There are three great international first class flight products. There are many airlines which are very good. But the first class offerings in Airbus A380s of Etihad, Emirates, and Singapore Airlines are better than the rest.
And Etihad’s first class Apartment is better, even, than the first classes of Emirates and Singapore.
The scarcest resource on a plane is square footage. Every inch counts. The greatest luxury, therefore, is space and privacy. And Etihad offers that in a way that no other carrier can come close to.
The ‘First Apartment’ is a single aisle product on the A380 superjumho jet. That’s unprecedented, and it’s what more than anything makes Etihad’s First Apartment product better than any other commercial first class in the sky.
You get a super wide seat and you also have a bench where folks can sit with you inside your suite. A dining companion can sit across from you (and even be seatbelted in) for a meal.
It’s that bench that folds out and turns into a bed, of course with a mattress and sheets and a blanket that’s softer than any I’ve hand on other airlines. Traveling with someone? The wall between rows 3 and 4 on each side of the aircraft comes down. When you’re both in bed mode, you can be laying next to each other with nothing between you from the waist up — almost like home.
Etihad is also the only airline besides Emirates to offer an onboard shower.
Etihad does a great job with onboard cuisine. They have an ‘onboard chef’ concept — a flight attendant with restaurant experience who has primary cooking responsibility inflight — and there are great chefs who really tailor their cooking to your preferences and others who ‘only’ offer what’s on the menu. But they hit some great heights at times. They can customize meals to your preference. And the ‘dine anytime’ concept means you can have anything from across the menu throughout the flight. While I’ve read reports of running out of food inflight, the only items I’ve ever seen that with are the biryanis that always seem more popular than what’s boarded.
Now, there’s an onboard lounge area but it’s not a tended bar the way that Emirates and Qatar have. And their first class alcohol choices isn’t as quite as high end as you’ll find on some other airlines, notably Emirates. Still I find their wine choices thoughtful, and the lack of $300 whiskey and $700 cognac is a small quibble that doesn’t mean much to me.
Etihad’s A380 also has a product beyond the First Apartment. I had the chance to spend time inside The Residence on a couple of my recent New York JFK – Abu Dhabi flights.
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. Beyond the seating area, or ‘living room’, of the Residence is a corridor to the bathroom and the bedroom.
Photos are one thing. Etihad has produced a 360 degree virtual reality film with Nicole Kidman that takes you through their Airbus A380, including inside The Residence. You can drag the screen to change your viewing angle in this video.
If you want to fly Etihad’s premium cabins, award space from Abu Dhabi to the US and on many worldwide routes is quite plentiful (the only way to book the Residence as a frequent flyer award is with Etihad’s own miles, at an exorbitant rate).
You can transfer points from Citibank ThankYou Rewards directly to Etihad, and you can also book Etihad awards using American AAdvantage miles.