Introduction: A Hop to the Maldives
Review: Park Hyatt New York
Review: Emirates Lounge JFK
Review: Emirates First Class A380 JFK-DXB
Review: Park Hyatt Dubai
Review: Emirates First Class Lounge Dubai
Review: Emirates First Class 777 DXB-MLE
Getting to the Park Hyatt Hadahaa
Review: Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa
Review: Etihad Business A330 MLE-AUH
Review: Etihad First Class Lounge
Review: Etihad First Class A380 AUH-JFK
Review: American Business A321T JFK-LAX
There were many reasons why I decided to book this ultimate trip to the ends of the Earth, maximizing points to their maximum and going on the most ridiculous and luxurious of vacations with the love of my life, almost for free. On the top of the list was experiencing Etihad’s First Class Apartments on the A380. Emirates I was excited about, to be sure, but that was more a last minute add-in to round out the trip. Etihad was my goal from the start, ever since they introduced their groundbreaking product in 2014.
I already wrote about some of the most exciting things about Etihad’s apartments, but, basically, when it comes to hard products, Etihad’s product is in an entirely different league from anything else out there, besides a private jet.
First class on almost every airline is luxurious. First class on Emirates is over-the-top, ridiculous, fun and one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life. But on any plane, in any first class, on any mainstream international airline, the best you can expect is a big chair that goes flat and, on some carriers, a door to your “suite”. But by “suite” they really mean “seat”, because that’s the entirety of the space between your sliding door and either the window or a divider separating you from your neighbor.
Etihad’s A380 cabin fundamentally blew apart traditional expectations of the most space you could expect to grab yourself on a commercial airplane. The first class cabin on these planes feature only a single aisle (in a fuselage wide enough for two) meaning that whereas on most planes there are four seats across the width of the plane, Etihad has only two.
These First Class apartments are nothing short of huge for an airplane, featuring a massive, comfortable seat, plus a long bench that folds out into a separate single bed. There’s enough space inside the suite to walk around. In your own room. On an airplane.
So, needless to say, I was eager and excited to check it out.
The major drawback of our flight from Abu Dhabi to New York was that it departed at 3:30 in the morning. After enjoying Etihad’s First Class Lounge for a few hours, I was antsy to get on board already, and absolutely exhausted. We were merely a few thousand miles into our round-the-world journey home, but we had already been traveling for 15 hours. Fine dining, showers and comfortable seats make travel very comfortable, but the body still has limits, and mine needed sleep.
So, leading up to boarding, I had already roughly sketched out the next 14 hours of my life. I would enjoy all the pre-departure rituals first, getting settled into my suite, enjoying champagne and the like as we prepared for take-off. Then, once airborne, I would go to bed for at least a few hours. Then, I would wake up with a good 8-10 hours left to enjoy every one of the fantastic perks of the flight!
Boarding commenced right on time at 2:45 AM, and we were among the first down the jet bridge toward the aircraft. I nearly skipped along to the plane, super excited to see the cabin. At the cabin door, we were greeted by flight attendants in the “Lobby” (a mix of galley, bar and lounge space that I’ll describe further later) and turned left to enter the First Class Cabin.
My jaw dropped as I looked ahead. The simple elegance of this cabin was unlike anything I had ever seen before. From the lighting to the design of the sliding doors to the exrtaordinary height of a fuselage with no overhead bins. Tens all around.
Inside the apartment was just as stunning.
At the far end of the apartment, along the window, was my seat, across from the lounge bench which would later fold out to my bed. There was a small lamp, a pillow and the most comfortable throw blanket ever (it took every ounce of restraint not to accidentally take it home with me). Also inside was a full vanity filled with plenty of supplies and a travel case. Underneath the bench was plenty of room to store my bag and small belongings.
We had seats 3K and 4K, meaning that while my seat faced forward, Danielle’s faced backwards. Half of the wall dividing our apartments – where our heads would go when we got into bed – opened up to connect our rooms together.
