Review: New York JFK – Abu Dhabi Etihad First Class Apartment, the Best Flight in the World

I’ve argued many times that the greatest luxury in air travel is space and privacy. As a result there’s no first class product that comes close to Etihad’s First Apartment on the Airbus A380. There’s an inflight chef, an onboard shower, but that’s all extra.

It’s the sheer spaciousness of the suite that makes this the best first class in the sky — and I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to fly it again and to be redeeming miles to do so.

Previous installments:

I’ve flown the Etihad A380’s First Apartment before, so I knew what to expect, but I was impressed just as soon as I boarded — even accounting for knowing how spacious it is. You walk into your suite, you don’t just sit down at your seat. You have tremendous privacy. And the cabin is just gorgeous.

There are four Apartment suites to your left, and The Residence at the front of the cabin. And there are five Apartment suites to your right.

The color palette alternates seat-by-seat between a cream and a brown.

The first thing I do when I board the Etihad A380 or an Emirates A380 is to ask to schedule my shower. I want the last shower booking prior to arrival. So I made that request. I’ve found service to be better than average on Etihad’s A380 flights, but knowing that I’ve had mixed experiences with Etihad crews in the past I made sure to ask again after everyone had settled — just to be sure. I was told it was already taken care of, and indeed it was.

There’s a flurry of service, from setting up a welcome drink to providing you with a menu and pajamas.

Here’s the welcome letter (click to enlarge):

One thing that flight attendants don’t do once you board if give you an amenity kit, that’s already been provisioned at your seat inside the vanity.

So I went about settling into my seat. It’s large, oversized. The seat isn’t your bed, it’s just a seat, and it doesn’t recline all the way but I still find it incredibly comfortable. It’s big enough to sit sideways, even, so there’s not really any problem finding a comfortable position — basically anything other than “in bed but not reclined all the way to watch TV sitting up” is possible.

Across from your seat is a bench which can easily seat three people. It has seat belts so that others can visit, for instance to sit across from you and dine during a meal. The bench opens up into your bed.

Underneath the bench is your primary storage area. It isn’t very tall, and barely fit my 21 inch rollaboard and I can’t close the bottom latch with the carry on down there, but it doesn’t have to close.

On the bench is about the softest blanket I’ve ever had on a plane and I’ll reveal something about my background I suppose by saying that I think it’s the softest blanket I’ve ever had off a plane either.

To your left when seated is a vanity. Open it up and there’s a lighted mirror inside, and your amenity kit already there for you. The items inside are in the cabinet, but there’s a wash bag for you to take the items with you into the lavatory or shower — or take them home.

Beside your seat is also storage.

Your blanket is already in storage at the seat as well.

There’s a minibar at the seat, which always seemed strange to me, you’re in first class and don’t need to get your own drinks. But why not?

My wife and I were seated in 3A and 4A which are seats where the wall between the two seats comes partially down. It does that near the entrance to the suites, not by the seats, so you can’t look at each other while seated even though your seats do face each other (there’s a wall with your televisions in between).

When you turn your flight attendant turns your bench into a bed for you there’s no wall in between you from about the waist up. Some people find the bed to be on the hard side. For me it was just right. I think I sleep so well because of all of the space, I’m not cocooned in.

After getting settled I had a look at the menu for the flight. Click any to enlarge.

Etihad has an onboard chef concept where one of the flight attendants has culinary training has worked in a restaurant. They’re the flight attendant who does most of the cooking though other flight attendants can prepare food during a long haul flight when the chef is on break.

I’ve found the particular chef makes a huge difference in the meal. Some are outstanding and some just more or less prepare what’s on the menu. Etihad’s CEO has explained that having a chef with real skills means they have less food waste, because the chef makes the best possible use of the ingredients they’re given. Some chefs are creative, listen to how you like a dish, and adjust accordingly and plate beautifully. But I’ve had a few over the years who phone it in.

Our chef for the flight was also a Residence Butler, though the Residence was vacant on this flight so he was assigned to the cabin. He came around offering arabic coffee and dates.

