Naked at 43,000 feet: showering on the A380

The abundance of luxury on Emirates' A380 creates its own concerns, writes Sarah Maguire.

Flying above the Tasman Sea, somewhere between Australia and New Zealand, I have a dilemma: as one of a select few to have a shower at 43,000 feet on an Emirates A380, should I add high-flying streaker to my list of firsts?

Emirates is the first commercial airline in the world to have showers on board, in two spacious bathrooms with under-floor heating that it has dubbed "shower spas".

(Photos: Take a look inside the Emirates A380 superjumbo)

It's the latest instalment in the superjumbo revolution that continued last Monday with Emirates' inaugural Airbus-A380 flight from Dubai to Sydney and on to Auckland.

As with Singapore Airlines and Qantas before it, Emirates came boasting unprecedented levels of luxury in first and business class, and more space and comfort in economy. Unlike its competitors operating the A380 through Sydney, it also came with this new context in which humans can be stark naked.

After a short lesson from one of the flight attendants on the operating procedures - keep your eye on the illuminated timer, which counts down the allotted five minutes, but you can stop the shower any time by pushing a button - I undressed, selected some shower gel from the display of creams and lotions and got to it. But the cubicle door wouldn't close properly and, while the tap turned stiffly, the water didn't come.

Wrapped in a towel, I poked my head out the door, seeking assistance. One flight attendant and one cabin service assistant later, the shower was still apparently busted. I had best duck across to the other shower spa, they said, just a few steps across the way.

Unfortunately, just outside the two shower spas is the first-class "social area" where passengers are invited to help themselves to drinks and canapes while having a bit of a mingle. And, possibly, as it turns out, a bit of an eyeful.

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I had to set some trailblazing etiquette. Did I dash across in a towel or put my clothes back on? At any other spa in the world there wouldn't be an issue. People loll about starkers at many of them. But that's usually in a unisex situation. And it's all about the context, of course.

This felt embarrassing, like one of those dreams where you're naked in public and deeply appalled. Indeed, the Emirates shower spa has brought a new level of potential embarrassment to the world: that someone could find themselves sliding down an emergency chute wet and naked or, at best, clutching desperately at a fluffy white towel.

I found a middle ground; I put my shirt back on, wrapped the towel around me and tucked it under my arms. This would mean no flash of upper-body flesh as I sprinted across. I would instead be a fleeting vision in white clutching shoes and underwear, trousers flapping in my slipstream.

The showers are available only to passengers in the 14-berth first class. Yet this is where Emirates also stands out in the A380 club: on the short-haul flight to Auckland, first class, at about $2000 return, is suddenly within reach of the punters.

You, too, can sip on Dom Perignon and Grange while reclining, electronic doors closed, in your glossy walnut-paneled private suite, smelling of Bulgari perfume and creams.

The problem is, at three hours' flight time, it's a case of decadence at double speed: how to fit in a visit to the lounge bar, a movie on the 58-centimetre screen, your meal, a quick lie-down in the fully flat bed with inbuilt massage and, most importantly for the bragging rights, a shower.

When it came, finally, it was warm and lovely and had commendable pressure. While the time limit is five minutes, you can spend 30 minutes in the bathroom, which is stocked with Timeless Spa products developed for Emirates by the German brand Babor. Two dedicated staff also service the shower area.

On this inaugural flight, things were a little out of order - sanitary napkins in the drawer labelled toothbrushes, for example. But I found a toothbrush elsewhere in the bathroom, so little matter.

It turned out the other shower had failed to work because the door wouldn't close, which they apparently were able to fix without bother.

I was back at my suite in time for dinner. A complete movie proved impossible: not only was time against me, so were the numerous public announcements, first in Arabic then English, that sent the screen to automatic pause.

Still, the A380 first-class experience is extraordinary - not just on Emirates but by all accounts on all the airlines with superjumbos in the sky.

Consider it a candidate for that universal "things to do before you die" list. Let's trust none of us is wet and naked at the time.

The writer was a guest of Emirates

TRIP NOTES

* The Emirates A380 flies three times a week from Sydney to Auckland. It will begin daily flights in May. Return economy air fares are $390, business class $1498, first class $2028. A tax of $129 is additional to all fares. See emirates.com/au/english/.

* Economy has 399 seats in a 3-4-3 configuration. Seat cushions are 45cm wide and television screens 27cm wide. Business class has 76 fully-flat bed seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. Seat cushions are 47cm wide, LCD screens 43cm. First-class suites are two metres long with 55cm-wide seat cushions. All classes have more than 1100 channels of in-flight entertainment, comprising audio, television, movies and games.

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