Emirates, the unofficial flag carrier of Dubai, offers two daily non-stop flights from its hub at Dubai International Airport to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, each with scheduled flight times exceeding 14 hours.
But there are some Emirates routes that don’t touch Dubai at all. They’re called “fifth-freedom” routes and are when an airline flies between two countries other than its own, the UAE in Emiates’ case.
The New York area sees two of these routes, namely between Milan, Italy and New York as well as between Athens, Greece and Newark. Both flights originate and ultimately terminate in Dubai after the European stops and passengers can get on or off at any point.
The Dubai-Milan-New York route, as a result, is the option for those looking for an alternative to the 14-hour non-stop flights. And that’s exactly what I did on the way home from a trip to the Dubai Airshow in November.
Here’s what it was like flying the 19-hour journey from Dubai to New York via Milan on Emirates.
I arrived at Dubai International Airport at 6:35 a.m. ready for a long day of travel starting with a 9:05 a.m. flight to Milan. The total journey time for this routing is 18 hours and 55 minutes so that meant more than 24 hours of total travel time when factoring in airport check-in and transfers.
Dubai International is Emirates’ main hub and consistently ranks as one of the best airports in the world. I was particularly excited to check it out after not spending much time there on my arrival.
The check-in area is quite massive and little did I know that the arrivals and departure hall is located underneath the tarmac with aircraft taxing right above our heads. But check-in was the first hurdle of this day-long trip.
I first went to the check-in area for US-bound flights as my flight was ultimately terminating in New York. After waiting in line for around 10 minutes, I was told that I couldn’t check in there because my first stop was Milan.
I walked over to one of the other check-in lines and joined the queue at around 6:55 a.m. It took roughly 25 minutes to get to the front of the line when I departed from New York on the way out to Dubai and I was hoping this wouldn’t take much longer.
I ultimately reached the front 45 minutes later then checked in my bags and received my boarding pass. The moral of that story is to arrive extra early when departing from Dubai, especially when checking bags.
Ticket in hand, I wasted no time in getting to the gate as I wanted to arrive before boarding began. The first stop was the automated passport control gates for leaving the UAE, in which all I had to do was scan my passport and boarding pass, as well as submit to a quick photograph.
It’s not as modern-looking as newer airports in the region and lacked my favorite amenity, a moving walkway, as I headed to the far end of the concourse.
Boarding took quite longer than usual as gate agents once again checked COVID-19 tests and the required documents to enter Italy for those doing so.
Boarding a plane via a bus is never ideal, especially when the plane is located on the other side of the airport. And with a plane the size of ours, it was almost assuredly going to result in a delay.
Our bus left at 8:45 a.m. and took 15 minutes to get to the awaiting plane. We arrived five minutes before the scheduled departure time and we weren’t even the last bus to arrive.
I was starting to regret taking the long way home but was delighted when I saw our awaiting aircraft, a Boeing 777-300ER. Emirates typically uses the Airbus A380 on this route but on this day, it was operated using the second-largest plane in the airline’s fleet.
And the upside to boarding at a remote stand is climbing up the airstairs to board. It allows for a better look at the aircraft and one last look at Dubai from outside an airplane.
Emirates’ Boeing 777-300ER in this configuration seats 354 passengers including eight first class suites, 42 business class seats, and 304 economy class seats.
First class suites are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration while the business class cabin has a peculiar 2-3-2 configuration with no direct aisle access for window or middle seats.
The bulk of the seats, however, are in economy class that takes up two and a half sections of the airplane. Seats are arranged in a standard 10-abreast, 3-4-3 configuration across 32 rows.
My seat for the flight was 42K, a window seat toward the back of the plane.
Advance seat selection was surprisingly not complimentary for my economy class fare and I paid $33 to reserve my seat. I normally object to paying for seat assignments but did not want to risk being assigned a middle seat for the long journey.
Standard economy class seats offer 32 inches of pitch and 17 inches of width, as well as an abundance of amenities.