I settled in to enjoy the start of the flight with snacks and a glass of champagne.

Shortly after takeoff I had a first meal. I started with 2012 Croix de Beaucaillou, St-Julien. There have been a number of complaints about cutbacks in Etihad’s first class beverages, and for those who care about such things I understand them, but I think they have a really thoughtful wine program. This is a $45 retail bottle but a really excellent one.

They begin with an amuse bouche.

I had the duck starter.

Between appetizer and entree they serve a sorbet palate cleanser.

And then for a main I ordered the ribeye. It’s one of my two “go-to” dishes on Etihad, along with biryani. I ordered it with mashed potatoes, I’ve given up on the novelty of Etihad’s onboard french fries. Sometimes they come out well, sometimes not so much, but they’re not going to be as good as you can get on the ground while the mashed potatoes were excellent.

I decided to skip dessert and had my bed made up. My wife did as well.

I slept for about four hours, then watched some TV in bed. The television swivels out from the wall so you can watch it in bed and there’s a convenient controller to change channels laying down.

I then napped a bit more, and about two thirds into the flight ordered some more food… breakfast, sort of.

With an hour and 15 minutes left it was my allotted time for a shower. I went to the front of the cabin, since the Residence is on the left side both of the lavatories for first class are to the right of the stairway down to the lower deck.

The forward lavatory is spacious.

However the shower is in the smaller lavatory just before the large one. There isn’t enough room to bring your carry on luggage into the room with you. Still, being able to shower on a plane before landing is incredibly refreshing, it’s not just a gimmick and it’s not just for efficiency of avoiding the need for an arrivals lounge before heading to a meeting. It’s a way to end a long haul flight feeling great.

I returned to my seat about half an hour before landing and packed up my stuff. We had a relatively smooth landing and short taxi, and first class was let off the plane first. There was no line to speak of at immigration, so we were quickly through and reached out Etihad chauffeur to the hotel.

I remain blown away by the spaciousness of this seat.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I must disagree with you on the wine list. It looks completely bog-standard to me for first class, bordering on the mediocre for that cabin. Safe selections of all the major grapes from the representative wine regions with nothing that stands out as special or particularly interesting. I’d be keen to hear more about what you think is thoughtful about it.

  2. I just flew the apartments from AUH to JFK in 4K. It’s not a seat. It’s more like an airborne man cave. That flight in the Ethiad apartments was my top experience in flight.

    Did you use the small lounge between first and business? On my flight, the table that should be set up in the middle malfunctioned and could not be used.

    When we landed at T4 in JFK, there was no lounge. I think that is a shortcoming for first-class passengers even if there is an on-board shower. I used the Flagship lounge in Terminal 8 before my connecting flight.

  3. The title should read “best flight at a reasonable cost”.

    The real “best flight” belongs exclusively to The Residence.

  4. I must admit I was disappointed with my EY A380 F experience from AUH-LHR. It was the daytime flight leaving at 1pm with a full F cabin and the crew really struggled to deliver the incredibly complicated and time-consuming service procedure EY have invented. We (I guess sensibly) chose not to have lunch right after take-off as most of the other pax did but the downside of this was that we were completely forgotten about after take-off. We had to remind them to eventually start our lunch service and then it took forever – well over 2 hours for a 3 course lunch. We literally had to press the call bell to ask for the next course or get a drink. The food was fine – I certainly didn’t bother asking the chef to be creative because he was struggling to do a-la-carte.
    The hard product is without question the best F product in the world but the service is too complicated to do consistently. The shower, while a great idea is far too small and other than the novelty of having a shower onboard, not that special. Why they chose to make a large bathroom with a small shower room is beyond me.
    The onboard lounge is okay, it’s a bit like a VIP room in a night club – you sit there staring across at strangers and no-one talked to each other like on the EK bar.
    A complaint to the CSM about the ‘too complicated’ service was met with ‘yes, its very difficult to get everything done on a day flight’. The crew worked hard on my flight but just didn’t have time to do everything. If the crew cant deliver it, why do EY force them to try?
    J is fine for me next time – too much disappointment in F.

