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In case you missed the big news – I was aboard The Residence on Etihad’s inaugural A380 flight from New York to Abu Dhabi. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I couldn’t pass up as an aviation fanatic. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be the first Residence passengers on a new route, so I booked my $32,058 one-way ticket. Call me crazy, but I had to go.
I prepared myself for the flight, but I didn’t exactly know what to expect. I knew the basics – the butler service, the three-room layout, the food options, but I didn’t know what the full experience would entail. It was unlike anything I had encountered before – I received the complete and total royal treatment from the moment Etihad’s drivers picked my photographer and me up from my apartment in New York.
From there, the experience got even better – but, there were a few bumps in the road, one of which I never would have expected. After landing in Abu Dhabi and digesting everything, here are the main points that really stuck out to me to give you a taste of what’s to come in the full review (coming next week).
1. The Service was Above And Beyond My Expectations
When I got to the gate, my butler Eren was waiting for me with gloves on. After a short introduction, I boarded the plane and was greeted with a glass of Bollinger Champagne — definitely a positive way to kick off the flight. On our way on to the aircraft, the Italian head chef Enrico greeted me and told me that he would do anything in his power to make this the most memorable experience. But, there would be some constraints because of the fact we would be 35,000 feet in the air. For example, he wouldn’t be able to make any flambé. Shucks – I was really expecting a flambé.
Throughout the entire flight, Eren made sure I was completely satisfied with my experience from the moment we met until I deplaned in Abu Dhabi. When we took off from New York, Eren brought another glass of Champagne and a few snacks – olives and nuts. It was the type of service that was extremely personal and Eren was so attentive for the duration of the flight – it’ll be hard to replicate in the future.
2. Overall, The Food was Good – The Caviar, Not So Much
My meal experience was great. Between the wine tasting and the snacks that Eren brought through The Residence’s doors, I was highly satisfied. I decided to go with the caviar service – which turned out to be one of the few decisions I regretted on this trip. It included a farm-raised Abu Dhabi caviar, and there was a Brooklyn-raised caviar in the lounge at JFK. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something not so appealing about the name “Abu Dhabi farm-raised caviar.”
It was a little salty and not as nice as caviars I’ve had on other carriers, such as Lufthansa. That being said, the other food options I had were excellent. The Thanksgiving dinner Enrico prepared for us (more on that soon!) was fantastic and the breakfast options made up for the caviar mishap. But then again, maybe I’m just not in the know on cool new caviar trends, but it was a little jarring – no pun intended.
3. The Bed was Unbelievably Comfortable
The bedroom was one of my favorite aspects of The Residence experience. Whereas in The Apartment suites, there isn’t a true bed(room), The Residence has its own separate room with a double mattress. I was so delighted when I was finally able to lay down on the bed that I nearly forgot I was 35,000 feet in the air. The mattress itself was so comfortable that I felt like I could have been in a luxury hotel. It was big enough for my 6’7″ frame to stretch out and I slept like a baby for my four-hour nap.
The blankets were soft and kept me warm for the duration of the flight – I even became too warm at one point and wanted to change out of the pajamas given to me and into some gym shorts. As an added bonus, when I went to take my nap, Eren followed me in and spritzed some lavender scent in the room to add to the relaxation ambiance. As soon as my head hit the six pillows that were all perfectly fluffed, I took a moment and realized where I was, smiled, asked myself if this was actually happening and fell sound asleep.
4. The Living Room is Perfect for Relaxing
The living room is the first of the rooms you walk in to when you enter The Residence. Its leather couch is entirely soft and comfortable, which is perfect for watching entertainment on the 32-inch TV directly in front of you. The options for in-flight entertainment were pretty standard, but the two remotes on each side of the couch were definitely better than I had expected.
The living room itself is the least private of the three rooms in The Residence. There’s a door that separates the suite from the rest of the first-class passengers, but it’s definitely not as private as one might think. The door doesn’t extend to the ceiling of the plane, so it’s easy for people to look over. But that doesn’t take away from the comfort of having the room as another option.
I did, however, see a missed opportunity here for Etihad. I expect a majority of The Residence customers to be business executives. So, if two people want to sleep, there would need to be an additional sleeping area to avoid a potentially awkward bed situation. If the living room couch were to recline, which it doesn’t, this would be an easy solution to the problem.
5. The Shower is an Added Bonus
Of course I had to try out the shower. In fact, between myself and my cameraman Andrew, we used it twice. Eren was extremely accommodating in allowing me (us) to use the shower twice, something you’re only allowed to do once on Emirates’ product and after making an “appointment” with the attendants (Etihad has the same procedure for the shower shared between Apartment guests). I decided to take a shower before I went to bed and it was fantastic. I didn’t feel limited for the time I was in the shower. There were Acqua di Parma products to use, which all smelled great.
Although it’s hard to exactly complain about being able to shower while in the air – twice – I did have one concern. Where as in Emirates’ product, there was plenty of space to move around in the bathroom (although it’s not a private bathroom), store things and change before hopping in the shower, The Residence bathroom seemed quite small. I had a hard time maneuvering in the small space and finding a place to change without bumping into walls.
It’s hard for me to express how grateful I am to have experienced this flight. I enjoyed every minute on the aircraft as the inaugural Residence passenger on Etihad’s new A380 route from New York to Abu Dhabi, and I’m happy I get to share my experience with you all. I did some calculations and came to the conclusion that each hour I spent on the 12.5-hour flight cost me approximately $2,500. So, my four-hour nap cost me roughly $10,000. Wow. I once fell asleep during a Broadway show on a ticket that cost me $150 and my parents joked that it was the most expensive nap I had ever taken. Little did they (or I) know that a few years later, I’d be sleeping in a (very expensive) airplane bed.
For me, I will never forget the service, the suite and the flight overall. That being said, I am perfectly content with traveling the world in first and business class from now on. And I know for sure that I’ll feel less guilty on my Emirates flight home that cost me $80 out of pocket. Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.
Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.