BACKGROUND: Flydubai began operations in 2009, and today flies to more than 85 destinations operating out of Dubai International Airport and Al Maktoum International Airport. Its African route network includes Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somaliland, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. Six MAX -8 aircraft are now in flyDubai’s fleet and plenty more are coming. I was part of a delegation on a flying visit to mark the resumption of Kilimanjaro flights (introduced October 2014). The route is served six times per week, three of which link with Dar es Salaam. The aircraft was used to mark the relaunch but isn’t on the first wave of routes.
CHECK-IN & LOUNGE: The dedicated business class check-in is at the end of Terminal 2 departures near immigration. I passed through the e-gate (no Smart Gates yet) and relaxed in the lounge which is split over two levels. The bottom floor contains a dining area and selection of hot dishes, snacks and drinks and upstairs offers more comfortable lounge seating.
BOARDING: We walked through the business class lane to a holding lounge and onto the bus. We boarded through the front and you immediately enter the 10-seat business class cabin. The overhead lockers are deep enough for carry ons but this is a narrow body aircraft and it felt busy with 10 people settling in; take care not to bump your head if you’re in the window seats.
THE SEAT: The custom-made Thompson Vantage seats are comfortable and thoughtfully designed with headphone and USB ports by your shoulder. A narrow storage area is wide enough to hold your travel documents or phone, and there is a section for a small water bottle, and more storage by your feet. The seat reclines into a 180-degree flatbed by sliding the first button forward and there is a small handset which I didn’t use much with basic volume/brightness controls. I enjoyed the ‘throne seat’ (2B) on the way out and slept soundly for most of the night flight, and returned in 1A which was fine; each seat is encased in its shell and the fold-down table fixture doubles up as a privacy divider. Another innovation is the car-style seatbelt although I didn’t find it easy to loosen and sometimes it tangled up with the headphones. The single ‘throne’ seats are the best as they have a storage cupboard and large area where you can keep your laptop and spread out. Economy passengers have adjustable headrests and the emergency exit rows (15/16) offer extra legroom (at an additional charge).
THE FLIGHT: Dubai International is busy at this time of the night and we left half an hour after our 02h40 scheduled departure. Whether it’s the ‘re-engined’ aircraft or the noise-cancellation headphones, I found it quieter than the standard B737. The 15.6-inch HD screen shows a good selection of films – if not quite in partner Emirates’ ICE league – and the audio was very clear. I found the food and beverage offering adequate. On the way out I had a standard-plane egg (‘scrambled egg’) and chicken sausage. During the return meal, I wasn’t offered bread, though it was available, and there was a mix-up with the menu cards. This might be an area that needs some attention, particularly now that flydubai is codesharing with Emirates. Amenity bags are being considered for longer flights. We had some moderate turbulence as we met a jet stream on the return, around Salalah, but otherwise it was smooth both ways.
ARRIVAL: We had a warm African welcome in Kilimanjaro with dancers and drummers by the apron. It was a tight hour on the ground in which a press conference, gift exchange and cake-cutting were completed before we took off for Dar es Salaam, which took on new passengers, and was cleaned, prior to returning to Dubai.
VERDICT: This is a sharp product and marked improvement, and perfectly comfortable for flydubai’s longer flights. I felt fine arriving back in Dubai at the end of the 18-hour travel day. It’s still early days for the MAX though.