A380 First Class on Etihad AUH-LHR
Background: In the United Arab Emirates, Dubai and Abu Dhabi have an ongoing rivalry where each is always trying for the best to outdo the other. This is true even for their airlines: Dubai's Emirates Airline and Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways. Several years ago, Emirates introduced the world's most over-the-top First Class product on their A380. Large individual suites with power-sliding doors, an onboard bar, and the world's first inflight shower spas were class-leading innovations the likes of which had not been seen on an airplane before. After several years of planning to outdo Emirates in every possible way, Etihad decided to introduce their take on the best First Class in the world. The product included suites so large, in an incredible 1-1 configuration on the A380's upper deck, that they received the title of "Apartments". Each suite had a separate seat and bed, and adjacent suites could be opened up for the possibility of sleeping beside your partner. And that's just Etihad's First Class. They also introduced the Residence, the world's only multi-room airplane suite, with a separate sitting area and bedroom with a full-size bed, a private restroom with a shower, and personal butler service. It sure seemed like Etihad had outdone Emirates with their A380.
I've flown two short segments in Emirates' A380 First Class, and they were among my favorite-ever flights, so when I found out about the new Etihad A380 First Class, I was very interested in trying it. Fortunately I was able to avoid the normally sky-high prices for Etihad First Class because American Airlines and Etihad have a partnership which allows AAdvantage miles to be redeemed for Etihad flights. One may check availability on the Etihad Guest site, since the availability isn't shown on the AA site. Then one may call the Australian customer service number of AA to book the ticket, since the US number normally can't see premium cabin availability on Etihad. A roundabout way of booking a ticket, but worth the trouble to get a free flight on Etihad!
AAdvantage scheduled a devaluation in March, 2016, after which the number of miles required for a flight redemption would increase substantially for premium cabins. This would be my last possibility for redeeming AAdvantage miles under the old, low rates for my Etihad First Class flight. I was going to be in Dubai, in need of a flight home to the United States, so ideally I'd get on the Etihad AUH-JFK route for a nice long flight. Alternately, AUH-LHR would work assuming an available connection to the US. I checked availability literally every day, when finally, on the last possible day before the devaluation, I found exactly one Etihad A380 First Class seat on AUH-LHR, and it was for the exact date I needed. I couldn't believe my good luck at that moment, to find availability under the low mileage rate for the exact date I needed, and on the last possible day for booking!
AAdvantage always has good availability for flights on British Airways, so I could choose pretty much any connection out of London, on any type of BA aircraft, to any city in the US. I noticed BA had scheduled their brand-new B787-9 Dreamliner into Newark, so I chose that flight to get in their newest First Class on their newest plane. Itinerary set: AUH-LHR in the Etihad A380 First Class Apartments and then LHR-EWR in the brand-new British Airways B787-9 First Class.
The US customer service number of AAdvantage couldn't see the Etihad availability, so I booked the ticket through the Australian customer service number. I couldn't believe I was going to get on these flights. I felt so lucky, and also very excited! I would be just about out of frequent flyer miles after these flights, but they would be miles well spent.
Please enjoy my Etihad A380 First Class report, and I look forward to your comments.
Departure: 08:00 (actual 08:22)
Arrival: 12:05 (actual 11:54)
Actual Block Time: 7h32
Actual Flight Time: 7h8
Seat: 3K First Class Apartments
My day began at 05:15 when my Etihad chauffeured car service departed my Dubai hotel. What an excellent amenity! We drove 90 mph the whole way through the desert and it took only 50 minutes to get to Abu Dhabi International Airport. That's about the distance from my house to Philadelphia International Airport, but AA does not offer any car service! Then again, EY no longer offers complimentary car service to AAdvantage redemption tickets, either. That's understandable, but too bad, because it was really the perfect way to start my Etihad First Class experience.
