A Little Less Lustrous but Still First Class: Etihad’s Apartment on the A380 From Abu Dhabi to New York
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Supreme privacy, lots of space, an onboard shower, top-notch entertainment selection and delicious food both in the lounge in Abu Dhabi and in the air
Rushed ground experience, lack of chauffeur service, flooding issues in the shower, not-quite-first-class alcohol selections and poor baggage handling
Etihad’s Apartments were a game changer when they were first introduced in 2014, only bested by The Residence on board the same aircraft and few others. However, Etihad’s financial situation is a lot worse now than when it rolled out this incredible product. As Etihad cuts costs and closes lounges across the world, we wanted to see if the product was still one of the best first-class products flying today. While the experience fell a little short in a few areas, it’s still incredible.
To put it bluntly, it’s hard to find award availability on Etihad’s Apartments, particularly on the once-daily flight between Abu Dhabi (AUH) and New York-JFK. But it’s possible if you’re determined to fly it, have a flexible schedule and can use an award-availability alert system like ExpertFlyer.
An award flight between JFK and Abu Dhabi cost 80,000 miles one-way through Asiana Club or 115,000 miles one-way through American Airlines’ AAdvantage. It was easier to find award availability on other Apartment routes, such as Paris (CDG) or Sydney (SYD).
I was able to find one award seat on Nov. 11 through ExpertFlyer. So, I tried to book through AA’s Executive Platinum line. The agent confirmed that she was searching the first-class award-availability O space, but said the system was returning zero award availability. Immediately after hanging up with that agent, I called AA’s Australia phone number. The agent was able to see the award space, took my payment information and booked the flight.
A few days later, I noticed that the reservation was still showing as “on request,” so I called the US Executive Platinum line. The agent noted that the incorrect currency was used for the taxes and fees, so she needed to take my payment information again. Shortly later, I was successfully ticketed. There’s no telling what would’ve happened if I hadn’t noticed this and called, which serves as yet another reminder to pay attention to your bookings.
I made sure to get my Etihad record-locator number — different than AA’s record-locator number — from the Australian agent. But Etihad’s website wouldn’t allow me to select a seat. A pop-up box directed me to call Etihad.
After navigating through Etihad’s not-straightforward phone system, I was connected to a first-class phone agent. In addition to the EY record locator, she confirmed a slew of personal details (name, method of booking, departure date, destination) in order to simply select a seat, but I was eventually able to select Seat 4A.
Etihad First Class Apartments come with chauffeur service — but only when booked as a revenue ticket. In August 2016, the chauffeur service was cut from award flights booked through partners. In April 2018, Etihad also cut the service from its own award flights. This wasn’t clear in most parts of Etihad’s website, but it became clear when I tried to book a chauffeur.
Without chauffeur service at my disposal, I took a taxi from the Crowne Plaza in downtown Abu Dhabi out to the airport, costing 90 dirhams ($25) after the tip. He dropped me at the general entrance to Etihad’s Terminal 3. From there, it was a short walk down to the first-class entrance.
Although the porter outside the door entrance welcomed me into the terminal, there were no agents to welcome or direct me once I was inside. It wasn’t clear where to go, and I headed toward the first check-in counters I saw. That meant that I ended up checking in at a business-class counter. Don’t make the same mistake I did: The first-class check-in area was around the bend to the left past the entrance.
The business-class check-in agent wasn’t quick with the process of checking me in. Once my boarding pass was printed, she said I needed to be at the gate at 8:45am, or one and a half hours from the departure time, to ensure I had enough time for security and preclearance immigration.
Before I left, I asked if the agent could check on the status of my lost checked bag. My bag hadn’t arrived on my inbound Etihad flight the night before, and I was hoping to reunite with it before leaving. Despite taking down my Etihad lost-bag report number and inbound flight information, the long process merely resulted in the check-in agent saying that I needed to file a lost-bag report online. With 15 minutes already lost and the agent clearly not understanding that I’d already filed a report, I cut my losses and headed toward immigration.
There was a dedicated immigration and security area for first- and business-class passengers. I started to approach an immigration officer but was waved over to the automated gates. Fifteen seconds later, I was through immigration and on to security. This first round of security was fairly low-key — shoes were able to stay on, only major electronics needed to be removed, and my full water bottle from the hotel wasn’t confiscated. In under five minutes from the check-in counter, I walked into the Etihad first-class lounge.
