After getting the chance to try out many of the world’s First Class airlines, including the heavyweights like Emirates First Class or Singapore Suites, the Etihad Airways A380 First Class Apartments was left as the item at the very top of my bucket list.
I therefore spared no expense in booking the Etihad Apartments on my return journey from the Maldives, transferring my Marriott Bonvoy points to American Airlines AAdvantage to redeem for Malé-Abu Dhabi–London for 62,500 AAdvantage miles per person. I’d then have to tag on another redemption to get me back to Canada, but I fully expected the Apartments experience to justify the roundabout journey.
These days, it’s pretty easy to book the Etihad Apartments on the longer Abu Dhabi–New York and Abu Dhabi–Sydney routes via their new partnership with Aeroplan, and I’ve got another booking lined up for mid-2021 which I hope to be able to take.
And it’s a good thing I do, because I had a single lasting impression from this March 2020 flight between Abu Dhabi and London: an eight-hour overnight ride in the Etihad Apartments is nowhere near long enough!
After spending a few hours in the Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi, Jessy and I headed to the boarding gate for our 2:40am departure to London just in time to be among the first passengers to board.
Following a quick scan of our boarding documents, we headed down the jet bridge and followed the signs for the Upper Deck of the Airbus A380. Etihad Airways’s Airbus A380s include The Residence, First Class, and business class on the upper deck, whereas the lower deck consists entirely of economy class seats.
It’s quite rare to be flying First Class, but not be seated in the highest class of service – but that’s what you get here on the Etihad A380, where The Residence, a private suite with a sitting area, bedroom, shower room, and dedicated butler service at the very front of the plane, is the true star attraction.
But the Residence would have to wait for another day. Today, it was all about the First Class Apartments, the pinnacle of Etihad’s onboard offerings in terms of what we can book with our points.
Boarding the A380 from the first door on the port side, we turned left and found ourselves in the stunning single aisle of the First Class cabin.
Etihad Airways | EY11
Aircraft: Airbus A380
Cabin: First Class
Route: Abu Dhabi (AUH) to London (LHR)
Date: Monday, March 2, 2020
Time: Departing 2:40am and arriving 6:45am
Duration: 8 hours 5 minutes
I’ve seen my fair share of lavish luxury cabins, but there’s something very special about walking down a single aisle emblazoned with Etihad’s signature “diamond-studded” design on both sides, knowing that a set of expansive First Class suites were situated on either side to fill up the remaining width of the Airbus A380’s upper deck.
Walking up and down the hallway, it simply did not feel real at all that this was a commercial aviation product, and yes, I dare say that my sense of disbelief exceeded even my unforgettable flights last year with Etihad’s rival, Emirates, on their 777 and A380. It’s easy to see why the Etihad Apartments were considered truly revolutionary when they were first introduced back in 2014.
At the very end of the hallway, the Airbus A380’s staircase can be accessed to reach the lower deck…
…and right adjacent to this space is the entryway to The Residence. There didn’t seem to be anyone travelling in these ultra-posh quarters on this flight, so I managed to reach over the suite’s walls and snap a picture of the Residence’s sitting area. One day, my friends, one day…
Anyway, let’s talk a little bit about the seat map here on the Etihad Apartments, which is quite a unique one, given the overall rarity of single-aisle First Class products like this one.
Ignoring the Residence, there are a total of nine Apartments, spread out across five rows in a 1-1 configuration. Each row consists of two Apartments except Row 1, where Seat 1B is the Apartment sitting opposite The Residence in Seat 1A.
Each Apartment can be described as an “L”-shaped” unit, with every two rows interlocking with each other to make efficient use of the space.
As a result of the staggered suite arrangement, there are quite a few nuances to the seating arrangement that anyone travelling in the Apartments should be familiar with:
- The odd rows have seats that face backwards, while the even rows have seats that face forwards.
- Rows 1, 2, and 5 have seats that are relatively farther from the windows, while Rows 3 and 4 have seats that are relatively closer to the windows.
- The following pairs of seats share a common wall, which can be partially lowered to create a combined “adjoining suite” for couple travellers: Apartments 1B and 2B, Apartments 3A and 4A, and Apartments 3K and 4K.
