My apartment in the sky: A review of Etihad’s First Class Apartment on the A380, Abu Dhabi to New York
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I cut my frequent-flyer teeth flying economy, but I’ve experienced some excellent long-haul business- and first-class products including Qatar QSuite, the winner of the 2019 TPG Award for best business class, and Cathay Pacific’s famed first class, among others. And after flying Etihad’s Apartments on the A380 from Abu Dhabi (AUH) to New York (JFK), I can confirm that its reputation as one of the best first-class products in the world is well deserved.
Make sure to stay tuned to TPG next month for a comprehensive, four-class review of Etihad’s A380, including another review of an Apartment, in the opposite direction, from New York to the United Arab Emirates. For now, here’s my experience in one of the world’s most sought-after first-class products.
When TPG asked me to review the Etihad First Class Apartment from Abu Dhabi to New York for the 2019 TPG Awards, I immediately set up award alerts using ExpertFlyer. The alerts triggered for one date initially, 18 November, so I snagged an award seat using 115,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles. As an American Airlines Executive Platinum elite, I’d be able to cancel and redeposit my miles for free if I found a date that worked better for me. I put the $73.70 of taxes and fees on a credit card.
Alerts from ExpertFlyer (which is owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures) flagged only three other dates between when I booked on 4 September and my departure on 18 November, and none of these dates worked. Seat availability for two of the three dates appeared just a few days before the flight, so I ended up taking the flight I originally booked.
Because I didn’t necessarily expect to take this flight and couldn’t choose a seat online through American or Etihad, I didn’t take the time to call Etihad to reserve a seat when I booked. I forgot until check-in, at which point Etihad allowed me to select the only remaining seat: 1H.
Etihad maintains a separate first-class check-in area in Abu Dhabi, but it’s not especially well-marked once you’re inside. Thanks to my husband JT’s experience flying the same product last year, I knew to go all the way left past the business-class check-in area to the first-class area. There was one agent in this area as well as two luggage handlers.
I sat down at the agent’s desk and was greeted with a simple, “Where are you flying?” The agent said the bare minimum throughout check-in, so I didn’t exactly feel welcomed. But at least I was on my way quickly.
I was able to use a nearby E-gate for United Arab Emirates immigration, which dropped me into a security line shared with business-class passengers. Within seven minutes of starting my check-in process, I was at the entrance to the Etihad Airways First Class Lounge & Spa. I was greeted by an agent and encouraged to take the elevator to the second floor.
The lounge itself is a maze of rooms. If you want a massage, you should go to the Six Senses Spa as soon as you arrive. As a first-class passenger, I was entitled to a complimentary 15-minute treatment.
After booking my spa appointment, I peeked into the children’s room.
Then I walked through the dining room to the bar.
I briefly considered sitting in the relaxation room, but the light patterns were a bit much for the early hour.
I ended up sitting in an empty seating area. The black side tables near most seats have a UAE or universal-style outlet under the tabletop, as well as two USB outlets.
A lounge attendant quickly appeared with a cold towel. I ordered a cafe latte, which he served with a small cookie.
I returned to the spa for my 7:20 a.m. appointment and was immediately guided by a therapist to a room with a massage table. My 15-minute foot massage by a friendly therapist was excellent.
After the massage, I inquired about a shower. All of the spa showers were occupied, so I was led to the women’s shower room in the gym. Yes, you read that right. The lounge has its own gym.
The gym shower has a shower wand and an overhead rainfall shower, but lacks amenities.
Specifically, on the day I visited, there was no hair dryer, shower cap, dental kit, cotton buds or any other amenities (except for lotion) that you’d expect to see in a first-class shower room.
After taking my shower, I went to the dining area. Upon taking my seat, a server appeared with a cold towel and a menu.
When the server returned, I ordered peppermint tea and pancakes. The server said they didn’t have peppermint tea and suggested green tea with mint leaves, which was served in a small tea pot. My pancakes were served about 10 minutes later — freshly made, fluffy and topped with fresh berries.
After breakfast, I hopped on the Wi-Fi in the lounge to start writing my review. Connecting simply required agreement with the terms and conditions, and the speed was quick with 252 Mbps download and 52 Mbps upload. The Wi-Fi disconnected as I walked around the lounge, but I didn’t need to agree to the terms and conditions again to reconnect.
When I checked in and again when I entered the lounge, I was informed that I should plan to reach the U.S. preclearance area by 9 a.m, so I left the lounge at 8:50 a.m.
The U.S. preclearance area is a seven-minute walk from the lounge. There is a priority line for boarding-pass check before security, but all of the passengers seemed to use this line. After that check, all passengers used the same security lines. I was asked to remove my shoes, plus liquids, laptop and cell phone from my bag (and prove that the latter two both turned on.)
