention, with flight attendants offering extra drinks throughout dinner, hot towels at takeoff and landing, and any other amenities you might need during the trip.

4. Comfortable, enclosed seating

business-class seat

Each business-class seat has its own mini bar, counter area, and entertainment system. | Nikelle Murphy/Culture Cheat Sheet

Window seats are always the best, and there’s no exception when it comes to Emirates business class. However, every seat in this section has its own “nook,” complete with a mini bar full of water, juice, and soda. You’ll find electrical outlets for most devices right at your seat, along with complimentary pillows, blankets, and noise-cancelling headphones. They’re not Bose quality, but they’re certainly better than the $9 earbuds you have packed in your carry-on.

5. Pre-flight champagne

glass of champagne

Pre-flight champagne is offered to all business-class passengers. | Nikelle Murphy/Culture Cheat Sheet

Despite the United Arab Emirates’ strict rules about consuming alcohol within the country, the same rules don’t apply in the air — at least for non-Muslims. Passengers in business and first class are offered free champagne upon finding their seats, along with offerings from a full bar. If champagne isn’t your style, opt instead for a glass of Glenfiddich Scotch, Grey Goose vodka, or Bombay Sapphire gin. Although champagne isn’t free in economy, all passengers can choose from complimentary selections of wine, beer, and various cocktails throughout the flight.

6. Bulgari gift bag

Bulgari gift bag

If you’re taking a long flight, use the complimentary gift set from Bulgari to refresh. | Nikelle Murphy/Culture Cheat Sheet

There’s no need to cram your travel-size lotions, toothpaste, and face wash into a quart-sized bag for your long-haul flights with Emirates. Pack those in your checked luggage. The airline has you covered for any freshening up you need to do mid-flight. Each passenger (economy through first class) receives a Bulgari gift set with essential necessities. Men receive a razor, shaving cream, lotion, after shave, dental kit, comb, tissues, and deodorant. Women receive a similar kit but with a different Bulgari bag, lotion, and perfume.

7. 3-course meal and breakfast

A traditional Arabic mezze with moutabel, hummus, and stuffed vine leaves

A traditional Arabic mezze with moutabel, hummus, and stuffed vine leaves is the appetizer on one Emirates flight. | Nikelle Murphy/Culture Cheat Sheet

The number of meals served on each flight depends on the length. For long-haul flights of 12 hours or more, expect two full meals, rotating between breakfast, lunch, and dinner depending on your departure time. Lunch and dinner are each three courses, and guests in business and first class can choose among a variety of each. Travelers in economy receive a set appetizer and dessert but can choose from three main dishes. What’s more, snacks abound in the business- and first-class lounge areas — in case the full spread for each meal isn’t enough.

8. Unrivaled in-flight entertainment

media screen

Emirates consistently earns accolades for its in-flight entertainment, complete with a 26-inch screen in business class. | Nikelle Murphy/Culture Cheat Sheet

The movie, music, and TV selection is always a highlight on international flights, but Emirates rises above the rest with its selection. Along with the best airline award from Skytrax, Emirates also won the award for best in-flight entertainment for the 12th year in a row. The airline’s unrivaled ICE system includes more than 2,500 television channels (some of which broadcast live events), hundreds of movies, and countless music selections.

Watch your favorites on a 26-inch screen in business class, or select the option to watch your flight path and check out the cameras mounted on the outside of each plane for a bird’s-eye view. You’ll also have access to free in-flight Wi-Fi for two hours, and you can pay just $1 more for Wi-Fi during the rest of your flight.

9. Full airplane lounge and bar

airplane lounge

Stretch your legs in the plane’s lounge on the upper deck. | Nikelle Murphy/Culture Cheat Sheet

If the pre-flight champagne or cocktail wasn’t enough for your flight, or you simply need to stretch your legs, check out the lounge at the back of business class for a chance to get out of your seat. We know flight attendants aren’t typically just your bartenders in the sky — their job is much more important than that. However, the attendant assigned to the bar will get you whatever you’d like, including cocktails, wine, soda, and bottles of water, when you empty the mini bar at your seat. The lounge also has newspapers and magazines and ample seating room, along with snacks to tide you over between meals.

10. Sleep-ready adjustable seats

seat made into a bed on Emirates plane

Fly business class on Emirates, and your seat will lie completely flat for you to sleep. | Nikelle Murphy/Culture Cheat Sheet

If you’re on a long flight, chances are you’ll need to catch some shut-eye at some point. Not only are the blankets, pillows, and sleep mask waiting at your seat when you board, but you’ll also be able to spread a mattress pad over your seat, which lies flat for ideal sleeping. Or at least it’s as ideal as you’ll get while still wearing a seat belt in case of turbulence. Cabin lights will be adjusted to help ward off jet lag, so when you see the starry-like ceiling appear in the dim lights, it’s time to snuggle up and take a nap. With luck, you’ll sleep soundly until the flight attendant wakes you for your pre-descent meal.