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Thu 3 Apr 2008 04:00 AM

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Winning ticket

The Dubai to London flight route is serviced by four major airlines. First Class assesses which firm really is the greatest of them all.

The Dubai to London flight route is serviced by four major airlines. First Class assesses which firm really is the greatest of them all.

Never has there been greater choice for the business traveler flying from Dubai to London. Two years ago, Virgin Atlantic joined Emirates Airline and British Airways as the third airline offering direct flights between the cities. And late last year, business-class only firm Silverjet became the fourth.

So the big question is, who should you fly with?

Over the course of four weeks this year, First Class sent a reporter to sample the business class service on all four airlines. We broke down the journey into ten sections - all the way from getting to the airport in Dubai to getting back to the airport in London.

Each section was scored out of ten - to reveal which airline, in our view, provides the best service. Our results show that Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic has kept its promise to change the face of air travel between London and Dubai.

Virgin came out top, with a remarkable 87% score. What's more, Virgin Atlantic was also the outright winner in four of the ten categories.

And second place was closely contested between BA and Emirates, with BA just edging out Emirates by 1%. But struggling in fourth place - it has only been in service for five months - is the latest carrier on this route, Silverjet.

Journey to airport

Emirates is the winner by quite some distance. Chauffer service comes as standard with a business class ticket. The cars are immaculate and punctual. It simply has no competition in this category. Virgin Atlantic does offer driving services but, quality-wise, it is behind Emirates.

We have scored BA in third place. It doesn't offer any such service, however, getting to Dubai Airport from anywhere in the emirate is a relatively straightforward journey.

Bottom of the pile, scoring zero, is Silverjet. Its chauffer services cost a great deal extra on the ticket. But worst of all, there are no parking facilities at the private terminal that Silverjet uses.

This is ludicrous, with several passengers complaining they have had there cars towed away after parking at the airport. It needs to sort out this mess pretty soon.

Virgin Atlantic- 7/10

Emirates Airline- 9/10

British Airways- 9/10

Silverjet- 0/10
Check in DXB

Emirates is a joint winner in this category, largely because of its dedicated business class check in lounge.

This means you automatically bypass any long queues, don't even have to go through the main airport, and there is a fast track passport and security check immediately next to the lounge. On average, you can get through the terminal in just 10 minutes including checking in and security checks.

Silverjet's private terminal at Dubai Airport is also impressive - largely because the check in procedure is so easy. You just hand over your passport, go and sit upstairs, have a cup of coffee - while somebody else does everything for you, returning ten minutes later with your passport and ticket.

Both Virgin and BA use the main Dubai Airport terminal for checking in, making things much slower. Virgin has a slight edge over BA purely for quality of staff at the check in desk.

Virgin Atlantic- 8/10

Emirates Airline- 9/10

British Airways- 7/10

Silverjet- 9/10

Business lounge DXB

As one might expect, Emirates wins this category given that Dubai International Airport is also its "home" airport. What's more, it has separated Skywards members into another lounge giving extra room for business class passengers. Inside the lounge, there is no shortage of hot food and drink.

BA and Virgin have to make do with what's given to them at the same airport - which isn't actually that bad.

Surprisingly, Silverjet comes out bottom in this category. Even though it came tops at the checking in stage, the lounge at the private air terminal is clearly too small.

Worse still, it is shared by incoming passengers, meaning there is usually standing room only - and not much food to enjoy.

Virgin Atlantic- 8/10

Emirates Airline- 8/10

British Airways- 7/10

Silverjet- 5/10
Seating

The most hotly contested category - and again we have a clear winner in Virgin.

At 202cm it has the longest fully flat bed of another other airline in the world in business class - longer than BA's Club World and First Class beds.

At 56cm, the seats are also wider than BA and, for that matter, almost any other airline in the world. For pure comfort, it doesn't get any better. We particularly like the fact that the seats can be fully reclined during take off, and rather than a flimsy blanket, each comes with a heavy quilt and proper pillow.

You really can get a proper sleep on these.

BA is in the process of upgrading its fleet on this route though it still scored a decent 9, largely because on every flight the beds are totally flat.

The same can't be said for Emirates and Silverjet. Even though Emirates is also upgrading the fleet on this route, currently it's hit-and-miss.

Rather disappointingly some of the older planes have poorly reclining seats. As for Silverjet, like Emirates, it just isn't totally flat - meaning you can't totally sleep.

Virgin Atlantic- 10/10

Emirates Airline- 5/10

British Airways- 9/10

Silverjet- 7/10

Entertainment

Again it's a close one to call - both BA and Virgin scored well, with Virgin nudging ahead purely for ease of use. But Emirates is the winner for its ICE system which has over 500 channels available.

The skymap is brilliant as are the on board cameras below the wings and at the front on the nose. The choice of entertainment is top quality, including the ability to listen to every single UK No.1 single from 1955 onwards. It really is fabulous.