  5. @Frank, I know Row 4 has three windows. I assume all other seats have at least three windows also. Only four of the nine seats are by the window, and only two (row 4) of those face forward.

  6. Gary,
    When was your flight? Either this flight was from a while ago, or they’ve reinstated the more extensive “From the Grill” offerings.

  7. “There have been a number of complaints about cutbacks in Etihad’s first class beverages”

    And for good reason: $50 Champagne. We just flew JAL FC NRT-LAX and they had $300 Salon Champagne.

    I was shocked to see that $15 Sauvignon Blanc on the list. But worst of all is the Pinot Noir with a MSRP of $12 that Total Wine sells for $8 ! Seriously, $8 Pinot, in the Apartment?

    And don’t get me started on the Bacardi “Superior” Rum. 🙁

    Also sad that they are only pouring the $45 Glenlivet Founders Reserve when several of the Asian airlines are serving Jonnie Walker Blue in Business class. JWB retails for 4 times that price.

    ” I think they have a really thoughtful wine program”…

    I think for such a high cost ticket, they have a really meh alcohol selection.

    As for the amuse bouche and the Rib Eye with mashed potatoes, they look quite good. Though recently on SQ, after starting with Caviar, we had the Lobster Thermidor for the second time in SQ Suites, and it was as good as last time. My wife’s only “complaint” was that there was so much lobster she couldn’t eat it all. A problem I didn’t have. 😉

    Then again we didn’t have (or need) an on board shower, and there were no cans of Coke at our seats. I think the allure of the Apartment is similar to that of the Maldives. It’s famous partly because of the expense, and partly because of the few people who have had that experience. (aka snob appeal).

    The more I read about Eithad, the more glad I am that we already have our next two SQ Suites flights booked for next Summer. 😉

  8. Agree wh Ben and Robert. Too much style and not enough substance in terms of service delivery. To have to “hope” you get a good crew or en empty cabin is a bit maddening for a F flight.

    On board chef is a gimmick like the on board nanny.

    SQ much better for overall.

    Now – how to gr rid of my 1.5 million Etihad points!

  9. I must admit that first of all I do not agree with the wine list. Although I am not a big drinker, I do have some knowledge of Champagne and fine wines. I hardly recognized any on the EY’s wine list.
    Everything was on the “Cheap” side and it is a shame for such a high cost ticket that Etihad can not provide Dom or Krug that is even provided on Eva Air’s business class.
    My partner and I were both disappointed with EY A380 First class service from AUH to LHR this past summer.
    The service was disorganized and completely a disaster. It took them 3 hours to serve us a 3 course meal. There was no amuse bouche, they forgot about our drinks, the bread never showed up, the soup was cold, it took them forever to bring us the actual main course. They forgot my appetizer and when I asked them, they told me that they were out of the mediterranean mezze.

    Then they were out of desert of my choice and all they had left was the Baklava. I was sick and tired of eating Baklava because we were in Qater’s First Class lounge overnight and that was the only sweet that was readily available to eat.

    This was the daytime flight leaving AUH at aprx 13:45 and the crew struggled to provide the complicated service designed by EY. I assume, one Flight Attendant, and the Butler who worked with her is not enough for a full compliment of passengers on any given flight.
    Even on a shitty United or American flight in USA, there are two flight Attendants, the Purser and the galley Flight Attendant on the 757 serving cold sandwiches in First Class.

    The Purser on EY said hello and she disappeared. I even asked her if she had anything for kids to bring me, because of my volunteer work with orphanages. She totally forgot and never came back. That is why I hate this superficial statement, given by Flight attendants and Pursers: “If there is anything we can do to make your flight more enjoyable, please let us know” and they can never deliver the smallest request.

