Aircraft Type: A380
Class: First Class “Apartments”
Flight time: 7:25
Date: Februrary 2015
Best for: Anyone who can afford it. Suitable for those who have to travel a long way and value space, service and comfort above all else.
The crowd: An almost-full cabin. With ultimate privacy, it was hard to say, but mainly top level executive travellers.
Business or pleasure: This is all about unadulterated pleasure. A hedonistic paradise.
Routes: Etihad fly to over 100 destinations (although currently only LHR on the A380), and a very good competitor to their rival ME carriers, recent expansion has seen more US destinations on the map too.
Frequent Flyer Programme: Etihad Guest, a well positioned frequent flier scheme and with more and more carriers being snapped up by Etihad, the future is definitely bright.
Best bits: Everything. Although the service was the best we’ve experienced in the skies.
Worst bits: There aren’t really any, although one minor point is the galley space needs a little refining (more about that below!).
Etihad A380 First Class Apartment Report
We all can imagine the golden age of air travel, whether we were lucky enough to experience it ourselves, or having seen one of the countless black and white images of a bygone era. Air travel used to be glamorous, elegant and more of a special occasion. Gradually planes became more affordable to run and the advent of cheap fares for all dominated the way we flew. The last fashionable nail in the coffin was a decade ago, when the global commercial crisis meant flying first class was no longer a socially acceptable way to travel.
Luckily for travellers around the world, due to cheaper oil prices, First Class is back on airline’s radars as a way to lure passengers (in all classes) on to their jets. While many carriers are investing into their First Class, none have rewritten the rule book more than Etihad. This carrier has singularly brought back the glamour, excitement and delight of premium travel with the introduction of their long awaited A380.
On our return trip from our original business class studio review we were upgraded to the heights of luxury in Etihad’s A380 First Class cabin. We were blown away by the swathes of space, luxurious details and faultless service that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Michelin star restaurant or five star hotel. Nothing was left to chance the whole way through the journey. Our only downside was the flight was too short, and a 2:35am departure isn’t the most appealing flight time for travellers compared to the two other daily flights to and from Heathrow on Etihad. We cannot state this enough, when the A380 ends up flying to Australia and New York, this will be one of the hottest tickets in the sky.
[Editors Note – we’d like to apologise for the poor quality of some of the photos, due to the low light levels on the aircraft (being a night flight) and being respective of fellow passengers not to use flash photography]
On the Ground
Whether booked in First Class or Business Class you are entitled to Chauffer drive. The car will bring you straight up to the door at Abu Dhabi’s Terminal 3 where there is a dedicated check-in wing for passengers flying in First and Business Class. As our car pulled up at the terminal at roughly 11.30pm, there were porters who were assisting us before we had even realised. As we had stepped out of the car, our luggage was already on a trolley, being ushered into the terminal.
The sleek-looking facade to the terminal is an impressive start, and even at close to midnight, the terminal was buzzing. Within 30 seconds, we were inside the terminal, following our luggage. As we were confirmed Business Class guests, we headed to the Business Class check-in area, which offers a bank of fully staffed desks. The check-in was empty, and we went straight to a smiling and friendly agent. Dressed in the new uniforms, the staff appeared smart and elegant.
The question arose, “we currently have you sat in 1H, is this ok, it is a rear facing seat?” Having previously studied the seat map, we knew exactly what that meant, we had been upgraded to First Class. Was a rear facing seat ok? Absolutely. This was an amazing opportunity, and we were lucky to experience it. In hindsight we could have checked in through the First Class counters, the experience would have been very similar except for comfortable seats at the check-in area where we could have relaxed whilst the attentive ground staff would have whisked us through the check-in process.
With our First Class tickets in hand, we headed through security, which in this terminal is nothing short of bliss. Within ten steps and 60 seconds we were through. There are few airport experiences like this.
Originally, right after security, you were able to enter the Etihad Lounge, which was comfortable and well appointed, although a little tired. We had heard the carrier had introduced a new lounge through a soft launch, and were excited to try it out. It was interesting that the carrier had invested in a new lounge in Terminal 3, while the midfield terminal was being built and no doubt a new lounge coming with it.
The new lounge near Gate 35, was roughly a 5 minute walk away, and situated near the A380 appointed gates – for us that night, gate 33. On the way to the lounge we were pleased to see the airport embracing local artists, and had seen a similar exhibition in Rosewood Abu Dhabi last time we were there.
The Etihad lounge has a very unassuming entrance, and appears deceptively small, however, on stepping inside the reception we could see this was no ordinary lounge.
Inside was an expansive and beautifully appointed space, much larger and more impressive than their previous offering. On arrival, our boarding passes were checked and we were greeted by name. We were then escorted by one of the impeccably dressed staff to a dedicated First Class area. As the First Class lounge hadn’t been completed, the lounge was shared by both classes, with one corner roped off only for First Class passengers. It was served by a dedicated team of staff, who were on hand to bring any food or drink to you from the various food outlets and bars.
