#925337 by pjh
28 Aug 2016, 12:26
(combining EK10 and EK775)

How is that after a year’s planning on the day of departure we find ourselves on the M25 on a Sunday afternoon thinking “it’s quite possible we’re not going to make it to Gatwick in one piece”. Not the greatest start to a holiday…

... which as I say I had started planning some twelve months ago. Conscious of the passing of the years both in terms of my own frail shell and in the offspring setting up their own homes I determined that we were going to have possibly our last family holiday in honour of my sixtieth. Three line whip was applied over timing, and a decision made to do this with little (but not no) expense spared (though the offspring were not party to that bit).

Our destination was quickly settled: South Africa. Mrs PJH’s birthplace with the trip to take in some of her family history and some of the places her parents and grandparents had loved. Detailed planning was handed over to Audley Travel for the whole package, who tolerated my indecision and changes of mind before settling on a route: Durban – Islandwana / Rorke’s Drift – Phinda Game Reserve – Cape Town.

Even before some compression of the timings (trimming off some extra days MrsPJH and I were going to spend after the offspring had flown home) I’d decided that business class flights would be the order of the day. After all, this would be two complete days of the trip and it would also bring some unfinished business to a close; though #1 daughter had experienced business class with us to Australia a few years back, #1 son had never had the pleasure. Audley normally use BA, but I had decided I wanted to try for VS or Emirates as both would have a bit of a “bling” factor to make the travelling something special (the bar, basically). VS seemed to be a bit toppy price wise, and Emirates had the added advantage of being better able to minimize the number of flights to be taken, particularly for #1 daughter who (as I kind of knew but did find out on one flight) is a nervous flyer when on smaller aircraft. So basically we could all get back from Cape Town to home (London and Manchester) on “big” aircraft and we would have the added bonus of the Emirates CDC service. So I asked Audley to price for Emirates flights, and they advised us to wait and they would let us know when the price was right. This came to pass about 3 months after the booking.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. First we had to keep the travel class a secret, which was quite a challenge for 9 months. We did the location reveal on my actual birthday, but played out the Economy story. Then of all the routing was from LGW which meant a 777 and no bar! Well, until the 380 was rostered to the route. And then Emirates (or their CDC) reneged on their statement that as there were four of us who could book a CDC would be travelling in one on the outbound leg we wouldn’t need to pay a surcharge as we are a few miles out of the radius conditions. I could have had some satisfaction and booked four cars from Cambridge (within the radius conditions) but it would have cost me more to get the four of us into Cambridge than the surcharge. Then I didn’t get a call from the CDC company and had to work out who they were and phone them to confirm the 4pm pick up for a 9.45pm flight. Then plans fell through for us all being home for the night before which meant people travelling to us on the day which increased my stress levels...

..which were further raised by being on the M25 with a driver who seemed to me to be falling asleep. Not a great advertisement for Emirates CDC all in all. Despite lots of glancing around I couldn’t detect any overt concern from the rest of the family, who all seemed to be asleep or looking out of the window. On the upside I have to say that the auto toll at the Dartford Crossing has made the LGW journey more predictable. Well, it was always predictable I guess, just that the prediction included sitting in a queue for an hour.

Anyhow, we survived and made it up the Emirates private ramp up to one end of the North terminal. Not quite DTCI, but it brings you close to the Emirates check in area and there are a couple of chaps on hand to help with the luggage to the check in desks. As we were walking the short distance to the terminal the conversation followed the lines of “I thought the driver was falling asleep. I just closed my eyes so I didn’t have to think about it”….”I thought the same but decided to stare out of the window to take my mind off it”.

For belt and braces I’d done OLCI at T-48, but I wanted to spring the Business Class surprise by going to the Business Class check in (after a feint into the Economy line) rather than use to bag drop. To say it went down well would be something of an understatement. From that point on anything with the word “Business Class” on it was recorded from several different angles.

Check in experience was fine and fairly swift. Security could have been the same apart from the muppets who place their bags ready for the conveyor and then start pulling out computers, bottles of water and supersized containers of toiletries in multiple non see through plastic bags. An exasperated operative did seize the initiative at this point and politely but firmly suggest that they move away from the belt and sort themselves out first.

And then into the Emirates Lounge, which is huge and was empty apart from us.
It seemed to me to be far larger than needed for schedule of three non overlapping A380 loads of First / Business Class / status passengers a day. Still, shouldn’t complain. It’s basically four area built around a central services core, which includes showers. The first area is the check in and a corridor with magazines and papers. This turns 90 degrees left to the largest seating area (pictured), which has food and drink offerings down the inner side. At 90 degrees left to that a windowed area which looks out onto some part of the airport then another 90 degree left to another substantial area which features drinks, snacks and some computers.

“Beige” is the predominant theme, Veuve Clicquot the predominant champagne and self service the order of the day.

The hot food offerings were fine, including some steak. Portions were small in size, designed I think for grazing and snacking rather than a full meal. This worked well, as we were all conscious that we’d have to go for an eating strategy so that when we arrived in Durban 24 hours later we wouldn’t be stuffed full of airline food and unable to face an evening out. Thus we figured eat light on the first leg to DXB (as we thought we would be likely to be fed somewhere around 23.30 UK time, which is kind of late…), snack breakfast in the DXB lounge and then eat lunch on the DXB to DUR leg.

