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TO THE POINT: Etihad’s Apartment is one of the most luxurious first-class experiences you’ll find in the sky. The pros: complimentary chauffeur service to and from the airport and incredibly attentive staff. The cons: faulty lights at my seat that wouldn’t dim and a shower suite that was out of order.
After successfully bidding on an upgrade from business class to first on Etihad, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen flew in the airline’s First Apartment aboard the A380 from New York (JFK) to Abu Dhabi (AUH). Here is his review of the experience. (All photos are by the author).
I’ve had great experiences flying in Etihad’s old first class, and business class aboard its A380. But when the chance came to snag one of its over-the-top first-class Apartments on a recent flight from New York to Abu Dhabi, I couldn’t resist.
I’d originally purchased a round-trip business-class airfare from Colombo, Sri Lanka, to JFK — at the time, my airfare came to 263,539 Sri Lankan rupees, or about $1,804. On the outbound trip from Colombo to New York via Abu Dhabi, I flew in business class and enjoyed the experience.
However, about a week before I was set to take my return flight, I got an email from Etihad asking if I would like to bid on an upgrade. I clicked through to the upgrade bidding site, which is run by Plusgrade, like those of most other airlines that let you bid on upgrades.
Bidding options started at 149,745 Sri Lankan rupees (~$1,026) and went all the way up to 234,385 LKR (~$1,605). Although it was a chunk of change that would nearly double the cost of my ticket, I decided to try my luck by putting in a bid for 170,905 LKR ($1,170). It was a lot of money, but not a crazy amount, and would still be the equivalent of getting a huge discount on a first-class ticket. Plus, if my bid wasn’t accepted, I wouldn’t be left high and dry, so I figured I might as well give it a shot.
Just over 48 hours before my flight, I was notified that my bid was successful! I would be flying in Etihad’s First Apartment and I was pretty excited about it.
I tried to log into my reservation on Etihad’s website to select a seat, and even though my reservation now said first class, I kept getting an error message when I tried to choose a seat. I ended up calling the airline’s help desk instead and they were able to select one for me.
All told, I would earn a total of 22,300 redeemable American AAdvantage miles (though I thought about crediting my flights to Etihad instead), and 8,895 Citi ThankYou Rewards points since I earned 3 points per dollar by charging everything to my Citi ThankYou Premier card.
Airport and Lounge
Etihad first- and business-class tickets come with complimentary chauffeur service to and from the airport, depending on your cities — you can find out more about that here.
I booked my chauffeur service online and received an email confirmation immediately that included a pick-up time of 11:00am. That was a bit early for a 3:00pm flight, so I called Etihad and asked them to change the pick-up time to noon instead. However, the day before I was to leave, I got a text confirmation with the same 11:00am pick-up time and a call from the car service confirming the same time. When I talked to the service directly, though, they were finally able to change it for me.
The day of my flight, my driver showed up at my hotel at 11:45am and told me to take my time getting ready, that he would wait. He drove a beautiful, black Mercedes S-series stocked with bottles of water, some magazines and a Wi-Fi hotspot, so my drive was quite comfortable and productive.
He dropped me off at the last door of JFK’s Terminal 4, where Etihad’s check-in desks are. No one was manning the first-class desk, but there were agents at both business counters, so I just checked in with them instead.
They took my passport and checked to see that I had a visa for Sri Lanka, then handed me my boarding pass. I actually had a rear-facing seat, but wanted to see if I could switch to a forward-facing one. The agent told me that all A and K seats on the plane were forward-facing, but I said they weren’t and asked her to check on 4A or 4K for me. She said she would, but that it didn’t matter because all the seats faced forward, which I knew wasn’t true. In the end, both seats were full already, so I kept my original assignment, 3A.
I made my way through security and headed to the Etihad Premium Lounge — highlights included being able to order à la carte options like lamb chops and vegetable garam masala, comfortable seating areas overlooking the tarmac and a swanky bar that I wouldn’t mind patronizing in real life thanks to some tasty signature cocktails and a phenomenal staff.
About an hour before my flight was set to depart, lounge attendants came through letting passengers know that they could board. Fortunately, TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig had photographed Etihad’s A380 last year, so I took my time and made my way to the gate about 15 minutes later, went straight through the first-class line and boarded the plane.
Cabin and Seat
One of the flight attendants took my boarding pass, greeted me by name, then handed me off to a colleague to show me to my seat.
