Inside Etihad’s The Residence, the Most Luxurious Airline Seat in the Sky

Since I was flying Etihad’s First Apartment three times in January and February, I reached out to Etihad to see if it might be possible to take a look at their ‘seat’ that’s even beyond first class (provided no one had booked it on my flight, of course): The Residence.

I’ve already written about the separate Etihad Residence lounge at New York JFK. And while I’m going to write a trip report about Etihad’s A380 First Class, I’m especially excited to share the inside of Etihad’s super-exclusive Residence.

Ever since the product was announced nearly two years ago, it’s been the subject of awe. It’s the product that Nicole Kidman is flying in her commercial for Etihad.


This is the most luxurious airline seat in the sky, offered only onboard Etihad’s Airbus A380 aircraft. Current scheduled destinations include New York JFK, London, Sydney, Melbourne, and Mumbai.

What they’ve done is actually sort of ingenious. They took one first class seat and added space that on most A380s is more or less unused. Airlines like Qantas have bench-like lounges up front. Others like Lufthansa have a large lavatory. But it’s not space that can be sold as passenger seats.

And they expanded the first class seat into a three room suite.

On the one hand, it’s expensive. Here’s the one-way price of first class and of the Residence from New York JFK to Abu Dhabi:

On the other hand, if you were going to buy two first class tickets, two people can share the Residence at this price.

However it’s not something you can just take a tour of. The whole goal of the product is discretion and exclusivity. Even when the Residence is unoccupied on a flight, Etihad’s crew aren’t permitted to show the product. First class passengers, whom the airline certainly wants to accommodate, will have such a request turned down.

I reached out to the airline in advance. I didn’t get to visit on my first trip flying in the First Apartment in January — the Residence had passengers on that flight. They were able to arrange it for my next trip, however.

Still we needed to do it discretely. It was explained to me that I’d be invited to see if after dinner and the cabin had generally gone to sleep, because if anyone saw me going inside another passenger might want to see it as well — and they’d have to be told they could not. As a result I had to take my photos when the cabin was at its darkest.

There’s a seating area that accommodates two passengers. There’s a private bathroom with shower. And there’s a separate bedroom.

The seating area is basically two seats, as two passengers can share the Residence. The seats recline more than Etihad’s standard first class Apartment seats do. (Since the seats don’t turn into a bed, rather there’s a separate bed in both first class and for the Residence, they do not recline all the way — some complain about first class not reclining enough, since you can’t really lounge in half seat/half bed mode I find the seat perfectly comfortable. Still the extra recline of the Residence is noteworthy.

The seating area of the Residence is actually very similar to the first class Apartment itself — except that there’s a double seat, more storage, and a bigger minibar. There’s also a larger television.

Residence guests naturally receive complimentary internet, while first class passengers (and everyone else onboard) pay.

Beyond the seating area, or ‘living room’, of the Residence is a corridor to the bathroom and the bedroom. You can close a door between the living room and the rest of the Residence, which I did when taking pictures because I didn’t want the light to seep out into the cabin of the aircraft. The living room has walls, but they don’t go all the way to the ceiling of the aircraft. The rest of the Residence is fully private.

While all first class Apartment passengers share two lavatories, one of which has a shower, the Residence has its own shower. And there’s a heated floor which is great for coming out of the shower..

Past the bathroom is the bedroom. The bed has a real mattress, not a mattress pad. The bedroom has its own television. And there’s a side table, perfect for placing a glass of water beside you.

Since the product is super-premium, they do everything they can to make the soft product match the hard product. The Points Guy flew the inaugural New York JFK – Abu Dhabi flight in the Residence, and paid $33,000 for it. He pre-arranged his dinner service in late November to be a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. They’ll have anything onboard for you that you wish.

As two different Residence butlers (the Residence has a dedicated butler for the flight, trained at the Savoy hotel in London) explained to me, they will accommodate “anything that’s legal.” That may include pre-selecting meals, or having a specially requested wine onboard.

Butlers are in communication with the ground throughout the flight, and there’s a dedicated concierge desk for the airline that can assist with implementing requests whatever they may be.

The Residence has its own specially-designed upgraded China, which I think is quite elegant.

There’s specially-designed Christian Lacroix sleepwear.

First class gets Bergamote 22 bath amenities. The Residence uses Acqua di Parmaa. And bathrobes.

You cannot book The Residence with American Airlines miles. You can book it with Etihad miles, however. And Citibank’s ThankYou Rewards points can be transferred to Etihad Guest miles for eligible cardholders. The bad news is that it requires millions of miles to do it. At least two people can share the Residence, so that sort of cuts the cost in half.

If you’re going to buy the Residence, credit the miles to Etihad Guest. While Etihad is an American AAdvantage partner, American’s earning chart for Etihad doesn’t list “P” class as earning miles. I asked American about this back in December and was told,

Since the introduction of the product, AAdvantage members have not been able to earn miles. We are in discussions with Etihad regarding AAdvantage accrual on this product and will publish the effective date as soon as we have agreement.

In contrast, Etihad awards 400% redeemable and elite qualifying miles for Residence trips.

