How Emirates Built Its A380 Showers And Bars

Emirates’ premium products on its A380s are well known for some of their unique features. The airline remains the only carrier to have installed showers for passenger use on its superjumbos, a facility further complemented by its bar and lounge on the upper deck. But what went into designing and creating these unique attributes? We take a look.

Emirates A380 bar
Showers, a bar, enclosed suites… it can only be Emirates’ A380. Photo: Emirates

The shower spa

Emirates pioneered the idea of elevated luxury onboard the A380, and a key component of this was its unique shower spa. Even before it took delivery of its first superjumbo, the wheels were in motion to develop this luxurious facility. The supplier picked was Diehl’s Comfort Modules arm, which would become the exclusive supplier of all the bathrooms on the A380, including the shower spa.

Due to the size of the shower spa, Diehl had to build it in two pieces. Emirates had demanded the ultimate in luxury for its premium guests, but with an eye to a lightweight design for the aircraft. The firm built-in innovative features such as illuminated cosmetic mirrors, hairdryers, and heated floor panels to meet this brief, and finished the room with wood veneers, marble effect sinks and floors, and other luxurious touches.

The work included two years of initial design, including some 8,000-man-hours to develop and certify the product. The team producing the shower spas numbered 12 mechanics, capable of producing an average of four shower spas every month. Each shower spa represents 2,500 hours of work.

Emirates shower spa
The shower spa is more like a high-end hotel bathroom than something you’d find on a plane. Photo: Emirates

Andreas Buchholz, at the time the head of sales at Diehl Aviation, commented on the project, saying,

“Before the Emirates A380 had passed the entry into service stage, this level of five star plus luxury was only known for private and corporate jets … The Emirates A380 onboard shower spa transfers VIP comfort to the commercial aviation industry.”

Each A380 has two shower spas onboard, which are more than just showers – think of them more like luxury hotel bathrooms. There are shower attendants assigned to keeping the showers clean and ready for guests, to ensure the maximum number of passengers can enjoy their time in the spa.

Emirates shower spa
Passengers can book their time in the shower spa when they board the plane. Photo: Emirates

Each shower booking gets around five minutes of hot water, although the passengers are welcome to use the bathroom for approximately 30 minutes. The water flow can be turned on and off during the visit, so guests can actually spend much longer in the shower if they need to. In the event of turbulence, there is a seat with a grab handle within the shower itself, so there’s no need for guests to rush back to their seat with only a towel to protect their modesty.

The bar

Second only to the shower spa, the Emirates bar is well known for adding a touch of luxury to the airline’s A380s. Emirates was not the only airline to add a bar to its superjumbo, with other airlines, including Qatar, Korean, and Etihad, all doing the same. However, the Emirates bar is something really quite special.

The airline approached AIM, a British manufacturer with extensive experience in bars and onboard lounges for aircraft. Although the firm had produced a number of minibars for other airlines, it was the first time it had embarked on a project of such a scale, which included not only the bar unit itself, but also the seats and layout of the surrounding business class lounge.

Paul Norman, at the time the Technical Director at AIM, commented on the importance of the A380 at the time, saying,

“I think that the A380 was a catalyst for changing passenger expectations of the flying experience, because it gave airlines the opportunity to really introduce brand identity, the concept of social areas on board aircraft, and provide passengers with something different.”

While AIM was eager to take on this ambitious project, the execution was not a straightforward task. Aircraft interiors have some specific design constraints, not least the need for lightweight yet sturdy construction.

Overall, AIM spent 24 months designing and developing the business class lounge and bar, with a large team of 20 designers working on the project. Having got through the design, development, qualification of materials and the testing of the product, the bar and lounge began to be installed on Emirates’ A380s.

Emirates original A380 bar
The original bar was designed with curved bench seats around the cabin wall. Photo: Emirates

Located at the back of the upper deck, the lounge bar is open to all passengers in first and business class. The initial design had a curved bench seat along the side of the plane, although it was redesigned in 2017 to feature ‘booths’ with tables. This was done by AIM again, taking inspiration from luxury yacht design, and increased the capacity of the bar area for more passengers to enjoy.

The bar on the A380 was redesigned to give more capacity for passengers. Photo: AIM

Emirates had been rumored to be working on another, third overhaul of the bar ready for 2020. However, with things being as difficult as they have been over the past 20 months, this project is likely on hold. Whether it is revived in the future remains to be seen.

At present, people are not allowed to hang about in the bar. Only a maximum of four people are allowed in at one time, and are expected to get their drinks and snacks and then sit at a table. If the number of people in the bar exceeds four, passengers will be asked to take their drink back to their seat. With vaccination rates ticking up and things starting to relax, hopefully the A380 bar will get back to normal pretty soon.

Emirates A380 bar
At present, only four passengers at a time are allowed in the bar. Photo: Emirates

What about the suites?

While all the frills around the edge of first class are certainly appealing touches, most passengers will spend the majority of their time in their first class suite. As such, Emirates has spared no expense in making these very private, very well-appointed seats as good as it possibly can.

The first class suites were the vision of Emirates’ president Sir Tim Clark, who enlisted the help of celebrated French designer Jacques Pierrejean to create the stunning product. Together, they set out to create something that really kicked things up a notch in the premium travel space.

Emirates A380 first class
The suites have electronically sliding doors to give passengers maximum privacy. Photo: Emirates

The end result was the first fully enclosed suite seen on a commercial aircraft. The doors close electronically, and of course, the seat converts into a fully flat bed. There’s a hidden mini bar to enjoy and a lit vanity mirror in the suite, alongside a whole host of other amenities that were uncommon in other first class products.

Doug Rasmussen, at the time the Vice President and General Manager at B/E Aerospace, commented on the project, saying,

“I think what this has done in terms of the first class travel experience it’s really changed the expectation of the passenger and in terms of the level of privacy and the level of luxury available on an on an aircraft.”

Rasmussen noted that, at some points, more than 80 engineers were working on the design and certification of the original A380 first suite. To produce each suite takes around two months, with a total of 14 required for a full ship set for one aircraft. Incredibly, the gold trim seen on Emirates’ first suites is actually real gold, 22 karat plated.

Emirates A380 first class
The suite is lavishly appointed and even has a hidden minibar. Photo: Emirates

Emirates gave the A380 suite a bit of an overhaul in December 2020, which saw it getting slightly wider and having slightly taller doors fitted. However, the product is today somewhat inferior to Emirates’ 777 first class, with its fully enclosed suite and virtual windows for the central cabin passengers. Whether Emirates ever indulges in a major makeover for first on the A380 remains to be seen.