I use the word “seat” loosely, because Etihad’s Apartments are more like small living rooms rather than actual seats. All Apartments feature both a reclining chair (though it doesn’t actually recline too much) and a bench that converts into a 26-inch wide, 80.5-inch long twin bed. Both are upholstered in leather by luxury brand Poltrona Frau, with some seats being tan, toffee-colored or chocolate-brown. Finally, there are doors that slide closed for privacy when you want to sleep or just remain undisturbed.
On the A380, Etihad’s first-class cabin is located at the front of the top deck. There are just nine seats in all plus the three-room Residence. Row 1 has a single Apartment (1H) across from The Residence, while the next four rows have just one Apartment on either side of the aisle.
However, when it comes to seat selection, there are a few factors to consider. Seats 1H, 3A, 3K and 4C are rear-facing, while the rest are forward-facing.
Because of the layout, though, some seats have chairs that are closer to the aisle while some are closer to the window. Those closer to the aisle are 1H, 2C, 2H, 5C and 5H.
Something else to think about: the dividers between seats in rows 3 and 4 can be lowered so if you’re traveling with a companion, you can sleep next to one another.
For me, the most important factor was for my seat to have a chair closer to the window for more privacy. That’s why I’d selected 3A in the first place.
As for storage, there are no overhead bins, so the flight attendants took my carry-on and stowed it for me (though I could get it back at any time if I needed anything) and I put my backpack under the bench in my Apartment, where there was plenty of room for it.
These are among the most advanced seats in the skies, with touchscreen controls, lights and plugs everywhere, it felt like. The window shades lower with up and down buttons, and there’s both a day shade and a blackout shade.
In the chair’s armrest you’ll find controls for the chair itself, including settings for takeoff, landing and relaxing, as well as a button that moves the seat portion forward so you can put your feet up on the bench. Inside a little compartment in the armrest is a touchscreen control for the lights as well as the attendant call and do not disturb buttons.
Above this, in the paneling, is the touchscreen control for the in-flight entertainment system — you can actually watch separate content on this device at the same time as whatever you’re watching on the IFE screen (which is also a touchscreen, but more on that later).
This is also where you’ll find the USB ports, headphone jack and a universal adapter for plugging in electronics. When you’re ready, the flight attendants will come and turn your bench into a twin bed. This process involves using the button controls next to the bench itself to extend it to its full width, putting down a mattress-topper and dressing it with a fitted cotton sheet and duvet, as well as a full-size pillow and colorful accent pillow.
Since there were a few empty seats in the cabin, I asked the flight attendants to make one of them up into a bed for me to photograph while everyone was still awake and the cabin was still light — that way I could snap away without disturbing anyone.
The flight attendants made up 1H, and in the end, I actually slept there because the lights in my Apartment wouldn’t dim! This turned out to be a good option, though, because in the Apartments with chairs closer to the aisle, the head of the bed is toward the window so it’s a bit more peaceful.
If the cabin is cold, you can also use the fleece that’s waiting for you at your seat when you board the plane.
Amenities and Entertainment
There are hundreds of hours of entertainment available, including newly-released movies from around the world, TV series, games, music and more. Flight attendants hand out noise-canceling headphones to guests who don’t bring their own. A 24-inch HDTV in-flight entertainment monitor is stowed in the paneling between seats facing the chair full-on — there’s a release latch you can hit that swings it out so you can see the screen from the bed if you’re lying down as well.
There’s also another headphone jack closer to the bed for convenience. You can control the screen with the remote by the side of the chair or by touching the screen itself if you prefer (though it’s a bit far away from the seat).
Etihad also offers Wi-Fi for between $11.95-$21.95 depending on how long you want to use it.
I actually fired it up later in the flight to get some work done and found that it worked pretty well, clocking speeds of 5.27 Mbps for downloads, though a sluggish 0.20 Mbps for uploads.
The seat also comes with its own minibar that includes two bottles of water and two cans each of Coca-Cola and Sprite, though they’ll restock it to your preferences if you like.
Almost as soon as I boarded and had been plied with Champagne, flight attendants came through and offered me a pair of black Etihad pajamas presented in a fancy brown bag.
Rather than hand out a buttoned-up amenity kit, Apartment passengers are given a whole vanity case with three mirrored panels that open up containing amenity-kit products.
Vanity products include a toothbrush with toothpaste, an eye mask, ear plugs, slippers and Le Labo Bergamote 22 facial moisturizer, lip balm and hand balm, as well as soothing lavender-scented pillow mist and pulse-point oil to use on the bed and your skin before sleeping.
