My Experience Flying Etihad's Apartment on the Airbus A380
It's no secret that I love the Airbus A380. While the 747 is the Queen of the Skies, the A380 is the king. I'm 6'7'', and by nature I don't fit well on planes, but I definitely fit on the A380. In fact, it's a lot like me in general — maybe not the prettiest, but the largest!
It's a smooth, quiet ride, and commercial airlines (especially Etihad) have gone all out making the aircraft luxurious for flyers. On Abu Dhabi-based Etihad, the first class cabin is actually divided into private "apartments."
If you don't feel like shelling out over $30,000 to fly the Etihad Residence, the next best thing is the first-class apartment. I was able to experience a flight on one of these large, private suites on a recent trip between Abu Dhabi and New York JFK. TPG Editor-at-large Zach Honig reviewed the Apartment back in 2015, but I wanted to give it a try myself.
The best way to fly Etihad first class apartments using points or miles is using American AAdvantage miles, but you'll have to call to book and hope that your phone agent knows how to find availability. You'll need 115,000 AAdvantage miles for the the AUH-JFK route. If this seems too complicated, remember that both Amex Membership Rewards and Citi Prestige ThankYou points transfer to the Etihad Guest Program. A one-way flight between Abu Dhabi and New York will run you at least 125,000 Etihad Guest miles — which sure beats paying at least $8,000 in cash! For more ways and strategies to book Etihad first class, read this post.
Check In, Lounge and Boarding
The Etihad First Class Lounge at the Abu Dhabi airport (AUH) is one of the most luxurious airport lounges out there — check out my video recap below. I loved that there was a spa, gym, showers and even a nap room. The eggs benedict and coffee I had were both delicious, and a little post-breakfast champagne hit the spot. I had to bend my post-noon alcohol rule for the first class lounge!
The one thing I didn't love about my experience at the Abu Dhabi airport was the preclearance. The United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facility at Terminal 3 in Abu Dhabi Airport allows US bound passengers to undergo all immigration, customs and agriculture inspections in Abu Dhabi before departing, meaning you won't have to deal with customs upon arrival in the US. While this may be a great option for lots of passengers, since I have Global Entry this doesn't really save me any time — and I had to leave that beautiful lounge an hour earlier than I would have liked, as you have to be at preclearance at least an hour before your flight departs. There is a small lounge airside, but it's nothing compared to the regular first-class lounge.
Thanks to preclearance, which is supposed to be a time-saver, I actually felt rushed and stressed during boarding when all I really wanted to do was continue sipping champagne in the first-class lounge.
The First Class Apartment
After flying Etihad's opulent Residence, which is one of the most luxurious ways to fly commercial, the apartments were the next-best thing (though stay tuned for coming comparisons of Emirates, Qatar and Singapore first class — they're really giving Etihad a run for its money). While I wasn't disappointed, I also wasn't blown away.
The first-class section consists of one single aisle with nine suite-style apartments (in addition to one Residence). Each Apartment features a true bed as well as a seat.
Thanks to the one-one single-aisle configuration, there was so much space — enough for my very tall body to stretch out and relax comfortably. With a separate bed and chair, I could sleep fully flat, sit and read, watch the IFE or work in the seating area.
There was one major design flaw, though. The seat didn't recline at all, so it was either all or nothing: Lie down or sit straight up. I'm a big fan of a recliner, and I really wanted an in-between.
Another issue was that the the Wi-Fi wasn't working during my trip. However, that wasn't all bad — it that gave me more time to indulge in all the phenomenal food and drink.
Speaking of food and drink, I was excited to customize my meal with the onboard chef. The food was delicious, especially the black cod entree, which was definitely the best fish I've ever had on a plane!
I was sad to learn there was no caviar, though, as that's only for Residence guests. I was pretty disappointed about that — after all, it's supposed to be all about luxury. But I do think that Etihad goes beyond some of the other carriers when it comes to the onboard chef. That's a great touch.
The beverage selection is solid too. You have your choice of two different Champagnes, four red wines and four white wines that pair with the entrees.
I absolutely loved being able to take an onboard shower to freshen up during the 13-hour journey. Apartment passengers can schedule 20 minutes of bathroom time, which includes five minutes of water for your shower — luxury in the sky!
If your suite starts to feel cramped (though that's unlikely), there's a lounge and bar area called The Lobby (which is open to business-class passengers as well) where you can enjoy snacks and cocktails — I headed down mid-flight to stretch my legs and have a glass of wine pre-landing in New York.
While Etihad's first class was extremely spacious, I was frustrated at the lack of seat options, either lie-flat or straight up. I just wanted a comfortable reclined seat and Etihad doesn't give you that option in its Apartment. The product also seemed a bit dated, and Etihad will have to up its game if it wants to keep up with Lufthansa and Air France's very refined and modern first class experiences. Although Etihad had the largest first class in the sky at the time I flew it, competition from Singpaore and Emirates' new first class could (and will) challenge this.