Etihad car service:
I was dropped off at the First class check-in area, and I found every desk manned. I was invited to take a seat while being checked-in. There was some confusion about checking my bag through from AUH-LHR and then LHR-EWR, supposedly due to Trump's new restrictions which had been in place less than a week. In my case both flights were on one ticket, but my check-in agent still wanted to verify the policy before completing my check-in. Another agent came over and said they will not through-check luggage for two tickets effective today under any circumstances, not even for First Class. But when the flights are on one ticket, they will continue to check the luggage to the final destination. They checked me through to Newark, and also issued my onward boarding pass. I was told that the immigration E-gate is mandatory in Abu Dhabi, so I must make a quick stop by the E-gate registration desk since I did not register or use that for my arrival in Dubai. This resulted in no Abu Dhabi exit stamp to go with my Dubai entry stamp in my passport, but at least the E-gate was a quick and easy procedure with no line. Security went fast as well and I immediately found the First Class lounge right past security. I was inside by about 06:20; boarding was set for 07:00 and departure for 08:00. I was offered one complimentary treatment (massage, shave or haircut) but I felt pretty short on time since I wanted to board right at 07:00. I was given a tour of the lounge...it's unbelievably big for First Class only. There is a large table service dining area, and lots of various seating areas plus a nap/relaxation room. I took a seat and a very friendly gentleman provided me with three menus: drinks, à la carte dining, and a bar food menu. There was so much on offer but I hadn't really been planning to eat in the lounge since I had my flight coming up. Nevertheless I decided to order a chocolate croissant and an orange juice. The croissant was warm and delicious, and the orange juice was fresh squeezed , there's nothing better. Then I thought I'd order something special like a custom mocktail, the Abu Dhabi
. It was made with Arabic coffee, saffron and cardamon, and tonic. It was incredibly good! I decided to get a refill of everything, but then it was already time to go to the gate. For less than an hour in the lounge, that had been one of my best lounge experiences. The food and drinks were really incredible, as was the personal service. With the car service and now the lounge experience, I was really liking Etihad First Class so far, and I hadn't even seen my plane yet!
I got to my gate just soon enough to photograph the aircraft and then First Class was already boarding. My plane was A6-APD, an Airbus A380 built in 2015.
At the gate in AUH:
I headed up to the upper deck and then to the left upon entering the plane, as everyone else was being directed to the right. I was greeted by name and escorted to my apartment 3K. Etihad has unbelievable 1-1 seating for the A380 First Class Apartments. Only one aisle on the world's largest plane, I've never flown anything like this before. I couldn't believe this configuration, with only 9 seats (plus the Residence) taking up the entire area from the forward stairs to the forward upper deck boarding door. Emirates fits 14 suites in the same floor space. Then again, Emirates' extravagant A380 design came first, and Etihad took the opportunity to outdo them in every possible aspect of the cabin. Both forward and backward-facing apartments are available. Not one to pass up the rare opportunity to face backwards, I had selected 3K. My selection of a seat on the right-hand side of the aircraft was intentional. Passengers seated on the right-hand side are often treated to excellent views of downtown London on approach into Heathrow. Facing backwards with a possible view of London? Very nice.
I ordered a glass of champagne, which was quickly presented and poured with some dates which I quite enjoy. The tray also had a welcome note! The seat was stocked with noise-cancelling headphones with a cool magnetic plug, an amenity kit inside the vanity, a blanket and a pillow with the trademark Etihad design. There was also a mattress provided for the bed. Pajamas and slippers were delivered next. The cabin crew manager introduced herself and gave me an overview of the apartment. It had a vanity mirror and amenity kit, mini bar, and ample storage areas; they've thought of everything. And a huge seat with separate bed, and a door to the suite, too. It was a downright beautiful cabin with no overhead compartments and cool lighting effects on the ceiling. The apartments were beautiful as well, with a dark brown leather armchair and separate bench which converts to the bed. Everything looked great. And there was very nice music playing to set the tone for this incredible flight.