You still do get an amenity kit bag to take with you that’s embroidered with patterns inspired by traditional Emirati crafts.
One of the things I was most looking forward to was showering in the air. I’ve done it on Emirates and Etihad features a lavatory with a shower for its first-class passengers (note that The Residence has its own shower). However, I was informed that the shower wasn’t working, though fortunately I’d have time to wash up in Abu Dhabi upon landing. From what I understand, the showers hadn’t been working on a few of Etihad’s A380s, so I’m not sure if they intend to fix them anytime soon, or if this is an amenity they’re just putting on the back burner for now.
Otherwise, the lavs are pretty large, though moodily lit, so don’t plan on trying to do your makeup in there.
Aside from that, the other main amenity available to business- and first-class guests is “The Lobby” lounge. This is an area between the two cabins where flight attendants put out various snacks, beverages and booze, and where a table comes up out of the floor to be surrounded by two curved banquettes, each seating up to three people.
The space feels very glamorous, though it was kept rather dark most of my flight for some reason, and every time I went back there to take photos, it was nearly full and no one wanted to have their photo taken. Not wanting to disturb the other passengers, I didn’t snap any pics, though you can refer to our previous post on the Apartment and a review of a recent flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi to get a better idea of what this area looked like.
Food and Beverage Service
While I was getting settled in my seat, the onboard chef, Krisztian (from Hungary) and one of the flight attendants named Imogen (from the UK) came through offering traditional Arabic coffee and dates as well as a pre-departure beverage. I asked for some water and Champagne, and was served Bollinger Grande Année 2005 Champagne, which was rich but fresh.
Etihad’s first-class meal service is dubbed “Dine Anytime” because there are no set service times and you can eat depending on what time zone you want to acclimate to. I figured I’d actually eat pretty soon after takeoff, spend most of the flight resting, then have another light meal a few hours before landing in Abu Dhabi (which was scheduled for about noon their time).
Like other premier international carriers, Etihad has put a lot of detail into its meal service, including the flatware — the china is made by Japanese design house Nikko, while the cutlery is Royal Oak by Studio William, a British brand. Serving glasses were created for the airline by Lucaris Crystal out of Hong Kong, and Cognac is served in new glasses by Norman of Copenhagen, so there’s a lot for design aficionados to appreciate.
About 30 minutes after takeoff, I was served a glass of rosé Champagne, a Duval-Leroy Brut Reserve — which was delicious and a bit fruity — along with olives, nuts and wasabi peas. Then I talked to Krisztian about the meal and settled on a menu.
Here were all the choices, though…
Before meal service began, I was brought a tasty little morsel of tomato gelée with cucumber-balsamic “caviar,” feta cheese and a parmesan crisp.
- King prawn with compressed watermelon, red pepper gazpacho, cucumber jelly and seared cucumber
- Gulf mezze plate
- Middle Eastern carrot and chickpea soup with sour cream
- Minted pea soup with smoked salmon tartar and crème fraîche
I opted for the mezze, because it’s Etihad’s signature dish, and it’s very good. My plate included hummus, tabbouleh, baba ganoush, stuffed grape leaves, lamb kibbeh and a spinach-feta pastry.
- Beef striploin with young vegetables, purple potatoes and veal jus
- Chicken breast with ratatouille, baby courgette, courgette flower and pink peppercorn hollandaise
- Authentic Gulf lamb biryani with spices and basmati rice
- Salmon with chanterelles, garden peas, tomato and mint vierge
- Open vegetable lasagna with tomato, kale, ratatouille, black quinoa and saffron broth
After that, I was served a light apple-lemon granite with candied ginger to cleanse my palate. Then for my main dish, I chose the lamb biryani, another Etihad specialty. The meat and saffron rice came tossed with golden raisins, cashews, fried onion — it was savory and delicious.
- Cherry-mascarpone crumble with meringue and sorbet
- Chocolate fondant with toasted hazelnuts and chocolate sauce
- A selection of two ripe cheeses with crackers and fruit
- A selection of ice cream
At that point, we were about two hours into the flight, so I skipped the cheese course and had the chocolate molten cake with hazelnuts instead. I could only get through a couple bites though because it was so rich. But it was a nice way to end the meal.
If you know me, you’ll know that I paired a few wines with the meal after those Champagne starters. Here was the whole selection available on my flight.
