As I was laying out this post and checking out the videos that I had shot on board, I had a HUGE smile on my face because it was just that AMAZING! Flying on the A380 has been a bucket list item for me ever since I saw a Discovery Channel documentary about the engineering behind this giant of the sky. I can’t find the original one that I watched all those years ago but if you are interested, National Geographic has a very good documentary about the A380 which I’ll post below.
I would love for you to join me as I walk through my experience aboard Etihad’s First Class Apartments on board the A380-800.
I’ll warn you, this is likely to be my longest review ever so if you don’t have the patience for it, you can watch my first impressions video below and see if you want more information.
As soon as you approach the A380, you get a sense of wonder as you see how absolutely gigantic this plane is. I have to tell you I was incredibly excited to board as you can see from the picture below. I should say that as a blogger that has done a good amount of premium cabin travel, I have this nagging thought in my head on a lot of flights that says “act like you’ve been here before” so as to not seem overly excited about being on board.
That went out the window on this flight. I was so excited, it was like the first day of school, Christmas and a surprise birthday party all rolled into one.
I simply could not wait!
As soon as they announced boarding, the First Class passengers (there were only 3 of us) were invited to board first. As the First Class and Business Class cabin take up the entire top deck of the superjumbo, we had our own jetway that led to the upper deck. I know it’s a small thing but even walking up the incline towards the plane made me giddy!
Here’s a video of us boarding the plane. Please excuse the screeching alarm. For some reason, the airport personnel could not get the alarm to stop though they tried for about 10 minutes.
Having the experience to directly compare First and Business Class on both Cathay and Etihad the one easily quantifiable difference is the service and one on one attention in First Class. I’m sure it has a lot to do with the ratio of service staff to passengers but there is also a “these guys paid big bucks to be here” factor at play here.
That being said, we were treated to unbelievable service on board.
We had 4 people welcoming the two of us on board the A380 and they all spent a tremendous amount of time and energy making sure that we felt comfortable and that we had everything that we needed.
One glaring miss by Etihad was the fact that there were no pajamas for my 8-year-old daughter. I suspect that they do not make pajamas in her size but when I called into Etihad to inquire about it prior to the flight, the customer service rep advised that Etihad’s ground crew checks the flight manifest and the date of birth of the passengers to determine which pajamas to place on board, so I was hopeful.
I do not fault the cabin crew by any means and they were very accommodating to double and then triple check to see if there was any way to fulfill the request but unfortunately, there wasn’t.
Here’s what it’s like to be welcomed aboard the First Class Apartments.
What I very much appreciated about Etihad was our Cabin Manager’s ability to make my daughter feel welcome aboard tbe flight. Without any prompting, he made sure that she was provided with some coloring books, games and toys to keep her entertained for the flight. Here he is helping Sarei set up her stuffed animals for the flight.
The Cabin AKA The Apartment
You may be like me and have seen hundreds of pictures of the Etihad Apartments but they don’t prepare you for how large the cabin feels. When you step into your apartment, you are gobsmacked by the pure opulence.
I struggle to put into words how luxurious the space feels. It almost feels like the Cabin Manager should be tapping you on the shoulder and introducing you to the person you’ll be sharing your apartment with … it’s just that big.
The seat itself is 29.5″ wide which isn’t as wide at Cathay’s First Class seat but it is plenty big, especially if you consider that you could fit a family of four on the bench seat across from the main seat.
There is definitely plenty of privacy in the suite just based on the size alone but you also have two doors that slide together to enclose the Apartment.
Within the Apartment, you are afforded a large 27-inch touchscreen television and a PSP styled remote control that you can use while seated in the armchair.
Just under the remote control, you have access to the headphone jack, an HDMI port if you want to display your own media and two USB charging ports.
I think it goes without saying but the seat pitch is generous … and yes, those are my new Allbird shoes which are AMAZING! A full review on those shoes will be upcoming in the next week or two.
Within the Apartment, you have access to a vanity and what is of interest here is that amenity kit, which is largely an empty bag. The idea is that you fill up your amenity kit with the lotions and potions that are within the vanity. Cool concept in my opinion. Might as well keep those items handy when you are using the vanity.
The Amenity Kit
I’m personally not a big fan of the bag that they provided in the amenity kit. If you follow my reviews, you’ll know that for me, the bag really is the only thing I really care about in the kit and unfortunately this one is fairly unremarkable in my humble opinion.
I’m afraid I can’t comment much about the quality of the products because I didn’t use them, though if I were to hazard a guess, I would assume they are very good.
One great thing about traveling in First Class is that you are almost always guaranteed pajamas. Etihad did not disappoint.
For some reason, the camera did some color correction and shows these pajamas as gray when in fact they are black … very odd.
Food and Drink
To me, premium cabins need to differentiate themselves in either the quality of the service or the quality of the food. Luckily, Etihad excels in both.
