Back in March 2015, I wrote about how to book partner award flights on Etihad Airways. We originally booked First Apartments both to Abu Dhabi from London and from Abu Dhabi back to London over the Thanksgiving 2015 holiday, but unfortunately, the airplane for our flight from London was switched from an A380 (which has First Apartments) to an A340 (which has Etihad's standard First Class). The airplane switch was somewhat devastating, but at least we will still experience the Apartments on our way home. We planned a whirlwind luxury long weekend in Dubai around these flights and I'll be covering all the details in upcoming posts.
Review: British Airways Club World SFO - LHR
Review: LHR Etihad Airways First & Business Class Lounge
Review: Etihad Airways First Class LHR - AUH
Review: Park Hyatt Dubai
Review: Afternoon Tea at At.mosphere Burj Khalifa
Review: Burj al Arab Part I: One Bedroom Suite
Review: Burj al Arab Part II: Grounds and Amenities
Review: AUH Etihad Airways Premium Lounge
Review: Etihad Airways First Apartments AUH - LHR
Etihad Airways (EY) #11
Abu Dhabi (AUH) - London (LHR)
Sunday, November 29th, 2015
2:35 AM - 6:35 AM, Duration: 8 hrs
Airbus A380-800 First Class Apartment, Seat 4K
After leaving the lounge we headed straight to the gate area since we were eager to be first on board the airplane. The gate was separated into two areas due to an additional security screening that was required prior to boarding. No one had been allowed through the screening yet, but we were able to be the first ones through after showing our First class boarding passes. The Etihad staff checked our carry on bags and asked us to turn on all electronic devices so they could be sure they worked as intended. We made it through and waited for about 25 minutes until it was time to board.
Finally, it was time to see what all the hype was about as they began boarding. I bounded down the jetway and was first on board and I really could not have been more excited. The First Apartments and The Residence are situated on the upper deck of the A380 in the nose of the aircraft, so when we boarded, we did so through the galley between Business and First and turned left. The first thing you'll notice is how gorgeous the cabin is. The single aisle makes a huge impression as does the lighting and thoughtful design features.
The Apartments themselves are truly incredible. They were so spacious and tastefully decorated and I loved nearly every single detail. The apartments alternate between passengers facing forward or backward, and some have seats closest to the aisle while others have seats closest to the window. Apartment 4K was ideal for me since it had a window seat, which is more private than sitting next to the aisle when the doors are open, and the seat was facing forward, which is just more traditional.
The Apartments each have a small closet near the aisle, a full vanity with a refrigerator below, then the main seat all along one side, while the other side of the apartment has a full length bench seat, which converts into your bed, with storage space below the seat and a very large television directly in front of the seat. The television can also swing out so you can watch easily while laying in bed. The Apartments also have a divider between each set of seats, so if you are traveling with another person, you can have a bit of a shared space and sleep next to each other.
Seat controls are thoughtfully laid out throughout the Apartment in all areas you might need them. There is a remote control for the TV both next to the seat and next to the bed, so you can control it from either position. There are also full seat controls on either a panel of buttons or on a touch screen next to the seat, and lighting and divider controls next to the bed. The area next to the seat has two USB ports, an HDMI port, and a magnetic headphone connector. While I appreciated the thought of the headphone connector being magnetic, I didn't like it in practice because my headphones kept disconnecting when I was watching a movie in bed later in the flight (#apartmentproblems).
As we began settling into our "Apartments", Brad, the Butler for The Residence, came by to introduce himself to us. He was an incredibly friendly Aussie and quickly became one of my favorite people ever. He asked if we had flown in the Apartments before and since we hadn't, he took special care to show us all around our new home for the next 8+ hours. He also asked us which name we would prefer to be called, which I thought was an excellent touch. We lucked out on our flight because The Residence and two Apartments were unoccupied, which meant the Apartments passengers had Brad's undivided attention in addition to the rest of the cabin crew, which was substantial. I asked Brad if he'd let us see The Residence and he was very coy about it, saying that he was not allowed to let people in to see it, but maybe he would try to show it to us later (this never happened).