As the crew prepared the cabin for departure, I was brought a tray with champagne, a warm towel and a welcome note. Later, they came by with pajamas as well. Etihad’s first class pajamas are among the nicest I’ve seen in the air; the top is a sort of track jacket that was also super soft.
I headed to the bathroom to change and get ready for bed, and, again, was blown away by the simple elegance of the design. On an airplane!
Etihad’s lavatories are a far cry from the spa suite on Emirates. In the space that Etihad has two lavatories and a shower, Emirates has one. But while Etihad’s facilities were less spacious, I found the design to be extremely comfortable and relaxing. I especially loved the glass bowl sink.
Overall, I came to find that the atmosphere on the Etihad plane was much more calming than Emirates’ A380; the lighting and design was much more soothing – darker colors, less bright lights. Sure, it felt less “fun” – this was not a party bus like Emirates – but when you’re stuck in a tube overnight for 14 hours, calm is preferable to party, in my opinion.
Back at my seat, the onboard chef came to introduce himself. Etihad has a dine-on-demand food concept (like Emirates), and even has a trained chef onboard to make the food to order. This was an incredible addition to the service. There are still many limits to what a chef can do with food in the sky, but I found him to be creative and helpful, and make the whole eating in the air thing, well, thoroughly enjoyable!
I was offered arabic coffee and a date pre-departure, which I passed on given the hour. Not to long after, we were moving along an on our way.
The take off roll was long and slow – this is a BIG plane – but soon enough we were in the air and heading out. I regretted that, because we were taking off in the dark, there wasn’t much to see.
Within ten minutes, the seat belt sign was turned off and the flight attendants were up at work. Danielle and I immediately asked for our beds to be made, along with – it seemed – the rest of the First Class cabin passengers. Understandably, it took a little time to turn over our suites, during which we took a walk to visit the lobby.
While most A380 cabins are fitted with an onboard bar (if anything) at the back of the plane, Etihad puts an area it calls “the lobby” right in the middle, where you enter upon boarding. There is a small bar there, as well as a glass cases filled with archeological pottery (because, why not?) and newspapers and magazines. There is also a small sitting area where you can order drinks, have snacks, and stretch out a little with fellow passengers.
We lounged in the lobby for a little while, and then went back to our apartments. Voila! Our beds were made, and ready for me to sleep in.
While, technically, these were two single beds separated by a wall, with a cut-out mid-torso to connect them, for all intents and purposes – we were in an airplane, don’t forget – this was a double bed in the sky – a fantastic was to travel if you ask me!
It was time to sleep, and sleep I did, for about two hours. I really struggle to sleep on planes, even with a bed and even when horizontal. And, frankly, I was just too excited to enjoy the flight to sleep much more. I tried to force myself to get a little more shut eye, but eventually gave up.
I should also note that the Apartment bed has some positives and some negatives to it. On the one hand, because it is a fully flat bench and not a seat that converts into a bed, it feels more bed-like. Even on many of the most comfortable first class beds in the sky, you still feel like you’re sleeping in a chair. On the other hand, the bench is extremely firm, and the small mattress cover put over it does nothing to soften the experience. If you have trouble sleeping on firm mattresses, don’t expect to love this product. I found this to be one of the most notable areas where Etihad could easily improve its product. A thin foam mattress pad – which many airlines have – would make a world of difference on this sleep experience.
I left my bed as it was – maybe I’d get back to resting my eyes a little later – but returned to my seat and started preparing for dinner (or was it breakfast?)!
The onboard menu was extensive and impressive.
For starters, I got a refill on my champagne, as well as a glass of water with an impeccably sliced lemon inside.
I noticed immediately just how fancy the tableware and cutlery onboard were. The china is beautiful. Even the glasses seemed so fine that they may break in my hand if I squeezed too hard.
Without asking for it, I was brought an amuse-bouche, which was out-of-this-world delicious.
