The Boeing 777 just can’t compete with the Airbus A380 when it comes to luxury, but I still enjoyed my previous 777-200LR flight on Etihad. You can’t even put a shower on a commercially configured one! Good thing Etihad ordered 10 Airbus A380s and they have five in service right now. I wanted to try the most supreme of airline products currently out there — the Etihad First Class Apartment — and I did. One cannot experience something like this alone. I had my friend AirlineReporter Senior Correspondent Jacob Pfleger along for the ride.
My general rule of thumb for first class flying is “if it’s overnight, and you are paying with currency, fly business class.” I looked at AUH-JFK and that was out. So too were some of Etihad’s London flights. Besides that, seven hours on an A380 is nothing. Eventually, I realized the best way to maximize my enjoyment of First Class flying was to do a paradoxically timed “daylight” flight from Abu Dhabi to Sydney. Which was good, because I needed to be in Sydney anyway.
Etihad’s real lounge in Abu Dhabi opens in May. It will be like the JFK lounge, but even better. I am sure of that. Currently, you sit in the first-class seating area of a gigantic business class lounge. By world standards, it’s still amazing. It’s just that Etihad broke its own mold and you keep dreaming of the JFK salon. A good problem for Etihad to have, most certainly. Whilst in the lounge, I had a massage. Jacob had great fun trying some of Etihad’s delicious mini desserts.
Sadly, our aircraft (reg: A6-APC) was parked at gate 61. During the early morning, this is a U.S. Preclearance gate. Nothing wrong with that, except for code F compliance it puts the plane very far from the terminal — it made it impossible for me to get a photograph. The Etihad livery is my favorite livery as it is and I feel that they have the best looking A380s out there, so I really wanted a pre-boarding shot. Next time!
The plane is magnificent. Etihad is the only airline that makes me want a post-boarding delay. Thanks to the Omanis, we had one. You see, a lot of flights depart the UAE between 8:30pm and around midnight — especially A380s. Omani airspace cannot handle that many large aircraft over such a short time period, which means you can pick up a roughly one-hour delay every departure. This gives flight on-time performance tracking websites massive anxiety — sometimes passengers too. But not me.
With this delay, I realized just how massive the first class apartment is. While Etihad markets the apartment as “your own private universe” – it is very private, but also massive. As Jacob and I were killing a bottle of Etihad’s usual ros champagne with another friend who was staffing it (who does not share my Australian penchant for getting classy drunk), we realized there were three of us in one apartment – with a metric ton of space for all of us.
The amount of space you have in a 1-1 layout A380 First Class apartment is hard to really fathom. Seriously, if you sit back in the throne you can’t see the doors from some angles. It’s lonely at the top, and that’s the best thing ever.
I thought the old Etihad first Suite was private. It is. I had not been suffering from space madness when I had that assumption the first time. Closing the doors is blissful. But closing the doors, then not seeing the doors. They are not lying, the closest experience is sitting in an actual apartment.
But Bernie? Where do your bags go? Under the bed, of course. It’s truly hard to believe just how much space an apartment has. It even has a fridge. If I had to live in any first class cabin, this is the only one I could see as a realistic possibility. Even better for me, the Residence was not booked, so the Residence Butler became another cabin food and beverage manager. A good thing, too. All nine first class seats were full. Actually, every cabin sans the residence was full.
Eventually, the Omani en route authority was able to carve us out some space, and so we pushed back. On our way to the runway, we managed to pass by every major Etihad special scheme. Sadly, it was too dark and I was too far away from the windows to really take any photos. Either way, I eventually realized why the runways at Abu Dhabi are 13,451 feet in length.
58.9 seconds later we were lumbering into the sky. Not at a steep climb, either. We floated right past Yas Island. I don’t think we were even over 10,000 feet when we crossed into Omani airspace!
There was also the fact that this was an A380, at night, going out at max gross. That means, just due to convection, there is going to be turbulence as one cannot climb above it without burning reserve fuel. Except, the weather in Sydney was perfect, as was the en route weather. Sadly, the captain was cautious and didn’t want to take any chances.
Unfortunate, as I was starving. Nothing beats Etihad catering when it comes to commercial flying.
The Amuse was a fennel panna cotta with candied cumquats.
On to a starter of traditional arabic mezze. I’ve debated Jacob on the plating of the mezze for what has felt like weeks. Maybe longer. He refuses to understand that the Etihad mezze plating is the best of the mezze plates you can find in first class on a Middle Eastern airline. I say it is modern, but also establishes a sense of generosity. He says it’s messy. It’s my article — so Jacob is wrong.
Unfortunately, despite the turbulence being relatively insignificant, Captain Cautious threw a flight attendant dance party. Dinner was suspended for roughly forty five minutes. For a palate cleanser, I was given a black currant sorbet.