A few minutes later, Brad brought us pre-departure champagne and dates, along with a note from the Cabin Manager, Loic, welcoming us aboard.
A cabin crew member came by to offer a selection of magazines for the flight, which was a nice alternative to the newspapers typically offered by airlines, but it was at this point well after 3 AM and I didn't think I'd be getting much reading done on the flight. The on-board chef also came by to take food and drink orders for after takeoff. Finally, another attendant came by and asked if we would like to have a shower and if so, what time? One of the biggest reasons we were here was for the shower, so yes, of course we'd like to have a shower. I asked for the latest possible time before landing so that I could sleep as long as possible, which was something like 1.5 hours before landing (I think some other people were scheduled after me already).
As we settled in, our departure time came and went, which was a bit frustrating since we were tired and wanted to sleep (but still wanted to experience the food service before bed), but was also awesome because it meant we would have more time in our Apartments. It's funny how different your perspective on this can be when you're in an amazing "seat" like the Apartment vs. when you're squished in Economy and just trying to sleep.
Brad took the time on the ground to set up our beds for us so that we could hop in them as soon as we were ready. This is truly one of the cases where you understand how incredible the Apartment really is. I could still sit in my seat and have full recline, massage, etc. and eat my meal while my bed was separately ready for me to climb into at any point. Typically, you'll need to get out of your seat and go busy yourself in the bathroom or something while the cabin crew changes your seat from a chair to a bed and vice versa when you're ready to wake up. With the Apartment, I could sit in either place at any time. It was amazing.
In the end, we took off a little over an hour late due to passengers needing to de-plane, which meant their luggage also needed to be collected, and then there was some airport congestion due to the fact that the Abu Dhabi airport is busiest in the middle of the night.
Shortly after takeoff, the meal service began. I had ordered a glass of white wine from the on-board chef before takeoff, so that was brought out along with a tray of appetizers similar to what we were given on our Diamond First class flight to Abu Dhabi. There were some mixed nuts, veggie chips and olives to snack on while waiting for dinner.
Etihad offers a dine on demand concept, which means you can order any meal at any time during the flight. This is truly an awesome way to do things because sometimes you just don't feel like dinner or breakfast or vice versa whenever they are offered at set times during the flight.
In our case, because the flight was in the middle of the night, we didn't want to eat a huge four course meal at 4 AM, so we each chose something lighter from the menu. This was a nice option to have, but I was definitely disappointed not to experience something more exciting in an effort to see what the onboard chef could really do (which is usually a lot).
The menu read as follows:
A La Carte
Breakfast Bakery Basket
Fruit Smoothie Energiser Drink
A Range of Breakfast Cereals
Yoghurt with Granola
A selection of three mini breakfast items
bircher muesli, baked egg with smoked salmon, mixed berry compote
Fresh Organic Eggs Cooked to Order
Almond and Danish Tart
Fresh Fruit Platter
From the Grill
Grass Fed Beef Tenderloin
All Day Dine
Styled by your in-flight chef
Made to order
The Etihad Steak Sandwich
Rocket leaves, turkey rashers, red onion compote, melted cheese, mayonnaise and grain mustard
Fava Bean Falafel
With coriander-mint hummus, tahina dip and pickle
An assortment of scones, sweets and finger sandwiches
Sticky Toffee Pudding
Ancho chili sauce and kumquat compote
Fudge brownie with raspberry caviar
A selection of international cheeses
Fresh Fruit Platter
A Selection of Ice Creams
Potato Crisps in a Variety of Flavors
Freshly Baked Cookies and Madeleines
Swedish Crisp Breads
As you can see, the menu was extensive and offered a little of everything. What I was surprised at, however, was the lack of Middle Eastern fare given that we were flying from the Middle East on a Middle Eastern carrier.
On any other flight where it wasn't 4 AM, I would have been happy to sample an extensive meal with several courses, but our objective was to get as much sleep as possible while still experiencing the amenities of the flight, so I went for the Etihad Steak Sandwich. Etihad is somewhat known for their steak sandwich, so I figured it was worth trying.
The sandwich was simple, but very good. I finished quickly and asked to have my plates removed. By now, it was well past 5 AM, so I decided to get myself comfortable in bed to finish the rest of the movie I had been watching during dinner.