Gradually others joined us in the lounge, but for most it seems flying Business Class is more of a standard activity and were using the lounge simply as a quiet space to grab a coffee and conduct annoyingly loud conversations on their telephones. Do these people not realize that they are speaking into a microphone and not a tin can at the end of a taut piece of string?

At some point we were notified of a half hour delay in the departure of our flight and so it was about 9.30pm that we were called for boarding. It then seemed to be quite a trek to the gate, but it helped a bit in the exercise and did deny me any more champagne for the length of the walk, which was probably the longest time I hadn’t had a glass in front of me since 6pm.

The LGW gates have been designed to cope with the double decker nature of the A380, though not quite as visibly as those in DXB. Boarding was onto the upper deck of the A380 where a valiant attempt was made to greet us by name and I had to throw an interloper out of one of our seats.

“I have seat 18J” said he.

“That’s 18J there” said I, indicating across the aisle.

“J is by the window” said he.

“No it isn’t. Look both above the seat and on the TV screen. It says K. This is 18K and this is my seat” said I.

Sulky looks followed but he did move.

A certain amount of childish giddiness followed, fuelled a little by the pre-take off champagne offering.

We did calm down (eventually) after a family trip to the bar for even more champagne


As with my previous experiences with Emirates the crew member who served us at the bar was like just about all the other Emirates crew. Polite and efficient but with no proactive interaction, impervious to even #1 son’s charm (save for two of the crew on the flight back from CPT, but that’s for another TR) Perhaps I’ve been lucky with my VS bar experiences but most times I have been served there the crew members serving have taken it upon themselves to chat. Perhaps that may have changed since the staffing changes though; I won’t find that out until after Christmas.
As this was a night flight, the J class amenity kits were handed out. Somehow they had failed to load any of the female kits so male kits were offered to all.
I was disappointed by the food on Emirates this time around; it seemed quite lacklustre. For this leg I went for the mezze starter and a dessert. I tried, to no avail, to persuade them to let me have one of the light bites as my main. I did have one later though: pie. Just as advertised: pie. Nothing else. Quite odd I thought (though the pie was fine). Thinking now it’s probably part of their Qantas tie up, as pies are definitely popular in Australia. I also missed the VS purple swizzle stick for my pre-dinner g&t. Of such things is branding made.

After dinner it was film and snooze time. I picked “Money Monster” but sleep caught up with me before the end and before I knew it we were on descent into DXB.


We disembarked at Concourse A, which meant quite a lengthy trek to our B gate. Well, it seemed lengthy and did include the train.

(told you everything was getting photographed)

I think experienced Emirates hands know which lounges to use and resist the blandishments to “go to the lounge nearest to your gate” but we do as we are asked and it was rammed. A bit like the general concourse at Kings Cross on a Friday night only with slightly better seating and free coffee. After a bit of a trek we found a spare four, laid claim and then went off in search of coffee and a pastry. Then someone pointed out there were showers and went off to investigate. On returning and declaring themselves feeling much better we each went off in turn, and yes it did feel great coming out cleansed and with a fresh shirt, undies and socks, more prepared for the rather longer DXB-DUR leg.

This leg was on the rather less glam 777 with the 2-3-2 configuration. When the tickets had been purchased 9 months or so ago I’d tried and tried again to get us pairs of seats but the system was only offering seating including a central 3. Advice from Flyertalk suggested that this was because of the SAA codeshare on this flight, and if I rang Emirates I’d be able to secure two window pairs. This proved sound advice, but I had to opt for the main cabin as the smaller two row affair directly behind First would only yield individual seats.
I have to mark this leg as “functional”. Service was in many ways better than on the 380, but there was confusion over meal availability, my (beef) meal was indifferent and #1 son’s ICE system would randomly switch between full screen and small screen mode, freeze and then restart.
Though as I say I thought the main meals looked indifferent the cheese plate looked pretty good.


and I do like being able to have many small plates of nuts.
I had planned to watch the end of “Money Monster” on this leg, but for some reason the ICE schedule was not quite the same as on the LGW-DXB leg so settled for the film about LBJ and the Civil Rights Act and then some of “The Big Short”, which bears repeated watching.

I remember HL making some comment about “drinking (her) way down Africa” on a similar flight. Though that was a real temptation we, to a large part resisted, so that when we landed into DUR we were still ready for an evening out in Umhlanga Rocks.


By the time we had landed and made our way to the hotel, it was growing dark, but this was our view the next morning, ready to begin an adventure and one of the best holidays ever, more of which later…

#925341 by hiljil
28 Aug 2016, 13:20
Thank you for a really absorbing TR. I really enjoyed it and look forward to the further adventures of the pjh clan :-D
#925347 by honey lamb
28 Aug 2016, 14:13
Thanks for the TR, pjh. Your experience on Emirates to South Africa mirrors my experiences right down to the guy insisting that 18J is the window seat :-O Perhaps it was the same guy!

