The Best Airline Flight in the World: Etihad First Class “Apartment” Abu Dhabi – New York JFK

The greatest luxury in air travel is space and privacy. There is no other first class that comes close to the Etihad First Class Apartment onboard their Airbus A380 and no better flight than Abu Dhabi – New York JFK. And that’s without even getting to the inflight chef or onboard shower.

This flight wasn’t perfect. It was delayed, and there was a glitch with the water in the shower. But it still exceeded anything else I’ve experienced with any other airline’s first class product.

Previous Installments:

When staff let us know that our rescheduled flight — from 3:35am to 8:15am — was ready to board around 9:30am, New York-bound passengers filtered out of the preclearance Premium Lounge.

The gate area was packed solid for our completely full Airbus A380.

We started down the long jetway, where we could see the gorgeous plane that would take us 14 hours away to New York. But passengers quickly started backing up because they weren’t actually ready to board us.

It seems after a long delay staff was ready to get us onboard — but just a little too overeager — so we stood waiting for about another 10 minutes before being permitted to proceed.

I showed my boarding pass at the jetway and was immediately escorted to my First Apartment seat. And I was struck by the sheer beauty of the single aisle cabin with high walls and ultra-large seating areas.

Immediately I went to work exploring my seating area like a kid in a candy store. I had to see everything at once!

There’s a large, oversized seat. That’s just your seat, it isn’t your bed. Across from the seat is a large television that can be controlled via touch or remote control.

Across from the seat is a bench which can easily seat three people. That opens up into a bed. But when you’re not sleeping it’s a seating area which is great for a travel companion to come visit and sit across from you, or dine across from you as in a restaurant if you wish.

Underneath the bench is your primary storage area. It isn’t very tall, and barely fit my 21 inch rollaboard. My laptop bag went underneath directly in front of the seat, my carry on bag to the left beside it (I couldn’t close back up the bottom latch which is there to keep items in, but it never moved and I was told it was ok to leave down).

On that ottoman was the softest blanket I’ve ever had on a plane.

I could see out to the apartment on my left where another passenger was getting settled as well.

There are only 9 Apartments in the cabin, and also The Residence 3-room suite which takes up the space of one Apartment and space where some airlines place another lavatory. Here, it’s a sitting room, a private bathroom with shower, and a bedroom. The Residence was occupied by an American couple for the flight, and all 9 Apartments were occupied (and indeed every seat on the plane taken) as well.

My wife and I were traveling together and we were seated in 3A and 4A. The wall between the two seats comes partially down. You aren’t going to be looking at each other when seated, but it’s the wall beside the benches that fold out to become your bed. So when the wall is down and you’re in bed mode, you’re lying next to each other from the waist up.

There was a flurry of service pre-departure. Menus were distributed. And I immediately selected the Bollinger La Grande Année 2005 champagne.

This was presented along with a welcome card, cool towel and dates.

The welcome letter was signed by the cabin manager.

The inflight chef came around to introduce himself and pour Arabic coffee before departure.

Etihad has an onboard chef concept where one of the flight attendants has culinary training and experience in a restaurant. They are primarily responsible for meal service, although other flight attendants can prepare food during a long haul flight when the chef is on break.

When the particular chef on your flight is on their game, it’s really excellent. They have ingredients — largely those that make up the dishes on the menu, but not only — and can mix and match and play around with those to prepare dishes to your taste. Some chefs are really creative, listen to how you like a dish, and adjust accordingly (and do a fantastic job of plating as well). Not all of them do, however. At their worst it’s just like another flight attendant but at their best it really elevates the cuisine.

I continued checking out the Apartment. To your left when seated is a vanity. Open it up and there’s a lighted mirror inside, and your amenity kit already there for you. The items inside are in the cabinet, but there’s a wash bag for you to take the items with you into the lavatory or shower — or take them home.

Some people find that the seat isn’t the most comfortable, since it is completely separate from the bed it doesn’t recline all the way. I actually found it to be fantastic. I could curl up even upright with as wide as it is, and it’s well cushioned so that I had no problem relaxing in it from takeoff to landing whenever I wasn’t in bed.