The bed was very comfortable and the bench actually extends out when the bed is made up, so it's quite wide as well. The divider between the Apartments could have been closed if I didn't know the person in the next seat or it could be left open so you can see your companion. The TV screen extended out over the bed so I was able to see it perfectly while laying down.
I was able to get several hours of sleep before I woke up to Chris being ushered to the shower. I slept a bit longer while he was in there and then was gently woken by the shower attendant who told me the bathroom was ready for my shower.
There are two bathrooms available to Apartment passengers - one with the shower along with a toilet and sink, and another bathroom right behind it with a larger area to change plus the toilet and sink. I didn't realize the second bathroom was even there until the very end of the flight, but it would have been nice to know how large it was when I was changing into my pajamas at the beginning of the flight.
The shower is actually quite impressive. The shower stall is near the nose of the plane, so it angles down, but there was still enough room for 6 foot Chris to get in and out comfortably. The stall is fully enclosed so you don't soak the bathroom and the temperature and water pressure were excellent! The shower attendant had prepared the bathroom before I arrived and provided a set of customized Le Labo toiletries and towels and also cleaned up from the previous passenger (Chris).
Due to the limited water on board, each person gets 5 minutes of hot water which can be turned off or on throughout your time in the bathroom. Additionally, to give everyone the chance to shower if they choose, you're limited to about 20 minutes in the bathroom total. This was actually plenty of time for me because I tend to take very quick showers even at home. About 2 minutes into my shower, the fasten seatbelt sign came on, which kind of freaked me out. I didn't know what I was supposed to do, so I just tried to finish the shower as quickly as possible and got out.
I was so thrilled to find out that there was a hair dryer available in the bathroom behind the mirror. This is huge for me because my hair does not air dry well and we were going to be spending the day in London when we arrived with no time to take another shower.
Overall, the whole experience of being able to shower while at 30,000 feet was pretty surreal and the experience was top notch.
After my shower, I wasn't necessarily hungry, but I decided to have some breakfast anyway. I ordered some English Breakfast tea and a fruit plate. I was also brought some yogurt, granola and a few pastries on the side.
I should note that throughout the flight, there were always crew members popping their heads in to see if there was anything I needed. The service was really excellent throughout the entire flight and was definitely the best I've ever experienced.
Once I finished eating, Chris and I realized that we hadn't been back to check out The Lobby, which is Etihad's on-board social space shared between Business and First class. The Lobby had a circular seating area and a bar of sorts along the wall, where you could serve yourself drinks if you wanted. The concept is kind of cool, but I'm not sure we would have used it even if this had been a daytime flight.
Shortly after we ended our tour of The Lobby, it was time to settle back in to our seats for landing. Brad came around one last time to see if there was anything we needed and ask us how we enjoyed the flight. We were both happy to report that it was the best flight we had ever taken, which is definitely saying something since we've had the chance to experience several of the best international First class flights. Loic, the Cabin Manager, also came by to ask how the flight was and make sure there was nothing more we needed.
As can be expected in London, there was too much traffic coming in to Heathrow, so we circled for about 30 minutes while waiting to land. Even after 30 minutes of circling and being more than an hour late to take off, we were only 65 minutes late to land, which was impressive.
Chris and I were both incredibly sad to leave our wonderful Apartments, but they would have evicted us at some point, so we gathered up our things and deplaned.
Once we reached baggage claim, I noticed that Etihad had an attendant pulling all of the premium passengers luggage off the belt so you didn't have to grab it yourself. This was our final example of how great the service is while flying Etihad.
This was easily the best flight I've ever taken in my life and it was the best in more ways than one. The Apartment was incredible in every way - it was tastefully decorated, it was spacious and comfortable, and it was truly innovative. The service we experienced was absolutely above and beyond and there was not a single interaction that wasn't excellent. This flight absolutely blew Singapore Suites, Cathay Pacific First, and even Etihad Diamond First out of the water in terms of both the seat and the service and I was so excited to finally get the chance to experience it.
Just a twenty-something with a full-time job and a full-time obsession with traveling. It's best to LiveTraveled.