Once through security, I entered the U.S. preclearance immigration facility. Within 24 hours of my departure, my Global Entry renewal application had been conditionally approved, so I asked to do my Global Entry interview “on arrival” while leaving Abu Dhabi. We ended up talking extensively about credit cards during my 20-minute interview, and I was approved at the end of it.
I stopped by the U.S. Premium Lounge after immigration and found it to be very crowded. I recommend spending most of your time at the First Class lounge and only stopping by the Premium Lounge if you clear immigration and have time to spare before boarding.
There were light snacks available and a well-stocked bar with surprisingly few chairs.
The gate area was busy when I arrived shortly before boarding was scheduled to begin. There was a premium-passenger seating area for first class, business class and Etihad elites at the gate, but it didn’t feel very premium as there were no open seats nor any power outlets at the seats.
Boarding was scheduled for 9:25 a.m. but preboarding didn’t start until 9:50 a.m. Premium Boarding for first class, business class, Platinum and Gold Etihad Guest elites didn’t start until 9:52 a.m.
When I reached the upper deck aircraft door, the agent who was greeting passengers handed my boarding pass to another flight attendant, who introduced herself and guided me to my seat. She asked what I’d like to drink, and said she’d be back later in the boarding process to show me all the features of my Apartment.
We were stilll missing three passengers when the scheduled departure time of 10:25 a.m. arrived. Waiting for them, we didn’t push back until 10:47 a.m.
Cabin and Seat
Etihad’s first-class cabin is outfitted with nine Apartments in a 1-1 configuration and one Residence. Each Apartment is enclosed, although the “walls” between Apartments don’t reach all the way to the ceiling. Partitions between each Apartment are 54 inches tall and the walls between each Apartment and the aisle are 62 inches tall.
Apartment 1H felt private for most of the flight because of its location at the front of the cabin near the staircase (which wasn’t used before, during or after the flight).
Each Apartment contains a 30-inch-wide seat. There are no obstructions when sitting, and I found it very comfortable for both relaxing and working.
There is also a 79-inch-long bench across from the seat in each Apartment. The bench has two seatbelts, so it can be used by two guests during flight. The leather on the seat and bench was imprinted with the name of Italian furniture maker Poltrona Frau.
The bench can be converted into a 26.5-inch x 79-inch bed.
When made into a bed, there’s a seat belt arranged above the covers that extends and retracts as you move.
The seat controls are on the right-hand side of the seat. There are seven buttons that can be used to adjust the seat to preset positions.
You can lift the cover on the armrest and touch the screen to control massage function, cushion firmness and adjustments to the back and bottom seat cushions. Next to this touchscreen is a 5-inch x 2.5-inch x 6-inch storage well that can hold small items.
On the other side of the chair, is a cabinet with a light-up vanity inside.
Below this cabinet is a refrigerated minibar stocked with Coke, Sprite and water.
Next to the minibar is a pull-out compartment with a blanket.
Above the pull-out compartment but below the vanity is a slide-out tray with a drink holder.
And, next to the seat is a vertical compartment that can hold eyeglasses and other small items.
On the side of the Apartment with the bench, there’s a headphone compartment at one end and a literature holder on the other end.
There are four storage areas under the bench. One is designed for shoes; another for such items as a purse or small laptop bag.
One of the other areas will hold a carry-on bag, and the fourth storage area contains bedding. There are no overhead bins in the first-class cabin.
Near the door to the Apartment is a thin closet that’s about six inches wide. There’s a hanger, a mesh bag and a paper gift bag in the closet.
There’s no dedicated space for your laptop, but I simply put mine on the bench or seat when I wasn’t using it.
A bifold tray table expanding to 23×19 inches extends from the left armrest, although mine was difficult to deploy. You can slide the table forward or backward. If you are traveling with someone, that person can sit on the bench to join you for meals at this table.
There are two sliding doors that close for privacy.
There are two lavatories at the front of the cabin.
The lavatory closest to 1H is equipped with a shower, which occupies enough space to make it a rather tight squeeze, especially when dressing after a shower.
Throughout the flight, I could clearly hear the toilet flush, and the area near my seat was noticeably louder once passengers began to shower near the end of the flight.
The lavatory farthest from my seat felt more spacious because it only has a toilet.
Both lavatories were stocked with hand wash, rinse-free hand cleanser, hand cream and facial spray plus cloth and paper towels.
Amenities and IFE
Shortly after I boarded, I was provided with an amenity kit which contained body lotion, lip balm, cologne, toothpaste, a toothbrush, socks and an eye mask. The eye mask was effective at blocking light, and was also comfortable because of the soft fabric lining on the inside.
