By Audrey D’Angelo  www.iol.co.za

I have been writing about Airbus’s giant A380 aircraft for years and went inside full-size mock-ups before the first one was built, but I had my first experience of actually flying on one last week.

The 200-storey Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building at 828m rising above Dubai, has been described as a vertical city, with its 160 habitable levels containing the Armani Hotel, office space, four swimming pools, private homes and restaurants and corporate suites. Picture: Emaar Properties
The 200-storey Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building at 828m rising above Dubai, has been described as a vertical city, with its 160 habitable levels containing the Armani Hotel, office space, four swimming pools, private homes and restaurants and corporate suites. Picture: Emaar Properties

Emirates airline, which already has 15 A380s and 75 more on order, now uses it between Dubai and Joburg, and I was invited to join a group of journalists aboard the first flight last weekend.

I spent most of the flight in business class and can certainly recommend it. As can be expected on a good airline, the business class seats pull out into a flat bed, and are extremely comfortable with easy access to the aisle and with large individual TV screens.

There is plenty of space for books and other belongings you want to keep within reach during the flight. And there is a removable screen between pairs of seats.

Among things that make the A380 different is the low level of engine noise and more and larger toilets. And, when I noticed that some of the male members of our party were going to the rear of the cabin and not coming back, I discovered a convivial atmosphere in a comparatively spacious bar at the rear with bench seating against the walls as well as bar stools, and a cabin attendant acting as a very professional barman.

The economy section was too full for me to try the seats there, but for the last part of the flight I flew in the first class section, where some of the private cabins were vacant. In addition to the flat bed and large TV, these have a table that could be used as a desk, and space for a companion to sit and share a meal.

And what makes the Emirates A380 different is that there is a shower for first-class passengers, with spa treatments available.

Then and now

My only previous visit to Dubai was about 15 years ago, when it was a comparatively small place on the edge of the desert with a narrow creek running into the sea and a golf course on one bank. Its shopping facilities then were mainly the souks – little shops on either side of a narrow alleyway with an awning to keep off the sun.

There were plenty of tourists, mainly German and British, and a few hotels on the sea front which already included the iconic Burj al Arab, with its facade looking like a huge concrete sail.

Dubai already had its underground museum, under an ancient fort in an interesting quarter of historic houses in which huge chimneys caught breezes coming in from the sea to cool the interior before air conditioning was available.

Since then, reading about the development that has taken place, including numerous huge shopping malls, and Dubai’s growth as an international centre for shopping with an annual festival based on this, I have refused several invitations to return.

But last week I regretted having done so, because there is more to Dubai than the shopping malls and the people are still as welcoming and friendly as they were all those years ago.

The city has, of course, changed beyond recognition. The narrow creek has been widened and the population grown to a million permanent residents – a high proportion of whom are expatriates.

It is full of skyscrapers but, unlike New York and other cities where building land was limited, they are far enough apart to see their entire facades and have been designed in a huge variety of styles.

The city is also full of parks and, although it is on the edge of a desert, they are green and full of fountains filled with desalinated sea water.

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