I was in the desert outside Dubai for several nights, and needed to head to Australia to spend time with family. Originally the plan was to be in Sydney for a cousin’s wedding, the wedding was put off but we kept to the trip. I’d just seen my aunt and uncle in South Florida the previous month, but it would be a good opportunity to visit with my cousins whom I’ve been close to since I was a kid. And since I don’t have a lot of family, I hate to miss an opportunity.
Originally I had booked Dubai – Sydney non-stop in first class on Qantas. Their Airbus A380 first class is a good product, but Etihad’s A380 First Apartment opened up Abu Dhabi – Melbourne. At first I was a little bit torn. It would mean a hour of additional driving to the airport to start the trip. And it would mean picking up a short domestic connection in Qantas business class (no additional miles) on arrival in Australia.
I really wanted Etihad’s A380 first class to open up on the Sydney route, but sadly it never did. Etihad will be pulling the Airbus A380 from Melbourne in October.
For a 13 hour flight though I will choose Etihad’s First Apartment over pretty much anything else every single time, and even adding a connection I’ll choose it over Qantas first. It’s not merely an academic argument that Etihad’s A380 has the best first class, it’s how I actually behave in practice when making flight choices.
Plus it was a chance to visit Etihad’s new-ish first class lounge in Abu Dhabi, and to do so when I wasn’t flying to the U.S. The downside of U.S. flights is that you have to be checked in at least two hours out, and you need to leave the lounge earlier than otherwise since you’re supposed to hit the U.S. preclearance facility an hour out to go through immigration and an additional security screening.
Not flying to the U.S. means not leaving for the airport as early (so it was only that extra hour of travel to the airport, not an extra two hours) and not leaving the lounge as early so I was able to try out the sit down dining experience there.
After heading out of the lounge I walked to the gate where boarding was already underway. We were the first in the first class cabin, though, which would eventually would fill up to 5 of 9.
The Etihad First Apartment cabin is stunning, with a single aisle on the upper deck of the Airbus A380 making each seat ‘double wide’ (seats are two-across rather than the typical four-across).
Each seat is gorgeous, a suite with a door that has a chair for sitting and a bench. The bench can accommodate three visitors easily, but it also folds out to become a bed. The bed is literally separate from the seat and there’s room between them even when the bed is fully made.
The colors by the way alternate from suite to suite between dark brown and more of a tan.
In addition to the seat and the bench that folds out to become a bed, there’s a vanity. Pop it open you find a mirror, and your amenity kit waiting inside.
Underneath the bench there’s storage, I fit my carry on bag down there and also my laptop bag but the space is fairly tight. The seat has storage space beside it, in several different places.
The seat is large and comfortable, but the biggest complaint is precisely that it’s separate from the bed and therefore doesn’t offer a lounge chair’s full recline position, you don’t get to sit like you’re in a barcalounger somewhere between upright and fully flat. There’s recline, to be sure. I find it super relaxing in part because it’s so wide, I can curl up in it. But you can’t use it to ‘lean up in bed’.
Note that there’s a controller for the television right beside the seat. You’ll see in a moment that there is also another controller beside the bed.
Your suite also comes with a (very) small closet, just wide enough for a single hanger, perhaps fitting pants and a shirt (although it’s kind of tight).
While the boarding process proceeds you receive your choice of welcome beverage. It was late, I just had some water. There’s a welcome letter, dates, and Arabic coffee is poured at your seat as well.
Menus are distributed, and so are pajamas. I changed into mine while we were still on the ground, using the larger of the two lavatories at the front of the cabin.
One of the most important features of the seat is that the wall separating rows 3 and 4 comes down, which is most useful when companions are traveling together and lay down for rest since you can sleep beside each other from the waist up like you’re at home rather than on a plane.
Here’s the menu:
Here’s the beverage list from the flight. Etihad doesn’t have the high end offerings of many of the best first class products. There are a lot of $30 bottles of wine, no premium branded coffees, local UAE bottled water. It’s all perfectly good, I like many of the wines (and consider it a thoughtful list considering the price), and more than meets my needs. But it’s one difference that people who care more about inflight beverage lists will want to note.
After I changed into pajamas it was time to push back. After 10 p.m. there wasn’t much of any delay positioning for takeoff, and we were up in the air fairly quickly. I still love the takeoff roll of an A380, it is so smooth that it feels almost underpowered.
Once up in the air starter snacks were served as well as another drink service. One of the little things I love about Etihad are these initial bar snacks, not just nuts to begin.
I vacillated a bit on whether to eat straight away or just go to bed. I decided to have one course and a dessert to try before laying down. I asked not to have my table set, I’d just eat while watching a movie on my laptop and forego the more formal service.
The chef put together a really delicious risotto for me that doesn’t look much in the photo but was really magnificent. As I’ve written several times, I take the menu as more of an ingredients list and mix and match what I’d like to eat.
A little dessert, accompanied by a sauternes, was the perfect was to finish things off before bed.
Lucky from One Mile at a Time have a very different perspective on flying first class. He says that he “often find[s]” that he “arrive[s] most well rested in business class” because he doesn’t “feel the need to maximize every aspect of the experience as much.” He goes straight to sleep in business, while in first he’ll stay up to “enjoy the champagne and have a five course meal..”
I enjoy first class so that I have more space and privacy to relax and to sleep whenever I’m ready. I want to stretch out and get comfortable. I don’t want to have to wait until meal service is over, until my tray is cleared, to go to bed. I don’t want to be woken when the flight crew is ready to offer a service, and I don’t want to have to wake up for a meal or lose out.
So I had just the two courses, no intermezzo, and then the flight crew made my bed.
I laid down, my wife wasn’t quite ready to though she joined me about 20 minutes later. I flipped the television around so that instead of facing the seat it was facing me laying down in bed. There’s a television controller beside the bed. There’s also a panel that flips out to hold water (or other beverage) as you go to sleep. That’s a thoughtful touch, a convenient place for water beside your bed.
I slept on and off (mostly on) for about six hours, and then I woke up and ordered up a cappuccino. There’s also nothing better, by the way, than baklava onboard Etihad (or Emirates).
I watched a couple of shows sitting up in the seat, and then ordered a second meal… rather than a pure breakfast, I asked for the eggs and potato with a steak from the grill.
After catching up on some email with always reasonably fast internet, it was nearly time for my shower. Etihad is one of only two airlines with onboard showers in first class. Emirates has a nicer shower suite, larger because theirs is so large. Etihad has placed their shower in the smaller of the two lavatories in the cabin.
Even though we were just 5 of 9 in first class, I requested my shower time at the very beginning of the flight as I always do. My wife takes the second to last shower, she prefers to be done with plenty of time prior to arrival. I always take the very last possible shower, scheduled an hour before landing. That way I’ll take half an hour to shave, brush my teeth, shower and change and then return to my seat to get situated for arrival.
After a shower with 5 minutes of water (which, since you can start the water… stop it, lather up, start it again to rinse off) is more than enough, and once I had changed, I returned to my seat and gathered up my belongings and prepared to land. Soon enough we were on the ground in Melbourne and ready to clear immigration and connect to a short flight back North to Sydney to visit my family.