While Etihad does not serve Dom or Krug, I was presented with a 2004 Pol Roger Extra Cuvee de Reserve, a champagne that retails for about $90 a bottle. Etihad has never been known for stocking the highest quality champagne but it was quite good and quite highly ranked by many wine experts.
Etihad also does not serve caviar in First Class unless you fly in the Residence (maybe someday) so I was out of luck on that front.
For my first meal, I started with the Pea and Mint soup which sounded like a strange combination but it was actually very good and refreshing. I think I’ve mentioned this before but for some reason, soups are almost always well done on aircraft.
I’m not a huge fan of Indian food but I had read a ton of very good things about the Chicken Biryani so I needed to try it for myself. The chicken was incredibly moist and quite flavourful and the rice was perfectly cooked. Sarei had the same dish but asked for it to be served with lamb rather than chicken and the chef quite happily obliged. One of the perks of having a chef on board is that he can basically take almost any ingredient from any dish and substitute it or make a dish that isn’t even on the menu.
For dessert, I went with a passionfruit ice cream with a nice biscotti biscuit on top. It was delicious.
Overall, the meal was delicious, beautifully presented and quite filling. After the meal, I was ready to do some work online but unfortunately, the internet out of Sydney was incredibly spotty and unusable. So instead, I watched a movie and reflected on how lucky I was to have this experience.
After taking a nap, I was hungry so I ordered the lamb loin with potato gratin. It was so good that my daughter took over and ate most of it. As I was still hungry, I ordered the famous Etihad Steak Sandwich which featured red onion marmalade, cheese, mayo and wholegrain mustard. To be honest, the tanginess of the sauce didn’t quite do it for me but it was certainly very good.
Oh my God … the bed. It’s ridiculously large and incredibly comfortable. I had set up my GoPro to record the change from the sofa to the bed but unfortunately, it was set to Photo so I got one really nice photo of the couch and no video of the change … sorry folks 🙁
That being said, I did take some photos of the bed when it’s in the single room configuration as well as when the divider is open between the two adjoining apartments.
A nice feature of the bed is that the TV slides out of the wall and gives you the ability to watch in bed. You’ll also notice a second remote control next to the bed so that you can control the TV from your lounging position in bed.
When the divider is open between the two suites, it feels as though you are in a king size bed!
Etihad leaves this nice little quote on your pillow that aptly described my experience aboard the plane.
As Sarei and I got ready for bed, I can tell you that we were both incredibly happy to be experiencing Etihad’s First Class Apartments.
Ok. Let’s think about this logically.
Airlines have strict weight limitations that they must comply with in order to stay within the operating parameters of the aircraft. That’s why you have limitations on how much luggage you can bring aboard and financial disincentives to bring more than you’re allowed. As I understand it, calculating these weight restrictions is a complicated matter that if done incorrectly, could have dire outcomes in terms of being able to safely operate the aircraft.
So when you tell me that the aircraft you are on has the ability to haul around enough water to have up to 10 passengers in First Class shower for 5 minutes each … that’s just bonkers to me. The amount of space and weight that that much water takes makes the idea of showering in the air seem like pure insanity.
Showering on board a plane is something that very few people get the opportunity to do so when I booked this flight, it was what I thought would be the highlight of the trip.
I was not wrong.
You’ll get some sense of the excitement in the video below but what you might not get a sense of is how long I’ve been waiting for this moment.
Throughout the shower, I really had to pinch myself because I could not believe that this was actually happening.
When I cashed in 100,000 American Airlines miles and paid $86.94 in taxes, I had absolutely no buyer’s remorse because I knew that it was going to be the travel highlight of our entire trip. There have been many times in my life that I work myself into a frenzy and set very high expectations only to be let down one way or another but this was definitely not the case.
This was hands down, the best flight experience I have ever had in my life. The 14.5 hours in the air was way too short and while we only spent 3 hours slumbering, I wonder about what else I could have done instead of sleep. Unfortunately, I did not walk the length of the fuselage because I didn’t want to ruin the illusion that we were the only ones on the plane but it would be something I would do on the next go round.
We flew the Etihad A380 Business Studios from Abu Dhabi to New York and while the difference between First and Business Class was less staggering than our experience on Cathay Pacific, it was definitely there. I’ll have a full review of the Business Studios upcoming but on that flight, I did catch myself looking towards the front of the plane wondering why I didn’t book the Apartments again.
I am incredibly lucky to have experienced the Etihad Apartment and need to give Emirates First Class a shot to definitively decide on which is better. I chose Eithad because I believe that the cabin is much more elegant than the gaudiness of the Emirates cabin but I’m still curious as to what it’s like to fly Emirates.
I loved every second of my experience and strongly encourage you to try it for yourself.
Also published on Medium.