Next, I asked for the Harira soup, which came shortly thereafter, albeit with a little spillage, and warm whole wheat pita on the side. My champagne glass was topped off for the second (or was it third?) time.
I found the soup to be tasteless, so didn’t touch it beyond the first sip. A few minutes later, the flight attendant came back, noticed my soup untouched and apologized profusely. She insisted on bringing me a different soup. How could I refuse?
I really enjoyed the pumpkin soup. I wasn’t too hungry to begin with, though, so did not finish the whole bowl – I needed to save room for the rest.
Next came a palette cleanser. Yes, I was 40,000 feet in the sky, somewhere over Europe, in my apartment, enjoying a palette cleanser. That’s just how I roll.
I had asked for the arabic mezze – I enjoyed it so much on the last Etihad flight, why not go for another round? – but when it came time for this course, the onboard chef came to me deeply apologetic over the fact that they had run out of first class mezze, and only had business class mezze. What was the difference? I asked. His answer: plating.
So, taking one for the team, I settled for the business class mezze.
Contrary to most reviews out there, I enjoyed Etihad’s mezze much more than Emirates’, for what it’s worth.
At this point I was pretty full, so I had my table cleared and finished off the night with a few sips of a dessert wine. Why not?
I decided it was time to begin catching up on life after a week in the Indian Ocean, so turned on CNN Live and popped open my computer to connect to my email. Etihad has super fast WiFi available onboard at a modest price. I got cracking on my emails and enjoyed a delicious Iced Americano on the side.
The Iced Americano (let be be clear – there was freshly pulled espresso on this plane) was utterly refreshing and delicious, so I had another, as I spent a few hours catching up on a few hundred emails and worldly news.
At this point, we were somewhere over Greenland, with not too many hours left in our journey, so I decided it was time to take a shower.
The shower on Etihad’s A380 is in a smaller second lavatory at the front of the cabin. It’s not quite as large or “spa-like” as Emirates’, but just as ridiculously fantastic.
For the second time in my life, I stood under a steady flow of warm water for five minutes and giggled. Etihad’s shower setup is almost identical to Emirates’. The shower has a timer that counts down from five minutes and warns you how much water you have left. The water is nearly instantly warm, so you can pause the water flow whenever you want to lather up, and then turn it back on at the touch of a button (to the same temperature) and rinse off. The shower had all the bath products you could need, but I found them to be excessively scented, which is not to my liking.
Back at my seat, it was time to have breakfast, so the flight attendant came by and set my table again. I decided to start the morning off with a Bloody Mary and another Iced Americano.
The onboard chef brought me my meal shortly thereafter, which was a delicious omelette with mushrooms and crispy onions. Yum!
At this point we were over the United States again, headed toward JFK Airport. It hit me that this had been an extremely smooth flight – we hadn’t hit turbulence once since leaving Abu Dhabi.
The crew started coming through the cabin to prepare for landing as we began our descent about 30 minutes out. I packed up all my belongings – including the amenity kit from the vanity – but couldn’t bring myself to take home my new best friend, the blanket I’d been cuddling with since we left the Middle East. Oh well.
As we approached the airport, we flew right over Manhattan and had fantastic views of the City. We touched down and pulled into our gate about twenty minutes ahead of schedule. Because we had gone through Customs back in Abu Dhabi, we landed as a domestic flight, and entered directly into the terminal – that’s a nice touch!
Thus concluded my 14 hour bliss.
Etihad is an extraordinary airline, effective competition to its other UAE competition: Emirates. While Etihad lacked some of the touches that make other first class cabins excel (namely, caviar service), the hard product was stylish, larger than anything else out there in commercial aviation, and comfortable, while the soft product was refined, delicious and sophisticated.
I would jump at the opportunity to fly in Etihad’s Apartments in the future, and cannot wait to try out the product again. While the price of this award has increased since I booked this ticket (from 90,000 miles to 115,000 miles), it still represents an incredibly valuable redemption for travel to the Middle East, India and beyond.