From that perch I began to look over the rest of the menu to decide what I’d have during the flight — right away, and perhaps later, since we’d have about 14 hours.

We still hadn’t left the ground yet, and we weren’t done — pajamas were distributed as well.

Boarding passed quickly with all the service elements, and we were finally on our way. We were leaving 6 hours late, but that meant I got a night’s sleep in a hotel enroute. And I managed to change from a connecting flight home from New York to a non-stop and would actually be making up most of that time anyway. I was happy — after all I was onboard an Etihad A380 in First.

Take off was smooth as can be, in that strange way you sort of just lift up in to the air when you’re on the upper deck of the A380. I’m not quite sure how to describe it, but you don’t feel the thrust the way you do on a normal aircraft.

Once airborne I went to the lavatory to change into pajamas.

There are two first class lavatories, both on the right side of the aircraft (the front of the cabin on the left side is taken up by The Residence). The first one is small, a normal-sized bathroom one would fine on a US carrier plus a shower. The second one is larger. That’s where I changed.

On the way back to my seat I put my clothes in the suite’s closet.

For a post-takeoff drink I just had a glass of water. They serve fantastic bar snacks with the drink after takeoff – freeze dried vegetable chips (mostly shaped like the vegetables themselves) along with olives and nuts.

I went over to my wife’s Apartment and we had dinner together. I had the Balik salmon to start, and she had the mezza.

Sorbet is offered as an intermezzo.

I had the Biryani as my entree, and my wife had steak frites. It’s still a novelty having french fries on an airplane, though the chef is crucial here for how they turn out (and these turned out lovely I’m told).

We both skipped dessert and decided to take a nap. A flight attendant made up our beds, and I simply went over to my wife’s Apartment while they made up mine and she came and sat with me while they made up hers. There’s plenty of room to maneuver around.

With the divider between the seats down, here’s how the beds looked:

And here’s the view laying down, looking towards my feet. You’ll see that even with the bench folded out to become a bed there’s room between the bed and the seat.

We were given ‘Sweet Dreams’ cards (“Travel brings power and love back into your life”) and we both drifted off to sleep after angling the television towards us to each watch in bed.

Some people find the bed to be on the hard side. For me it was just right. It was both really comfortable (a testament to the bedding) and I think I just sleep better with all that space. I didn’t fell like I was on an airplane. And it helped that I was beside my wife — while you’re only next to each other from the waist up, that’s the part you really notice.

Since I had slept some the night before I only napped for a few hours. When I got up I asked for a cappucinno, and caught up on work with the inflight internet which worked quite well.

After awhile I decided to check out the lounge area of the aircraft which is on the upper deck behind the galley. It’s not as elaborate as Qatar’s or Emirates’, but as a first class passenger there’s really no need for a place to go and socialize. You can easily do it in your own space. It’s still nice for business class passengers, but seemed little used at least on this flight.

With about three hours to go before landing I decided to have a meal. Normally the JFK flight arrives in the morning but our delay meant that it was already around lunch so I decided to have the ribeye — which is always one of my “go to’s” along with the biryani on Etihad.

And this time I had dessert.

Rather ingenious, the seat’s minibar is easily accessible bed, it’s beside the seat and across from the bench. There’s also a cupholder that pops out as well, and there’s a separate TV controller to use while in bed. (The lighting can be controlled from the laying down position as well.)

I always try to take the last shower of the flight, making a point to request the time when I board initially. So an hour and a few minutes before landing I had my shower.

The shower room is quite small on Etihad compared to Emirates, there isn’t enough room to bring your carry on luggage into the room with you. But they make great use of the compact space and I didn’t have any trouble at all changing (I did that at least as well as on any other flight when I get in and out of pajamas), shaving, and having a refreshing time under the water.

The shower had malfunctioned, though, and the crew couldn’t reset the water to give me the full 5 minutes. My wife had only used about half of her water, and the timer was left with 2.5 minutes on it. So I showered with 2.5 minutes of water. That’s fine — it’s amazing how little time under the water I actually need. I got wet, used the soap and shampoo, then washed it off. Good to go, with 30 seconds to spare.

