Riding on the Ritz

Riding on the RitzJust when you think everything is getting worse, you run into something that throws you for a glorious loop. A time hiccup back to more prosperous days. My hiccup happened the moment Bob and I boarded a B777 for our Emirates flight to Milan.

Emirates, the fourth largest carrier of international passengers is on the rise. Last year they shuttled 44.5 million pampered passengers from Dubai to Milan to JFK and another 137 destinations without ruffling their feathers or charging economy class for peanuts.

Here’s a recent article about this new star from Vanity Fair’s July, 2014 issue:

The New Jet Age
“For anyone who has endured the post-deregulation austerity of U.S. airlines over the past few decades—uncomfortable, overcrowded, bare-bones bus journeys in the sky—the experience of flying on Emirates, Etihad, or Qatar comes close to recapturing the joy of jet travel from Pan Am’s heyday. There is a sense of fun on board, and that has come down from the top. [Emirates president] Tim Clark says he wants to bring a bit of glamour back into flying.”

With over two hundred planes, the Emirates fleet is looking to grow to nearly 600. They fly air buses and the smaller B777’s which seats close to four hundred. Because of their central location, what began in 1985 as strategy to make use of Dubai’s oil reserves has become a way to link the west with emerging countries.

StarsWhen Bob booked us passage to his High School Reunion in Switzerland he had comfort and quality in mind but discovered that Emirates was also offering the most reasonably priced flight. He’d read great things about Emirates and wanted to find out if classy and cheap weren’t mutually exclusive.

Right from the start, we were wowed, beginning with the flight attendants who were spruced up beyond belief. The women had perfect hair and were beautifully made up, all wearing the same shade of lipstick to match their red hats, each hat with a snow white scarf draping over their shoulder and around their neck. And there were GQ guys, too in a ratio of roughly one man to nine women.

After we were settled into our seats, the captain introduced himself and his staff in a rich voice. Today’s line up included fifteen flight attendants from Latvia, Poland, Rumania, Egypt and more. It seemed as if no two hailed from the same country. When he was finished in English, he repeated everything in Arabic.

We checked out our monitors, flipping back and forth from the camera mounted underneath the plane and the one mounted below the nose before perusing 600 channels of entertainment from Radio Lab to Modern Family. And then a stunning woman was offering us steaming white towels with a pair of tongs. A few minutes later I was handed a menu. It listed a Saffron couscous salad, Barbeque grilled chicken or Gulf style fish curry followed by an Apple and blackberry crisp. Our vegetarian and vegan options arrived hot and tasty on real plates with real silverware.

That evening when the cabin lights were dimmed I saw stars. I blinked. Turns out the ceiling panels had been engineered to mimic the night sky. They were backlit and stamped with a pattern of tiny holes in the shape of constellations. When I realized the implications of this I practically got giddy. How cool to put that much thought and trouble into such a trivial detail.

Nine hours of air travel is torture any way you slice it. But it was discomfort made bearable by smiling attendants, back-to-back movies and free wine. Bob made sure to get us the first row in the back where the seats go from three to two so neither of us got squeezed in the middle, we had a little extra leg room and a nice place to stand out of the way with a clear shot to the bathroom.

It was nice to hear laughter between the passengers and those happy angels attending to the flow of food and comfort. During the flight, one lovely woman went from family to family, borrowing their toddlers for walks around the cabin. There was peace in our metal tube of people speeding towards Italy. We wondered if the attendants ever got stressed or depressed.

All I can say is, if you want to experience air travel like it used to be forty years ago, hop on an Emirates flight to anywhere. They will light up your sky.

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.

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