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When I heard about Etihad’s inaugural flight from New York-JFK to Abu Dhabi on its A380, I knew I had to go — not just because I’m a fan of aviation and premium-cabin travel, but also because I wanted to be the first to experience The Residence on the airline’s new flagship route. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, so I booked it (and 15 minutes after booking I got a call from the VIP team in Abu Dhabi welcoming me to the experience), looked forward to it for months and was completely in awe of everything I saw — both before I even got to the airport and on board for the duration of the flight.
Booking The Residence
Booking The Residence is an expensive endeavor. I booked as soon as the (original) date was announced for December 1, but because of the Formula 1 in Abu Dhabi, Etihad moved the date up to November 23, just three days before Thanksgiving. I decided to stick with the flight after the date change — and I’m happy I did because the excitement at JFK and on the plane was palpable.
I paid $32,058 for the flight, which is a ridiculous amount to spend to fly one-way from New York to Abu Dhabi, but it’s a business expense and a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so to me it was worth it. Plus, I earned a ton of points that I’ll put toward more travel!
Beyond crazy bloggers, the Residence does seem to be selling, despite the high price — it’s booked on six flights over the next two weeks.
While I was originally planning to bring a guest (a second passenger is included in the fare), the last-minute change in dates to during the holiday week hampered that plan. Plus, it would have been tight in there while filming — it is really only meant for a maximum of two people, and even then it gets cramped with the butler service — more on that later.
I paid for the flight with my Amex Premier Rewards Gold card, earning 3 points per dollar. Unfortunately I couldn’t book it through Amex Travel for the 4x per dollar, so as you can see below, I racked up a whopping 96,174 Membership Rewards points for the one-way flight. I conservatively value Amex points at 1.9 cents each, so that’s like getting $1,827 in value back, though I will get even more than that since I love transferring just 62,500 Amex points to Aeroplan (soon to 70,000 points) and booking Lufthansa first class to Europe.
I also earned 400% of the flight distance in redeemable miles, for a total of 27,408 Etihad Guest miles — believe it or not, that’s nearly enough for a round-trip transatlantic business-class flight on Brussels Air! I can easily transfer points from Citi ThankYou earned with my ThankYou Premier Card to fill the gap.
I also achieved Etihad Guest Silver status from this one-way flight alone. That status will get me 25% tier bonus Etihad Guest miles on eligible flights; an excess baggage allowance of 10 kilograms; access to the Al Reem Lounge at Abu Dhabi International Airport (even when flying coach), as well as business-class lounges at other airports in the network where offered; and a guaranteed economy-class seat on a sold-out Etihad flight, provided the booking is made in an eligible fare class and requested at least 48 hours prior to scheduled departure. I’m not sure that I’ll use any of those benefits, since I’m not based in Abu Dhabi, but I won’t turn down free status!
Chauffeur Service and Check-In
Anyway, back to the flight. The day had finally arrived and I woke up so extremely excited — think Christmas Day as a kid, and then a hundred times that. My day started long before and much more extravagantly than my average morning-of-flight routine. I’m so used to waking up, preparing to leave, requesting an Uber and doing all of the pre-flight rituals one does before boarding the aircraft.
But this experience was unlike any other. I received a call at 9am from an Abu Dhabi number and when I picked up, the person on the other end said that my driver was waiting for me downstairs — mind you, my flight was at 2:30pm, but I requested an extra early pick-up so I could have plenty of time to enjoy Etihad’s ground experience at JFK. I was so excited, I left all my oppositions to arriving at the airport early behind and went downstairs to meet my driver — the one thing they neglected to tell me was that it would not be a driver, but drivers.
I was shocked when I got downstairs to see two cars waiting for me. I asked the driver who greeted me which car was mine and he told me both. So, it was up to me which car got my luggage (one small carry-on bag) and which car I wanted to ride in. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ride in a BMW 7 series, so I chose the sedan and my bag was in the back of a Cadillac Escalade that traveled in front of us throughout the ride to the airport. The ride was great and the car had Wi-Fi, which was a nice bonus.
After a short ride from my apartment in downtown Manhattan, I arrived at JFK to no fewer than five different Etihad employees who were ecstatic to welcome me to the beginning of my Residence experience. There is no check-in desk for the Residence passenger — your boarding pass and baggage tags are pre-printed so there’s zero wait time. This was a trend that continued throughout the day; the friendly and unparalleled customer service was unlike any other I have experienced from an airline.
The crew ushered us in through the doors of JFK and to the TSA line (sadly I was not TSA Pre-Check for this flight). It was kind of a surreal experience to be part of this mob-like posse that was making its way through the check-in area, cameras and all.
At least five employees helped us get through the lowest part of the day: TSA. I’ve had issues with the TSA in the past, and my friendly Etihad crew apologized that this would be the worst part of the day — even when you’re traveling in coach, dealing with TSA is generally the least appealing part of the flying experience. Fortunately, we got through security relatively quickly without issue and continued onward to the new Etihad lounge at JFK.
