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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Welcome to SFO

Checking in

Welcome aboard

The lower deck

Wingspan

Something for the kids

Occupied

All that glitters

To the upper deck

A galley kitchen

The onboard lounge

Plot your progress

Never go hungry

Cocktail hour

Business class

Settle in for comfort

An awesome view

Friends in business class

Lots of controls

Top of the line

Not so mini of a bar

Take control

Meal time

Showers at 35,000 feet

All the room you need

Shower time

More zen

Taking the stairs

Your crew

Readying for departure

SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT -- Though Emirates has been flying between San Francisco and Dubai since 2008, on Monday the airline switched its daily service from the Boeing 777 to the largest passenger aircraft in flight, the Airbus A380. The addition of more than 100 seats on the route reflects the powerful airline's confidence that it can fill them. In addition to being a growing tourist and business destination in its own right, Dubai also is a major transfer point for connecting flights to Africa, India and South Asia.

Emirates is the third airline to fly the A380 regularly to SFO. Lufthansa has year-round service to Frankfurt and Air France operates the A380 to Paris during the summer travel season.

Shortly after it arrives from its 15-hour flight from Dubai, the A380 rests at Gate A9 at the International Terminal. This aircraft is one of 51 A380s in the Emirates fleet. Each one costs more than $300 million (£192 million, AU$354 million).

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

Hours before boarding, the check-in area is empty. Banners throughout the terminal highlighted the new aircraft. San Francisco is the fourth Emirates A380 destination in the United States and the 32nd such destination worldwide.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

Three jet bridges service the A380. Two, including the one seen here, access the bottom deck, while the third connects straight to the upper deck. After walking inside this door, the cockpit is accessible via short stairway to the left. Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed inside as the flight crew was preparing for departure. It takes just two people to fly the gigantic airliner, though a relief crew travels on ultralong flights.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

The economy class section takes up the entire lower deck. The 399 seats are arranged in a 10-abreast configuration, which is the same as a typical 747.

The high ceiling, wide cabin and muted colors help alleviate the usual crowded feel of cattle class. Each seat has electrical outlets and a 12.1-inch personal video screen for on-demand entertainment programming, video games and music. Inflight Wi-Fi and SMS texting are available in all classes.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

From this window seat, the enormous wing appears to stretch on forever.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

I don't envy anyone taking a young child on a 15-hour flight back to Dubai, but perhaps these kiddie amenity kits will keep them entertained.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

Economy lavatories are plain and functional, though the faux wood trim livens things up a bit.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

Of course, this being Emirates, there's no shortage of gold trim.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

The rear staircase leads up to business and first class on the upper deck. Its curved shape is reminiscent of the iconic spiral staircase on the first 747s.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

You need a galley this big to prepare several multicourse meals for 76 business-class passengers.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

At the rear of the upper deck is the posh lounge. Available to both business- and first-class passengers, it's well-stocked with drinks and snacks for the entire flight.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

A large screen next to the bar shows an inflight map above a shelf with even more snacks.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

French macaroons and fresh fruit are among the delicacies.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

You can relax and network on benches on either side of the bar. Fresh flowers are positioned through the premium classes.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

The large business class occupies the rear cabin of the upper deck. Each seat comes with a 20-inch display and plenty of storage. Wavelike patterns adorn the seat backs and bulkheads.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

Business-class seats come with a tiny minibar, an amenity kit and outlets for almost every type of plug.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

Personally, I'd say the best channel is the one that lets you watch the tail-mounted camera from take-off to landing.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

Business class is arranged in a four-abreast configuration. If you're traveling with someone, you can drop the divider between the center seats.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

You can adjust the seat to lie flat when you're sleepy and no one behind you will complain.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

Of course, the ultimate in luxury and bling is the private suites in first class. Each suite has a sliding door for privacy, a lie-flat bed, a personal minibar and plentiful snacks, a vanity table and mirror, a wardrobe and a 27-inch video screen.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

With this selection, you don't even need to call the flight attendant.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

You use the tablet to control content on your personal video screen. I would have tested it, but it's locked down when the aircraft is on the ground.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

Extravagant multicourse meals are the norm on the top deck.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

Emirates is the only airline to offer a shower in the sky. The two shower suites are at the front of the first-class cabin.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

The two shower suites at the front end of the upper deck are bigger than the bathroom in my first San Francisco apartment. Inside you'll find a heated floor, an large sink, a counter for your personal effects and lotions and bath gels for days.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

The shower itself is larger than I thought even if I wasn't able to look inside. You get 5 minutes of water time, but you can pause the flow while you lather up. You book shower appointments in 25-minute blocks at the start of the flight, which gives the cabin crew time to clean the shower for the next passenger. It's a bit much, yes, but I'd still love to try it.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

Once you're finished with your shower, you can pour yourself a cup of tea from the tranquil bar just outside.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

The front staircase is wide enough for two people to pass. It's areas like this where you notice the A380's immense size, even compared to the 747. It does feel like a flying cruise ship.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

Staffing the A380 takes 27 cabin crew members. The distinctive uniforms are an Emirates highlight.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET

As the tour ends and passengers prepare to board, the flight crew finishes their safety checks for departure. Next stop: Dubai.

Caption by / Photo by Kent German/CNET
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