A pair of soft and well-fitting pajamas were delivered to my seat during boarding. They are definitely keepers. A pair of foam-soled slippers was also provided.
A throw blanket was on the bench when I boarded. It was comfortable for lounging, but the cabin never became cold enough to truly need it.
A 24-inch TV screen is located across from the seat.
You can connect your laptop to the screen using HDMI, but the touchscreen system is stocked with ample entertainment. I found the interface modern and easy to use.
There were 293 movies, including many recent releases, and 260 television series, 69 of which had multiple episodes. There were also games, magazines, albums and radio stations.
There’s a flight map that you can let loop or you can customize to your liking.
Three camera-view options are provided: tail, forward and down. But only the tail camera was working on this flight. The other two camera views simply returned black screens.
You can order drinks from your seat using the inflight entertainment (IFE) screen’s Food & Beverage menu.
There are seven live TV channels that focus on world news with a side of sports.
There’s an IFE remote next to the seat above two USB outlets and the HDMI outlet, as well as one on the wall next to the bed once the bed is made.
The remotes can be removed from their cradles, and control the primary screen but can also play separate content.
In addition to the two USB outlets, a universal power outlet is located under the vanity. This easy-to-reach outlet provided enough power to quick-charge my phone and has a twist-to-lock function so the plug doesn’t fall out.
Noise cancelling PHITEK headphones came in a case. They cupped my ears more than my Bose headphones and provided solid noise-cancelling and quality sound.
Upon request, a flight attendant made up my bed with double mattress pads, a comforter, a blanket and two pillows. (Additional pillows were available.)
There’s Panasonic Wi-Fi on board, which was activated shortly after takeoff. Wi-Fi is data-based, with a 50-megabyte plan costing $5.95; a 150-megabyte plan costing $15.95, and a 300-megabyte plan costing $29.95.
There are also other ways to connect to the Wi-Fi.
A 90-megabyte Wi-Fi voucher was delivered to my seat during boarding, so I limited my data usage and was able to get by without purchasing another package.
The Wi-Fi was slow but consistent throughout the flight, testing at 0.43 Mbps download and 0.1 Mbps upload. I didn’t notice any dead zones during the flight, and was happy that it allowed pausing your connection to conserve data.
There’s no streaming entertainment available over the Wi-Fi network, although there is an eLibrary.
Near the end of the flight, I took a shower. A flight attendant notified me when the shower was ready, and provided instructions. In short, you get “five or six minutes” of water. But you can turn the water on and off using a button.
Shampoo, conditioner and soap are provided in the shower.
With limited water, I didn’t want to risk poorly rinsed hair. So, I used the shower cap.
But if you wash your hair, there’s a hair dryer available.
There’s also an onboard lounge shared with business class. I wandered through the galley behind first class to the lounge about mid-flight, and found a group occupying all six seats. The flight attendant who showed me the lounge area, said this is common during daytime flights, noting that first-class passengers usually remain in their Apartments instead.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
Shortly after I boarded, a glass of 2006 Charles Heidsieck Brut Champagne, dates and a warm towel arrived at my seat.
A few minutes later, Chef Alex came by to introduce himself and provide a food menu and a drink menu.
Later in the boarding process, he came by to explain that the dine-on-demand format allows for any meal to be served at any time. At this time, he asked for my meal orders for the rest of the flight, and set up a shower time for me. I decided to have my departure meal about two hours after take off, my shower about two hours before landing and my arrival meal after my shower.
Shortly after take-off, a glass of 2006 Charles Heidsieck Brut Rosé was served with cashews, olives and sauteed vegetables.
Russian Oscietra caviar was on the first-class menu, so I asked to start my departure meal with this service. Etihad served this delicacy with a mother-of-pearl spoon and all the traditional accompaniments. I asked for a drink pairing recommendation and the chef recommended the Hyde de Villaine chardonnay.
I was served a 20-gram serving of Gourmet House Oscietra, which retails for about $45. This was only my third time trying caviar, so I’m far from an expert. But I can say that the blinis were spongy and fresh, and the caviar itself less salty than what I tried in Cathay Pacific First
After my caviar, I was served passion fruit sorbet to cleanse the palate before my main course.
For my main course, I ordered the chicken breast signature grill with seasonal vegetables and foyet sauce. The grilled vegetables were well-seasoned and perfectly cooked. The chicken breast was served on top of lentils, and the chef poured the sauce over the chicken breast immediately after serving it. The chicken was tender and moist, and was served with the skin on.