Personally I’ll have to be satisfied booking seats in the First Apartment, a product I’ll be sharing my review of soon. Although I did get a photo of myself in the Residence.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. In Apartments as a couple, 3A/4A and 3K/4K are simply awesome. The partition folds down to sort of “connect” the space. The layout of the plane with the single aisle is unique and the space you get in the apartment is insane. When traveling alone, it is slightly more desirable to have a seat positioned close to the window (A or K) but the space is awesome either way. The level of service is incredible during all crew interactions and why order from the menu when the chef seems more excited to create something custom and personal for you? Coffee is some of the best I’ve had anywhere. I’m waiting for more news on the next products from Singapore and Emirates….Etihad kind of dropped the microphone with this A380 concept.

  2. Does the residence come with the creepy whale of a man in the bed pictured last or is that only by special request?

  3. For those who would buy two F tickets, I can see how this could be worth a premium on a very long flight.

    Curious to see what Emirates and Singapore are going to come up with in response.

  4. “paulie D” internet trolls reflect more on the troll than on their intended target. Unfortunately however ugly you think my outside, you’re putting your inside on display. no matter what username you re-register with you will always be welcome here, of course, your contributions are so valuable to others and profound.

  5. Thanks Gary. I don’t think your ugly btw. It was meant to be humorous and appreciative. Safe travels.

  6. After reading your review and the review from TPG, I wonder whether EY intentionally cheapens the soft product on the Apartments just to make the Residence more exclusive. Given how often it seems to go out empty, I wonder whether it is really worth making their First Class passengers feel like second class. For example: 1) EY has a Residence lounge in some of their outstations, but no differentiation in ground experience for F (See LH and others for how to do proper F ground service); 2) having the extra shower in the Residence unavailable (and causing the remaining lav and shower to be smaller than EK’s 380 arrangements) even when the Residence is empty and 3) not going the extra mile to make the Apartment beds more comfortable than a futon.

    As comfortable as that bed looks, I don’t buy the argument of the Residence being slightly worth it if traveling as a couple, as the bed appears to be smaller than just booking two adjacent apartments and can’t be booked with any reasonable number of miles.

  7. When they say they’ll arrange for anything legal, do they mean for free?

    Can I get a $15,000 bottle of DRC? That might (almost) make it worth it.

  8. You’ll soon receive a bill for $3500 for previewing the Residence, and an additional $800 for lying on the bed.

  9. I would think that given the size of the bed that it would be a little cramped for two – I think a couple traveling together would have more room between them if they book two Apartment seats (of course, there’s no private shower…

  10. @susan – agree with you here. The residence works great for one, questionable for 2. I guess the only reason you might want it is for the private bathroom. A big celeb may not want to use a shared restroom.

  11. Gary- insightful comments, and thanks for the review.

    paulie-D – you are the Donald trump of the Internet. Not the one who is married to a hot model but the small person with bad hair.

  12. Did they really pour the glasses of champange and water just to “stage” the Residence for your photos!?

  13. While the hard product is the best in the industry, I thought the catering was not up to par (I’ m talking about The Apartment). To start with, no caviar. The meals are quite average. I had a steak with fries. I ordered medium rare and it came well done. Had I paid for the ticket – it was an award ticket – I’d be really mad.
    Anyway, EY follows that saying that it’s not what you do that matters but rather what you say you do. Not redeeming anything else with them.

  14. This has absolutely no practical application to my life, but I loved reading it! Thanks so much for sharing . . . and giving me something to dream about. : )

  15. @Beatriz I have had decent fries a couple of times but they’re baked, there’s not going to be a deep fryer onboard. That’s a hard one to do right. Which steak did you have? The ribeye is really good but it’s thin, tough for them to do medium rare. No caviar, but I’ve found the food to be very good. Not the best in the world but very good. The biryani is excellent, IMHO better than Etihad. So definitely YMMV there. And of course the hard product has everyone beat by far ont he A380.

  16. Just flew the apartments auh-jfk. The residence was occupied when I passed by on my way to the bathroom a few times. Upon landing, a woman in large dark sunglasses came out of the residence with help from the butler and her assistant who had come up from business. She took off her glasses for a minute, and it was nicole kidman lol. I guess she had been connecting from Australia to NY. And I guess she flies the residence for free!

  17. Just flew with the family (5 of us) in combination of J and F from JFK/IAD to AUH and back. Maybe we’ve flown too much with Etihad, but the food and general product is just ok. Not really impressed with the inflight service at all….in J or F. It’s fine…it’s ok…but not “wow” or something you remember overly positively for. Kind of “blah”…nice…but not amazing. Food is also average (we had the medallion, cold scallops, overcooked eggs and too chewy steak sandwich).

    I wonder therefore whether service in Residence is really that much better. Yes, Savoy Trained butlers and all…but at the same time, what the heck do you need a butler for 30,000 feet in the sky for?

    Also, when you land and get out of the plane, are you herded along with all the other rif-raf…or do you get some special treatment? Would be a heck of horrible wake-up call if the start of the journey is all personalised with your own lounge and then when you land, you’re thrown into the carnage with everyone else!

  18. Thanks, Gary, for travel news that is “exclusive” not only because this coverage can’t be found elsewhere, but also because the service and product you’re reporting on is truly unique!!

  19. Hey Gary,

    Did Etihad allow your wife to see the Residence as well? Was she the person who snapped the pic of you on the bed? Inquiring minds want to know…..

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