The agent at the lounge entrance reiterated that I needed to be at preclearance at 8:45am, and it was 8:30am when I arrived. The agent let me enter to look around for a few minutes. I beelined it to the spa but was told there were no available treatments before my flight.
I decided to grab a quick bite to eat from the table-service restaurant. Upon sitting down, I immediately ordered a cafe latte and eggs Benedict. Three minutes later, I was served a truly excellent latte, and an incredible eggs Benedict dish arrived in under 10 minutes.
There was also a self-service breakfast buffet.
Despite it being before 9am, I ordered a glass of Champagne — you know, because it’s my job. The Charles Heidsieck 2006 Brut Millesime was excellent to my admittedly unrefined Champagne palate.
For heavier drinks, there was a beautiful bar around the corner from the dining area. The only downside was the backlighting that wrecked any photos that you wanted to take during the day.
For a better look around the Etihad first-class lounge, check out TPG’s visit earlier in 2018.
Around 9:10am, or 25 minutes after multiple agents told me to be at preclearance, I figured I should leave the lounge to catch the flight. This delay tactic worked out well for me, with US security and preclearance immigration both empty when I arrived.
It took seven minutes to clear the entire process. I bypassed the US premium lounge after immigration and headed straight to the gate. While reportedly not as good as the main lounge, it could be better than nothing for those who don’t want to press their luck, as I did.
Less than 15 minutes from leaving the lounge, and more than 50 minutes to departure, I boarded in the middle of priority boarding.
There were two jet bridges for boarding: a lower-deck entrance for economy and an upper-deck entrance for business and first class. There was about a five-minute delay at the boarding door entrance. It was unclear if this was due to passengers needing assistance or a delay preparing the cabin.
To test the baggage-checking process, I planned to check a bag. The trouble is, Etihad lost my bag on my positioning flight to Abu Dhabi. So I purchased a cheap bag in Abu Dhabi to check for this flight. Despite being tagged with a first-class priority tag, the bag wouldn’t show up on the belt in JFK until 30 minutes after the first bag from this flight dropped. My bag would end up being one of the last bags to come out from the A380 flight — clearly not priority treatment.
Cabin and Seat
Our aircraft for this flight was A6-API, one of 10 Etihad Airbus A380s. This particular A380 was delivered new to Etihad in March 2017, although it first flew in October 2016.
The first-class cabin was set up in a staggered 1-1 arrangement. Seats alternated between forward-facing and rear-facing. Each Apartment had its own sliding doors to provide privacy from the aisle. Interestingly, the A380 grand staircase wasn’t available for use the entire flight, as we boarded and exited from the upper deck.
Knowing that I wanted a seat with as many windows as possible and that was forward-facing, if possible, I chose Apartment 4A. The only other apartment that fit the bill was 4K.
Fun fact: Apartments 4A/4K had more windows than The Residence, which just had two windows.
Here’s a rundown of how the first-class cabin was laid out row by row:
- 1H: rear-facing aisle (two windows)
- 2C/H: forward-facing aisle (two windows)
- 3A/K: rear-facing window (three windows)
- 4A/K: forward-facing window (three windows)
- 5C/H: rear-facing aisle (one window)
Couples will want to choose seats 1H/2H, 3A/4A and 3K/4K. These apartments had a divider that could be lowered.
The apartment included a large 30-inch-wide reclining seat and a 78-inch long bench that converted into the apartment’s 26-inch-wide bed.
I didn’t sleep very well on the bed. However, it may not have been the fault of the bench being too firm. The cabin was quite loud during the flight because of other passengers.
On the opposite side of the apartment from the seat was a large cabinet.
The doors opened up into a large vanity.
The large apartment contained a wealth of storage areas. Under the bench was a large open compartment with latches to hold items in place during takeoff and landing. While the middle was for linen storage, the far side of the bench (i.e., aisle-adjacent for window-adjacent seats) was perfect for storing a smaller bag. And the closer section was perfect for storing shoes after changing into slippers.