So what’s the best seat to choose in the Etihad Apartments? For solo travellers, I’d recommend 4A or 4K – these are forward-facing and closer to the windows, giving you the best window views and greater privacy from the commotion of the aisle.
Meanwhile, for couples, the choice is clear: either 3A and 4A, or 3K and 4K. These pairs of seats will give both of you a spot closer to the windows (one forward-facing and one backward-facing), plus you’ll get to lower the wall between your suites and revel in the experience of sharing an adjoining Apartment at 37,000 feet in the air.
3K and 4K is exactly the choice that Jessy and I made, and after a few moments of being starstruck by the glimmering single aisle, we stepped into our respective 39-square-foot Apartments, only for our dazzlement and delight to take on a whole new level.
Would you look at that?!
I stood in the centre of the space for a moment, reaching out to feel the walls of my Apartment to make sure this was real – it was 2am in the morning and I was running on very little sleep, so it could’ve just as easily been a dream.
I suppose we’ll begin our seat tour at the Apartment’s “chair”, adorned with a brightly coloured throw pillow in Etihad’s distinctive triangular mosaic pattern. Let’s take a seat, and we’ll have a look around.
The first thing we see, straight ahead, is the entertainment screen mounted on the opposite wall. This screen can also be swivelled out so that it can be viewed when you’re lying in your bed as well.
Since the leather bench spans the entire width of the wall in front of you, the small section directly opposite your seat is equipped with a seat belt, where your partner may join you for a face-to-face meal.
The space underneath the bench contains a series of storage compartments for your carry-on luggage (since there are no overhead storage bins in the Etihad Apartments cabin).
Nestled between the bench and the aircraft fuselage was the seat’s literature pocket.
Then, coming back towards you along the fuselage is a spacious countertop, where you could easily place your loose items within reach during the flight. Right now, a crew member had just stopped by to welcome us onboard, and had brought with her the welcome tray of Arabic dates, a hot towel, a complimentary 100MB wifi voucher, and of course, a glass of Piper-Heidsieck brut champagne.
Let’s take a sip, and then look at the features near your seat itself.
The seat’s main control panel is located immediately within reach of your fingertips, providing you access to the analog and digital seat controls (the latter protected from the elements under a thick leather flap), entertainment controller, and USB, HDMI, and headphone jacks.
From there, the control panel curves horizontally and morphs in to the back wall of the Apartment, which then plays host to another plethora of exciting features.
First, there’s a small drawer that acts as a storage compartment for your loose stuff. And beneath that, another drawer acts as the signature minibar with soft drinks and bottled water, which is an inalienable part of the flying experience when you’re on a premium Middle Eastern airline.
Next, Etihad Airways has managed to fit a full vanity mirror and table in your Apartment. A set of double doors on the back wall reveal the vanity mirror, complete with its own lighting, while a mini-surface slides outwards to serve as your vanity table.
How incredible is that?! I simply laughed out loud to myself when I swung open the doors and saw this feature for the first time, and seeing my own joyful face in the mirror only amplified the laughter.
(I will mention that the double-doors to the vanity would come unstuck very easily, including if I was simply walking through my Apartment and happened to bump into the doors very slightly. Sorry Etihad, but not all of us are blessed with faces that we’d like to stare at all the time, so perhaps it’s time to tighten the screws on the product a little bit.)
Continuing through, we arrive at the front door to the Apartment, which of course can be slid entirely shut (although they were latched for taxi and takeoff). Here, you’ll find a closet to hang up your garments for the duration of the flight, as well as a powerful light for your Apartment up top.
What a surreal and joyful experience it was to explore all of the creative features in my Apartment one by one – it reminded me of flying with Emirates last year, but like I said before, the sheer creativity and novelty of Etihad’s hard product took things to a whole new level.
Over in Apartment 4K opposite me, Jessy was similarly walking around her Apartment with her jaw dropped to the ground, unable to believe her eyes at the incredible First Class seat we were flying.
And so, seeing both of our stunned reactions, the cabin manager stepped in and offered to blow our minds even further – by lowering the partition between our units and showing us the experience of the shared Apartment.
