Etihad First Class Apartment Sydney to Abu Dhabi – Review

By: Michael

Back in May coming back from our trip to Australia (after flying Virgin Australia Business Class to get there) we had the opportunity of flying the Etihad A380 first class apartment, which is probably a bucket list item for any aviation geek. We had booked this flight several months out while availability was pretty decent. While the price isn’t cheap at 100,000 American Airlines miles per person, this is essentially the best first class product in the world by general consensus, so we couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to try it. Besides, every AV geek knows the most direct way to fly from Australia to the U.S. is westbound via Abu Dhabi, right?

Etihad flight 455 departs Sydney at 8:50 p.m. local time. Having checked out of our hotel at 4pm, we got to the airport with plenty of time, actually about 30 minutes before check in opened, so we waited at the main terminal, in an area where there wasn’t much to do or even many places to sit. When the Etihad desk opened we headed to the first class line and we were second in line, but the couple who was in front of us had so much luggage that it took about 15 minutes to get to us, while we watched almost the entire business class line check in first. Other than that, our own check in was relatively quick and painless.

EtihadAfter checking in we headed for security, customs and the Etihad first class lounge. The lounge was pretty hard to find, and we even walked past it, but eventually found our way into it.

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The food was pretty decent, but given the anticipation of the apartment flight, we didn’t want to spoil our appetite, so we just nibbled on some snacks and wine. I also took a shower prior to boarding, just to feel more refreshed and be able to sleep better on the plane.

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When it was time to board they made the announcement at the lounge and we headed for our gate, a short 3-5 minute walk, and got there just as they were starting to board. The size of the A380 blows me away every time.

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The first class apartments are on the A380 upper deck, which is configured with a single aisle, making the apartments enormous. Upon boarding we were welcomed by the cabin manager and our flight attendant, who escorted us to our seats. I had been preparing myself for the “wow” factor, and the cabin did not disappoint.

EtihadI was seated in apartment 3A, and my wife was in the adjacent apartment, 4A. I made sure we selected the apartments with seats that are nearest to the window, which also have 3 windows each. The apartments alternate, and so there are a few that are near the aisle and you cannot look outside the window while you’re seated for take off and landing. Those also have only one window.

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It is also worth noting that to be able to turn into double beds, the seats alternate between facing backwards and forward. I chose the seat that faces backwards and gave my wife the one that faces forward.

The apartments decor was stunning. There is a seat and a couch that extends the full length of the apartment.

The seat is so wide it is actual hard for a small person to use both armrests at the same time. The TV faces the seat, but can be rotated 90 degrees so that you can watch it while the couch is in bed mode.

After settling in we were offered pre-departure beverages, and I went with the champagne, while my wife chose a mojito. Etihad serves Billecart Salmon in first class, which I thought was excellent, though I will caveat this by noting I’m not a champagne connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination.

My wife’s mojito was one of the best I’ve ever had anywhere. It had nothing to envy to any of the great ones we’ve had at many bars in Miami.

I then spent some time getting familiar with the apartment features, including the seat, vanity mirror section and storage areas.

Next to the seat there are two USB ports, one HDMI and one regular power plug, and there is also a tethered remote control for the TV, flight attendant call buttons, etc.

Next to the armrest there are electronic controls for the window shades and preset seating positions. The armrest can be lifted up to reveal additional storage and more electronic controls such as lighting, seat positions and window shades, which can be opened and closed individually or in unison. These seemed redundant to me since both sets of controls are next to each other. The electronic controls also have a button for a seat back massage function, although I don’t remember trying it out.

Next to the seat there is a personal minibar. It doesn’t look as blinged out as the one from Emirates first class, but it’s convenient to have water and soft drinks within easy reach.

There is a large vanity area with mirrors and additional storage pockets. That is also where the amenity kit is located, plus toothbrush and toothpaste set, hair comb, eye shades, socks, and a shaving kit, which I skipped because I wanted to take advantage of the Abu Dhabi arrivals lounge complimentary wet shave.

The amenity kit also included Omorovicza branded toiletries from Budapest (which I know nothing about). From left to right clockwise on the photo below there was a moisturizer, lip balm, hand creme and a cleansing wipe.

