Last year, Etihad unveiled a very promising premium cabin for their upcoming A380 aircraft. One of the standout parts of the new design was the fact that they were elevating the look and feel of First Class while adding an even more exclusive “class” above that – the Residence. That meant that the newly designed First Apartments automatically became “second” tier on the new aircraft.
But, even though the First Apartments were not the best seats in the house, it was still shaping up to be better than any other first class product in the sky. Etihad began to fly this aircraft at the end of December and I was able to snag an award seat on it less than a month after it began its flight. I was really excited and looking forward to it as it certainly had the look of the best first class in the sky, but would it deliver on that? My all-time favorite first class seat going in was the vaunted Singapore Suites and I was anxious to see how it compared. I was also curious to see how it would compare to Etihad’s main rival – Emirates – and their A380 first class product. My review of Emirates A380 First Class
Read how I booked this: I Just Booked Etihad’s A380 Apartment For 40,000 Miles!
This same seat costs almost $6,000 if you pay with cash – or you can do what I did and only use 40,000 AA miles! A clear winner to be sure!
Review: Etihad Airways First Apartment Class On The A380
I decided to start in Abu Dhabi so this was Abu Dhabi to London. The flight is 8 hours long (not nearly long enough!) and takes off at 2:35AM and arrives in London-Heathrow at 6:35AM.
If you want to really enjoy the flight in the daytime, you would be better of going London to Abu Dhabi as that is an all daytime flight. It is about an hour shorter, however. If you are flying from the states, it would make a perfect connecting flight to continue on to the Indian subcontinent. At 40,000 AA miles one way from Europe to the Indian Subcontinent and the Middle East, the First Apartment is a steal!
The Premium Lounge in Abu Dhabi is what current passengers have access to while the actual First Class lounge will be opened later on (scheduled for April as of right now). But, as a lounge, the Premium Lounge was very nice and well appointed. It was a large space with a lot of eating areas. I knew I had to try out the food onboard the aircraft so I just took from the fruit and one dessert. It was certainly hard to avoid the many, many food options available!
The lounge itself began to get busy around midnight as there are actually several flights between midnight and 3AM. But even with the influx of people, the lounge was still very capable of holding a large crowd without giving the appearance it is overcrowded.
I headed over to the boarding area a little early as I wanted to ask about taking some photos of the Residence (I had already checked and there was no one flying the Residence that night). When I got to the boarding area, they only had the door to the area opened for economy passengers so they were a little surprised that I wanted to come in when I did. About 30 minutes before boarding officially began, they did open the other door which was for business and first class passengers. There was a slot on the sign for Residence as well but that single passenger would have probably not had to walk up to the counter as they have people dedicated to making that passenger and guest feel very comfortable.
Behind the check-in counters at the gate, there are a few rows of seats available for the premium class passengers to sit. I was surprised at the number of people there having mistaken it for it first class passengers only. When they came to get us for boarding, I found out that I was the only passenger in that area that was heading to the First Apartments. When we boarded (upstairs is where First Apartment and Business Class are located) the business class passengers went to the right and I was passed off to a flight attendant to be shown to my seat (which I had previously selected as 4A).
Right after I got into my seat, the onboard chef, Thomas, came forward to introduce himself and ask if there was anything he could get for me. He also explained what I could expect from him throughout the flight and showed me my menu options. He personally came back with my drink and some Arabic coffee and dates.
When traveling in First Class aboard an international carrier, you come to expect a certain level of service. I certainly do not feel that I demand it (in fact, I am sometimes embarrassed by the level of attention and detail they pay to me) but it is just something that you become used to from flying various carriers. I was curious to see how the service was on this flight. There was much written about the butlers that had been trained to wait on the Residence customers and I had imagined that the First Apartment attendants were going to be fairly attentive to detail as well.
The service was incredible. I had a fantastic time talking with the staff throughout the flight and they were incredibly kind and helpful. In fact, while I was waiting for my bed to be made up, I was taken to the lounge area (for business class and First Apartment customers) by Georgina. She was the butler on the inaugural flight and this was only her second flight on the A380. When there are no Residence guests, the butlers work as kind of floaters between the First Apartments and Business Class. Georgina explained that they actually have to have a butler on every flight because there are customers that purchase tickets at the very last minute.
Georgina took me to through the Business Class cabin to show me what it looked like and it was very impressive! I was unable to get any photos in there because it was the middle of the night and all the lights were down. She did set up a business class seat for me to get in as a bed to try it out and it was much more spacious that other business class seats I have enjoyed. For sure, the Business Class seats on the Etihad A380 are nothing to look down on!
My glass was always kept full and I always had a bottle of water near me. When I went to take a shower, the shower was prepared for me in less than 2 minutes and a flight attendant was waiting for me when I finished to see if I needed anything as I made my way back to the apartment.
I found the service in the First Apartment class to be exceptional. While the staff continually looked after me to see if there was anything I needed, they were also not in my space about the service. In other words, they had the perfect balance of being present while also being absent. I never had need of anything during the flight.
It is really kind of unfair calling the First Apartment a “seat” as it is unlike any first class seat you have ever flown in! When I walked in the Apartment, I was just amazed at how much room it seemed to really have. I had seen photos before but had just assumed it would be somewhat cramped, especially the aisle in the Apartment, because of the space allowed onboard. But it was not cramped at all! There was just the right amount of space between the seat and the couch (which converts to a bed) so that I had room to walk but also could perfectly stretch out from the seat.
The seat itself was fantastic. It is very roomy but not in a way that makes you feel lost in it. The leather was thick and comfortable. One of the crew told me that the seat and couch were made from the same leather that is found in the Ferraris – pretty cool! The seat had great recline and all the controls were located near the right armrest in a little storage compartment.