Next to the seat and slightly tucked under the armrest was a set of seat controls allowing two ranges of motion: forward/back and recline. There was also a button for adjusting the window shades. Above this was the three-prong headphone outlet, an HDMI input, two USB outlets and the inflight-entertainment remote.
In the armrest containing the seat controls was a hidden control panel with even more seat controls (recline, movement, firmness, massage, lumbar and bed operation) as well as the window-shade controls and controls for the three lights in the apartment. Next to this panel was a small storage well perfect for a wallet, phone or small camera.
At either end of the bench were open-topped storage wells. One was half-filled with airline literature, but the other half of that one and the other one were nice areas for storing anything to keep on hand.
In the front of the cabin, opposite The Residence, were two lavatories for the nine-seat first-class cabin. One of the two contained the shower.
Behind the first-class cabin was a large galley that served as the aircraft’s boarding and exit area.
Behind that was the shared first/business-class lounge with six smaller seats. Flight attendants were attentive to passengers sitting in here, offering drinks and snacks.
After taking off, I set up my combination thermometer/hygrometer. Although the cabin wasn’t too dry at first, the humidity fell into the teens and as low as 7% during the long flight. The cabin temperature ranged from 72 from 77 degrees Fahrenheit. I was a bit warm under the covers when trying to sleep, but it generally didn’t feel too warm on board. There were no personal air vents or temperature controls.
Amenities and IFE
Between what was stocked at the seat at boarding and what was handed out during boarding, I had up a blanket, pajamas, slippers, headphones and an Acqua Di Parma amenity kit by the time we pushed back.
The amenity kit included an eye mask, socks, body lotion, lip balm, eau de cologne, a toothbrush and toothpaste.
In the bathrooms, the Acqua Di Parma amenities continued with bottles of handwash, hand cream, facial mist and rinse-free cleanser.
One of the Apartment’s larger storage drawers was dedicated to a large blanket.
The apartment’s entertainment centered around a 24-inch touchscreen display. The handheld, with a 4-inch display, was next to the seat.
There was no lack of entertainment onboard. I counted 188 movies and 221 TV shows in addition to seven channels of live TV (Sport24, SkyNews, NHK World Premium, CNBC, BBC World News, EuroNews and CNN).
AvGeeks could enjoy three external flight cameras: tail, forward and downward-facing, though the video feeds were quite grainy.
There was a single universal power outlet in the console in the middle of the apartment. It was recessed, so my phone’s angled power plug didn’t fit. A flight attendant quickly came up with a solution and used an adapter to bridge the gap.
Although I was initially concerned about having just one power outlet, the power provided from this outlet was enough to rapidly charge my devices. I was able to toggle between charging devices and left the flight with full batteries on all devices.
In addition to the universal power outlet, there were two USB power outlets, an HDMI outlet and the IFE’s three-prong headphone outlet immediately next to the seat.
First-class passengers were provided with a Wi-Fi voucher at boarding, allowing 90 MB of data through the aircraft’s Panasonic system.
Unfortunately, the voucher I was provided didn’t do well when I used a US quarter to try to reveal the code. A flight attendant quickly retrieved another voucher and scratched it off himself. He then walked me through the connection process on my phone, making sure that I set up an account so I could switch between devices.
With it being Panasonic-powered, I was unable to run an Ookla speed test or connect to Slack on my laptop, both of which I’ve grown accustomed to. However, I was able to run a speed test through Fast.com, which revealed 0.38 Mbps download and 0.36 Mbps upload speeds.
Just after boarding, I inquired about how the shower booking worked, worried that they might need to load extra fresh water. The flight attendant said that passengers’ shower preferences would be recorded by the chef. Sure enough, when he was coming through to take meal orders, the chef asked if I’d like to take a shower. He noted that shower appointments were 30 minutes, and the latest you could shower was 90 minutes before landing. I chose two hours before landing.
Due to a technical issue, the shower wasn’t ready for me to use until about an hour and 15 minutes before landing. Apologizing for the situation, a flight attendant showed me to the shower and explained how it worked: five minutes of water, with a timer to show you how much time you had left, with the ability to turn the water on and off as desired.
Acqua Di Parma-branded shampoo, conditioner and body wash were provided inside the shower with a body lotion, a floor mat and a towel ready after the shower.