The lounge offers a variety of dining seats and lounge seats where passengers can enjoy a variety of dining options, as well as cocktails made by a team of mixologists who staff the main bar.
Also inside the lounge is a male and female salon called ‘Style and Shave’, whereby passengers are able to enjoy a shave, manicure or pedicure or even a haircut, similar to the arrivals lounge the airline offers in Abu Dhabi.
The lounge also plays host to a Six Senses spa, with nine dedicated treatment rooms, offering complimentary 15 minute treatments from massage to Reiki, along with showers for those wanting to refresh. If work is your thing, there are work stations, with computers, and a fairly decent WiFi running the whole way through the lounge.
The lounge kept on delivering, and would keep passengers entertained for hours on end. The food on offer was impressive, and cocktails looked and tasted perfect. The whole lounge was bright and airy, with white walls and splashes of Aqua and Orange offsetting the dark wooden veneers. While a lounge that may only be around for a few years, the overall finish felt very permanent, luxurious and the styling very contemporary.
There are no announcements in the lounge and wanting to make the most of the onboard product, we headed off at the time on our boarding passes. As soon as we got up to leave, ground staff were at our side, escorting us out of the lounge, ensuring that we had a pleasant flight ahead, showing us the concierge desk too, incase there was anything else the lounge staff could do for us before our flight. Saying goodbye, we headed our way to the gate.
Like in London, due to the dual deck layout of the A380, passengers were separated at the gate, with economy passengers waiting in one area, and the 70 business class passengers and 11 First Class passengers (including Residence) using a second boarding gate area. Having timed it perfectly, we rocked up at the gate just as they commenced boarding and made our way down the jet bridge to the aircraft.
We found it interesting that the signage that Etihad have use iconography to differentiate the cabin classes, each one with its own unique colour scheme, title and logo. However, the airline has opted not to include the phraseology ‘Apartments’ and ‘Studios’ which are used in the rest of the airline’s literature. Perhaps in a way to offer simpler guidance to passengers and not to confuse them.
Unlike our last adventure, we were invited to turn left on boarding. Whereby as if perfectly choreographed, our two main cabin crew greeted us and walked us to our ‘Apartments’. Whilst we usually don’t name cabin crew for their efforts, as experiences can differ, both Tomas and Marc were two core members of staff on the A380 and a regular fixture, both impeccably groomed, and by far some of the best cabin crew we have ever experienced in the air. Tomas, being one of the inflight butlers would cater to The Residence if it were occupied.
If first impressions could kill, we’d be knocked down dead. Two beautifully crafted walls of intricate lattice work framed a long corridor that lead to the forward staircase. Beautifully dappled light decorated the corridor and everything felt as if we really were walking under palm trees, something unique to Etihad. The walls were high, unlike those found in Emirates, and privacy was key. The extra height allowed due to the very clever use of the fretwork on the passenger doors, allowing for cabin crew to discreetly check on their guests.
Unlike their competitors, the corridor isn’t blocked by a vanity bulkhead at the front, instead a rope simply blocks economy passengers from making their way to the private and impressive space.
Due to the simple and neutral colour palette, and large fretwork doors, the effect of the mood lighting is increased, with every surface reflecting the colours that fill the cabin throughout the flight.
Throughout the flight, even when it’s darkened for passengers to sleep, the patterned gobos take centre stage, offering a dappled walkway, adding drama to an already theatrical product.
At the front of the cabin, for the nine First Class Apartments (The Residence has its own) are two toilets, one which is excessively large, perfect for getting changed and getting ready in the morning, the other features a shower. Etihad is the only airline apart from Emirates to offer such a lavish product in the sky. The shower cubicle and toilet are quite dimly lit, which is a blessing, as we hate the garishly bright light in some toilets, which make us look like we’ve not slept for weeks. We loved the smell of the La Lobo toiletries on offer in the restrooms.
There is a design note here, (although our photos aren’t that great, as the toilets really were that dark!) all the toilets are situated at an angle onboard the A380 to give the passenger an increased sense of space.
Situated behind the cabin is the same onboard lounge that is available to the business class passenger. The lounge, being a night flight, was hardly occupied the whole way through the flight, however, speaking with the cabin crew, its quite often frequented on the day flights, and can easily accommodate six people on the curved seats. The central table is assembled after take off, and along with the bar behind the seating area offers a variety of snacks throughout the flight.
