To get to Indonesia (where I’ll be researching orangutans as part of a National Geographic Young Explorer’s project), I flew on Emirates Airlines. Because they are based out of Dubai, I inevitably had a layover there on the way to Jakarta. I had about 5 hours to kill, and since that wasn’t enough time to venture out into the city, I did the next best thing: explore the airport and figure out all of its secrets. Hopefully, this can serve as a survival guide for you folks out there lucky enough to spend a layover at Terminal A of this impressive airport. I know at least one person this will be useful for: my research assistant Evan Sloan, who is also flying on Emirates. They offer some good deals to Jakarta, apparently!
For all its lavishness and opulence, free wi-fi is not a given here in the Dubai airport. The best you can get is a complimentary 60 minutes from the airport network, DXB Free Wifi. That might be enough for a short layovers, but for longer connections, it’s 4.99USD per hour after that. There are a couple places to eat around the terminal that offer free wifi if you eat there. One example is the Jack Daniels restaurant (yes, the Kentucky Bourbon Jack Daniels…that’s apparently a thing here). If a full meal there is a bit out of your price range, you can always try to buy a drink and then just mooch off the wifi the rest of the time. For fully free wi-fi though, your best bet is walking around the terminal and figuring out if any of the places you can use your meal voucher at also offer free wifi (more on meal vouchers later). If you are a frequent flyer with Emirates, you can also get access to the EK lounge network wi-fi.
The bathrooms are REALLY clean and nice. There’s a guy constantly wiping the counters. The toilet seats are made out of wood. Fancy. Like Tywin Lannister, you’ll feel like you’re pooping gold. Even though it might just be the best seat in the house, make sure you don’t actually die on the toilet.
There are free carts everywhere, which is nice if you’re feeling lazy and don’t want to drag your luggage. There are seats all over the place, some more comfortable than others. In the middle of the terminal, there is even a massage parlor if you want to relax between flights.
First off, there’s a SHAKE SHACK! I had just come from New York, and I consider Shake Shack a very new york thing…so to see it halfway acrross the world was very surprising, and also made me think Dubai is trying a bit too hard to be cool. The prices are a bit steep compared to New York, and a single hamburger will cost you 35 Durhams (~9.50), almost twice what you’d pay in NYC. But hey, it’s Shake Shack, and this may be the last burger you have in a while.
There are a LOT of places to eat. If your layover is long enough, Emirates will offer you a free meal voucher. The back of the voucher lists all of the places you can use it at. There are quite a few at Terminal A, and even more on Terminals B and C (but you’d have to transfer, which wasn’t worth the hassle for me). The value you get at each restaurant by using the voucher definitely varies a lot, so look around first and decide how hungry you are and what you are craving before you use the voucher. In the end, I chose to go the McDonald’s (don’t judge me). I really like burgers, and I wasn’t going to have another chance to eat one for a very long time (too bad Shake Shack didn’t accept vouchers!). The value was better than most other places too, because the voucher covered a sandwich, fries, dessert, and a drink. At some other places, you can only get a single item.
If you want coffee, prices are a bit steep. The cheapest cup around was about 15 Durhams which at the current exchange rate (1 USD = 3.7 Durhams), it comes to around $4. So if you want your starbucks fill, the price will be around twice that of the US. If you want coffee on the cheap, there are a couple vending machines around a few of the gates that sell coffee at way more reasonable prices. For 3 durhams (~$1), I got a cup of black coffee, no sugar no milk (hey, I’m from Puerto Rico and I like my coffee strong. College also made me very efficient at absorbing caffeine). You can also get lattes and machiattos for 4 durhams. With the machines, you end up paying about a quarter the price of Starbucks. So enjoy, and have all the coffee you desire!
How are you supposed to pay for all this coffee and food if all you have are American Dollars? Well, not a problem because there are tons of currency exchangers all over the terminals, and they are all very happy to take some valuable USDs off your hands. There is no minimum either, so if you just want enough for a few cups of coffee, just trade that fiver in for some durhams. I felt like a miserable poor man trading in 5 dollars at the exchange, but felt better when the cashier asked me if it was for coffee. I asked for the smallest denominations (which are in coin form), but beware: some of snack machines ate my coins, so perhaps it is wiser to use bills.
All in all, I enjoyed flying Emirates very much. They have great food, great entertainment, and my favorite part: They are partners with JetBlue, so I get a ton of FREE TrueBlue points, which I can almost certainly redeem for a full-price one way flight in the US when I get back.