- Bollinger La Grande Année 2005
- Duval-Leroy Rosé NV
- Chateau de Chassagne-Montrachet AOP Saint Aubin 1er Cru, Le Charmois 2009
- Vergelegen Sauvignon Blanc 2015 from Somerset in the Western Stellenbosch
- Loosen & Chateau Ste. Michelle ‘Eroica’ Riesling 2011 from Washington State
- Red Bordeaux blend by Chateau Moulin Riche in Saint Julien
- Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Shiraz 2013 from Australia’s Hunter Valley
- Muratie Wine Farm Pinot Noir 2012 from Stellenbosch
- Marques de Riscal ‘Reserva” Tempranillo 2011 from Rioja
- Col de La Bastia Valpolicella 2013
I opted for the Chassagne-Montrachet with the mezze, which was quite light but stood up to the strong flavors in the various dishes, then the Bordeaux red blend with the lamb, which was full-bodied but didn’t overpower the dish. The featured dessert wine was Taltarni Late Harvest Viognier 2007 from Australia’s Eden Valley, though there was also Taylor’s Select Reserve Port (which I tried).
Etihad also offers a whole menu of cocktails and other spirits, including signature cocktails like French 75, a classic vodka martini and a Manhattan, as well as some mocktails like the Caribbean Sunrise with mango, mint, lemon and grenadine. Among the beers offered were Becks, Warsteiner, Corona and Guinness.
The spirit selection was pretty interesting, with Chivas 18-year-old scotch, Glenlivet, Jack Daniel’s, Grey Goose and Absolut vodkas, Bombay Sapphire gin and Bacardi rum. They also offered Hennessy XO Cognac, Amarula and Grand Marnier as digestifs. The water is the UAE’s own Al Ain sparkling or still, and there was also a selection of soft drinks.
Coffee and espresso drinks are made using single-origin 100% Arabica beans from Mandehling, Sumatra, while the teas are from the Dilmah brand, including Earl Grey, Arabian mint with honey and Italian almond tea.
During the flight, passengers can also opt for the lounge and grill menus available in The Lobby or at their seat. Here were the choices…
- Signature grills of salmon, beef striploin or chicken breast with a choice of sides (including potato gratin, pommes Pont Neuf or chef’s seasonal vegetables) and sauces veal jus, truffle oil, pink peppercorn hollandaise
- Steak frites beef medallions with fries, roasted tomatoes and béarnaise
- Made-to-order sandwiches like a turkey BLT
- Shrimp quesadillas with guacamole
- The signature Etihad steak sandwich with red onion marmalade, melted cheese, mayonnaise and wholegrain mustard
- Vanilla cheesecake with berry coulis or rhubarb pie
Lounge snacks also included potato chips, baklava, madeleines and fresh-baked cookies.
As I mentioned, I went straight for the main meal service, then waited until shortly before the end of the flight to have a “breakfast” of sorts, which was based on the following choices:
- Bakery selection of pastries
- Cereals with milk or yogurt
- Energizer drink with apple, spinach, lemon and lime
- Eggs cooked to order with baked beans, mushrooms, tomato, chicken sausage and potato rosti
- Fresh fruit platter
I had the egg dish — though without the beans — and it was pretty good. Nothing amazing, but decent enough to fill me up before the start of another day. The fruit platter tasted fresh and ripe.
I had been thrilled when my upgrade to The Apartment came through, and I have to say, I wasn’t disappointed. Not only was the seat (area) itself one of the most special experiences I’ve had in the skies, but the service was also phenomenal, from the moment my chauffeur picked me up in New York to the time I deplaned in Abu Dhabi.
The Apartment itself feels quite special thanks to its size, the fact that there’s a chair and a bed, and because of all the latest technological bells and whistles. The IFE system is also industry-topping, with huge screens and a great selection of entertainment.
Etihad’s food service is second to none, with onboard chefs and the ability to enjoy anything off the menu at any given time. I will say the wine list was good, but not amazing, though the Champagnes were very nice overall.
Finally, and most importantly, the crew were fantastic. They were friendly without being overbearing, and were so nice about everything, from making up an extra bed to chatting me up about the plane, their travels and my own, and helping me pick wines off the list. The crew were warm, courteous, competent and efficient, setting the tone for the entire journey.
Though bidding on the upgrade was not cheap, for me it was totally worth the splurge in order to enjoy one of the best airline experiences out there.
Have you flown in Etihad’s Apartment? Share your experiences below.
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