Our one concern (as we mentioned at the beginning of the report) is the layout of the galley space separating the first class cabin and the onboard lounge. To get to the lounge, passengers have to walk through the galley space, and whilst split so most of the work is done in a private galley situated away from passengers eyes, due to the complexity of the service, the passenger side of the galley is also used for prep work, and we had to navigate ourselves through half a dozen frantically working cabin crew, who were preparing a myriad of dishes for the 80 something premium passengers on the upper deck. Like any new service, this may is just a teething issue, and we have no doubt that the need to use the second galley space will be reduced over a short period of time.
The Seat (Apartment)
Tomas, opening the doors to the Apartment, greeted us inside, and kindly offered to show all the features of the suite. The first thing we noticed inside the Apartment is the large comfortable recliner seat, and a large padded bench that cleverly expands into a wide single bed. Each suite is formed in an L-shape, and they interlock to offer alternative forward and rear facing seats, with six of the nine seats being offering adjoining beds that can partially open up to each other for those wanting to effectively sleep together.
Let’s start with the seat. A real first class throne. The seat is wide, and generously padded. Either side are two wide armrests, and the whole unit is decked top to toe in luxurious Poltrona Frau leather. While the full seat recline is slight (as you can see in the images above) the seat is incredibly comfortable, and for those seeking comfort, the ottoman/bed can also be adjusted meaning that it’s easy to get comfortable in any position.
To the right is the main control unit for the Apartment. Situated on the armrest are the main seat controls, allowing forward and rear movement of both ottoman and seat including the extension of the dining table, and raising and lowering of the window blinds. Lift up the arm rest and the digital panel illuminates, filled with further digital controls that allow the user to change the comfort level of the seat, from massage functions to inflating and deflating the seat to make it harder or softer. The controls also allow for the variety of light settings for the variety of lamps situated around the Apartment as well as a Do Not Disturb function that allows for complete privacy when the doors are slid shut.
The seat is an engineering marvel. The other armrests plays host to the dining table, which is excessively large, and comes out from the front of the arm rest. The mechanics mean it is not only large, but sturdy, and feels incredibly solid.
As for the Ottoman, the cabin-length seat mechanically changes to a full single bed with more length and width that any passenger needs. There are beautiful design touches here, such as a seatbelt that automatically folds out as the bed unfolds meaning a passenger can climb into bed without navigating the seatbelt straps.
Hidden away, next to the seat, is a woman’s dream. A vanity unit, which when opened up offers a variety of toiletries, giant illuminated mirror and space to store any of your own personal articles.
For those wanting to hang their personal effects, by the door there is a large storage locker, with hangers and a bag for anything you might want to lift off the aircraft as a souvenir!
As for a turn down service, the bed was beautifully made when it came to sleep, and the duvet, pillow and mattress, all wonderfully comfortable.
A lovely touch, and a hidden extra is the small bedside table, which pulls out giving space for water bottles to be securely held incase you were to get thirsty during the flight. It’s these little well thought through design touches that really make this product really stand out from their competitors.
The entertainment, like Etihad’s Business Class, has a large library of over 750 hours, and whilst not as many films as rival Emirates, still enough to make sure even Etihad’s most frequent fliers will never have seen everything. The screen itself is huge, and the headphones were really high quality noise cancelling units, that also featured the quick release magnetic connector making sure cables didn’t rip from the headsets.
Whether sat in the seat or lying down on the Ottoman, there were two IFE controllers to hand, and by the end of the bed, a separate seat control unit too allowing the screen to pop out whilst lying down, meaning your viewing angle is never compromised.
A sneaky advantage to passengers in First compared to The Residence means that guests get their own TV rather than having to share one, or having to pop into the bedroom to watch something different from their partner.
The icing on the cake when it comes to entertainment, is having this morning’s paper freshly printed and delivered to you at your seat during breakfast.
Although this was a night flight, and we were onboard at 2am, it would have been criminal not to have partaken in every food service that Etihad could deliver. We bravely sacrificed sleep in order to be able to fully experience the Etihad First Class product. (not bad going considering we were recording The Aviator the following evening)
Once settled in to the seat, our Champagne Pol Roger, Brut Vintage 2004 arrived, accompanied by a refreshing cold towel, some dates and a personal letter, sealed with the First Class Apartment emblem. Poured at the seat, it really was an exquisite 8 year aged vintage bottle.
Being a night flight, and hoping to expedite our food service and give us maximum sleep time, the onboard chef came to each suite to take a food order, and see if he could prepare us anything from the kitchen before we slept. I quickly thumbed the menu and ordered a few little tasters before settling into the seat for take off.
Once airborne, Marc quickly arrived at the seat and poured a glass of the Seresin Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013, which was served with a variety of snacks.