The noise-cancelling headphones are in a case on a storage compartment by the entrance.

While there is plenty of storage for personal items, electronics, etc., the one thing to note if you’re carrying your bags on the cabin is that there is not enough space for a normal carry-on bag under the sofa in front of you, so the crew will have to store it for you somewhere else in the cabin. There isn’t much room under the couch for a personal item to slide under it, but my backpack fit just fine.

During our time on the ground our first class attendant came by to introduce himself and welcome us aboard, and we also received a welcome letter signed by the cabin manager. We were also offered Arabic coffee, dates and a hot towel.

The crew also presented us with a bag with pajamas and slippers for the flight, as well as a choice of newspapers.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see Johan onboard, since my brother and his wife had flown with him back in December on their way back from their honeymoon and had a great flying experience with him. A day earlier he had also been Lucky’s butler on his flight on the Etihad Residence, so by now he’s quite a popular guy. I made sure to say hello to him, showed him a picture of my brother and him back when they flew together and he instantly recognized him, and I took a picture with him as well. Very nice guy.

After boarding was completed the captain made the customary announcements, and the in-flight prayer began to play on the entertainment system, as well as the in-flight safety video. I then switched to the tail camera TV channel to watch the plane taxi and take off.

We had a quick taxi and in a few minutes we were in our takeoff roll. Seated facing forward it’s a strange feeling, as you watch the plane moving forward on the camera but actually feel your body moving backwards and pushing away from your seat instead of sinking into it.

I was surprised to see that Etihad allows apartment passengers to have their beds made on the ground, and a few passengers requested that option, even though having the sofa in bed mode blocks part of the apartment’s exit in case of an emergency. I’m not sure if they follow the same practice under FAA jurisdiction.

After we crossed 10,000 feet the seatbelt sign was promptly turned off and I went and changed into my pajamas. There is a small personal closet with a hanger by the entrance to each apartment, which you can use to hang your clothes and store your shoes.

The inflight chef then came by and took our orders and I requested to go over to my wife’s apartment to have dinner with her, since the table is large enough to sit two people, one seated on the seat and another one seated on the couch across from one another.

We had previously spent some time looking at the menu while on the ground and had placed our orders prior to takeoff. Etihad first class has an on demand menu, so you simply order what you want, when you want it. Here is the full menu for our flight, including the drinks menu:

To begin we were served an amuse-bouche of tomato jelly and mozzarella, which was refreshing.

We were also served mixed nuts, wasabi peas and olives.

For appetizer I had the Arabic mezze, which was relatively good, although I’ve had better. My wife had the scallop and shrimp appetizer.

The appetizer was followed by a palate cleanser.

As main course I selected the Wagyu striploin and my wife ordered the Monkfish, which was fresh and tasty. I always order my steaks medium, but this one was overcooked and pretty dry, so I didn’t enjoy it as much.

The crew was attentive the whole time and occasionally came by to check on us, and when we hit the call button they always came right away.

By this time we were pretty full, so we both skipped dessert. All things considered, the food was perfectly edible, but did not rival some of the food we had in Singapore first class suites from Los Angeles to Tokyo, or Singapore first class from Hong Kong to San Francisco, or even Asiana first class New York to Seoul and Korean Air Cosmo Suites from Seoul to Dallas.

Since I had showered before the flight, I requested the crew to reserve a shower spot for me for 2 hours before landing. After dinner I went to the lavatory to freshen up and requested the crew to have our beds made. The feature that I loved about the Etihad apartment is that since the seat and the bed are separate, you can basically have your bed made and left in that position for almost the entire flight and go back and forth between the two as you please. Even with the couch in bed mode there is still room to walk around the apartment, which is great, IMO.

Under the vanity console there is a small pullout tray with a cup holder, which I found very handy to keep a water bottle and my cell phone as I was sleeping.

There is an additional tethered remote control next to the bed, but I couldn’t get mine to work. It was just dead. The cable for the one near the seat was long enough to reach the small tray near the bed, so I just used that one instead. I probably should have reported the malfunction to the crew, but I didn’t want to bother them for such a small nuisance that they might not have been able to do anything about mid-flight.

After we were set up we shut our apartment doors closed for privacy and went to bed. My wife went straight to sleep although I watched TV in bed for a bit.