The view from 3K:
Looking across to 3A:
Lots of exits on the large A380:
Champagne and dates:
I had already been introduced to three cabin crew who will be looking after me today, but there was also a fourth, the inflight chef. He came to introduce himself and provide an overview of inflight service. The chef specialties were cinnamon French toast for breakfast and sea bass with pumpkin sauce for lunch, and I was welcome to dine anytime. I could also order à la carte items or one of the signature grills. There was so much interesting food on offer that I thought it might take me a while to decide!
Arabic coffee was served from the neat Arabic kettle, and then the chef was back for my order. I decided to go more for lunch than breakfast. After takeoff I asked for a fruit platter with champagne. I decided to take lunch about halfway there, about 3.5h into this 7h flight. To start I requested pumpkin soup
- always love airplane soups. Then the truffle chicken
appetizer. For the main, I ordered Authentic Gulf Chicken Biryani - Tender chicken cooked with spices and basmati rice
. And for dessert, chocolate cake
. I was also offered a shower, which I scheduled for about 2h before landing. The chef was a really nice guy and I enjoyed talking with him. He was extremely friendly, caring and service-oriented.
The Arabic coffee was very good. Magazines were offered, but declined, as I had a newspaper from the lounge. A refill of champagne and then another Arabic coffee, I really like the Arabic coffee. There was no one in the Residence today, but First and Business were both sold out, with Economy nearly full as well, with only a few empty seats. London is apparently one of their busiest routes. I found it impressive that they can sell out all of the premium classes, making it pretty hard to believe that I got it for free, courtesy AAdvantage miles. To get on this flight today, for the old low mileage rate, booked on the last possible day before the increase - it was meant to be.
The captain welcomed us aboard. Flying time would be 7h5, which should bring us into London early or close to scheduled arrival time. Initially we'd fly at 36,000 ft, then as fuel burned off, we'd climb to the final cruise altitude of 40,000 ft. The weather in London was not quite as nice as Abu Dhabi: 11 degrees and overcast skies. We were nearing departure time, but were waiting for some last minute cargo and documentation.
I had been onboard now for over an hour, enjoying my apartment and pre-departure services. It was a very relaxed experience so far. I enjoyed settling in with no one passing by except cabin crew and late-arriving F passengers, and only 8 other passengers besides me. A dual-language safety video, in Arabic and English, began with a travel prayer from the Koran. Unfortunately the video kept crashing and soon there was an announcement: "Cabin crew to manual safety demo positions!" Cabin crew proceeded individually to each apartment for a personal safety demo as the narration was played in English and Arabic. It was my first ever personal safety demo!
Pushback was at 08:22 and taxi 10 minutes later. I could hardly detect that we were moving during pushback or taxi. Of course there was next to no engine noise as I've come to expect on the A380. I switched on the nose cam for takeoff at 08:40. There was good engine noise at first, but it quickly quieted back down. It felt like good power and I enjoyed the sensation of taking off facing backward, a first at for me on an A380. After takeoff the moving map said 7h10 to go.
After takeoff: Abu Dhabi Ferrari World
I liked Etihad's moving map, with a great animation of our entire flight track. The E-box system was very nice, responsive, intuitive and with lots of content. I continued reading my newspaper as we continued our climb. I loved looking right out the window and seeing the engines, something only easy to do when facing backward. And of course even better when each wing has two engines! I took a quick restroom break and found possibly the most stylish aircraft lavatory I've seen. It had a simulated tile floor and accent walls with subdued colors and lighting. Very nice.
Looking down the stairs:
Etihad A380 First Class cabin, looking aft:
After takeoff champagne and canapés were served, and then my breakfast fruit was served with the offer of tea, coffee or pastries, but just the fruit for me. I'm much more a lunch/dinner person than a breakfast person, and already full of chocolate croissants from the lounge, I decided to save my main eating for lunch and just have some light fruit to start. We were already an hour into the flight. My flight attendant promised to keep my champagne full and then retreated from my apartment, shutting my doors.
After takeoff champagne and canapés:
Apartment doors shut:
I finished my newspaper and decided to watch The Girl on the Train
. I was happy to see it since I had missed it in theatres before I left on this trip.