I headed back to my seat for landing and had a last look around.

Even with the few glitches on this flight, I’d still have to rate it the best flight I had had — largely for the hard product, but the crew was great as well. And whatever wrinkles happened this time, they’d be ironed out on each of my next 2 trips on the A380’s First Apartment between New York and Abu Dhabi.

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. “There is no other first class that comes close to the Etihad First Class Apartment onboard their Airbus A380 and no better flight than Abu Dhabi – New York JFK.”

    So does that make the Residence chopped liver, then? Obviously inferior despite being on the same plane and having more space and services?

    😉

  2. gary, you write that you went to the lav to change. is there not enough privacy in the apartment to change? how high are the walls, low enough for people to see over?

  3. Good review. It makes me even more anxious to fly the apartments on this route in September. I think I will be too excited to sleep for several hours even if the flight departs as scheduled at 3:35 a.m. Did you try the IFE, flight following and external cameras?

  4. Took my 5th flight in the First Apartments last week. For the 4th time, the shower didnt work. I loathe Emirates First but I’m not walking through the aisle in a towel with soap in my hair looking for the purser one more time.

  5. How was the temperature? Many flights are very warm, which makes it tough to sleep, particularly with no controllable air vents.

  6. Gary, reading this review, had I not remember that this is ‘View From The Wing’, I would have easily mistaken this as an entry from Lucky at ‘One Mile At A Time’. I just felt that this post is a bit different than your previous entries/reviews. Don’t take it wrong, this post is quite informative, and really emphasize that this cabin is really aspirational. Based on your post, it sounds much better than the vaunted Emirates F.

    From miles/points perspective, what other options do we have to experience this, aside from using Etihad’s own reward or AAdvantage?

  7. @Bob — other airline programs that partner with Etihad include ANA and Alitalia (Amex transfer partners) and Korean (Starwood, Chase transfer partner)

  8. When did you take this flight? I’ve taken the First Apartment a few times – AUH-LHR-AUH and JFK-AUH and will say it was great – amazing crews and good service/ food options.

    Sadly, I just flew AUH-IAD in F on the beautiful 789 two days ago – and the service was a huge let down. Seat just as comfortable as before and the bedding was great. That said, no longer a welcome note from the cabin manager. Also, a TREMENDOUS down grade in the food/ beverage. No longer a rib eye option. No intermezzo sorbet service. Cold, neglectful crew. Disinterested. They didn’t offer me anything to drink (wine or water or anything) with my main meal, despite my ringing my bell and trying to get their attention. I have it on very good word that James Hogan says it’s okay to cut the F&B as the hard product is the main thing that people care about. Maybe. But honestly, this was a huge disappointment and I left with a very bad taste in my mouth.

  9. Excellent review and thank you Gary you just allowed me to relive my trip back from the Maldives this last March. Was your onboard chef from Ireland? On our AUH-JFK flight he was and wow did he customize some of the best meals I’ve ever had on a plane or on ground. I can still recall the flavors and presentation months later. I definitely want to fly that route again. Another one I’ve been thinking about is Sydney-Abu Dhabi-Mumbai.
    FYI, I’m 90% done with another AWESOME redemption. Cathay first to Bali using AS mi. Several SPG hotels in Bali, Phuket, Langkawi, then a couple nights in Singapore and returning SIN-FRA-JFK in the fabled suites with double bed! I love this game!
    Q: Let me know if you or any of your friends have been to the Naka Island Lux Collection near Phuket, the Andaman Lux Collection on Langkawi, or any good SPG hotels in Singapore??? Good reviews are hard to find if there even are any for some of those on Boarding Area.

  10. I agree Gary the experience was like none other! I flew the apartment in May and had a fantastic flight from the food to the service to the shower!

  11. @ Gary – the photo of Premium Boarding line shows quite a long line. Were there that many premium cabin/elite passengers or did Etihad board everyone at once? On a recent flight, Turkish Airlines boarded Y & J together which was a mess.

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