Flight Date: 07SEP13—The check-in area at the Tunis airport was like a mad house: people everywhere, babies crying, cigarette smoke and long lines. There were only two check-in clerks so it took an unusually long time as well. The lines at immigration were just as crowded and people kept cutting in saying they were late for flights. A guy in front of me had had enough and starting screaming in French and Arabic. Things got tense and police had to be called to keep the peace.
Finally made it through immigration and headed over to Tunisair’s ‘Espace Privilège’ lounge which Emirates uses as well. The lounge was jam-packed and all the seats had been taken, hardly any food to speak of and no one manning the bar. I decided to bail and go to my gate instead.
The gate area was even worse than check-in and immigration. Throngs of people crammed into the waiting area. Tunis airport is old and the gate areas are too small to handle the number of passengers. Due to this or simply that Emirates didn’t care they started boarding everyone at once. First class and business class passengers were becoming irritated and one gentleman was yelling at the gate clerks in Arabic. He turned out to be a first class passenger and continued his tirade with the head purser on board as well. Things got so heated they had to call a ground staff manager onto the flight to calm him down.
Emirates fly their A340-500 on the Tunis-Dubai route. The plane is equipped with the first generation closed suite-type seats introduced in late 2003. The first class cabin has 12 seats in a 1-2-1 configuration and is definitely starting to show its age. Compared to their newer B777 and A380 first class products; the A340-500 seats feel cramped.
You know those flights where everything starts out bad and gets worse—this was one of those flights. The head purser, flustered by the run-in with the irate passenger I guess, mistakenly hit one of the seat doors with a champagne bottle and we were all treated to a deluge of champagne and broken glass. He apologized profusely and began to clean up. I felt kind of sorry for the guy, but what I really needed was my welcome drink which was finally brought by a flight attendant from business class.
The plane was delayed of course, which was probably the worst thing that day as it meant I would have hardly no time to enjoy Emirates’ new first class terminal at Dubai. After what seemed like forever we pushed back and departed for Dubai. The frazzled purser came through the aisles with menus and drink orders soon after we reached our cruising altitude. I waited and waited but my drink never came. When he came by to take orders for dinner I asked him when I should expect my drink and it looked as if he was going to cry! He again apologized and went to fetch my wine. He was about to walk off when I reminded him of my dinner order. Irate customer or not, this guy was definitely not cut out for this line of work.
I ordered a mezze plate as an appetizer and the creamy seafood casserole as my main dish. The meal service took forever, but one of the good things about Emirates first class is they provide you with a basket of snacks and your own mini-bar so at least I was able to nibble on some Pringles while wondering if I was ever going to get my dinner.
The mezze arrived and it was OK. The main dish was disgusting though and after one bite I told them to clear my table. I’ve flown first on Emirates a handful of times and the food has never been that great, but this was the first flight with EK where the meal was inedible. Didn’t want to push my luck; so I passed on dessert and had some coffee and brandy instead.
With about four hours left I decided to not risk anything else with the skill-challenged flight attendant and shut my doors and went to sleep.
Final Thoughts— Hands down the worst Emirates flight I’ve ever taken. Emirates’ check-in and gate service at Tunis was chaotic and unorganized. The Tunisair ‘Espace Privilège’ lounge was a joke and the fiasco that was the in-flight service on today’s flight surpasses even the dreaded United Airlines—not an easy achievement! I’ve had some pretty nasty in-flight meals in my time but the ‘Creamy Seafood Casserole’ on today’s flight was the absolute worst meal I’ve ever had regardless of class of service. The Emirates A340-500 is only 10 years old but it was cramped and grungy. If you have a choice definitely go for their B777s or A380s. I’m hoping that today’s flight was an anomaly as I’ve always had fairly good service with Emirates in the past. Check back in the coming days for an additional Emirates trip report where I’ll be reviewing their B777-300 first class service from Dubai to Tokyo.