My window view:
It was a good movie, not as I expected it to be. It finished with just under 4h to go. Seeing as how my flight attendand hadn't returned for the whole movie, it seemed that apartment door shut = flight attendant doesn't disturb you. That's quite different from Qantas A380 First Class, which had no door and the flight attendants were constantly checking on you. Another half-hour passed so I decided to ring my call button to request lunch. The flight attendant promptly came by and promised to inform the chef so he would begin my meal. My table was set one piece at a time and my Beck's beer was freshly poured for me. Lunch service began with 3h to go, at 12:45 Abu Dhabi time, a good time for lunch. It was about 08:45 London time.
Bread with Italian olive oil came out first, and then "a little something to start off my appetite" - quail egg with parmesan mouse and caviar amuse-bouche
The pumpkin soup was served next, and as expected, it was a delicious airplane soup.
The view during lunch service:
The truffle chicken appetizer was interesting. Not what I expected, but interesting.
"Shall I serve your entree now?" Yes, please. But first, a surprise mandarin sorbet? That was a delicious surprise. This was really fine dining so far, with intricate presentation and things I've never seen before.
The chicken biryani was served, beautiful and smelling great. It was very well cooked with great flavor. It was a very good entree.
Finally the chocolate cake, very fancy and very good. All in all an excellent First Class dining experience!
My next movie was The Accountant
. We had about 2h to go. The flight attendant returned and asked, "How was your experience with us? Are you ready for your shower now? Maybe I'll give you ten minutes to digest and relax and then I'll come back to you." Sounds good.
Etihad A380 Shower Spa:
I enjoyed the shower, a similar setup to Emirates and equally awesome. It was a much smaller lavatory with the shower but not a bother. I always enjoy a shower on a plane! Etihad only had one shower spa, well they have two, but the second one is within the Residence. Speaking of the Residence...
Peeking into the Residence:
I returned to my seat where the flight attendant arrived to inquire as to my shower experience. Another flight attendant stopped by with British immigration entry cards, but I said I didn't need that because I was just transiting to another flight. She asked, "Onto which airline?" British Airways to Newark. "But Etihad flies to New York!" We discussed my trip and then I returned to my movie. With about an hour to go inflight, there wasn't enough time for the movie to finish.
With about 40 minutes to go, a captain announcement: "I hope you're enjoying the star service of Etihad Airways! We expect to land at ten minutes to twelve. It's currently six minutes past eleven. The weather is overcast, it might rain, and it is ten degrees. We don't expect any major delay on our arrival, and we will begin descent soon."
Our flight path:
I rang the call button again for one last water before descent; I was given a bottle this time, nice and cold. Then a hot towel to finish off the service, and we commenced descent. There were lots of small constant bumps as we passed through the clouds of overcast England. The chef stopped by to offer his personal thanks: "It was my pleasure to be your host, and I hope to see you again!" What a nice conclusion to this First Flass flight. "Thank you for flying Etihad Airways!"
Our descent was entirely within clouds, obscuring any chance of a view of the city of London. Too bad, I would have loved to see the city with two A380 engines in the foreground!
My view of downtown London:
Landing was at 15:48 with calm braking. "Thank you for flying with Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, serving the world from our capital city, Abu Dhabi!" We were at the gate in Terminal 4 at 15:54, or 11:54 London time.
At the gate in LHR:
Etihad First Class was excellent. It offers the utmost privacy and top notch service and food. The unbelievable apartment seating, very exclusive and with only a single aisle on the world's largest plane. And the inflight shower rounds out the experience. It was a very polished, top notch experience.
To connect to my British Airways Dreamliner flight
, I took the walking path through Terminal 4 to the bus to Terminal 5. This bus runs every 10 minutes and it's a 15 minute journey. I arrived into Terminal 5, obtained an official British Airways boarding pass, and moved on to security. Despite a short line, security took a while. Altogether, it was a 45-minute transfer.
Spotting a Dreamliner from the terminal transfer bus:
Previous A380 First Class
trip reports:A380 First Class on Emirates AKL-MELA380 First Class on Qantas MEL-DXB