At the bottom of the bucket is Silverjet. Not only is the entertainment limited, there is no route map or any indication of where you are and how far to go. What's more, the TV facility comes in a detached unit which is a hinderance. Overall impressions suggest that a serious re-think is needed here.

Virgin Atlantic- 9/10

Emirates Airline- 9/10

British Airways- 8/10

Silverjet- 6/10
Dining

The founder of easyJet famously once said that if you want a nice meal, then you should go to a restaurant. Well, if you fly business class you expect something close to a restaurant on board. And on this route, you won't be disappointed.

The top three, Virgin, BA and Emirates are closely matched here - but we give Virgin the edge.

Its on-board chef is a classy extra touch, often giving better meals than a top class restaurant. Yes, that's true. A chef. You tell him you want a rare steak, and you get a rare steak.

The quality of service is excellent and best of all, the flexible meal times means you can eat whenever you want rather than wait for specific serving times. The Upper Class bar is also a unique touch, ideal during long flights when you fancy a walkabout. At times it can however get annoying especially if everyone decides to crowd around the bar for a few drinks, as does tend to happen on some flights.

Emirates and BA also do pretty impressive jobs with food. What's more, the service on Emirates is a match for anyone - and incidentally, if you are flying economy on Emirates your meal is likely to be better than most business class choices.

Again, bottom of the class is Silverjet. Early days we agree, but the meals seem nothing more than basic, and no better than Economy class in Emirates. There is little choice or variety, and it usually seems quite a big effort to get a cup of tea in between meal times.

Virgin Atlantic- 10/10

Emirates Airline- 8/10

British Airways- 9/10

Silverjet- 4/10

Journey from airport

Hats off to Virgin and Emirates in this category. Both provide excellent limousine services as part of the ticket, and we give Virgin the slight edge as the limos often go straight to a private check in area.

Drivers and cars for both are excellent. No chance of a limo on BA, though tube and rail facilities from Heathrow are excellent. We give Silverjet zero again in this category.

It offers a chauffeur service but at very high cost. Whichever way you look at it, there is no pleasure is going to or from London's Luton Airport - particularly due to road works in the coming months. Journey times by car into central London can be well over an hour.

Virgin Atlantic- 10/10

Emirates Airline- 9/10

British Airways- 6/10

Silverjet- 0/10
Check in LHR/LTN

At last a victory for Silverjet. Even though we are not impressed with Luton Airport, Silverjet has done a great job with its checking in facilities at its private lounge. Like Dubai, you just walk in, hand over your passport and luggage - and do nothing!

It's all done for you while you enjoy a cup of tea. We score Virgin bottom here, because Upper Class check in at Heathrow has become just too crowded.

It has lost its exclusivity and something needs to be done to make passengers feel more special. Emirates and BA make a decent effort - we suspect that with Terminal 5 opening things may get a lot better for BA next time around.

Virgin Atlantic- 7/10

Emirates Airline- 8/10

British Airways- 9/10

Silverjet- 10/10

Business lounge LTN

At the risk of sounding over the top, visiting the Virgin Clubhouse at Heathrow is like visiting a 7 star hotel. You really hope the flight is going to be delayed. It has everything - including a poolside lounge, a library, a lodge and observation desk and easily the best food and service going in the business.

BA comes a close second and again, a lot depends on how its new lounge at Terminal 5 is received - this could change everything.

Emirates has decent enough facilities though nothing to write home about.

And it's the same with Silverjet - an impressive start and it has done well so far, but is let down badly by the quality of food in the lounge. Eat before you get there is our advice.

Virgin Atlantic- 10/10

Emirates Airline- 7/10

British Airways- 10/10

Silverjet- 7/10
Overall price

Purely on price, you can't fault Silverjet. It is undoubtedly the cheapest in the business.

That said, by booking in advance you can get good deals on Virgin and BA.

Don't forget that Virgin has a complimentary chauffeur - Silverjet charges a fortune for this. Emirates always seems to come out the most expensive - though there is a choice of seven flights a day.

Virgin Atlantic- 8/10

Emirates Airline- 4/10

British Airways- 9/10

Silverjet- 10/10

Final verdict

Virgin Atlantic. Comes out top of our poll. Sir Richard Branson promised to be better than the rest, and in just over a year, he has managed it. Right now, nobody can better the seats or service.

Emirates Airline. Very popular because of the frequency of service but let down by the variation in quality depending on which flight you take. The newer planes are far better. But if you pay US$5000, you don't expect the luck of the draw.

British Airways. Now running second. It was the first to bring out truly flat beds, and with the new Terminal 5 opening, it will be pushing Virgin hard for the number one slot. Slightly let down by quality of service on board.

Silverjet. The newest player in town promised the lowest prices. That is has delivered, and a near 60% score is not bad after less than six months. But badly let down by the quality of planes and ground transportation issues.

Virgin Atlantic- 87%

Emirates Airline- 77%

British Airways- 78%

Silverjet- 58%

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