Etihad’s Brand-New JFK Lounge
The newly renovated Etihad lounge at JFK is beautiful. It was so new that it had only opened to the public the day prior, so I was grateful to experience what the lounge had in store for me, as a passenger in The Residence.
The Etihad lounge is for business-class, first-class and Residence passengers. The interior design of the lounge is sleek and modern — so much so it actually made being at the airport hours before my flight worthwhile and enjoyable.
One of my favorite parts of the lounge itself was the phenomenal bar (and bartender), which continued to speak to the level of professionalism and comfort of the service I received all day.
The signature cocktails were actually signature cocktails — not just your typical Cosmo and Manhattan – including some ingredients I’d never heard of before. The cocktail menu featured drinks from ten cities that Etihad serves – including London, Sydney, Mumbai and Shanghai.
I decided to go with the New York-themed cocktail, which had an apple taste with bourbon — and it was delicious.
One of the other nice features of the new lounge is the portion reserved for The Residence passenger. My private suite was behind a secret door and left me even more impressed than I was with the common club room. There was a dining table for two, two sofas, two chairs, a prayer room and my own bathroom. Inside the bathroom, there were Acqua di Parma products, which were also in the bathroom on board The Residence, and a nice robe. Mind you, there’s only one Residence on the A380, so all of this is presumably for one or two people — it was a lot, but it was definitely a nice touch especially because I had a camera crew with me.
Inside the lounge, I had my own attendant who served me my food and tended to my every need. It was amazing to see how the process was run — there was a friendly person through every leg of my journey from the moment I was picked up at my apartment to the people who greeted me at the airport, those in the lounge and everyone on board the aircraft.
When I ate in the lounge, I had Brooklyn-farmed caviar, which was actually much better than it sounds — I was impressed. That was followed by a crispy salmon in coconut milk, which was also delicious. I really enjoyed the food in the lounge, but wanted to save room for my meal on board.
Seat and The Residence
We eventually left the lounge and walked toward the gate. At some point between all the people who were catering to me, my bag was left in the lounge. There was a lot of excitement at the gate and Etihad employees were giving out freebies like New York-themed scarves. I didn’t even take a look because my butler for the flight, Eren, was waiting for me by the gate with his white gloves on.
I was welcomed as the first passenger to board the plane, but right after I boarded, they almost immediately started boarding first and business-class passengers. So, there wasn’t much time on the plane solo, but there was plenty of time for me to board the A380’s upper deck and get settled in The Residence.
A glass of Bollinger Champagne was waiting for me in the living room of The Residence. I stopped, took a walk around the (somewhat unexpectedly small) three rooms of The Residence and paused to take it all in.
Eren talked with me about the flight, asked when I wanted to shower and made it clear that he would do everything in his power to ensure this was a memorable experience — and he really held up to that standard throughout the flight.
The Residence itself is somewhat of a tight squeeze, especially for someone like myself who is 6’7″. I didn’t realize before my trip that The Residence is literally across the aisle from and one row in front of The Apartments in first class. Although we had our own doors, I didn’t realize that we would all be so close.
The door to The Residence leads to the living room, which looks much like The Apartment. There’s a two-seat couch made from nice European leather in either beige or brown, depending on the aircraft. I did, however, see a missed opportunity here for Etihad. I could see executives wanting to splurge for the Residence, but the only place to sleep is on the bed — the living room area only reclines a couple inches. I really think the airline should have given the option to have an additional bed in the living room area.
If the living room couch were to recline like The Apartment couch does, this would be an easy solution to the problem. As is, you really have to like someone to share the bed with them.
The Residence had two TVs, including a 32-inch screen in the living room and one in the bedroom at the end of the bed. Admittedly, I was too enamored with trying out the other aspects of the Residence experience to watch TV, though they looked nice.
There’s also in-flight Wi-Fi available throughout the plane that’s included for Residence guests. It worked decently enough, though my phone got logged out whenever I stopped using the Wi-Fi for an extended period. However, Eren wouldn’t let me be bothered with typing in the Wi-Fi code — he did that for me whenever I got logged out, which was very kind.
Of course, given that The Residence has a private shower, I had to give it a try — not once, but twice during the flight.
The shower is a bit of a tight squeeze. Although it’s hard to exactly complain about showering while in the air — twice — I wasn’t thrilled with the extra-compact size, especially when compared to Emirates’ huge first-class shower suites. The actual showers are similar, but Emirates has a lot more space to change and get ready, though I guess Etihad would argue that this is what the bedroom is for.
Whereas in Emirates’ bathroom, there is plenty of space to move around (although it’s shared with other first-class passengers), 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, unlike my experience on other similar products.
The Aqua di Parma products were nice and smelled great, but were not the most luxurious. However, the heated floors were an added bonus that kept me comfortable and made me feel like I was in a luxurious bathroom — even if the size wasn’t comparable.
