The view from Tim Clark’s office on the top floor of the Emirates headquarters in Dubai offers a stunning panorama of the city’s airport, including a new $4.5 billion terminal. Emirates operates 50 A380s, with more on the way, and has built its business model around the plane.
Traffic here never stops. Even at midnight, when flights from the east land and connect passengers who are headed west, the airport is alive and bustling.
If most airlines appear skeptical of the A380, Emirates is a true believer. It stunned the industry in December when it ordered 50 more of the planes, beyond the 90 it already had on order, throwing Airbus a much needed lifeline.
(Emirates also ordered 150 new Boeing 777Xs, a more efficient variation on the best-selling jet, helping to initiate the program for this new airplane, due in 2020.)
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Clark, the president of the airline, has turned it into one of the world’s largest carriers by seat capacity. And he is the A380’s most enthusiastic supporter.
“People get on the A380 and they absolutely love it,” he says. The upper deck on the Emirates version, he adds, is “just one big party.”
(Other carriers configure their A380s differently, with some including economy seating in the upper deck.)
The son of a tanker ship captain and an economist, Clark joined Emirates in the mid-1980s. His basic insight about the A380 is simple: It can be a canvas for a new kind of luxury flight experience.
It was Clark who came up with the idea to install two showers for first-class passengers. Airbus engineers thought the idea was crazy because it would require more fuel to fly the water for the showers.
But he dismissed their objections. The showers would immediately distinguish the plane from anything else in the air.
He also put a large bar on board, along with a pair of semicircular couches, equipped with seat belts in case of turbulence.
“This thing is so popular and during the course of a 14-hour flight it becomes even more popular,” he says. “They all want to have their picture taken behind the bar with their arms around the girls,” he says, referring to passengers posing with the flight attendants.
That was certainly the atmosphere on a 13-hour flight between New York and Dubai earlier this year. While about 400 weary coach passengers on the lower deck tried to catch a few hours of fitful sleep, the upper-deck mood was more festive.
Rudolph Pino Jr., an insurance lawyer from New York, enjoyed a glass of chardonnay and traded pleasantries and business cards with other passengers. The bar was staffed by cheerful flight attendants amid an endless supply of Champagne and canapés.
“It’s a special airplane,” Pino said. “It brings some glamour back to air travel, just like in the days of TWA and the old Boeing 747s.”