He held down a button at the top of the Apartments’ walls… and slid the entire half-wall out of sight!
Wow, wow, WOW!
For a moment, Jessy and I simply looked at each other from across the divide in utter disbelief. With the individual doors to our Apartments closed, we had an entire 78 square feet all to ourselves!
For me, this moment solidified the Etihad First Class Apartments as hands-down the best way to fly with your partner in tow. So much of what makes the luxury travel experience so special is getting to share it with your loved ones, and no product even comes close to matching the shared experience of the Etihad Apartments with the partitions tucked away.
As you can see, only half of the wall can be tucked inside the other half, so the downside to the arrangement is that you won’t be able to see each other when you’re both seated for takeoff or landing – although one person can pop over to the other’s Apartment to dine, drink, or chat face-to-face. Moreover, when it’s time to sleep in the lie-flat bed, only upper-body cuddling is possible. 😉
What an absolutely stunning product down to every last detail. After all of the initial excitement, I had to sit down with my champagne and catch my breath for a moment, and even from the perspective of my seat, I was transfixed by the sheer beauty of the Apartments cabin.
Before takeoff, I headed to the restrooms to change into my pajamas. While I didn’t get a dedicated photo of them, the A Friend of Mine pajamas by Etihad Airways turned out to be one of the most sophisticated airline pajamas I’ve worn so far. They’re stretchy, light, and stylish (a jet-black “athleisure” piece), and I still wear mine around the house these days quite often.
Then, returning to my seat, it was time to place our meal order with the flight attendant. Etihad offers fully flexible dine-on-demand service, so we could eat and drink whenever we wanted.
On this 2:40am departure, it’s assumed that some passengers may want to get some rest immediately after takeoff and eat when they wake up, but Jessy and I agreed to break bread shortly after departure instead, and then we’ll have a light breakfast and a coffee after waking up.
The menu read as follows:
- 1 of 6
- 2 of 6
- 3 of 6
- 4 of 6
- 5 of 6
- 6 of 6
I loved the fact that each main course (either breakfast or “lounge and grill” as the late-night menu) had a set of three core options, each alongside a set of three side dishes and three sauces as well.
And the drinks menu read as follows:
- 1 of 8
- 2 of 8
- 3 of 8
- 4 of 8
- 5 of 8
- 6 of 8
- 7 of 8
- 8 of 8
Shortly after that, it was time for takeoff, and I settled into my Apartment chair and tried to convince myself that I wasn’t dreaming as our Airbus A380 rumbled into the night.
I must’ve dozed off for a few minutes there, as I woke up to the flight attendant offering to set my table, as well as asking me if I needed another glass of champagne to perk me up! I had had a fair bit to drink by this point, and wanted to have some wine with my dinner later, so I simply asked for an orange fizz mocktail for the time being – which was served along with a few light canapés.
I stepped out into the hallway as the crew member worked on setting up my table. Even without the mood lighting, the Etihad Apartments cabin still looked gorgeous by every measure.
I popped over to Jessy’s Apartment, where she too had dozed off in her seat, and let her know that dinner was about to be served. It was well past 3am in the morning by this point, but we mustered up every reserve of energy to sample what promised to be yet another high-quality Etihad Airways meal.
Dinner began with… you guessed it, Russian oscietra caviar, served with blinis and the traditional garnishes of crème fraîche, chopped hard boiled eggs, and chopped onions.
While the accompaniments were a more simple spread compared what other airlines offer, the caviar dish was delightfully salty, briny, and refreshing as always.
For our appetizer, Jessy and I had been somewhat intrigued by the beef sliders on the menu, since it isn’t exactly something you’d expect to be served on a plane.
The sliders came out looking very appetizing indeed, accompanied with some onion rings and potato chips on the side, and tasted very good as well. It’s a dish I’d highly recommend.
Jessy ordered a mojito to go along with her food, whereas I went for a glass of the Bordeaux red wine, which I thought would pair well with my main course of beef tenderloin with seasonal vegetables and truffle oil.
