Business Traveller Middle East, sister title to Gulf Business, was given exclusive access to the first flydubai aircraft to be configured with its custom-made 12-seat business class yesterday, ahead of its first premium flight between Dubai and Kiev on October 8.
Other business class routes starting in October include Male, Istanbul, Mineralyne Vody and Bucharest. Three more planes with business class are due to arrive by the end of the year and all new B737-800 aircraft arriving from September will be equipped with two cabins, and existing planes retrofitted. A major order will be placed for the airline’s next phase of expansion towards the end of the year – all eyes will be on the Dubai Airshow in November.
I flew to Doha and back (FZ105) to get a feel for the product, although we’ll have to wait a few months to assess the service. Here is a glimpse of the overall product and service offering executives can expect when travelling out of the airline’s Terminal 2 hub at Dubai International.
There are 52 check-in desks, half allocated to flydubai. Business class passengers will have access to Priority check in counters in an area not yet finalised (could be existing counters 2-5 or in a more central area). Premium passengers are allowed 15kg hand baggage and 40kg checked baggage (up to three pieces).
For those travelling light, five self-check in units are available and another 18 coming shortly, but online check in isn’t available although I’m told it’s in the pipeline. Some fixtures will be removed to provide a more open and accessible ambience.
Beyond security and immigration, premium passengers can catch up on work or relax in a Marhaba lounge on the left, which provides work monitors, lounge seating, two TVs and refreshments. A dedicated flydubai business class lounge will open later this year. Given the attention now to corporate travellers, one imagines the airline is working on a loyalty programme, although there’s been no confirmation.
On entering the aircraft, the cockpit is on the left and you are straight into the business class cabin, with two seats each side, across three rows. I sat in the middle row window seat on the left (2F).
The navy blue, crème and silver Comoda seat, specifically designed by Italian firm Geven and featuring soft Italian leather, was comfortable and offered plenty of leg room (42-inch pitch), more than enough for most of flydubai’s short-haul flights.
The seat reclined a little and the footrest didn’t seem to extend very far, but the innovative headrest could be raised and folded in/out, and was firm enough that I expect weary travellers will be able to catch some sleep in recline mode.
On the plus side – a socket for your laptops by your seat, USB socket in the monitor and enough room on your tray for an iPad or small laptop; but the main downsides are no mobile or internet, at least for now.
A revelation. The sharp 12.1-inch touchscreen displayed a wide range of movies, with HD options, and TV series (over 1,000 hours worth), and I particularly liked the up-to-date news and information service that had a range of categories – as good as anything I’ve seen in the air.
Monitors for passengers in the front rows are embedded in the wall, whose decor resembles a light blue sky, while they’re in the seat-backs for the other eight seats.
Business travellers will be given noise cancellation headphones, although I found my Samsung phone earpiece sufficed on the way over. The IFE is free for premium passengers but economy flyers pay Dhs15 for basic and Dhs25 for premium.
Passengers on flights of 90 minutes and above will receive a three-course meal (included in the price of their ticket). Economy passengers will be able to order a meal online up to 48 hours before departure.
The 51-page ‘flydubai shop’ duty free brochure was larger than I expected, selling a wide range of goods. Quite a few items seemed to be in the affordable range, be it Beauty Buys, Jewellery and His & Her Watches, and corporates may well warm to the Essentials sections (multi-device chargers, USB dual adaptors). Credit cards can be swiped under the monitor or presented to crew.
Priority baggage collection will be available upon arrival and passengers arriving in Dubai will receive fast-track immigration.
Sales for business class seats went on sale on Sunday and can be seen on flydubai.com. Prices on high-density routes, such as Doha (business class available from October 14), are currently priced Dhs2,700, around Dhs705 less than Emirates.
Flights to Istanbul are considerably cheaper – Dhs5,290 compared with Dhs8,945/9,695 on Emirates – although passengers shouldn’t just look at the price but location and schedules (in Istanbul’s case, flydubai flies to the city’s secondary airport, and not every day of the week).
The quality of the finishings and entertainment offering show flydubai is entering the premium arena in some style – although connectivity is one major weakness. Its business fares are very competitive but it remains to be seen whether enough corporates will trade up consistently, particularly on short routes. The economy sections both ways were full.