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).
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.
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.
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.
From this window seat, the enormous wing appears to stretch on forever.
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.
Economy lavatories are plain and functional, though the faux wood trim livens things up a bit.
Of course, this being Emirates, there's no shortage of gold trim.
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.
You need a galley this big to prepare several multicourse meals for 76 business-class passengers.
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.
A large screen next to the bar shows an inflight map above a shelf with even more snacks.
French macaroons and fresh fruit are among the delicacies.
You can relax and network on benches on either side of the bar. Fresh flowers are positioned through the premium classes.
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.
Business-class seats come with a tiny minibar, an amenity kit and outlets for almost every type of plug.
Personally, I'd say the best channel is the one that lets you watch the tail-mounted camera from take-off to landing.
Business class is arranged in a four-abreast configuration. If you're traveling with someone, you can drop the divider between the center seats.
You can adjust the seat to lie flat when you're sleepy and no one behind you will complain.
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.
With this selection, you don't even need to call the flight attendant.
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.
Extravagant multicourse meals are the norm on the top deck.
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.
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.
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.
Once you're finished with your shower, you can pour yourself a cup of tea from the tranquil bar just outside.
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.
Staffing the A380 takes 27 cabin crew members. The distinctive uniforms are an Emirates highlight.
As the tour ends and passengers prepare to board, the flight crew finishes their safety checks for departure. Next stop: Dubai.