After a while I dozed off and slept for a good 7 or so hours and woke up about 4 hours out of Abu Dhabi, but stayed in bed and watched some more TV. The entertainment system is pretty generous, although I spent most of the time watching The Trump Channel CNN.

After I woke up I went to check out the lounge. This is a couch and coffee table set up that they have between first and business class, and is accessible to both cabins.

Conveniently the arm rests fold down and there are power chargers for use while you’re seated in this area. There is also a small TV which was muted and was playing BBC and also showing some flight data and Abu Dhabi weather info.

While the concept is well intended, I personally think this is a waste of space of sorts, at least for the first class cabin passengers. The seats are cramped and for someone who has a first class apartment with a bed and couch that seats up to two additional people, it makes no sense to spend any time here. I can see business class passengers getting up to stretch their legs and talk in a public setting, but even the business class studios are much larger than the ones at the lounge.

While I took the lounge pictures after boarding while it was empty, during my flight visit there was only one empty seat, so I sat there and ordered a cappuccino and chatted a bit with some of the business class passengers and then headed back to my apartment.

I should also mention that Etihad has wifi on their aircraft, and you can purchase a pass for the entire flight for approximately $20, which includes unlimited data. At this price for a 15 hour flight it is a steal, and I bought a pass using my Ritz Carlton VISA, which I could then request reimbursement for out of my $300 airline incidental fees benefit, so it was essentially free. The speed was fantastic and very reliable, so it was a solid purchase.

A couple of hours out of AUH the crew asked me if I was ready for my shower, so I went and got set up. The shower is in the smaller lavatory (very tiny, actually), and the crew will set it up with toiletries and a towel.

Just as with Emirates’ shower, you get 5 minutes of water, but you can turn it on and off to conserve it. Taking a shower on a plane at 40,000 feet was as good as advertised, and an unforgettable experience.

The shower knob has a progress bar coloring system that goes from green to yellow and then red to indicate how much water time you have left.

The crew also set up toiletries inside the shower.

The lavatory with the shower is pretty small, but there is another one next to it that is pretty spacious. There is also a locked door at the end which I assumed was either an emergency exit from the crew rest area or a supplies closet.

The larger lavatory also had a folding bench for seating and a higher one that served as a baby-changing station.

Across from the lavatories is the entrance to the Residence, and also the staircase to the lower deck.

After showering we asked the crew to serve us breakfast in our individual apartments. I ordered fried eggs and sausage along with fresh fruit, a croissant and pastry. I also ordered a Diet Coke. The eggs were cooked as requested, sunny side up, and I really enjoyed the food quality and service.

After finishing up breakfast I ordered another cappuccino.

About 45 minutes out of Abu Dhabi I went back and changed out of my pajamas while the crew put away our beds as we made our final approach sometime before 6am.

My tail camera stopped working for some reason, which I was bummed about, but my nose camera was working fine, so I was able to see the final approach to the runway.

After a smooth final approach and touchdown we arrived at our gate. Our crew came by to bring us our carry-on luggage, thanked us for flying with them, posed for pictures with us, and escorted us to the exit door. The crew was excellent all around and we really enjoyed the experience.

We deplaned to a beautiful sunrise. The desert sand in the air made the sunrise incredible and the pictures don’t do it any justice.

Since we were flying first class and we were the first ones off the plane we headed for customs and cleared quickly, and then headed for the Etihad arrivals lounge, where we had some finger sandwiches, yogurt and I had 2 or 3 cups of freshly brewed Arabic coffee. I did not take pictures of the lounge itself to respect other’s privacy since it was rather crowded.

As I mentioned earlier, I arrived unshaven so I could get a complimentary wet shave, which was also a first for me, ever. It was awesome.

Overall impression:

Etihad’s A-380 Apartment is clearly the best first class product in the world and flying them was an unforgettable experience. While the food was relatively ok, the hard product is amazing, comfortable and super elegant, and the crew on this segment was fantastic. Taking a shower at 600 mph and 40,000 feet is something you don’t get to do everyday. We really enjoyed our experience and cannot recommend the product enough if you’re thinking of trying it. It was truly remarkable.

 

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