Like you, I have found the crew to be somewhat formulaic and unwilling to engage, with the only exception being those who were so kind to my niece on the DUB-DXB leg last April. As for the bar, on the one occasion I was on their 380, I felt that the crew would rather be anywhere than at the bar and I certainly missed the chat you would normally have at the VS bar.

Right! Now that's done, let's have the return leg. Chop! Chop! :D

Oh and your adventures in between!
#925353 by pjh
28 Aug 2016, 16:15
Thanks all

@Sandissa - not sure I could have stomached that. We stuck to an idle day lazing and reading at the hotel, and a day's walking tour of Durban.

@HL - in the works but threatening to turn into one of those "Auntie June and Uncle Gerald have invited us round to look at their holiday slides" we hated as children. :) There's also a third leg to tell, DUR to CPT.

Two things that slipped my mind..MrsPJH being questioned about at the border about why she did not have a South African passport and #1 daughter (age 25) being ID'd on both legs of the trip down before the crew would serve her any alcohol.
#925366 by ScoobySu
28 Aug 2016, 21:37
Many thanks pjh for a great report - I'd have loved to have seen your children's faces when they realised what you'd booked!

Plus one to HoneyLamb - really looking forward to the return and the actual holiday itself!
#925373 by pjh
29 Aug 2016, 09:09
honey lamb wrote:Thanks for the TR, pjh. Your experience on Emirates to South Africa mirrors my experiences right down to the guy insisting that 18J is the window seat :-O Perhaps it was the same guy

Sometime in my wine befuddled state last evening I realised I had misreported this. The confusion was between G and J, as both J and K are "window" seats on the 380 and I'd lined us up four in a row so we had J/K/J/K. The interloper was in G.
#925396 by pjh
29 Aug 2016, 18:26
Sealink wrote:
How did you find Audley Travel price wise etc?

To be honest I didn't do a lot of shopping around to compare prices. They were quick to respond to my initial queries, and very responsive to my requests for adjustments. I kind of settled on them on that service basis.
#925401 by David
29 Aug 2016, 19:17
Great TR PJH, thanks.

Love to read about other airlines, so the question must be, given the same route, at the same price in the same class, Emirates or Virgin ?

#925402 by pjh
29 Aug 2016, 19:42
David wrote:

Love to read about other airlines, so the question must be, given the same route, at the same price in the same class, Emirates or Virgin ?

All else equal, and even losing the CDC, Virgin. So I would have paid a slight premium for Virgin in that specific case.
#925403 by David
29 Aug 2016, 19:54
Thanks Paul

I feel a short trip to Dubai is due soon and would love to had a shot in an A380 but the lure of VS coupled with some decent prices at the moment will probably keep me faithful. :-)

#925406 by honey lamb
29 Aug 2016, 22:05
David wrote:Great TR PJH, thanks.

Love to read about other airlines, so the question must be, given the same route, at the same price in the same class, Emirates or Virgin ?


I've done the flight to Durban on several occasions on BA, VS and EK - although admittedly the EK legs have been from Dublin. Oh, and let us not forget the Durban to Dublin flight on Ethiopian Airlines via Addis Ababa. On second thoughts, I think I would rather forget it!! :-O

My verdict?

VS every time - even if it means to go via AMS

The reasons?

With EK (and Ethiopian) it meant a 7.5 hours flight followed by an 8 hours flight which I personally found more tiring than a 1 hour flight followed by a 12 hour overnight flight followed by a 1 hour flight on VS and BA. On my first EK flight the layover time was 10.5 hours which entitled me to an hotel room. OK so I arrived in Durban reasonably refreshed but I felt I was travelling forever! Any other time I flew with EK the connections were tight and therefore stressful. DXB is an extremely busy and chaotic airport and often uses remote stands which can sometimes take 40 minutes to get to the gate. I missed a connection because of this - and I believe missed connections are fairly frequent.

BA was in First outbound because out in First and return in CW was cheaper than the VS flight - again from AMS but connecting in JNB to DUR. While the food on the BA First was the tasting menu as it was on the A380 and was superb - the best meal ever on a flight - the interaction with the crew lacked that je-ne-sais-quo you get on Virgin. Surprisingly, I preferred the return flight in CW simply because I had one of the window seats where you don't have to climb over someone's legs to go to the loo and the crew came round to serve you your meal instead of passing in through a hatch!

Virgin, while it wasn't the best flight I had had with them, neither was it the worst and at the end of the day it really is the crew that make the difference.

Even though two connections seems onerous, the reality is that the flights at either end are roughly a hour - the time it takes me to drive from home to Cork, less than the time it takes me to get to Dublin by train and the time at the airport never fazes me even if I don't have lounge access. I love the sport of people watching!! :D Price had been the determining factors for various reasons over the past five years and will continue to be so but on this route, my first choice will always be Virgin
#925407 by ColOrd
29 Aug 2016, 22:41
Brilliant TR!

I was on the edge of my seat with the comments about getting to LGW and was sure of Honeylamb style disaster! I do hope you report the chap for safety sake if nothing else!
Virgin Atlantic

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