I’ve argued many times that the greatest luxury in air travel is space and privacy. As a result there’s no first class product that comes close to Etihad’s First Apartment on the Airbus A380. There’s an inflight chef, an onboard shower, but that’s all extra.
It’s the sheer spaciousness of the suite that makes this the best first class in the sky — and I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to fly it again and to be redeeming miles to do so.
- Introduction: The Most Luxurious Uses of Miles and Points, and Two New Airlines Under My Belt
- Etihad First and Business Class Lounge, New York JFK
I’ve flown the Etihad A380’s First Apartment before, so I knew what to expect, but I was impressed just as soon as I boarded — even accounting for knowing how spacious it is. You walk into your suite, you don’t just sit down at your seat. You have tremendous privacy. And the cabin is just gorgeous.
There are four Apartment suites to your left, and The Residence at the front of the cabin. And there are five Apartment suites to your right.
The color palette alternates seat-by-seat between a cream and a brown.
The first thing I do when I board the Etihad A380 or an Emirates A380 is to ask to schedule my shower. I want the last shower booking prior to arrival. So I made that request. I’ve found service to be better than average on Etihad’s A380 flights, but knowing that I’ve had mixed experiences with Etihad crews in the past I made sure to ask again after everyone had settled — just to be sure. I was told it was already taken care of, and indeed it was.
There’s a flurry of service, from setting up a welcome drink to providing you with a menu and pajamas.
Here’s the welcome letter (click to enlarge):
One thing that flight attendants don’t do once you board if give you an amenity kit, that’s already been provisioned at your seat inside the vanity.
So I went about settling into my seat. It’s large, oversized. The seat isn’t your bed, it’s just a seat, and it doesn’t recline all the way but I still find it incredibly comfortable. It’s big enough to sit sideways, even, so there’s not really any problem finding a comfortable position — basically anything other than “in bed but not reclined all the way to watch TV sitting up” is possible.
Across from your seat is a bench which can easily seat three people. It has seat belts so that others can visit, for instance to sit across from you and dine during a meal. The bench opens up into your bed.
Underneath the bench is your primary storage area. It isn’t very tall, and barely fit my 21 inch rollaboard and I can’t close the bottom latch with the carry on down there, but it doesn’t have to close.
On the bench is about the softest blanket I’ve ever had on a plane and I’ll reveal something about my background I suppose by saying that I think it’s the softest blanket I’ve ever had off a plane either.
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.
Beside your seat is also storage.
Your blanket is already in storage at the seat as well.
There’s a minibar at the seat, which always seemed strange to me, you’re in first class and don’t need to get your own drinks. But why not?
My wife and I were seated in 3A and 4A which are seats where the wall between the two seats comes partially down. It does that near the entrance to the suites, not by the seats, so you can’t look at each other while seated even though your seats do face each other (there’s a wall with your televisions in between).
When you turn your flight attendant turns your bench into a bed for you there’s no wall in between you from about the waist up. Some people find the bed to be on the hard side. For me it was just right. I think I sleep so well because of all of the space, I’m not cocooned in.
After getting settled I had a look at the menu for the flight. Click any to enlarge.
Etihad has an onboard chef concept where one of the flight attendants has culinary training has worked in a restaurant. They’re the flight attendant who does most of the cooking though other flight attendants can prepare food during a long haul flight when the chef is on break.
I’ve found the particular chef makes a huge difference in the meal. Some are outstanding and some just more or less prepare what’s on the menu. Etihad’s CEO has explained that having a chef with real skills means they have less food waste, because the chef makes the best possible use of the ingredients they’re given. Some chefs are creative, listen to how you like a dish, and adjust accordingly and plate beautifully. But I’ve had a few over the years who phone it in.
Our chef for the flight was also a Residence Butler, though the Residence was vacant on this flight so he was assigned to the cabin. He came around offering arabic coffee and dates.
I settled in to enjoy the start of the flight with snacks and a glass of champagne.
Shortly after takeoff I had a first meal. I started with 2012 Croix de Beaucaillou, St-Julien. There have been a number of complaints about cutbacks in Etihad’s first class beverages, and for those who care about such things I understand them, but I think they have a really thoughtful wine program. This is a $45 retail bottle but a really excellent one.
They begin with an amuse bouche.
I had the duck starter.
Between appetizer and entree they serve a sorbet palate cleanser.
And then for a main I ordered the ribeye. It’s one of my two “go-to” dishes on Etihad, along with biryani. I ordered it with mashed potatoes, I’ve given up on the novelty of Etihad’s onboard french fries. Sometimes they come out well, sometimes not so much, but they’re not going to be as good as you can get on the ground while the mashed potatoes were excellent.
I decided to skip dessert and had my bed made up. My wife did as well.
I slept for about four hours, then watched some TV in bed. The television swivels out from the wall so you can watch it in bed and there’s a convenient controller to change channels laying down.
I then napped a bit more, and about two thirds into the flight ordered some more food… breakfast, sort of.
With an hour and 15 minutes left it was my allotted time for a shower. I went to the front of the cabin, since the Residence is on the left side both of the lavatories for first class are to the right of the stairway down to the lower deck.
The forward lavatory is spacious.
However the shower is in the smaller lavatory just before the large one. There isn’t enough room to bring your carry on luggage into the room with you. Still, being able to shower on a plane before landing is incredibly refreshing, it’s not just a gimmick and it’s not just for efficiency of avoiding the need for an arrivals lounge before heading to a meeting. It’s a way to end a long haul flight feeling great.
I returned to my seat about half an hour before landing and packed up my stuff. We had a relatively smooth landing and short taxi, and first class was let off the plane first. There was no line to speak of at immigration, so we were quickly through and reached out Etihad chauffeur to the hotel.
I remain blown away by the spaciousness of this seat.