This was a very well-executed cut of steak, on par with what I’ve had at many nice restaurants on the ground, and the truffle oil added the perfect touch of decadence to the dish.
Meanwhile, Jessy opted for something from the grill as well: the black cod and pomme frites, which she found delicious as well. Like our earlier meals on the 787 First Class flight from Malé and the First Class Lounge in Abu Dhabi, Jessy agreed that Etihad’s onboard catering was a clear cut above the rest.
She’s usually never a big fan of airplane food and rarely finishes her plate, but here on Etihad Airways, she too was very impressed by all of the dishes we had been served, and that tells you everything you need to know.
A few quick words on the service on this flight, as well as our previous flight on the 787. Etihad Airways’s flight attendants had a very distinctive service style, which can be described as confident and conversational, rather than demure and deferential.
Whereas some airlines’ crew members seem to follow a particular service script in their words and actions, there was a certain boldness and off-the-cuff quality to the way that Etihad’s cabin manager took our meal orders: “What can I get for you tonight, sir?”
Or the way the crew member helped to clear our table: “So how was the food? May I clear the table and prepare the shower for you?”
Every line was delivered with a big smile and an upbeat inflection, conveying the immense pride that the crew took in the product. I personally quite liked it, but then again, I’m pretty easy to please!
Now, on any other airline, we’d prepare to go to sleep and get as much rest as possible upon the conclusion of a world-class meal. But this was the Etihad Airways A380, so there was still one very important task at hand: showering in the sky!
As I mentioned above, our flight attendant readily offered to prepare the shower for us, with Jessy going first, followed by my turn.
And as Jessy went to take her shower, I first took the time to explore the Etihad Airways A380’s other unmissable feature: the onboard bar and lounge that’s shared between First Class and business class passengers.
Compared to Emirates’s onboard bar, Etihad’s bar is flush against the side of the cabin, so there’s no room to stand “behind” the bar, but the crew is still happy to fix you up a drink from the wide range of premium liqueurs on offer.
Etihad places a much more central focus on its onboard lounge instead, with two semi-circular booths providing seating space for a total of six passengers. Each seat is equipped with a seat belt, and there are also foldable armrests with drink holders; these reveal additional seat controls which can also be used to change the channel on the communal TV screen.
On a daytime flight (and outside of a pandemic, of course), this may be a nice spot to mingle with your fellow premium passenger, but during the middle of the night on this eight-hour redeye flight, it sadly didn’t get much usage.
Before long, it was time for my shower. Now, unlike Emirates, which operates two individual large-sized shower rooms, the Etihad A380 uses one of those spaces for The Residence instead. Therefore, the remaining space is divided between one shower room and one regular restroom, which means that the shower room is much tighter and narrower than the more “famous” shower room on Emirates.
However, the limited space is divided efficiently among the toilet, sink, and shower, and there’s no shortage of toiletries and bath amenities provided to First Class passengers for their use.
As you can see, the shower room itself is still a decent size, and, well, the experience of showering on a plane is one that simply never gets old.
The water comes out of a shower head embedded in the very top corner of the shower unit. Each passenger gets five minutes of hot running water (with excellent water pressure, I might add), which you can stop and start whenever you’d like to maximize your enjoyment.
For example, it’d be a bit of a waste to have the water running while you’re lathering yourself up using the Acqua di Parma body wash, so that’s when you’d pause the water, take your time to scrub everything squeaky-clean while reminding yourself that you’re doing so on a freakin’ airplane, and then start the water again to rinse off.
For what it’s worth, the other restroom is decorated similarly in Etihad’s futuristic-but-true-to-its-Arabic-roots design motifs, just without the shower room.
I once again donned my lovely A Friend of Mine pajamas after a refreshing shower, and returned to a beautiful sight in my Apartment: the crew had prepared our bed for us, transforming the individual benches into a twin-sized lie-flat surface and fitting it with the bedsheets and blankets, resulting in a pseudo-Double Bed in the Sky!
What a glorious sight.
It’s a “pseudo” double bed because, after all, there’s still a half-wall separating the two Apartments from each other, limiting your pre-slumber activities to no more than the whispering of sweet nothings.
