REVIEW: Emirates chauffeur drive service

Experienced travelers know the benefits that come from traveling Business or First Class, particularly on long flights. More space to work or stretch out, better food and better treatment are but a few of the advantages. But passengers who travel in those upmarket cabins aboard U.A.E.-based Emirates enjoy some additional perks including complimentary chauffeur-driven transportation at both ends of their flight.

Emirates’ premium class passengers can take advantage of complimentary chauffeur drive service in 70 cities across the carrier’s world-wide network. A driver will pick them up at their door in their departure city and drop them curbside at their departure airport. After landing and clearing customs, passengers either check in with Emirates’ chauffeur drive desk at Dubai International Airport (DXB) or look for a driver bearing a placard with their name on it at other destinations. A driver will then take them to their final destination.

My car to LAX

The airline plans the pickup timing so passengers arrive at the airport with “No stress, no rush,” its website said. My first leg involved a pick up from Westlake Village in the L.A. area, an estimated one-hour drive to LAX, but in L.A., driving times can vary widely and without any apparent reason, so we’d see, I thought.

The website recommended that I schedule my pick up three hours prior to my departure time. However, I had some other things I wanted to do at the airport before departing Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), including visiting Emirates’ First and Business Class lounge in the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

Others may find that a larger margin for error eases their anxiety level, and still others may want to arrive early to conduct some additional business. Whatever the reason, passengers can select pickup times well in advance of their flight’s departure time or, if they desire, with a shorter margin than Emirates recommends.

The day before my trip began, a representative of Emirates' car service phoned me to verify the date, time and location of my pickup and to confirm the number of guests who would be traveling. On the day of departure, the driver was already waiting at my hotel when I walked out about five minutes before the scheduled time. Excellent customer service on both counts.

While I certainly enjoyed the convenience of not having to drive and, frankly, enjoyed the bit of luxury provided, the greater value of Emirates’ service became obvious upon arrival at DXB following my 15-hour flight from California.

After clearing customs and making my way through the massive airport, I checked in at the chauffeur drive desk and was given a slip that I took to the representative at the curb. He ushered me to a waiting car. My bag was loaded and, within minutes, I was being taken to my hotel … and I didn’t have to worry about trying to negotiate an unfamiliar city through a fog of jet lag.

Check-in for the car service at DXB

During my trips from LAX to DXB, then from DXB to Auckland, New Zealand (AKL), I used the service four times. Although Emirates web site says it provides the service in concert with “partner companies,” service was uniformly reliable and the drivers were all unfailingly polite and accommodating.

There are some limitations on the service, though they are fairly generous. In most U.S. cities where the service is available, it is limited to a 60-mile radius of Emirates’ gateway airport, though passengers traveling through Orlando International Airport (MCO) can use the service within a 90-mile radius of the facility.

Within Emirates’ home country there are no limitations so I could have decided to stay in Abu Dhabi some 170 kilometers away and would have been provided with transportation both to and from my hotel. Through the complimentary chauffeur drive service, Emirates can offer a virtually seamless journey to first and business class passengers bound for Abu Dhabi or virtually any other city in the U.A.E. that it does not fly to directly. In fact, my driver in Dubai said he takes guests to Abu Dhabi and even well beyond fairly frequently.

The limitations do vary by location and the limits on the service in Auckland are a bit more restrictive than in the U.S. There, service is limited to a 40 kilometer radius from Auckland International Airport, which is more than enough for the 21 kilometer drive into downtown Auckland and even a bit beyond, or for a trip down-island.

All of those details are clearly spelled out on the Emirates webpage through which First and Business Class passengers book their car service. The page has a handy tool that uses the ZIP or postal code of the pick-up address, adds the estimated travel time to the airport from that area, then recommends a pick-up time based on the two hours pre-flight that international passengers are advised to arrive.

Leave the driving to them

I have found that using a car service when leaving on a trip saves me the stress of driving myself to the airport, finding a parking space, then schlepping my luggage who knows how far to the terminal. It also saves the expense of parking the car for the duration of the trip, which can easily eclipse the cost of the car service. Upon returning I usually take a taxi but at my home airport I know where to find licensed cabs and I know the area, so I am not a candidate for an unscrupulous driver who might take a longer route to inflate the fare.

Tipping: my take

Emirates includes a gratuity for the driver in its contracts with its partner companies so tipping is not necessary, an airline representative told me. However, an additional gratuity for the driver in a modest amount will certainly be appreciated as long as the culture of the country is amenable to tipping. For more on that aspect, please see my article on Tipping while traveling.

Being picked up at my Dubai hotel

Although a handful of other upmarket carriers offer chauffeur service to passengers in certain categories, Emirates service offers the most extensive network of the world’s airlines, especially when one considers the similar service is available through partner Qantas. The Australian carrier started offering chauffeur service after it launched its joint venture with Emirates in an effort to streamline the experience for Emirates and Qantas passengers.

Fellow Persian Gulf carrier Etihad Airways offers their Diamond First and Pearl Business passengers complimentary chauffeur service at 40 airports around the world. Under its partnership with Etihad, Air Berlin also offers complimentary chauffeur service on flights to and from Abu Dhabi.

Finally, Virgin Atlantic offers complimentary chauffeur service to its full fare Upper Class passengers.

In closing

Emirates’ current positioning statement says, “You’ve arrived the moment you board.” With Emirates’ complimentary chauffeur drive service, passengers flying the carrier’s First Class or Business Class may feel that they have arrived the moment the leave their house.

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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Emirates provided my air travel so that I could experience various aspects of its service first-hand.