The ceiling of the bedroom, like the bathroom, is on a slant that can be somewhat dangerous if you’re not looking and prepared to duck. Whereas in The Apartment suites, there isn’t a separate bed(room), The Residence has its own dedicated room with a real 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 — I even became too warm at one point and wanted to change out of the pajamas given to me and into some gym shorts. It was then that I asked Eren to bring in my carry-on bag, so I could grab my shorts. That’s when we realized that the bag wasn’t in the cabin, though at the time the crew assumed it had ended up in the luggage compartment below the lower deck, not still at the Etihad lounge at JFK.
Also of note, the pajamas weren’t as comfortable as ones I’ve had in the past — such as the Shanghai Tang pajamas I got on Cathay Pacific. 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 relaxing 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.
Food and Beverage
For just a 12.5-hour flight on board The Residence, I wanted to make sure I made the most of my time in the air. Between the great food and the options with which to spend my time, I was impressed and entertained from takeoff to landing.
Although The Residence is unlike anything else in the commercial skies, it’s surprisingly compact. I ventured out to the common lounge, where there was more space to relax and socialize — especially when it came to the Thanksgiving dinner I requested from Etihad. Because of the flight’s timing so close to Thanksgiving, I decided to really take advantage of it and maximize “The Residence experience,” so I requested a full Thanksgiving feast — pumpkin pie and all — as my meal.
The Residence has a relatively wide and diverse menu for the flight. In addition to the standard entrées, there’s also an “All Day Dine” menu, which has some lighter options available at any time throughout the journey. Some meal options include a rib-eye steak, chicken breast and rack of lamb, which can you can order with sides, such as creamy mashed potatoes or steamed green beans.
This was, of course, in addition to my in-flight meal — the Etihad Thanksgiving dinner. We were served turkey, potatoes vegetables and more — just another way I felt right at home on this flight.
One of the great features of not only being a Residence passenger on board the A380, but also a business- or first-class passenger, is the access to the previously mentioned common lounge, which sits between the first- and business-class cabins. It gave me an opportunity to dine comfortably with my friend Keri, who runs the Heels First Travel blog.
While we were eating, if anyone from either cabin had wanted to join us that would have been fine, but at no point did anyone stop by and sit down. We were pretty much uninterrupted in the lounge with our turkey dinner the entire time — it was great. That being said, if you’re going to travel on the A380 in business class, I’d advise not to select the front row of the cabin, since it’s right next to the lounge and could get rowdy depending on who’s in there.
For dessert, I had the pumpkin pie I requested in advance, along with a delicious strawberry shortcake and sliced pineapple. It tasted as good as it looked.
We also blind-tasted several of the red and white wines that were offered on board, which was a lot of fun. My favorite wine was the Line 39 Pinot Noir from California.
In addition to my Thanksgiving dinner, I also had a lovely omelette for breakfast shortly before my flight landed. It was carefully plated with a variety of sides, including mushrooms, baked beans and a roasted tomato.
As mentioned, the food was good — not the best I’ve had in the skies, but definitely far from the worst. The chef, Enrico, was wonderful and greeted me when I got on board and explained his restrictions with cooking 35,000 feet in the air.
The caviar on board, which was an Abu Dhabi farm-raised variety, was a little salty and not as nice as caviars I’ve had on other carriers, such as Lufthansa. But the Thanksgiving dinner, breakfast options and friendly service duo of Enrico and Eren made the experience and my dislike of the caviar much easier to swallow.
Following my fantastic turkey feast, I settled in and asked Eren to wake me 90 minutes before landing. After a fantastic nap, he arrived with the iced triple espresso I requested and prepped the bathroom for a second shower. Then, soon after I finished my omelette, it was time to land at AUH.
The Residence experience continues after landing. Before taking the included car to your destination, you can relax in the arrivals lounge.
The lounge has a barber and showers (just in case you somehow missed the shower on your flight).
There’s plenty of space to relax, and waiter service as well.
Overall, there’s not much else to say beside the fact that this was an amazing experience that I’m entirely grateful for having been able to partake in. Everything from the service when I was picked up from my apartment to dealing with my misplaced carry-on bag was above and beyond my expectations.
Although I was completely shocked at first that my bag was lost, Etihad went above and beyond to redeem itself for the mishap. I get it, things happen, and the airline was so extremely embarrassed that this happened on its watch, on its inaugural flight, to its Residence passenger. But the carrier really did make up for it — from arranging to buy me new clothes to wear during my short stay in the city to the highlight: the donation of a business-class ticket to Africa to the global leadership development foundation, PeaceJam. A hugely kind and much appreciated gesture.
I’m so glad I was able to take you on my trip with me, and I hope you enjoyed the experience as much as I did. I hope that Etihad makes The Residence more affordable to redeem using Etihad Guest miles or American AAdvantage miles — for now, you can book The Apartment for just 90,000 AAdvantage miles, though that redemption will jump to 115,000 miles in March.
Overall, it was a really unique in-flight experience, but that being said, I probably won’t be doing it again any time soon unless mileage redemptions become more reasonable.
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