For dinner, as always, I go with the special. At first, it looked a little odd. It was a summer steak salad with a balsamic truffle dressing. T’was absolutely massive, it was! Amazing, too, but massive. Also, alcohol is filling, so I was unable to finish out of a desire for dessert.
Good thing I did, too. The chocolate hazelnut tart trumped Etihad’s other flagship dessert by an order of magnitude. Perfect service.
I should also mention that for dinner I set out with one of my goals to drink the cabin dry of lemon mint juice. Hence, it was my beverage of choice with dinner. In fact, despite it being a team effort, Jacob and I were successful.
Whilst waiting for the turbulence dance party that never should have been to end, I continued to check out the IFE. The screen, the controls, and the headphones are flawless. I love them. Sadly, Etihad no longer had Fury Road. They had terrible movies like Sicario and other Oscars-bait instead. Etihad also provides Ku-band WiFi aboard their A380s, and for seventeen dollars, I was online the whole flight!
Fun fact: the monitor can even turn to be seen in the bed. There are duplicate controls in the wall. It’s like having two TVs in your hotel room, it just feels more luxurious. That much booze and the fact it was now 2:30am in Abu Dhabi made me very tired. Therefore, it was time for bed.
The turn down service is quite spectacular. The bed folds down, the pillows come out from a hidden storage cupboard. You even face perpendicular to the seat.
It’s a special experience. Once you get past the fact that you feel like you may be teetering on the edge of a narrow platform, it’s extremely comfortable. Also the seatbelt goes reverse to a normal seat. I did not want to sleep for long, after all, we were landing in Sydney at 8:20pm.
On Etihad, you can ask the cabin crew to set an alarm for you. I did, I requested exactly one half hour less sleep than Jacob. Mostly so I knew I was enjoying the flight more than him. Ten minutes before the alarm, I was up anyway. For those curious, that implies a total sleep time of four hours, fifteen minutes. As much as I loved the bed, you don’t fly first class to sleep!
Especially when Etihad stocks the same teas as I do. Or, uhh, I stock the same teas as Etihad. I love Etihad’s tea service. My madeleines even arrived with a surprise cookie! They go so well with some Rose tea with French Vanilla.
I continued to internet, until I realized it was time to go to the lobby. I took my computer with me, and ordered another pot of tea. The lobby is a truly lovely space when it’s empty. The thing is, if you put the arm rests down, the seat is narrower than the F throne. It is wonderful and luxurious, but other than to face in a novel direction whilst seated on a commercial aircraft, I would prefer to spend the time in my apartment. I finished my tea, and was nudged by a flight attendant. It was shower time.
Six minutes doesn’t sound like a lot. It is. You see, you can start and stop the water as necessary. Oddly, the bath products are the same as those used in the Fairmont Hotel chain. You don’t get a bathrobe, but there are plenty of towels. Also, it’s terrifying just how humid you can make an aircraft. It also really screws up your sinuses if you have any congestion — in a good way!
Taking a shower two-and-a-half hours before landing (again, to beat Jacob) was an experience I would love to have again. It’s so refreshing. Makes everything better. Thing is, I was still hungry, and there was still some lemon mint juice left.
I ordered a beef tenderloin, perfectly cooked to medium rare, with bernaise sauce and tomato concasse. Also, as Yvgenny the chef was just back from his crew rest, the chips were not soggy. See, that’s the thing, if you want chips in Etihad First Class, you wait for the chef. For some reason many of the food and beverage managers are not trained in the crispy arts. Or, they merely lack the practice.
So, too, was round II of the chocolate hazelnut tart. That took me to top of descent, where I had to put everything away. We landed in Sydney surprisingly close to on-time.
Although I loved my experience, there was one problem that left me frustrated. Some airlines ask you to present a credit card at check in — that’s fine. Here’s the thing. Etihad demands that you present your original credit card from the time of booking. My credit card number got changed…twice (it’s complicated). Because I couldn’t show my original card, they asked for a statement showing the full number and the transaction.
No credit card company is going to do that (or they shouldn’t) for security reasons. I could show the transaction, but not the full old number. I did, eventually, manage to prove to them that my old credit card was issued in my name. You know, despite the fact that I had a ton of ID proving I was myself, a ton of statements proving that I had purchased the tickets.
There’s security, and then there’s just customer harassment. If I am me, and can prove I am me, and also have a ton of other successful and unproblematic Etihad bookings on the same statement (premium bookings, not just lowest economy fares), how about not giving me a heart attack!
Etihad is still the only airline that truly wins my affection. They are one of the few airlines that understands that it is okay to be different if it makes you better. Why can’t more companies understand this?!