There was plenty of storage throughout the apartment with areas under the length of the couch and split up into two storage compartments. The compartments were large enough to fit my loaded backpack and my shoes. The crew also had no problem with passengers just leaving their bags in the middle of the apartment as well.
The TV in the apartment was a 24-inch screen that was just right for viewing, either from the seat or the bed. It swings out when you want to watch it lying down and both positions give great visibility.
The controls for the TV was a PSP-styled handset that was in a fixture near the seat controls. With the push of a button, it comes out and you can control it easily from your seat. The controls were not at all flimsy and I loved how it gave the ability to scroll through all of the entertainment options while not interrupting whatever was playing on the screen. You can look at overview of various programs from the control before you decide what to play on the screen.
Across from the couch (in the cabinet area to the right of the seat) was the vanity. It had all the amenities from a first class amenity bag in the shelving areas already as well as the amenity bag. It was a really nice touch for those who can handle everything they need to in front of a mirror at some point during the flight. This combined with the comfortable pajamas were great ways to make you feel a little more comfortable.
When you want the ottoman turned into a bed, the flight attendant can actually do that with you in the apartment or out of it. There is that much room that it is not at all uncomfortable to be in there during the bed-making process. It only takes a few moments and then you have a nice, comfortable bed in your apartment!
One of the amazing things about this apartment is that even with the bed setup, it is still not overly crowded in the suite. You can move to the seat easily without feeling like you are crawling over everything.
In between getting some work done, chatting with the crew, and exploring as much as possible, I was able to get a couple of hours sleep on this flight from Abu Dhabi to London. It was a very comfortable couple of hours! Everything – the bedding, the pillow, the bed itself – was fantastic!
There are actually two bathroom compartments located in the front of the cabin (near the stairs that go to the economy section). The one without the shower is slightly larger than the shower suite.
The shower was pretty cool. I have used the one onboard the Emirates A380 and I found this one to be less like an RV shower than the Emirates version. It was hard to remember that we were actually several miles up in the air while I was showering!
The shower has a 5 minute time limit (like the Emirates shower) but you can turn the water on and off to conserve your water if you take long showers. The water temp was just right as I was able to turn it all the way hot and it was not burning.
Early on in the flight, a flight attendant came around the cabin asking passengers when they wanted to use the shower. I told her I would like to do it about an hour before landing and there was no problem getting a slot.
The bathroom was well supplied with bathing products and they were certainly not your Motel 6 stuff!
I was really not that hungry but I could not pass up the chance to try some of this food! Yes, it was 3AM, but I went ahead and ordered the beef fillet and it was certainly the best one I have ever had in the air! In fact, it rivals many that I have had on the ground!
The salad was delicious as was the fruit that came with the meal as well. All in all, the meal was fantastic!
For breakfast, I went with an omelet. Now, maybe it is just me, but I rarely have an omelet in the air that tastes as good as the ones on the ground – almost anywhere. This was one of the better omelets I have had but it was still lacking in some flavor.
Here are the food menus from this flight:
Attention To Detail
This was probably my biggest takeaway from this flight. It was amazing what attention to detail Etihad paid when they designed this cabin. Georgina mentioned that they had done many surveys and check to determine what their customers felt was lacking in their own first class cabins and others. And the results were excellent.
These were some of my things that I noticed and greatly appreciated. Do any one of these make me choose Etihad over Emirates? Not exactly but it was really nice to see Etihad not only implement but refine. Take, for instance, the mini bar. Emirates has a mini bar in their suites but it is not chilled and does not have any ice available in it. To get ice, you need to call an attendant. I mean, why put a mini bar in there at all if it is not cool, right?
Chilled Mini Bar
Well, Etihad put a mini bar in their apartments and they made it chilled. Perfect! Now, if only they had some variety instead of 2 of the same drinks. 😉
Properly Sized Mini Storage
How many of you go to put your phone in the small compartment near the seat meant for the phone – only to find it does not close because your phone is too big? I realize that many cabins were designed before the onslaught of the phablet but I was very pleased to find that the mini storage compartment near the seat controls was actually made deep enough to accommodate phablets! Again, well done, Etihad, to think to that depth!
So now we move to the bed. The headphones, which are actually connected to the plug by magnets, could stretch to the bed from the seat plug. But, instead, Etihad put a headphone jack near the bed so you can plug it in right next to you. They also gave another control pad near the bed so that you can easily control the TV without having the cable stretch out across the aisle.
Not only can you control the lighting from your control panels, they also put lighting controls near the bed so you can do it all before or after sleeping.
They do have in-flight internet and the flight attendants come around to pass out the complimentary internet cards. Very nice! Considering what most people are paying for this seat (not me!), giving complimentary internet should be an automatic inclusion. It is not on Emirates so it was nice to see that here.
The Landing and Exiting
All First Apartment passengers get Fast Track passes for immigration so it helps to get you quickly on your way. After exiting the aircraft (which they hold back even the business class passengers until we exit), I was able to make my way to my Etihad arranged-and-paid-for chauffeur to be driven into central London. Such a taxi ride would be very expensive – I can only imagine how much it must cost to pay for this on your own! Being driven into the city in a beautiful BMW was a perfect way to end a great trip!
For only 40,000 AA miles, this is an absolute steal! This was easily the best award redemption I ever made from a perspective of value and am really looking forward to trying the longer haul versions. I will definitely consider backtracking from Greece to Abu Dhabi just to get catch that same ride to New York one day!
Etihad has certainly raised the bar and this plane is very hard to beat. The service was excellent, the onboard staff was great, and the hard product was the best I have ever enjoyed. Hopefully, you will get a chance to enjoy and experience it yourself one day!