The irregularly shaped shower measured about 40 inches wide by 32 inches deep and up to 76 inches tall. So, the height might’ve been an issue for the tallest of passengers but wasn’t an issue for me at 5’11”.
My biggest takeaway from the shower was: Manage your soap-time ratio. I only used the “green” portion on the shower timer to shampoo and rinse, but then I made the mistake of using too much soap when lathering up. It took almost the rest of the water allotment to rinse.
By the time I shut off the shower, I was standing in a few inches of water. I checked with the flight attendant after finishing and found that the technical issue was drainage.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
When I looked online for information about my flight, I was pleasantly surprised to find an option to see the menu for my flight, presented in English and Arabic over a few pages.
Etihad got off to a fast start to onboard food and drink, and there was no lack of options through the flight. At boarding, the Apartment was stocked with a minibar containing two waters, two cans of Sprite and two cans of Coca-Cola.
But before I could even find this minibar, a flight attendant delivered a tray of dates, a cold towel, a Wi-Fi pass and a Champagne glass. This glass was quickly filled with Charles Heidsieck 2006. After a few sips, I switched to the Arabic coffee.
Once we were in the air, another tray was delivered with an appetizer of nuts, olives, a cherry tomato and an artichoke heart. Of course, this was served with another glass of Champagne.
About an hour after takeoff, the meal service began with a choice of appetizer. I got the beetroot salmon and was fascinated by the taste and texture of the unique dish. What the appetizer lacked in size it made up for in taste. Bread was served before the appetizer along with the place setting, I tried the bread rolls but found them cold, a bit stale and generally not worth eating.
Next, an unlisted interlude of small lemon sorbet was served to prepare the palate for the next dish. The citrus theme would continue with my cod main course. Listed as a red-pepper emulsion on the menu, the topping was remarkably citrusy. The cod itself melted like butter in my mouth. The accompanying potato and broccolini provided a bit of balance to the meal.
While waiting for my bed to be set up, I stepped into the shared business/first-class lounge for a drink. I was a bit disappointed to find midrange brands such as Bacardi, Bombay Sapphire, Jack Daniels and Amarula. The liquor options on the first-class menu were the same.
After I took a seat in the lounge, a flight attendant came in shortly to ask for my drink order. I got a Glenlivet 12 on the rocks, which was served with a basket of chips I didn’t order but happily consumed.
A couple hours out from landing at JFK, another meal was served. Although a caviar service was listed on the menu, I wasn’t asked if I wanted it with my lunch, and it wasn’t proactively served. So I asked the chef to start my second meal with the caviar service. With this being just my second time having caviar ever, I can’t speak to the quality of the caviar or the service itself, but I rather enjoyed it all.
Although a breakfast service was listed on the menu, I tried out another entree from the a la carte lunch menu: the chicken breast. The skin-on chicken breast was perfectly cooked and remained juicy despite the long journey. Again, the meal was served with bread that I found rather uninspiring.
Overall, the food was incredible — except for the bread — and the drinks were great but seemed to fall short of top-notch first-class levels.
The onboard service was nearly flawless, with only a few nitpicks. At boarding, I noticed that other Apartment passengers were escorted to their seats and shown around. However, it seems that Etihad ran out of flight attendants to do so, and I was merely pointed toward the first-class cabin to seat myself. Later, I’d get a short lecture from the chef about needing permission to film on board after he noticed my GoPro.
Besides this, the service was excellent. It started a bit dry and stoic, but my main flight attendant especially realized how excited I was with the product and became more friendly and helpful.
When I was ready to test the bed, I flagged down a flight attendant and asked for a turndown service. With my GoPro running, I stepped into the lounge for a drink as the lengthy turndown process was completed.
I performed the extra-pillow test, pressing the call button to request an extra pillow once I was settling into bed. The flight attendant took about 15 seconds to reach my apartment and happily delivered an extra pillow in about a minute. That’s about as good as it gets.
Having heard of the Etihad Apartments for years, I came into this experience with very high expectations. Sure enough, the Etihad Apartment was an incredible experience that I’d highly recommend.
That said, the experience lost a little luster due to issues from a rushed ground experience and lack of chauffeur service to technical issues delaying and rushing my shower in the sky. And while the Champagne and drinks were great, I couldn’t help but notice that the brands weren’t quite first-class.
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