    They even messed up my shower time. They cut it so close to landing time. The Butler was very abrasive and every time he walked and stumped through the cabin I felt as there was an earth quake and my plates just jolted off my tray.
    He had forgotten about my partner’s lunch. My partner had ordered Salmon. Then, an hour and 15 minutes before landing I saw that he brought my partner a cold salmon.
    My partner is very kind and quite and never says anything and speaks up.
    It had taken me months and days of phoning AA all over the world, in SYD and LHR to get these First Class tickets with my miles and it was not worth all that hassle and the nightmare of putting up with AA’s horrible reservation agents. I went through days of scanning for afternoon First Class flights and I searched all destinations and since this was my 50th birthday trip I wanted this to be special. I had mentioned my 50th birthday in the First Class lounge in AUH millions of times and there was nothing special done.
    I had also mentioned it on the flight and still nothing.
    The least they could have delivered was what is promised by EY in First class. They need extra crew for this complicated service. One Flight Attendant and Butler of residence acting as the extra crew for First Class does not cut it.
    The Eastern European Purser was useless and never came back. The Hungarian Butler simply lost it and he will make rude statements. I told him that I wanted to have my cheese tray at the Boardroom bar (the area between First and Business). He told me not to go there as it was full of people. Well, there was only one British guy sitting by himself trying to get the soccer game on TV. Then he brought me the cheese tray and made me feel guilty for asking for a glass of wine. He did not even let me choose and just brought me a generic glass of warm white wine.

    This Etihad Flight was a disaster. Needless to say there was no arrivals lounge at LHR. We waited for two hours for a limo service and after the back and forth with the station manager we were told since we were going to fly on Iberia to Madrid the next day and in their system they see it as a connection although we had a 24 hour stopover. At that point our 24 hour stop over ended up being more like 21 hours. They called EY’s management staff in AUH and we were denied the limo service.

    The chef was a disgrace. He did not get any of our orders correctly. The Seabass entree was not available. My partner had ordered a seafood platter. After I brought it to the Hungarian rude Butler/Flight attendant’s attention I was told that they could not find his Seafood platter which was suppose to be Salmon and it was confirmed by the British chef earlier. He ended up bringing him a cold Salmon which was part of the Appetizer offerings. My partner does not eat Raw Fish.
    He ended up going hungry.

    He ended up bringing me the Briyani, no soup, no appetizer and none of these fantasy set up’s that I see on your reviews. NONE, Whatsoever!
    Perhaps they do it for Gary, because he gets free flights. Or you get the miles from Credit card companies.

    Gary, how many miles do you have and how do you get them? You travel so much. If you get them through credit cards or flying I like to see proof. It should have been min 90k per person before the AA devaluation, that means 180 for you and your wife just to take this trip that you took. I honestly do not believe that. You must get free flights from Etihad or get the miles from Credit companies because you advertise for them.

    Also, Etihad customer relations is worse than AA, UA or Delta. They got back to me with a generic email after a few months to stay they are sorry. That is all. No compensation, no miles and no apology for screwing up my 50th birthday trip.

    Perhaps if you have connections at Eithad, or if someone from Customer Relations of Etihad they read this, they can get back to me.

    Thank you!

    Alan Louganis

  10. hi gary,

    long time reader here but first time comment 😉

    just wondering whether you are very busy this year or you take only very few trips. I notice on the trip report page, you don’t post anything in 2016 and I think the only reviews are from the ME3 A380 flights, apart from that, there’s practically no reviews, be it hotel, airline or lounge

    quite a contrast from the previous years and its going to be Christmas in 2 months and you have ZERO trip reports in 2016 !

    maybe 2016 should be “View From The Desk” year ? 🙂

    Really enjoy your reviews and I hope to read more in the future

  11. I haven’t updated the page and need to as there were several trips, I also haven’t really been writing about the mundane domestic ones.

    I’m at 91 Starwood elite qualifying nights and 43 Hyatt elite nights, plus 4 Marriott and a few Hilton and non-chain, so definitely traveling…!!!!

  12. I flew the First Apartment early Nov in their newest aircraft at the time A6-APH from Sydney to Abu Dhabi. Before my trip I read so many reviews on this new First Class product but I have to admit I was totally blown away. The attention to detail, the spaciousness and the accent lighting. I have to agree I found the bed mattress a little hard but I sleep for 7 hours though. Still the best First Class product out there.

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