Although we could have opted for a Louis Latour per Cru French Chardonnay 2011 or a classic Dohlmühle 2013 Riesling. If red wine was more your thing, there were no less than five reds, including Cabernet Sauvignon blend, La Croix de Beaucaillou Saint-Julien, Bordeaux 2011; Shiraz, MSV, ‘Gomersal Vineyard’ Barossa Valley from Australia 2008; Line 39, Pinot Noir, Central Coast, California, 2013; Sangiovese, Rosso Di Montalcino, Tenuta Il Poggione, Tuscany, Italy 2012; or the Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre (GSM) blend, Gerard Bertrand Corbieres, France 2011.
No sooner had we started nibbling away, Marc returned, with tray of cutlery and linens, and single handedly managed to navigate the table controls, and lay it with the precision of a michelin-star restaurant waiter whilst still precariously balancing his tray through a few bumps of turbulence – one skilled gentleman!
We had opted for a simple garden salad and The Etihad Signature Steak Sandwich from the All Day Dining menu, although also on offer were sandwiches made to order, Tandoori chicken, and even more bizarrely afternoon tea, tarts, Panna Cotta, cheese, ice cream and snacks, chocolates and Baklava.
Both dishes were delightfully tasty, and perfectly prepared. The garden salad was unbelievable, and perfect for a 3.30am snack. The steak sandwich was melt in the mouth delicious, and the fries were a lovely touch. Deciding to stretch our legs one final time, as our beds were prepared for the night, we headed to the lounge for a delicious hot chocolate, perfect for sending you to a stomach filled coma for the night.
Opting for a shower, 2.5 hours before arrival, we managed to get approximately 3-4 hours uninterrupted sleep. Which was perfect, and the beds unbelievably comfortable. As I woke, as if by magic, one of the cabin crew were sliding open the doors, and gently letting me know my shower was ready if I wanted it. After an amazing shower, with buckets of hot water, heated floor mat, a hair dryer (no less!) and a warm, fluffy dressing gown, I made my way back to my suite whereby a fresh tea was waiting for me with all the accompaniments you could ask for.
No sooner had I settled back in, Marc was there laying my table once again, and asking whether I wanted any breakfast. This discreet and friendly service just flowed effortlessly, and my needs being met before I realised I needed anything myself. Having eaten what felt like half the GDP of the UK in the space of 8 hours or so, I opted for a light breakfast, picking the fruit smoothie energiser drink, the breakfast bakery basket and a breakfast taster, leaving the fresh organic eggs cooked to order, butterscotch fruit brioche swirl and full english breakfast on the back burner.
With a freshly laid table, an Amuse Bouche breakfast plate arrived (that’s a first!) which was a natural yogurt and fruit which had the most incredible presentation. The taste was fresh, light and a perfect way to start the morning.
This shortly followed by the rest of the breakfast, which was perfectly plated and more than enough to tip us over the edge. As you can tell from the image below I was in an aviation post-food nirvana.
The food, cutlery, service and table settings on Etihad are second to none, and sometimes you have to remind yourself you are 40,000ft in the air. As the quietness of the cabin, excellence in service and quality of the dining is nothing short of the best room service in one of the finest hotels in London.
Sadly as soon as the flight had started, it seemingly was being wrapped up and prepared for landing, leaving me no option apart from to delve into my amenities and prepare myself for the harsh reality of a day in the office ahead.
Extras are where Etihad excel. From onboard showers to chilled minibars, there is no stone left unturned when it comes to the passenger experience Every single element is designed with comfort in mind. The list of extras is endless. From running hot and cold towels and personal letters from the Chief Stewardess delivered to our seats on arrival, through to luxurious and comfortable pyjamas, dressing gowns and toiletries for freshening up before arrival or fast track arranged to speed up the airport experience. Even our fellow passenger managed to get their shirt wet when operating the sink at the start of the flight. By the end of the flight a seemingly pressed and dried shirt was delivered to the seat. For those arriving into Abu Dhabi there is also an arrivals lounge for a shave or haircut, and wherever you may be headed Chauffer drive to get you to your destination.
On arrival to London Heathrow, we reluctantly packed up our things and left the aircraft. We felt cheated, and could have easily spend another 24 hours in the First Class Apartments, or even moved-in forever. Etihad have delivered yet again on their promise to re-imagine the passenger experience. We started our trip with a slight concern that the product wouldn’t live up to the expectations that have been built over the preceding months, yet it delivered ten-fold. There is no part of the passenger experience here that hasn’t been considered. Every tiny detail is designed with service in mind. While the hard product is faultless, expansive, luxurious and comfortable, it is the ease of service that makes this First Class product a game changer. Would we pay the price-tag associated to the product? Yes, without a doubt. We actually believe they are very competitively priced suites. We do strongly believe we are in the resurgence of a JetSet era, where not only can passengers fly on a budget, but can once again, be pampered on hand and foot, and embrace the truly magical passenger experience that is First Class. Welcome to Etihad’s First Class Apartments, welcome to the very best that flying has to offer.
The Big Picture