It was only at this point that I had the chance to examine the Acqua di Parma amenity kit itself, which prioritized quality over quantity: it contained a toothbrush, eye mask, and Acqua di Parma’s body lotion, lip balm, and eau de toilette.
As we settled into bed, Jessy fell asleep very quickly, but I had still wanted to stay awake as long as possible to fully maximize the Etihad Apartments experience. I popped out the television screen for comfortable in-bed viewing, and took a look through the entertainment selection.
I also connected to the wifi, although unfortunately the connection speed was very much on the slower side. Earlier, I had used up my 100MB of free wifi allowance uploading Instagram Stories of the whole experience, so I had purchased an extra 180MB for US$19.95, but sadly the poor connection made it very difficult to use.
Eventually, I was fading pretty fast, so I put on a sitcom episode and laid back to go to sleep. We were just about flying over Turkey at this point, meaning that I’d have about three hours of sleep if I was lucky before our early-morning arrival in London.
I was awoken by the crew for my breakfast order with just over an hour of the flight left. Heading to the restroom to freshen up, I couldn’t help but take note of just how beautiful the aisle looked with all the Apartments’ doors shut and the pre-arrival mood lighting working its magic.
When I returned, the crew had already delivered my light breakfast of a croissant and muffin, along with a much-needed cup of black coffee. A few minutes later, that was followed by a complimentary box of pralines for both Jessy and myself, as a thank-you for flying with Etihad Airways.
Pretty soon, the captain came on the PA to announce our imminent landing into London Heathrow, which meant that our beds needed to be put back into upright mode and our trays cleared away. I received a top-up to my coffee, though, and was allowed to keep on sipping it as we made our landing.
Sitting there and sipping my coffee, I looked to my right to see the morning sunlight flooding the cabin, illuminating one of the most visually stunning First Class cabins I’ve ever seen…
…and I looked to my left, out of the window, and cast my gaze over the skyline of one of my favourite cities in the world – for an extended period, no less, since any landing into Heathrow necessarily involves circling a few times.
In that dreamlike state, I couldn’t help but feel awash with an overwhelming sense of gratitude, both for the incredible experiences we had every step of the way on this trip to the Maldives, and – looking back now on this flight in early March 2020 – for one of the last opportunities to indulge in the simple pleasures of aviation before the world changed forever.
I’m forever grateful that I got to fly the Etihad Airways A380 First Class Apartments shortly before global aviation ground to a halt, and it easily ranks up there among the best flights of my life – especially considering the shared experience when travelling with my fiancée Jessy in tow.
The Apartments’ hard product was considered ground-breaking when it was first introduced in 2014, and it’s not hard to see why. The single-aisle arrangement provides each Apartment’s resident with an unparalleled amount of space, matched to this day only by Singapore Airlines’s new A380 Suites Class (which now ranks as the #1 item on my bucket list).
Within each Apartment, the fact that you get both a chair and a full-length bench that converts into a lie-flat bed, together with the ability to form adjoining Apartments as a couple, represents one of the loftiest pinnacles of luxury in commercial aviation.
Combine that with the world-class food and drink on Etihad Airways, which outperforms every other Western carrier I’ve flown with thus far, as well as the impressive and confident service every step of the way, and you have all the makings of a world-class luxury travel experience.
Then throw in the undeniable novelty of showering in the sky (even as a repeat shower in the sky taker) and the intimate onboard bar and lounge, and my only regret from this wonderful journey is that the eight-hour red-eye to London is nowhere near the ideal flight duration for the Etihad Apartments. My April 2021 journey from Sydney to Abu Dhabi to New York, if it happens, promises to be a much more immersive and indulgent experience.
And that brings me to my last point: best of all, not only are the Etihad Apartments an incredible way to fly, but they’ve now been “democratized” for Canadian points collectors thanks to Aeroplan’s new partnership with Etihad Airways, and I know many of you have booked upcoming trips on the Etihad Apartments for yourselves.
I know I speak for everyone when I say: may the Etihad Airways A380 make a swift a return to the skies, so that we can all experience the magic of the Apartments for ourselves as soon as possible!