I ordered the warm date pudding for dessert, and my initial impression was that it was too sweet for an American palate. The breading, though, was gooey without being soggy.
About two hours before landing, Chef Alex stopped by to see if I would be willing to eat breakfast and then shower — which I later found was because of a delay in other passengers’ showers. I agreed, so the flight attendants brought out the turmeric smoothie and a plate with a croissant and a chocolate pastry.
The smoothie was thick and decadent; the flakey pastries were messy to eat. I ordered a cafe latte, which was better than I usually get on the ground.
I’d ordered the only hot breakfast option, which was a choice of scrambled eggs or an omelet. I opted for scrambled, and my eggs did appear freshly scrambled. They were served with potato rosti, mixed mushroom, lamb sausage and tomato relish. The grilled mushrooms were spicy and firm, but the potatoes didn’t reheat well.
A separate beverage menu listed all of the drink options:
- Champagne: Charles Heidsieck Brut 2006 and Charles Heidsieck Rosé 2006
- White wine: Hyde de Villaine Chardonnay 2014, Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Les Caillottes Sauvignon Blanc 2018, Château La Nerthe Grenache Blanc 2015, Gavi Del Comune Di Gavi Enrico Serafino Cortese 2016
- Red wine: Petit-Figeac Bordeaux Blend 2012, Kalleske Shiraz Greenock Single Vineyard 2017, Wooing Tree Pinot Noir 2017 and Clos De Los Siete Malbec Blend 2015
- Dessert wine: Château Doisy-Védrines Sémillon Blend 1999
- Fortified: Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port
- Aperitifs: Martini Bianco and Campari
- Cocktails: Mojito, Americano cocktail and Brass Monkey
- Mocktails: Iced tea, Pommeade and Orange Fizz
- Beer: Stella Artois, Peroni, Corona and Leffe Blond
- Spirits: Royal Salute 21YO, Glenlivet Master Distiller’s Reserve Single Malt Whisky, Jack Daniel’s Old No.7 Tennessee Whiskey, Grey Goose Vodka, Russian Standard Platinum Vodka, Hendrick’s Gin and Bacardi Superior Rum
- Digestif: Remy Martin Cellar Master ’28
- Liqueurs: Amarula Cream and Grand Marnier
- Water: Al Ain Sparkling and Al Ain Still
- Juices: Orange, lemon and mint, carrot, apple, mango and tomato
- Soft drinks: Coca-Cola, Coca-Cola Light, Sprite, Fever Tree Tonic Water, Fever Tree Ginger Ale, Fever Tree Soda Water
- Coffee: Espresso, macchiato, latte, cappuccino, American filter, decaffeinated filter
- Tea: English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Sulaimani, Jasmine Green, Sencha Green, Moroccan Mint and Camomile
I generally enjoyed my meals, and wish I’d been hungry enough to try more dishes. It was strange to only have eggs offered as a warm option for breakfast, although you could technically order any dish for your arrival meal. Even after asking, I didn’t really understand the difference between the à la carte main courses and the lounge and grill sections of the menu; this is one area where Etihad could improve the food and beverage experience.
The service on board was generally great. A flight attendant showed me to my seat and served me a predeparture drink of my choice. Multiple flight attendants introduced themselves, and I was given a thorough tour of my Apartment before departure. I had to decline many offers to refill my champagne glass before takeoff, which may explain why drink refills weren’t provided throughout the rest of the flight.
From the start, service was relatively friendly and informal. My favorite member of the crew was Chef Alex, who always delivered food and drink with a smile. And, because the flight attendants encouraged passengers to use the call button or IFE-ordering system for drinks, I found the service time to be extremely quick when I ordered drinks or pressed the call button.
One minor complaint is that there were a few loud announcements in the middle of the flight that unnecessarily woke sleeping passengers. My only other service issue is that I didn’t seem to have a primary flight attendant. Instead I was assisted by multiple flight attendants and the chef.This resulted in some miscommunication and didn’t provide the sense of consistency I’ve gotten in premium cabins on other flights.
The First Class Apartments on Etihad’s A380 is an exceptionally strong first-class hard product. I’d go as far as saying it’s the gold standard in terms of hard product because of the dedicated bed, spacious enclosed suite, comfortable lounge chair and onboard shower. These features aren’t all found on most other first-class products, and truly set Etihad’s Apartments apart.
However, Etihad falls short in other areas. For example, the ground experience — except for the lounge — didn’t feel premium, the onboard dining selections were not extensive (especially for breakfast) and prominent toilet-flush noise from my otherwise excellent Apartment was a bummer. But, flying Etihad’s First Class Apartment was still a spectacular experience for me and an incredible use of American Airlines miles.
Except where noted, all photos are by the author.
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